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Russian attacks hit near Lviv in western Ukraine

Several missiles destroyed buildings at an aircraft repair facility near the airport in the western city of Lviv; Biden and Chinese president discuss the war.

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Ukrainian cities remained under siege Friday as Russian attacks continued for the fourth week, pushing farther west in Ukraine. Local officials said that several missiles destroyed buildings at an aircraft repair facility near the airport in Lviv, which is around 40 miles from the border with Poland. At least one person was injured in the morning airstrike, the city's mayor said.

President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday morning amid ongoing efforts to distance China from Russia. U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern that China could come to the aid of Russia, which is increasingly isolated from global markets amid harsh sanctions from the West.

More than 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, with around 13 million affected in the hardest hit areas of the country, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday. The agency appealed to neighboring countries to keep their borders open for those fleeing the war. In the cities of Mariupol and Sumy, residents are facing “critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water and medicines,” it said.

An American was killed by Russian forces as he stood in line for bread in the northern city of Chernihiv, his family said. At least 53 civilians were killed by Russian bombs and shells in the city Wednesday, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said at a U.N. Security Council meeting.

See full coverage here.

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. 

Celebrated Ukrainian actor Oksana Shvets is killed in Kyiv

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. 

Russian cosmonauts arrive at International Space Station in flight suits in colors of Ukraine flag

Three Russian cosmonauts have arrived at the International Space Station wearing flight suits in yellow and blue colors that match the Ukrainian flag.

The men were the first new arrivals on the space station since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine last month.

Video of one of the cosmonauts taken as the capsule prepared to dock with the space station showed him wearing a blue flight suit. It was unclear what, if any, message the yellow uniforms they changed into were intended to send.

Oleg Artemyev was asked about the yellow flight suits when the newly arrived cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth.

He said every crew chooses its own flight suits, so that they are not all the same.

“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said.

Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 p.m. Friday. They smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.

Ukraine says it’ll take years to defuse mines

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s interior minister said Friday that it will take years to defuse unexploded ordnances after the Russian invasion.

Denys Monastyrsky said that the country will need Western assistance to cope with the massive task once the war is over.

“A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large part haven’t exploded, they remain under the rubble and pose a real threat,” Monastyrsky said. “It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”

In addition to the unexploded Russian ordnances, the Ukrainian troops also have planted land mines at bridges, airports and other key infrastructure to prevent Russians from using them.

“We won’t be able to remove the mines from all that territory, so I asked our international partners and colleagues from the European Union and the United States to prepare groups of experts to demine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling,” Monastyrsky said.

He noted that another top challenge is dealing with fires caused by the relentless Russian barrages. He said there’s a desperate shortage of personnel and equipment to deal with the fires amid the constant shelling.

Macron, Scholz press for cease-fire in calls with Putin

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to lift the siege of Mariupol, allow humanitarian access and order an immediate cease-fire, Macron’s office said.

Macron spoke with the Russian leader on the phone for 70 minutes. Earlier in the day, Putin had a conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also pressed for an immediate cease-fire.

Macron, who has spoken numerous times with Putin, revisited complaints over repeated attacks on civilians and Russia’s failure to respect human rights in Ukraine, the presidential Elysee Palace said.

It said that Putin, in turn, laid the blame for the war on Ukraine.

Macron, who is campaigning to renew his mandate in April elections, said during a town hall-style meeting shortly before the call that he talks to Putin because he believes there is a way toward peace, between the Ukrainian resistance, tough Western sanctions and diplomatic pressure. “We must do everything to find it,” he said.

WH offers no details on 'consequences' should China aid Russia

WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday declined to detail what the specific consequences would be for China or what would be considered “material support” if China aided Russia in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping during a two-hour phone call that there would be consequences for Beijing if it provided “material support” for Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, senior administration officials said.

During the call, Biden shared with Xi a detailed review of how things have developed with the Russian invasion and his assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculations along with Biden’s support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, a senior administration official said.

Read the full story.

Over 9,100 Ukrainians evacuated through humanitarian corridors

More than 9,100 Ukrainians were evacuated from the war-torn country on Friday through humanitarian corridors, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video posted to Telegram. 

At least 500 people were transported by bus, while others fled by car. Ten evacuation buses will be available Saturday from the port city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said.

