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Missiles hit ammo depot, residential buildings as Russia pivots to 'strategy of attrition'

"Russia's costs will be so high that you will not be able to rise again for several generations," Zelenskyy said.

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Russia's military said Saturday it had used a hypersonic missiles in combat for the first time to destroy an ammunition depot in Ukraine's west.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the "Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles," was deployed Friday, in a video posted on Russian state media RIA's Telegram channel. He added that it "destroyed a large underground warehouse" containing "missiles and aviation ammunition" in the village of Delyatyn, a small community around 380 miles west of Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

NBC News was not able to verify his allegations. Ukraine’s Air Forces spokesman Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainskaya Pravda that it was not confirmed to be a hypersonic Kinzhal.

The Russian claims came after Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for talks with Moscow to stop its invasion and "restore territorial integrity and justice to Ukraine," in a video message released late Friday.

Zelenskyy made his plea as fighting continued to rage around Kyiv and Ukrainian officials said that the port city of Mariupol had lost its access to the Azov Sea while Russian forces continued their bombardment.

On Saturday, humanitarian corridors allowed more than 7,000 residents to leave cities, including 4,000 in Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine 24 days ago, nearly 900 civilians have been killed and close to 1,400 have been injured, according to the United Nations, which has noted the actual toll is much higher. Russia has denied targeting civilians. The conflict has also forced more than 3.1 million people, including 1.5 million children, from the country, the U.N. said.

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263d ago / 7:28 PM UTC

Nearly 900 Ukrainian civilians have been killed since the start of the war, UN says

Nearly 900 Ukrainian civilians have been killed since the start of the war, including 64 children, the United Nations Human Rights Office said Saturday. 

From Feb. 24 to March 18, the office recorded that 2,246 civilians have either been killed or injured mostly from shelling and airstrikes. The actual toll is believed to be much higher, the office said. 

The deaths are an increase of 31 compared to Friday's numbers. 

"Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes," the office said. 

263d ago / 6:44 PM UTC

Pope visits Ukrainian children in hospital

ROME — Pope Francis has paid a visit to some of the Ukrainian children who escaped the Russian invasion and are currently being treated at the Vatican’s pediatric hospital in Rome.

The Vatican says the Bambino Gesu hospital is currently tending to 19 Ukrainian refugees, and that overall some 50 have passed through in recent weeks.

Some were suffering oncological, neurological and other problems before the war and fled in the early days. Others are being treated for wounds incurred as a result of the invasion.

The Vatican says Francis travelled the short distance up the hill to the hospital on Saturday afternoon. He met with all the young patients in their rooms before returning back to the Vatican.

Francis has spoken out about the “barbarity” of the war and especially the death and injury it has caused Ukrainian children.

263d ago / 5:30 PM UTC

British Prime Minister Johnson says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “turning point for the world"

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a “turning point for the world,” arguing that victory for President Vladimir Putin’s forces would herald “a new age of intimidation.”

Speaking to a Conservative Party conference on Saturday, Johnson claimed Putin was “terrified” that the example of a free Ukraine would spark a pro-democracy revolution in Russia.

He said “a victorious Putin will not stop in Ukraine, and the end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and then Moldova, it will mean the beginning of a new age of intimidation across eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.”

263d ago / 4:42 PM UTC

Zelenskyy to Swiss: Freeze oligarchs' accounts

BERLIN — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the Swiss government to freeze the bank accounts of all Russian oligarchs.

Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported that Zelenskyy, who spoke via livestream on Saturday to thousands of antiwar protesters in the Swiss city of Bern, said “in your banks are the funds of the people who unleashed this war. Help to fight this. So that their funds are frozen. (...) It would be good to take away those privileges from them.”

Zelenskyy could be seen on a big screen sitting behind a desk wearing a short-sleeved camouflage T-shirt. His speech was dubbed into German. When he called for the blocking of oligarchs’ accounts, great applause erupted.

SRF also reported that the Ukrainian president criticized the Swiss multinational food conglomerate Nestle, which has decided not to withdraw from Russia for the time being, as opposed to many other international companies.

263d ago / 3:56 PM UTC

George W. Bush and Bill Clinton lay flowers at Ukrainian church in Chicago to show solidarity

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited a Ukrainian church in Chicago as a show of solidarity. 

Bush and Clinton stopped by the Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, a landmark in the city's Ukrainian Village, to lay sunflowers flowers wrapped with blue and yellow ribbon. 

"These flowers say ‘in solidarity.' ... They represent the struggle for freedom, which today are the colors of blue and yellow. Blue for sky. Yellow for wheat, as Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe and now Ukraine is the citadel of fighting for freedom," a speaker said in a video posted Saturday on Bush's Instagram page.

