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Top diplomats make no progress as Russian troops move closer to Kyiv

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said his country will not "surrender" after a high-level meeting in Turkey with his Russian counterpart.

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UK: Russians making 'limited progress,' but likely eying renewed offensive

Russia's ground forces in Ukraine are making "limited progress," but are likely setting up for renewed attacks, including against the capital of Kyiv, the United Kingdom's defense ministry said Friday.

"Russia is likely seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days. This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv," the U.K. said in an update.

Russian forces attacked Ukraine two weeks ago, but have been met with strong resistance, the U.K. said in its assessment.

A United States assessment as of Thursday was that Russian forces were still capable of encircling Kyiv in one to two weeks, but that if there is a fight for the city it could take much longer, a U.S. official said.

Biden reportedly set to call for revoking Russia's favored trade status


President Joe Biden on Friday will call for an end to normal trade relations with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, clearing the way for increased tariffs on Russian imports, five people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

The move would mark the latest escalation of a push by the U.S. and its allies to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the largest war in Europe since World War II.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation.”

Read the full story here. 

White House warns Russia against seizing assets of U.S. companies

The White House responded Thursday night to reports that Russia could be considering seizing the assets of U.S. companies, warning that the country risked even greater economic harm and isolation.

The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the government was considering a proposal to nationalize assets of companies that have said they are pulling out of Russia, according to The Associated Press.

"Any lawless decision by Russia to seize the assets of these companies will ultimately result in even more economic pain for Russia," White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Thursday night.

"It will compound the clear message to the global business community that Russia is not a safe place to invest and do business," she wrote.

Starbucks, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are among the iconic U.S. companies that have announced plans to suspend some or all operations in Russia in protest of its attack on neighboring Ukraine. 

The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday that it was halting all business in Russia after it decided last week to pause the release of films.

The U.S., other countries and the European Union have also responded to the attack by imposing punishing sanctions aimed at Russia and President Vladimir Putin himself.  

Zelenskyy says Russia deliberately preventing aid to Mariupol

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of deliberately attacking the besieged city of Mariupol to prevent the evacuation of residents and the arrival of aid.

The president said in a video message Thursday that a tank attack prevented a humanitarian convoy to the southern city, where, aid organizations say, hundreds of thousands of people are without power, heat, water or food.

Zelenskyy also accused Russia of destroying a building near where Mariupol residents were supposed to gather for evacuation.

"This is outright terror," Zelenskyy said. He pledged further efforts to help the people of the city. "To the people of Mariupol: We are fighting. And we will not leave this struggle," he said.

Attempts to evacuate the city of around 440,000 have repeatedly failed. Volnovakha is also blockaded, he said. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, "These cities are a real humanitarian catastrophe."

Days after wedding, Chicago couple takes supplies to Ukrainian refugees

Congress passes $1.5 trillion bill that provides billions to Ukraine

The Senate passed a massive $1.5 trillion spending bill Thursday that would prevent a government shutdown and provide $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine.

The legislation passed 68-31 after it received House approval Wednesday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law before government funding runs out Friday night.

The bipartisan spending measure would fund the federal government through Sept. 30, with increases for both defense and nondefense programs over 2021 levels.

The funding includes billions to aid Ukraine, where over 2 million people have been forced from their homes since Russia invaded last month. The Ukraine-related spending includes money for humanitarian aid and $6.5 billion for the Defense Department — $3.5 billion to replenish equipment sent to Ukraine and $3 billion for U.S. troops who are helping NATO member states in Europe. It also provides money to support Ukraine’s energy grid and to combat disinformation.

Read the full story here. 

More than 1 million children have fled Ukraine, UNICEF says

More than 1 million children have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked more than two weeks ago, UNICEF said Thursday as it again called for humanitarian corridors and more aid to the region.

"Children are leaving everything they know behind in search of safety. This is heart-breaking," Afshan Khan, UNICEF's regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

More than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the U.N. has said, in what has been called the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

At least 549 civilians have been killed, including 41 children, according to the U.N.'s human rights office. Another 957 people have been injured, including 52 children.

Those are just the civilian casualties recorded by the office, and many other reports are pending further corroboration or are delayed because of the fighting, it said. "Actual toll is much higher," the U.N. human rights office said Thursday.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, said Thursday in a tweet that more than 70 children have been killed. 