The evacuees, the majority from the northeastern region of Sumy, used seven of nine previously established humanitarian corridors. They were less effective in the Kharkiv region, Vereshchuk said, adding that Ukraine is working to establish new corridors in the regions of Kharkiv, Kherson and Luhansk.

Ukrainian engineers repairing power lines at nuclear plant

Engineers repairing one of three damaged power lines linking Europe's largest nuclear power plant to Ukraine's electricity grid expect work to be completed by early next week, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on March 4, damaging two high-voltage external power lines. A third lost connection last week but is expected to be reconnected Tuesday.

All safety systems at the plant remain fully functional, and there are no safety concerns, IAEA said.

In Kharkiv, a nuclear research facility previously damaged by shelling continues to have no external power supply. Personnel remain at the facility, which is used for research, development and radioisotope production for medical and industrial applications. 

Overall, eight of Ukraine's 15 reactors are operational, the agency said, and radiation levels are in the normal range.

Biden and China's Xi discuss Ukraine crisis, Taiwan

President Joe Biden on Friday warned Chinese President Xi Jinping against aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin's assault on Ukraine.

In a video conference, Biden "described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia," the White House said.

The two leaders also discussed Taiwan. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has stoked fears that China could use military force to annex that self-governing democratic nation.

"The President reiterated that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed, and emphasized that the United States continues to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo," The White House said in a brief summary of the video call.

Xi tells Biden that China committed to international norms, ministry says

In a Friday morning video call, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden that China is committed to international norms regarding Ukraine, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. 

It said the two leaders spoke about the situation in Ukraine, on which China has taken a neutral position. The U.S. has been concerned that China is considering supplying Russia with military equipment to bolster its invasion.

"China stands for peace and opposes war. This is embedded in China’s history and culture. China makes a conclusion independently based on the merits of each matter. China advocates upholding international law and universally recognized norms governing international relations. China adheres to the UN Charter and promotes the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security," the ministry said. 

Xi told Biden the U.S. and NATO should have a dialogue with Russia about what precipitated Russia's invasion into Ukraine, the ministry said, and Xi also expressed concerns about sanctions. 

"Sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer," he said, in part, according to the ministry. If further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance, energy, food, and industrial and supply chains, crippling the already languishing world economy and causing irrevocable losses."

Ukrainian negotiator tells experts to 'take a break,' says, 'We have everything in order'

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser and negotiator in the peace talks with Russia, told experts on Friday to "take a break" from commenting on how to wage war against and negotiate with Russia, suggesting that doing so implies Ukraine's leaders are unclear about what actions to take.

"Please, stop the 'experts' blabbering about how to wage a war or negotiate properly while hiding in an unknown place," he tweeted. "We know what we’re doing & we‘ll correct all their mistakes."

"We have everything in order," Podolyak said in a video posted with the tweet. "We are absolutely defending our freedom."

"If we continue what we have been doing for many years, when we split our country, we can get a very insignificant result, and we only need a winning result," he added. 

Podolyak said the war has united Ukraine and shows the country's strength.

"Look, we all know, we understand very well what values are in Ukraine now, what a powerful country Ukraine is, and we will definitely not give up any interest, especially for our children who are sitting in basements under Russian fire and for our heroes who die in the battles," he said. "Please finish splitting our country apart."

Some big name firms are balking at shunning Russia, despite Ukraine invasion

While hundreds of well-known companies like McDonald's and Coca-Cola are shutting down or suspending their operations in Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, a Kansas-based oil, gas and manufacturing giant is sitting tight for now.

Koch Industries, whose subsidiary Guardian Industries operates two glass-manufacturing plants in Russia that employ 600 people, said closing up shop now would put its workers there “at greater risk and do more harm than good.”

“The horrific and abhorrent aggression against Ukraine is an affront to humanity,” Koch Industries President Dave Robertson said in a statement, adding that the company is “complying with all applicable sanctions, laws and regulations governing our relationships and transactions within all countries where we operate.”

But Koch Industries, which has contributed millions of dollars to the Republican Party and has a couple of other operations in Moscow that employs a dozen more people, is hardly the only well-known firm bucking the tide of iconic companies exiting Russia, according to a list compiled by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior professor at the Yale University School of Management. 

As of Friday, there were 26 other companies that Sonnenfeld has categorized as “digging in” and defying international calls to get out of Russia.

Read the full story.