Bush captioned the video: "America stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they fight for their freedom and their future."

263d ago / 3:09 PM UTC

U.S. aid groups help to move orphans away from the conflict

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LVIV, Ukraine — As orphans, they were already among some of the most vulnerable people in Ukraine before the Russian invasion. Now some are being helped to move away from the conflict by American aid groups.

“Some of their children, they’ve lost their family, so it’s pretty traumatic," said Dr. Sherri Mcclurg from New Horizons for Children. She added that their situation was "just heartbreaking." 

Seth Griffith, Director of Disaster Response for aid group Aerial Recovery said that his group had been assisting local government "into safe areas in the country where we can house them and feed them and keep them maintained in the system so that we don’t lose track." 

A lot of the American volunteers are ex-military personnel. But for at least one volunteer taking Ukraine's orphans under his wing, flying to the country to provide aid was an instinctive decision.

“I was one of them at one point. So it only felt natural to be able to come in and help out,” said Vlad Fin, an Aerial Recovery volunteer who grew up as an orphan in Kharkiv before being adopted by a U.S. family.

263d ago / 2:25 PM UTC

Millions of children have fled Ukraine as refugees since February, UNICEF says

More than 1.5 million children have fled Ukraine as refugees since Feb. 24, UNICEF's Executive Director Catherine Russell said Saturday. Countless others have been displaced since Russia invaded the country. 

Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, said the staggering number of child refugees could lead to a spike in human trafficking and exploration. 

"Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe," Khan said in a statement

From the start of the war in mid-February to March 17, more than 500 unaccompanied Ukrainian children were found crossing the border into Romania, UNICEF said. The organization warned that the actual number of separated children fleeing to neighboring countries is much higher. 

To help reunite these children with their families, UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have set up "Blue Dots," which are places fleeing families can go for help. 

“Children fleeing the war in Ukraine need to be screened for their vulnerability as they cross into a neighboring country,” said Khan. “Every effort should be made to strengthen screening processes at refugee border crossings.”  

263d ago / 1:44 PM UTC

Chinese minister blames NATO for war in Ukraine

China's vice foreign minister reiterated blame against NATO for the war in Ukraine and criticized sanctions against Russia in a speech delivered at a conference in Beijing Saturday.

Le Yucheng said NATO was a "Cold War vestige" and that its expansion could result in "repercussions too dreadful to contemplate" from a major power like Russia.

His comments come after the U.S. President and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a conversation about the war Friday. China has consistently blamed the security bloc, led by the U.S., as pushing things to a crisis point between Russia and Ukraine.

Le went on also to criticize the economic sanctions against Russia."Sanctions against Russia are now going to such lengths that globalization is used as a weapon, even people from the sports, cultural, art and entertainment communities are not spared," he said.

263d ago / 1:14 PM UTC

Mortar strike leaves 7 dead in Makariv, Ukrainian police say

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A mortar strike killed seven civilians and wounded five more on Friday, the National Police of Ukraine said in a statement. 

"Residential buildings were destroyed, an administrative building and other premises were damaged," in the village of Marakiv, the force said on its Telegram channel Saturday. 

Officers were working at the site of the attack on the village which is situated around 30 miles west of the capital Kyiv, "documenting the consequences and helping residents affected," police added. 

Russia has denied it is targeting civilians. 

263d ago / 12:28 PM UTC

Ukrainian soldiers search for bodies in the debris of a military school in Mykolaiv that was hit by Russian rockets on Friday.

Image: UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
BULENT KILIC / AFP - Getty Images
263d ago / 11:58 AM UTC

Why some countries want to stay on friendly terms with Russia

Despite outrage in Western capitals over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many other countries around the world — including some important U.S. allies and partners — have been reluctant to confront Russia or to support economic sanctions against Moscow, experts and former U.S. officials say.

A small number of countries have declared unqualified backing for Russia since its forces rolled into Ukraine, including regimes in Syria, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. But a longer list of governments, including China, have avoided using the word “invasion,” abstained from U.N. votes castigating Russia or declined to take part in punishing sanctions on Russia’s economy. 

The ambivalent response from governments around the world reflects how Russia is able to use its oil wealth, defense industry and historic ties to retain a degree of influence in foreign capitals. It remains unclear if countries that are straddling the fence can offer a valuable lifeline to Moscow, or whether these states can play a meaningful role mediating an eventual end to the conflict.

Russia is watching the response of other countries closely, including customers for its defense industry and fellow oil producers. But one government in particular may hold the key for Moscow — China. Experts say only Beijing has the economic heft and global power to help soften the blow of harsh economic sanctions introduced by the United States and the European Union, or to potentially persuade Moscow to pull back from its military offensive in Ukraine.