NBC News has not independently verified the number of deaths.

What it’s like to be pregnant in Ukraine right now

Danielle Campoamor

As the Russian attack on Ukraine rages on, there are an estimated 240,000 pregnant women in Ukraine. A reported 80,000 of them will be delivering babies in the next three months, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Many of those women will join the more than 2 million Ukrainians who have fled the country. Others simply cannot leave, forced to give birth in bomb shelters without any medication. Some have even been targeted by Russian missiles, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — on Wednesday, video appeared to show what was left of a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol. The video showed a pregnant woman being evacuated in a makeshift stretcher, one hand holding her stomach as the other reached for the arm of a man helping to carry her.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will only "double down" on the violence, making the future even more dire for pregnant Ukrainians who are preparing to give birth at a time of war.

"They need the war to stop," Jaime Nadal, a U.N. Population Fund representative in Ukraine, told TODAY Parents. "They need to go back to a situation where birth can be a joyful moment for them, as well as the rest of their families. And regrettably, that is not something that is in sight at this point. On the contrary, what we see is the situation worsening by the moment."

Read the full story here. 

60,000 evacuated from Sumy region, Ukrainian official says

Around 60,000 people have been evacuated from Sumy Oblast, particularly from the city of Sumy, in the last three days amid Russia's attack on the country, a Ukrainian government official said.

Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, the head of the regional government for the oblast, which is an administrative region, said around 80,000 people overall have been evacuated from cities in Ukraine in the last three days.

But in the besieged city of Mariupol, in the southeastern Donetsk region, evacuation efforts have failed, and Ukraine has accused Russian forces of violating cease-fire agreements.

The situation there is increasingly desperate, and hundreds of thousands of people have no heat, electricity, food or water, the Red Cross said.

A hospital was shelled, killing three people, in an attack that was condemned and called a possible war crime. At least three people were killed and 17 others were wounded, Ukraine's president said.

WHO says it advised Ukraine to destroy pathogens in labs to prevent disease spread


The World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country's public health laboratories to prevent "any potential spills" that would spread disease among the population, the agency told Reuters on Thursday.

Biosecurity experts say Russia's movement of troops into Ukraine and bombardment of its cities have raised the risk of an escape of disease-causing pathogens, should any of those facilities be damaged.

Like many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories researching how to mitigate the threats of dangerous diseases affecting both animals and humans including, most recently, Covid-19. Its labs have received support from the United States, the European Union and the WHO.

The WHO would not say when it had made the recommendation nor did it provide specifics about the kinds of pathogens or toxins housed in Ukraine's laboratories. The agency also did not answer questions about whether its recommendations were followed.

Ukrainian officials in Kyiv and at their embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Ukraine's laboratory capabilities are at the center of a growing information war since Russia began moving troops into Ukraine two weeks ago

Horrific photo shows dead Ukrainian mother who worked for Silicon Valley-linked company, her two children

A photo published on the front page of The New York Times that appeared to capture mortally wounded civilians trying to flee a besieged city showed three members of a dead Ukrainian family, including a mother who worked for a software firm with ties to Silicon Valley, her company said Thursday.

The photo, which The Times said was taken Sunday in the city of Irpin moments after Russian forces fired mortars at panicked evacuees, showed the slumped-over body of Tatiana Perebeinis, 43, and her two children, said Ksenia Khirvonina, a spokeswoman for SE Ranking.

The images prompted a furious response from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called the attack “deliberate murder” and said: “Instead of humanitarian corridors, they can only ensure bloody ones.”

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. Ukrainian officials have accused the country of committing war crimes. 

Perebeinis was the chief accountant for SE Ranking, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom and has offices in Palo Alto, California; Kyiv; Moscow; and Minsk, Belarus, the company said in a statement Monday.

Also killed in the attack were Perebeinis’ 9-year-old daughter, Alise, and 18-year-old son, Nikita, Khirvonina said. A family friend was killed, as well.

Perebeinis had remained in Irpin when Russia invaded to care for her sick mother and her son, whose age group was ordered to remain in the country to help defend it, Khirvonina said. When Russian forces struck the family’s apartment building — and the city was without water, power or heat — she decided to flee after Russia promised “safe passage” for civilians, Khirvonina said.