Russian cosmonauts set to launch to space station against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine

Three Russian cosmonauts are set to launch to the International Space Station on Friday, a normally routine mission to the orbiting outpost that is now taking place against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Scrutiny over the planned liftoff has grown as the conflict in Ukraine has strained relations between Russia and its space station partners, including NASA, and has called into question the future of the iconic orbiting lab.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov are scheduled to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket and capsule at 11:55 a.m. ET from Russia's spaceport, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in southern Kazakhstan.

Read the fully story here.

U.S. ambassador: Moscow's bioweapons allegations 'malarky,' like a 'chain email from some dark corner of the internet'

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, denounced Russia on Friday for what she called false allegations that Ukraine performs biological weapons research and has U.S. support for the effort. 

At a U.N. Security Council meeting, she said the Russian representative to the United Nations went on a "tirade of bizarre conspiracy theories" last week and this week "we're hearing a whole lot more where that came from — things that sound like they were forwarded to him on a chain email from some dark corner of the internet."

"President Biden has a word for this kind of talk: malarkey," she said. 

Thomas-Greenfield reiterated that despite Russia's claims, Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program.

"There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories — not near Russia's border, not anywhere. There are only public health facilities, proudly — and I say proudly — supported and recognized by the U.S. government, the World Health Organization, and other governments and international institutions," she said. "In fact, it is Russia that has long maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law. It is Russia that has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons. It is Russia who is the aggressor here."

The ambassador said the U.S. has deep concerns that Russia's decision to call Friday's meeting over the allegations "is a potential false flag effort in action." 

"Russia has repeatedly — repeatedly — accused other countries of the very violations it plans to perpetrate. We continue to believe it is possible that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people," she said. 

Ernst leading bipartisan congressional delegation to Poland, Germany

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is leading nine of her U.S. Senate colleagues in a bipartisan visit to Poland and Germany this weekend.

Ernst will be joined by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Angus King of Maine, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Jacky Rosen of Nevada. 

"This strong, bipartisan delegation proves the Senate stands united in its support for Ukraine," the 10 senators said in a joint statement. "During our time in Poland and Germany, we will have the opportunity to gain greater insight on the U.S. and NATO response through engagements with top military leaders."

"We will return with better insight on how Congress can and should continue to support the Ukrainian people and our NATO allies, and see firsthand the heartbreaking humanitarian impact of Putin’s war of aggression," the senators added.

Putin marks anniversary of Crimea annexation at packed stadium event

People watch a broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea outside Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spoke during a concert at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Friday.Host Photo Agency / via Reuters
Putin was marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Putin was marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea.Vladimir Astapkovich / AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin walks out on the stage at concert marking the eighth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea in Moscow on Friday.
The event was held in a stadium packed with people waving Russian flags.Alexander Vilf / AP

At least 816 civilians killed in Ukraine since invasion, U.N. Rights Office says

At least 816 civilians have died since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.

Seven girls and 16 boys were among the dead, the statement said, although it added that it believed the actual figures were "considerably higher," because many reports were still pending corroboration and others had been delayed. A further 1,333 civilians had been injured in the conflict, it said. NBC News has not independently confirms these 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 statement said. 

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania expel Russian diplomats

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have announced the expulsion of a total of 10 Russian diplomats. Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was expelling three diplomatic staff members of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn. In a tweet on Friday, it said they had "directly and actively undermined Estonia's security" and had "spread propaganda justifying Russia's illegal warfare."

Latvia's foreign ministry said it was also expelling three diplomats "in solidarity with Ukraine."

Lithuania echoed that sentiment in a statement published online declaring four employees of the Russian Embassy as "personae non gratae." 

All three countries are members of NATO.

Burger King partner in Russia refuses to close 800 locations

Burger King is moving to divest its 15 percent stake in its Russian business, but the burger chain said it can’t legally suspend operations in the market right away.

The Restaurant Brands International chain announced last week it was suspending all corporate support for its 800-plus franchised locations in Russia in response to the Kremlin’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine. The suspension includes refusing approvals for further investment or expansion and pausing operations, marketing and its supply chain.

But the company’s International President David Shear laid out in an open letter to employees on Thursday that the structure of the company’s Russian business hampers its ability to shutter restaurants in the market like some of its competitors.

“Would we like to suspend all Burger King operations immediately in Russia? Yes. Are we able to enforce a suspension of operations today? No,” Shear said.