Read the full story here

263d ago / 11:28 AM UTC

Poland proposes total European Union trade ban with Russia

Poland has proposed to the European Union that the bloc impose a total ban on trade with Russia, Prime Minister Mateus Morawiecki said on Saturday, urging tougher sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

"Poland is proposing to add a trade blockade to this package of sanctions as soon as possible, (including) both of its seaports... but also a ban on land trade. Fully cutting off Russia's trade would further force Russia to consider whether it would be better to stop this cruel war," Morawiecki said.

Earlier this week E.U. member states agreed on a fourth package of sanctions against Russia. Details were not disclosed, but the French presidency said Russia's "most-favoured nation" trade status would be revoked.

263d ago / 10:38 AM UTC
263d ago / 10:05 AM UTC

Ukraine says it killed a Russian lieutenant general

Russian Lieutenant General Andrei Mordvichev was killed during fighting, Ukraine's armed forces said Saturday in a statement on its Facebook page. 

It said Mordvichev "the commander of the 8th All-Military Army of the Southern Military District of the Armed Forces," was killed "as a result of fire damage." 

NBC News has not been able to verify this claim.   

264d ago / 9:03 AM UTC

Russia says it launched hypersonic missile at ammo depot in Western Ukraine

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Russia's military said Saturday it had used a hypersonic missile in combat for the first time to destroy an ammunition depot in Ukraine's west.    

Major General Igor Konashenkov said the "Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles," was deployed Friday, in a video posted on Russian state media RIA's Telegram channel.    

He added that it "destroyed a large underground warehouse" containing "missiles and aviation ammunition" in the village of Delyatyn, a small community around 380 miles west of Ukraine's capital Kyiv and north of its border with Romania.   

Russia first used the weapon during its military campaign in Syria in 2016.

Konashenkov added that Russian forces had also hit 69 military facilities in Ukraine and shot down 12 unmanned aerial vehicles.

NBC News has not been able to verify his claims. 

Ukraine’s Air Forces spokesman Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainskaya Pravda on Saturday that it has not been confirmed that the missile was indeed a hypersonic Kinzhal.

264d ago / 6:37 AM UTC

Humanitarian corridor will open for evacuation in Luhansk region Saturday, official says

LVIV - A humanitarian corridor for evacuations in Ukraine's Luhansk region will be opened on Saturday morning, regional governor Serhiy Gaiday said on Telegram.

"A humanitarian corridor has been agreed, we will try to evacuate people and bring food today. A 'regime of silence' has been agreed for March 19, starting at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT)," Gaiday said.

264d ago / 6:33 AM UTC

Russia now pursuing 'strategy of attrition,' U.K. defense ministry says

The British defense ministry believes the Kremlin has "been surprised" by the resistance of Ukrainian forces to its attack and invasion of the country, and is now pursuing a strategy likely to increase harm to civilians.

The United Kingdom in an intelligence update Saturday said that Russia "is now pursuing a strategy of attrition."

"This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure, and intensify the humanitarian crisis," the U.K. defense ministry said.

Cities in Ukraine have been bombarded since Russia invaded the country in what Western countries have condemned as an unprovoked and unjustified attack.

The United Nations has recorded 2,149 civilian casualties in Ukraine since Russia attacked Feb. 24, including 816 killed — 59 of which were children.The U.N. human rights office says the actual number of civilian casualties is "much higher." Russia has denied targeting civilians.

More than 3 million refugees have fled the country, according to the U.N. 

264d ago / 6:10 AM UTC

Celebrated Ukrainian actor Oksana Shvets is killed in Kyiv

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Celebrated Ukrainian actor Oksana Shvets was killed in Kyiv when a residential building was hit by Russian shelling, her theater company announced Thursday. She was 67.

The Molodyi Theater, where Shvets had been a troupe member for decades, said in a Facebook post that there was “unrepairable grief in the family of Molodyi Theater," according to an NBC News translation.

“There is no forgiveness for the enemy that has come to our land,” the post said.

Shvets, who studied at the Ivan Franko Drama Theater and the Institute of Theater Arts, appeared in dozens of roles at the Young Theater, including a recent production of the play “Enchanted.” 

She was awarded the Merited Artist of Ukraine, an honorary title for outstanding achievement in performing arts. 

Shvets was killed as Russian forces advanced on Ukraine’s capital and appeared to target civilians. Kyiv's city council said Friday that since the invasion began, Russian attacks have damaged 36 residential buildings, five homes and 11 schools, including four kindergartens, according to an NBC News translation.

The officials said that 222 people, including four children, have been killed. NBC News has not been able to independently verify those claims. Russia has denied targeting civilians. 

264d ago / 3:40 AM UTC