“But then Russian troops started firing on innocent civilians and that’s how they got killed,” Khirvonina told the San Francisco Chronicle

In its statement, SE Ranking said there were "no words to describe our grief or to mend our pain," adding: "But for us, it is crucial to not let Tania and her kids Alise and Nikita remain just statistics. Her family became the victim of the unprovoked fire on civilians, which under any law is a crime against humanity."

Kherson, Ukraine, offers glimpse into Russian occupation

Russian forces could be within 10 miles of Kyiv, official says

Russian forces could be within 10 miles of central Kyiv after days of being stalled outside the Ukrainian capital, a senior defense official said Thursday.

The military made what the official described as moderate operational advances within the last day. The closest forces were approaching from the northwest, near Kyiv Hostomel Airport, the official said.

Satellite images captured last month by a U.S. technology firm showed what the company described as a convoy of tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment that stretched about 40 miles northwest of Kyiv.

The convoy remained stalled for days. On Thursday, the company, Maxar Technologies, said it appeared to have largely dispersed and redeployed. The company describes itself as a "mission partner" of the U.S. government.

Experts have attributed Russia’s poor military performance to a variety of factors, including bad planning, fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters and the Russian military’s reliance on young, untrained conscripts.

Other Russian forces were also advancing on Kyiv from the east, some of them less than 25 miles from the city center, the official said.

The official added that some of Russia’s military was returning to Sumy, a city in the country’s northeast that has been the scene of heavy bombardment and successful evacuation efforts, although it wasn’t clear why. 

Russian forces remained in Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, where heavy fighting persisted, the official said.

Facebook and Instagram to temporarily allow calls for violence against Russians


Meta Platforms will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to internal emails seen Thursday by Reuters, in a temporary change to its hate speech policy.

The social media company is also temporarily allowing some posts that call for death to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and other countries, according to a series of internal emails to its content moderators.

Thee calls for death will be allowed unless they include other targets or have two indicators of credibility, such as a location or a method, an email said, in a recent change to the company's rules on violence and incitement.

Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss: 'Strong evidence' war crimes being committed by Russia

Teaganne Finn

Andrea Mitchell and Teaganne Finn

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday there is strong evidence that Russia is committing war crimes. 

Truss, in an answer to a question at the Atlantic Council, said evidence needs to be taken to the International Criminal Court "to make sure Putin and his associates are held to account for his appalling actions.”

Separately, during her speech she called the invasion of Ukraine “a paradigm shift on a scale of 9/11." 

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia details call with Zelenskyy

Teaganne Finn

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.

McFaul said on "Meet the Press Daily" that he speaks frequently to a friend who works for Zelenskyy and that Zelenskyy made an appearance Thursday over Skype.

"So it was not an intended call — we just got on and we talked in Russian, by the way, because we both speak Russian. His first language, my second," McFaul said.

"I'm not going to talk about specifics of our conversation, but they realize, just like the foreign minister said, NATO is not prepared to go as far as they want," he continued. "NATO is now individually acting, and that's the signal that the Biden administration gave, and that's a disappointment for Ukrainians."

McFaul added that he completely agrees with Biden about not initiating a no-fly zone. "That's euphemism for declaration of war against Russia," he said. "But anything short of that, I think we have to help Ukrainians."

U.S. officials believe Ukraine can maintain control of Kyiv for several more weeks

While Russian President Vladimir Putin initially expected to take control of Ukraine's capital within two days of the invasion, U.S. intelligence believes Kyiv is in a position to hold the Russians at bay for several more weeks, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The official said Russian forces are capable of circling Kyiv in the next week or two but that the battle to take the capital is expected to take much longer than that. The official said the U.S. assessment, which is fluid and changes often, is that the fight for control of the city could take four to six weeks.   

The official said Ukraine is using a layered, mobile defense — quick hit-and-run strikes using light infantry and portable anti-armor weapons. The Ukrainian military is fighting on its home turf and using the local population as its eyes and ears, so its intelligence and mobility have been better than the Russians'.

The officials said the Russians still have the overwhelming force superiority but that they are not using it effectively or operating in a coordinated way, as a large military could. In the meantime, the Ukrainian military has put up a tough fight. The official said the U.S. believes that Russia has lost hundreds of vehicles, along with 15 to 20 fixed-wing aircraft and 20 to 25 helicopters.