Burger King entered Russia through a joint venture with businessperson Alexander Kolobov, Investment Capital Ukraine and VTB Capital, which has been hit by U.S. sanctions as an affiliate of a major Russian bank.

Read the full story here.

Image:
A man removes a destroyed curtain Friday inside a damaged school in Kyiv, Ukraine.Rodrigo Abd / AP

Facing resistance in Ukraine, Putin turns to a familiar playbook: Bombing civilians

It was a desperate plea from a city under siege: "CHILDREN" in huge bold letters.

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies, a U.S. Defense contractor, this week showed the word clearly written in front of and behind a theater that Ukraine says was sheltering women and children in the port city of Mariupol.

But on Wednesday, the building was blown up with hundreds of civilians inside, according to the Mariupol City Council. "Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

The number of casualties is not yet known — and the Kremlin denies targeting civilians — but experts say the incident is an indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to a familiar and pitiless playbook.

With his troops bogged down in the mud, running out of food and fuel and hemorrhaging casualties, many analysts believe that Putin's battle plan is in the mire — and in desperation he has pivoted to the brutal tactics used in the Russian republic of Chechnya in 1999 and in Syria in 2015.

Read the full story here.

World Food Program 'deeply concerned' about Ukraine

The United Nations World Food Program is "deeply concerned" that people in embattled parts of Ukraine, especially the besieged southern city of Mariupol, are struggling to find food. 

The systems that feed millions of people were "falling apart," it said in a tweet Friday.     

In a second tweet, it added that humanitarian access was "critical."

Ukrainians take a page from Tolkien in nickname for Russian troops

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Friday referred to Russian forces as "orcs." Ukrainian resistance fighters and protesters are using the term, too.

The nickname appears to be a reference to the brutish monsters of the same name from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" fantasy series. In the books (and their film adaptations), the Dark Lord Sauron dispatches the orcs to do his bidding on the battlefield.

In the decades since Tolkien's novels were published, orcs have taken root in the popular consciousness — but the author's conception of the malevolent goblins has also drawn accusations of racism.

More than a thousand remain in Mariupol theater shelter, official says

Some civilians have emerged from the rubble of the Mariupol theater, where hundreds were seeking safety in its bomb shelter when it was leveled by a Russian attack Wednesday. 

“I emphasized that 130 people have already been evacuated from the drama theater in Mariupol destroyed by the occupiers, but 1,300 people are still in the basements,” Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman, Liudmyla Denisova, said in a televised address, according to a translation by NBC News. The shelter housed mostly women and children.

Around 173,500 people have been evacuated via the humanitarian corridors since the beginning of the invasion, she added.

Russian shelling in Kyiv leaves 1 dead, 19 injured

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian capital Friday, shelling residential buildings and a school in an assault that left one person dead and another 19 injured, including four children, according to the mayor.

"The enemy continues to attack the capital. In the morning, a residential area in the Podil district was shelled by orcs," Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said in a post on Telegram, using a Ukrainian nickname for Russian troops.

The shelling hit at least six homes, a kindergarten and a school, Klitschko said.

A residential building in Kyiv was heavily damaged by apparent Russian shelling in the early hours of Friday morning.
A residential building in Kyiv was heavily damaged by apparent Russian shelling in the early Friday morning.NBC News
A residential building in Kyiv was heavily damaged by apparent Russian shelling in the early hours of Friday morning.
NBC News

NBC News surveyed the aftermath, encountering dazed civilians whose morning routines were violently interrupted by Russia's latest attack. In one apartment, a sink was covered in blood; more stains by the door were probably left by a person rushing out of the unit.

"I have no home now, and nowhere to live," a woman named Ala said. "Where are we to go?"

Richard Engel reported from Kyiv and Daniel Arkin reported from New York.

3.1 million refugees fled Ukraine, 13 million more affected, U.N. says

More than 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine with around 13 million affected in the hardest hit areas of the country, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday.

“The pace and magnitude of the internal displacement and refugee exodus from Ukraine, as well as resulting humanitarian needs, will only increase if the situation deteriorates,” UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said in a press briefing in Geneva.

The agency appealed to neighboring countries to keep their borders open for those fleeing the war. In the cities of Mariupol and Sumy, residents are facing “critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water and medicines,” he said.

“Targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and lack of safe passage” pose serious threats to the lives of thousands of civilians, he said. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. 

More than 100 children killed since the invasion began, Ukrainian officials say

Image: Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lviv
More than 100 empty strollers are arranged Friday in Lviv to highlight the number of children killed in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.Roman Baluk / Reuters

As many as 109 children have died and more than 130 injured since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said Friday.

The capital city of Kyiv recorded the deaths of 55 children while the casualties in the areas of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv, Zhytomyr, Sumy and Kherson continue to grow, it said.

“In addition, bombings and shelling by Russian troops damaged more than 439 educational institutions, 63 of which were completely destroyed,” it said. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

NBC News has not independently verified those numbers. 

Italy offers to rebuild Mariupol theater after bombing by Russia

Italy's culture minister said the country is willing to rebuild the theater in Mariupol after it was destroyed by the Russian military. Hundreds of residents were seeking refuge in the theater complex when it was hit Wednesday.

Democrats link Ukraine’s democracy struggle to one closer to home

WASHINGTON — Top Democrats are drawing parallels between the existential fight for democracy in Ukraine and the struggle to protect American democracy, citing the war to reaffirm their desire for new guardrails around institutions like free and fair elections.

“I’m hoping that seeing the Ukrainians come under attack because they’re a democracy and defend their country so bravely because they believe in democracy increases faith in ours here at home,” Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, said in an interview. “I feel very strongly that we’ve had, really, an unprecedented period of questioning our own small-d democratic values and, culminating in January 6, an attempt to overthrow a presidential election here.

“The best thing we can do for the world is to present an example of a functioning democracy at a time when, around the world, autocracies are on the rise and are literally attacking democracies like in Ukraine,” Allred said, suggesting that the death and destruction inflicted by Russian leader Vladimir Putin will give pause to Americans who may want to "put our faith in a strongman."

Read the full story here.

U.S. soldiers alive, despite Russian 'fake news' report, military says

Three current and former members of the Tennessee National Guard falsely identified in a Russian media report as mercenaries who were killed in Ukraine are in fact alive and well, the Tennessee National Guard has said.

The report published in Russia’s Pravda newspaper had identified the Americans by name and gave military ranks for each of them, citing information from pro-Russian militia in Ukraine’s Donetsk.

However, the Tennessee Guard said in a statement: “They are accounted for, safe and not, as the article headline erroneously states, U.S. mercenaries killed in Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Read the full story here

Civilians gather outside a residential building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, in this handout picture released Friday.
Civilians gather outside a residential building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, in this handout picture released Friday.Ukrainian State Emergency Service / via Reuters

Japan adds to sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations

Japan has announced additional sanctions against 15 Russian individuals and nine organizations, the foreign, trade and finance ministries said in a joint statement on Friday.

That raises the total number of those sanctioned to 76 individuals and 12 organizations in Russia. These include Russia's deputy ministers of defense and foreign affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

Major defense companies such as the Rosneft Aero, the aviation fuel supplier, and United Aircraft Corporation, which created the MiG-35 jet, were among those sanctioned.

U.K. revokes RT's ability to broadcast in the nation

U.K. media regulator Ofcom on Friday revoked the broadcasting license of Russian state-backed news channel RT, effective immediately.

The channel has not been broadcasting in the U.K. due to sanctions placed on Russian entities. 

"Today’s decision comes amid 29 ongoing investigations by Ofcom into the due impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine," Ofcom said in a statement.

"We consider the volume and potentially serious nature of the issues raised within such a short period to be of great concern — especially given RT’s compliance history, which has seen the channel fined £200,000 for previous due impartiality breaches."

Ofcom also cited a Russian crackdown on "any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state’s own news narrative, in particular in relation to the invasion of Ukraine."

RT called Ofcom "nothing more than a tool of government."

Biden and Xi to hold call as U.S. steps up pressure on China

U.S. President Joe Biden will hold a phone call with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Friday as Washington raises concerns over China’s growing ties with Russia.

The direct talks, which are the first between the two leaders since November, will be held at 9 a.m. ET. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden “will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.”

Beijing has so far avoided direct condemnation of the Russian invasion and has criticized the wide-ranging sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West. Some U.S. lawmakers have raised the idea of sanctioning China as well if it is found to be supporting Russia’s war effort.

“China opposes all forms of unilateral sanctions and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ by the U.S.,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing on Wednesday. “We will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and individuals.”

“If the U.S. insists on having its own way, China will definitely take strong countermeasures,” he added.