Image: Russians continue assault on outskirts of Kyiv
Members of the Territorial Defense Forces learn how to use weapons during a training session in a public park on March 9, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Walt Disney Co. says it will pause all work in Russia

Teaganne Finn

The Walt Disney Co. said Thursday it would take a further step and halt all business in Russia after it decided last week to merely pause the release of films there. 

"Given the unrelenting assault on Ukraine and the escalating humanitarian crisis, we are taking steps to pause all other businesses in Russia," the company said in a statement on its website. "This includes content and product licensing, Disney Cruise Line activities, National Geographic magazine and tours, local content productions and linear channels."

The company said some of those business activities will be paused immediately. Others, such as linear channels and some content and product licensing, will take time given contractual complexities.

GOP bill would ban oil and gas imports from Iran and Venezuela

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

A group of GOP senators introduced legislation Thursday that would ban oil and natural gas imports from Iran and Venezuela

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would pre-emptively prohibit crude oil, liquefied natural gas, petroleum and other such products from those countries. 

"Under no circumstance should we be funneling money into the hands of dictators and narco-terrorists who are also allies of Vladimir Putin," Rubio said in a statement. "Enough is enough — it’s time to bring energy production back home."

The White House has pushed back against reports of talks with both countries as the U.S. bans Russian oil, saying it has generally discussed energy security. 

"The fact that Joe Biden is rumored to be negotiating with Venezuela for crude oil is so offensive,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., another sponsor of the measure. “Even worse, he may be willing to give Iran, the world’s largest sponsor of terror, billions of dollars a day by removing sanctions for their oil. It’s hard to believe that we would trade one despot in Russia for two despots in Venezuela and Iran."

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Steve Daines of Montana, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Rick Scott of Florida and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Psaki suggests U.S. wouldn't engage militarily with Russia if it uses chemical or biological weapons

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested Thursday that the U.S. has no intention of engaging militarily with Russia even if it uses chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. 

Asked whether Russia's use of such weapons would be a red line for President Joe Biden in terms of direct U.S. involvement in the war, Psaki told reporters: "We are directly involved. We are providing a billion dollars in security assistance. We are the largest provider of that."

Pressed again on the question, she said, "With the U.S. military going, engaging in Ukraine and fighting a war against Russia, we don’t have any intention to do that."

Psaki reiterated that Russia has a history of using chemical and biological weapons and said U.S. officials should have their "eyes open for that possibility."

At least 549 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, but toll is likely much higher, U.N. office says

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

There were more than 1,500 civilian casualties, including at least 549 deaths, in the first two weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said. 

Of the 549 people killed from Feb. 24 to Wednesday night, 26 were children, the U.N. said. It also said more than 950 people have been injured, including 34 children. Ukrainian officials, as well as the U.N. office, said they believe the death toll has been much higher than what has been officially reported. 

"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 multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes," the U.N. said. 

The agency said it "believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, especially in government-controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration."

YouTube, Google Play suspend payment-based services in Russia


Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube and Google Play store are suspending all payment-based services in Russia, including subscriptions, as Western sanctions start to pose banking challenges in the country.

Google will also pause ads for advertisers based in Russia across its properties and networks globally, the company said. That is in addition to the company's recent suspension of ads in Russia.

Google and YouTube had earlier stopped selling online advertising in Russia following similar pauses by Twitter and Snap after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"As a follow-up, we're now extending this pause to all our monetization features, including YouTube Premium, Channel Memberships, Super Chat and Merchandise, for viewers in Russia," YouTube said in a statement Thursday.

YouTube channels in Russia will still be able to generate revenue from viewers outside Russia, which include Super Chat and merchandise sales. Free apps on Google Play also remain available in Russia, according to a company support website.

E.U. chief: Russia's shelling of Mariupol maternity ward 'can be a war crime'


BRUSSELS — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday that Russia's shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, could constitute a war crime.

"The bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital is inhumane, cruel and tragic. I am convinced that this can be a war crime. We need a full investigation," von der Leyen said. 

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the BBC on Thursday that the Biden administration was working with the international community to document "the crimes that Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people."

"They constitute war crimes. There are attacks on civilians that cannot be justified by any — in any way whatsoever," she said.

Image: Emergency workers and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from the maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9, 2022.
Emergency workers and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from the maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022.Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

Russia claims the attack on the hospital in Mariupol was a 'staged' provocation

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday the airstrike that hit the maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday was a "directed provocation," according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.  

"The supposed 'air strike' was a completely directed provocation to sustain the anti-Russian sentiment in the Western audience," the news agency said. Photos of the aftermath showed "two separate staged explosions next to the hospital," it said. "One was a deep underground explosion and the other one was smaller and was targeted at the hospital building."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials said Wednesday that the attack was a Russian airstrike. Ukrainian authorities said the attack killed at least three people, including a child.

Burger King pulls corporate support from franchised Russian locations

Burger King is cutting corporate support for its more than 800 franchised restaurants in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, the company announced Thursday. 

The fast-food chain said it would turn away investments or expansion within Russia and that it would pause operations, marketing and its supply chain as the war intensifies.

The company had been facing an onslaught of pressure to halt its operations in protest against the war. 

Burger King's departure is just the latest in a trail of major fast-food companies that are backing out of Russia. McDonald's, Starbucks and Yum Brands — which owns KFC and Pizza Hut — also said this week they were closing stores in Russia.

Ukrainian deputy PM says it's impossible to evacuate people from Mariupol

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said Thursday that it's impossible to evacuate people from two cities, including Mariupol, where a maternity and children's hospital was bombed Wednesday. 

"The most difficult situation is in Volnovakha and Mariupol. It is not possible to organize humanitarian corridors from there, these cities are a real humanitarian catastrophe," she said in a post on Telegram. 

Both cities are in the Donetsk region. Mariupol is on the north coast of the Black Sea in southeastern Ukraine; Volnovakha is about 40 miles north of Mariupol. 

Vereshchuk said 83,000 people have been evacuated from other Ukrainian cities over the last two days.

A regional governor in eastern Ukraine, Oleh Synegubov, said Thursday that the Russian military had blocked Ukrainian civilians from evacuating territory in the town of Izyum. He said Russia didn't comply with the terms of the "green corridor" and continued to attack the civilian population. Still, Ukrainian authorities were able to evacuate more than 1,600 people on 44 buses, he said. 

Romney: 'Makes no sense' to keep Soviet jets from going to Ukraine

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, slammed the Biden administration's response to Ukraine's request for aircraft as it tries to shore up its defenses against Russian forces. 

“I simply do not understand the logic for not getting the MiGs to the Ukrainians immediately.” Romney said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday. “It makes no sense.” 

The U.S. rejected an offer from Poland on Wednesday to transfer its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to bolster Ukraine's air force. 

Romney acknowledged concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin could further escalate the war but insisted that "it’s time for him to be fearful of what we might do." 

"This is war. People are dying. We need to get this aircraft immediately to the people of Ukraine," he said.

Mariupol residents grow desperate as food, other essentials run low, Red Cross official says

Residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol are running low on basic necessities, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday, describing the situation as "increasingly dire and desperate."

Food, water, heat, electricity and medical care supplies are scant among the city's approximately 400,000 residents, the organization said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stretched into its third week. 

Sasha Volkov, the head of the humanitarian agency's delegation in Mariupol, detailed dwindling resources and said diabetes and cancer patients were not able to get much-needed medications in an audio message recorded on Wednesday and shared by the Red Cross.

“Many have no water at all for drinking,” he said. “Some people still have food, but I’m not sure for how long it will last.” 

Volkov said the siege has left families desperate for relief.

“People started to attack each other for food,” he said.

As millions flee Ukraine, some countries take in far more refugees than others

LONDON — More than 2 million people had fled Ukraine as of Wednesday in what could soon become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis of the 21st century and the worst since World War II. A spokesperson for UNICEF said at least half of them are children, some of whom have been forced to travel on their own.

The U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, welcomed the European Union's decision last week to offer temporary protection to Ukrainians and third-country nationals who have refugee or permanent residence status in Ukraine, offering them “immediate protection.”

While the bloc and countries neighboring Ukraine have been praised, however, other countries are being accused of falling behind, particularly Britain, after it acknowledged having issued just 300 visas to Ukrainians so far.

Image: Women and children walk to board a train to the Przemysl main train station after crossing the Polish Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Thursday.
Women and children walk to board a train to the Przemysl main train station after crossing the Polish Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Thursday.Omar Marques / Getty Images

Read the full story here.

Goldman Sachs becomes first major bank to exit Russia over invasion

Goldman Sachs on Thursday became the first major bank to announce plans to close operations in Russia over the war in Ukraine as other major financial firms consider exits.