India reportedly bought 3 million barrels of oil from Russia

India has reportedly bought 3 million barrels of crude oil from Russia, according to The Associated Press.

Eighty-five percent of oil in India is imported, and the country is under strain to meet demand domestically. Russia reportedly offered India a discounted price of 20 percent below global benchmark prices, according to the AP.

“India imports most of its oil requirements. We are exploring all possibilities in the global energy market. I don’t think Russia has been a major oil supplier to India,” External Affairs Minister Arindam Bagchi told AP about the sale.

Countries including the United States have called on India to suspend trade relations with Moscow and to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, India abstained from a United Nations vote censuring Russia.

“Think about where you want to stand when history books are written at this moment in time. Support for Russian leadership is support for an invasion which has a devastating impact,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after earlier reports of India buying discounted oil.

Australia imposes new sanctions, targets 2 Russian oligarchs

The Australian government has imposed sanctions on 11 Russian organizations, as well as two billionaires with business links to the country, officials said. 

The Russian National Wealth Fund and the Russian Ministry of Finance join the list of the Russian banks sanctioned by Australia, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a written statement Friday. 

Billionaires Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg also join the list of more than 40 oligarchs and their immediate family members targeted by sanctions and travel bans, Payne said. Deripaska, an industrialist, was one of the seven prominent oligarchs whose assets were frozen and movement restricted last week by the U.K. government over the ongoing conflict.

"We will continue to move with partners on coordinated sanctions, and to constrain funds for President Putin’s unlawful war," Payne said. 

Several missiles hit near Lviv airport, mayor says

Several missiles destroyed buildings at an aircraft repair facility near the airport in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, the mayor said. There were no immediate report of casualties. 

The missiles did not strike the airport itself, the mayor said Friday through his Telegram channel.

The information was preliminary, and more details were not immediately clear. NBC News has not independently confirmed the attack.

The mayor said rescuers and other personnel were headed to the site, but that there was no work being done at the repair facility at the time of the attack.

Smoke is seen above buildings close to the airport in Lviv, Ukraine on Friday morning.
Smoke rises above buildings close to the airport in Lviv, Ukraine on Friday morning. Getty Images

An air alarm was sounded in Lviv at about 6:08 a.m., and at about 6:25 a.m. three explosions were heard on the outskirts of the city. 

Lviv is in western Ukraine, around 40 miles from the border with Poland. Russia recently launched a series of strikes in the western part of the country, including a missile attack early Sunday that killed 35 people.

90 percent of Mariupol is destroyed, Ukraine defense ministry says

The southern port city Mariupol has been 90 percent destroyed amid incessant shelling and advances by Russian troops, Ukraine’s defense ministry said Friday. 

The besieged city is bearing the brunt of Russian strikes with no electricity, gas or heat with temperatures dropping to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The ministry has accused Russia of keeping the residents hostage by blocking agreed-upon humanitarian corridors in the city, with people struggling to find safe shelters.

This week, a Mariupol theater where people were seeking shelter was hit by a Russian airstrike. Satellite images from the U.S. government-linked technology firm Maxar appeared to show the word "CHILDREN" written outside the building in large white letters.

It was unclear how many people were in the building, but officials said Thursday that the shelter held up. 

Two dead, more than 20 homes destroyed in Luhansk region, officials say

At least two people were killed, four others were injured, and more than 20 homes were destroyed in Russian attacks in the Luhansk region overnight, the local administration said Friday.

The homes were destroyed in attacks against the cities of Severodonetsk and Rubizhne, which are near each other in the eastern region of Luhansk, the Luhansk Regional Administration said.

NBC News has not independently confirmed the attack. 

The administration said Russian artillery fire and other weapons were used against civilian areas Thursday night into Friday local time. Russia has denied targeting civilians. 

The latest developments on the war between Russia and Ukraine

If you're catching up from yesterday, here are the latest developments: 

  • The House passed legislation Thursday that would suspend normal trade relations with Russia, a move designed to further isolate Moscow’s economy in response to President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. The measure passed 424-8, with all opposition coming from Republicans.
  • American basketball star Brittney Griner, who is being detained in Russia, is doing OK and has regularly seen her legal team, a person close to the situation said. Griner's detention was extended until May 19, Russian state media TASS reported Thursday.
  • Russia’s U.N. ambassador says he is not asking for a vote Friday on its resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has been sharply criticized by Western countries for making no mention of Russia’s responsibility for the war against its smaller neighbor.