"Goldman Sachs is winding down its business in Russia in compliance with regulatory and licensing requirements," Patrick Scanlan, a spokesman, said in an emailed statement. "We are focused on supporting our clients across the globe in managing or closing out pre-existing obligations in the market and ensuring the well-being of our people."

Goldman is continuing to trade corporate debt tied to Russia, but the bank itself will not be wagering on price movements, Bloomberg reported.

Citigroup said Wednesday that it was working to wind down its consumer banking business in Russia.

"We are continuing our previously announced efforts to exit our consumer banking business in Russia," Edward Skyler, the bank's executive vice president of global public affairs, wrote in a statement. "As we work toward that exit, we are operating that business on a more limited basis given current circumstances and obligations."

Lavrov criticizes West for supplying weapons to Ukraine

Western nations supplying weapons to Ukraine are creating a "colossal threat to themselves," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday.  

Speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba ended with no signs of progress toward a cease-fire, Lavrov said that his country "did not attack Ukraine," and he criticized Western nations for supplying weapons to forces in the country.  

He added that complaints made by Moscow over the course of many years about "the situation" in Ukraine posing a direct threat to Russia had fallen on deaf dears. 

Kuleba, meanwhile, lamented the failure to reach a cease-fire agreement. 

"Unfortunately, FM Lavrov seemed to have come to talk, not to decide," he tweeted.

Residents evacuate the city of Irpin, north of Kyiv, on Thursday.

Image: Irpin evacuation
Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images

5 medical workers killed, more than 60 hospitals damaged in attacks, Ukraine's health minister says

Five medical workers have been killed and at least 63 hospitals have been damaged since Russia launched its invasion, Ukraine's health minister said in a Facebook post Thursday.  

Viktor Liashko blamed the deaths on "the bullets of Russian terrorists."  

His comments came after Ukrainian officials said a Russian airstrike on a hospital had killed at least three people, including a child, on Wednesday. 

NBC News

Major Ukraine telecom provider knocked offline

Ukraine's internet outages are getting worse.

Triolan, one of Ukraine's largest national telecommunications providers, has been entirely offline for about 12 hours, according to Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at Kentik, a company that monitors global internet connectivity.

In a Telegram post, Triolan said that the outage was due to an attack, though it wasn't clear if that meant a cyberattack or if key infrastructure had been physically damaged. The outage further squeezes Ukraine's national internet connectivity, which has been steadily declining due to several factors related to Russia's invasion, leaving many besieged Ukrainians in an information blackout.

NBC News

Italian museums to return loaned works to Russian galleries


Two museums in Milan will return several works of art on loan from Russia after requests for their early return, the Italian galleries said on Thursday, a further sign of broader tensions caused by the invasion of Ukraine.

The Hermitage Museum, based in St. Petersburg, wrote to Milan's Palazzo Reale asking for the return of two paintings — including "Young woman with a feathered hat" by the Venetian painter Titian — loaned for the "Titian and the image of women in 16th century Venice" exhibition.

"I think the two works will be picked up by the end of March," said museum director Domenico Piraina, adding they cannot oppose the request.

"Titian's work is certainly important but the exhibition can go ahead well without it," he said.

The exhibition started on Feb. 23 and will run until June 5.

"When I read the letter I felt bitter because culture should be protected from war but these are difficult times," Piraina added.

Gallerie d'Italia, which operates another museum in Milan, said it received a request for the return of 23 works out of nearly 200 in the current exhibition "Grand Tour. Dream of Italy from Venice to Pompeii," on loan from three Russian museums.

"They will be returned before the exhibition closes on 27 March," said a spokesperson for the Intesa Sanpaolo bank which owns the collection at the gallery and two other sites in Naples and Vicenza.

The Rome-based Fendi Foundation and another museum in northern city of Udine have received similar requests. 

Zelenskyy says more than 60,000 residents 'rescued' from besieged cities Wednesday

More than 60,000 residents have been rescued from besieged cities in Ukraine in the past day, the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has said.

Calling Russian troops "monsters," Zelenskyy said his "heart is broken" by the death and destruction brought to cities under attack in Ukraine.

"Despite everything, updated information was received every hour yesterday about people who managed to be evacuated to the free territory of Ukraine," he said. "In total, more than 60,000 of our citizens were rescued yesterday — plus those who did not have time until night and continued to evacuate in the morning."

Zelenskyy noted that humanitarian corridors were once again opened Thursday to allow the evacuation of residents from some areas. 

"Buses have already left, trucks are on their way — with food, water, medicine," he said.

Harris announces U.S. has delivered two missile defense systems to Poland

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced Thursday that the U.S. has delivered two Patriot missile defense systems to Poland.

"We do this as a reminder and as a demonstration of our commitment to the security of our allies and our commitment in particular to Poland at this moment in time," she said in remarks to reporters after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw. 

Harris also announced the U.S. will give $50 million in humanitarian assistance to help Poland as it deals with a flood of refugees who are fleeing Ukraine. 

The vice president reiterated the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of NATO is "ironclad." 

"The United States is prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory. The United States takes seriously that an attack against one is an attack against all," she said. 

NBC News

 A military priest tries to comfort a crying woman who was evacuated from Irpin, at a triage point in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

Image: military priest tries to comfort a crying woman in Irpin
Vadim Ghirda / AP

Ukraine asks IAEA to ‘assess the situation’ at nuclear power plants

Ukraine's parliament has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to "assess the situation" at its nuclear power plants.

Announced in a Telegram post, the request came after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was disconnected from the national power grid. It is currently operating on back-up diesel generators. 

“Due to constant fighting, repairs and restoration of energy supply are currently impossible,” the parliament said.

Ukrenergo, the national energy company, is awaiting a safe corridor to restore power lines. “Our repair crews are ready to repair the line immediately, despite the threat of being shot by the enemy, and are waiting for permission,” it said.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi left for Turkey on Thursday to discuss the “urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities,” he said on Twitter.

The IAEA had said on Wednesday that there has been no critical impact at Chernobyl, which, along with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, remains under Russian occupation.


U.K. eases visa rules for Ukrainians after facing backlash over refugee response

The United Kingdom has announced an easing of its rules allowing Ukrainians to obtain British visas after facing widespread backlash over its response to the growing refugee crisis. 

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the U.K. would be rolling out a streamlined online visa application system for Ukrainians seeking to flee the war with Russia. 

Patel told members of Parliament the changes in response to "Putin's depraved war" would come into effect starting Tuesday.

She said the move would allow visa application centers across Europe to focus their efforts on assisting Ukrainians without passports, in order to speed up the process. 

The decision comes after the British government faced criticism with France accusing the U.K. of turning away Ukrainians and telling them to travel to visa application centers in France to apply to enter. Patel denied the accusations earlier this week.

The U.K. has also faced condemnation, however, for only issuing visas to several hundred Ukrainians and for only issuing the visas under a limited program for those with relatives in Britain. 

Meanwhile, neighboring countries around Ukraine have accepted tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, with Poland taking in more than 1.4 million, according to the latest data from the United Nations refugee agency.

Civilians evacuated from Enerhodar arrive in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on Wednesday.

Image: Civilians evacuated from nuclear power plant area arrive in Zaporizhzhia
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian presidential adviser accuses Russia of creating 'Syria' scenario with hospital attack

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has accused Russia of creating a scenario like "Syria" with its recent attack on a children's hospital in Mariupol.

"After the Russian occupiers' attack on the maternity hospital in Mariupol, it finally became clear that Russia had changed its tactics and switched to the 'Syrian' scenario - terror of the civilian population," he said in a Telegram post.

He also accused Russian forces of "deliberately disrupting the evacuation of civilians."

The besieged city of Mariupol's City Council said the city was under a new "air attack" by Russian forces amid efforts to evacuate residents.

"Defenders of Mariupol hold the defense," Arestovych said, adding: "We will do everything to evacuate the civilian population of Mariupol."

He said he believes Russia would "not be able to take Mariupol."

Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

Japanese companies suspend operations in Russia

Major Japanese firms including Uniqlo and Sony have joined a growing list of companies suspending their operations in Russia.

Clothing retailer Uniqlo cannot continue doing business because of “a number of difficulties,” parent company Fast Retailing said in a statement on Thursday. Fast Retailing founder Tadashi Yanai had earlier told Japan's Nikkei newspaper that Uniqlo's Russian stores would stay open, calling clothing a “necessity of life.”

Also on Thursday, Japanese conglomerate Hitachi announced it was suspending all exports to Russia and halting manufacturing activities there except for electrical equipment that is "indispensable to the daily lives of people."

Gaming giants Sony and Nintendo have suspended all software and hardware shipments, while Sony has also shuttered its physical PlayStation stores in Russia.

While the Japanese government was quick to join international economic sanctions against Moscow, Japanese companies had largely held off and have come under pressure in recent days to follow their Western competitors in reducing their Russia ties.

'Thank you, Poland': Ukrainian refugee expresses gratitude for adopted home

Kelly Cobiella

Yuka Tachibana

Kelly Cobiella and Yuka Tachibana

Ludmilla Iwanowa, 49, and her two young children are just a few of the estimated 2 million people who have fled across Ukraine’s border to escape the war. 

Iwanowa, originally from the Poltava region in central Ukraine, told NBC News earlier this week that she and her daughter, Anastasia, 6, and son, Artem, 10, were forced to flee their home because the Russian Army was approaching. She left her husband, a retired soldier, behind to fight. 

She bemoaned the violent Russian assault and said President Vladimir Putin was sending “children as cannon fodder” to the front lines. 

“It’s Putin," she said. "He is sending these children, young boys. They took weapons and they are killing our kids! And what can we do? We have to defend ourselves!” 

Iwanowa said that to save her children, she fled to Poland, arriving in Rzeszow.

“I am really grateful to Poland, because I have managed to extend my children's childhood. They gave them shelter, because Putin and the Russian Army destroyed Ukraine and Ukrainians,” she said as she began to cry.  

“Thank you Poland, we will study Polish language, because we are so grateful.” 

As she looks to build a new life in her adopted country, she said: “Of course I would like to help also. Maybe I can find work, because I just can’t stay here and only eat for free."

“I am a healthy woman, I have to work to feed our children," she said.

Image: Ludmilla Iwanowa
Ludmilla Iwanowa and her children, Artem, 6, and Anastasia, 10, at a makeshift refugee shelter set up by a gaming company called G2A in Rzeszow, Poland, on March 6.Yuka Tachibana / NBC News

Kuleba says Lavrov addressed 'nuclear threat issue' during meeting

Ukraine's top diplomat has said his Russian counterpart "addressed the nuclear threat issue" in Ukraine as Russian forces continue to hold control of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants. 

"I told him that before the Russian soldiers came to our territory everything was fine with our nuclear power plants," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters following his high-level meeting in Turkey with Russia's Sergey Lavrov. 

"Ukraine has always been a responsible participant of nuclear power organization," he said. 

His comments came amid concerns about the Chernobyl plant after it was disconnected from the national power grid. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that while the development violated a "key safety pillar," there had been no critical impact. 

Kuleba also sought to shut down accusations from Russia that Ukraine was producing nuclear weapons, dismissing the baseless claim as "false."

Britain's defense ministry has said that Russia was likely ramping up accusations of Ukraine developing nuclear weapons in a bid to justify its invasion of the country.

In an intelligence update, the defense ministry said that there has been a "notable intensification" of Russia's accusations of Ukraine developing nuclear or biological weapons since the end of February. 

Kuleba said: "The best thing that Russia can do right now is withdraw its troops from our nuclear power stations." 

Ukraine investigates 38 cases of alleged treason against local officials, officers

Ukraine is investigating 38 cases of alleged treason against local officials and law enforcement officers accused of aiding Russia, the State Bureau of Investigation said on Thursday.

“Investigators have launched proceedings against several police officers in Mariupol and Kherson,” it said in a statement on Facebook. “They committed treason under martial law and sided with the enemy.” The martial law has been in place since Feb. 24.

Law enforcement has also found local officials who “actively support and promote Russian aggression," the bureau said. One official was detained in the Donetsk city of Kramatorsk and similar actions were recorded in other occupied territories, it said.

Ukraine's foreign minister says country will not 'surrender' after meeting with Russian counterpart

Ukraine's foreign minister has said his country will not "surrender" following a meeting with his Russian counterpart. 

Following the high-level meeting in Antalya, Turkey, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia appeared to "seek surrender from Ukraine, but this is not what they are going to get." 

"Ukraine is strong," he said. 

Kyiv "cannot stop the war if the aggressor country does not want to do so," he added.

"Today, I heard that a cease-fire is possible if Ukraine fulfills Putin's terms," he said. "However, Ukraine does not surrender."

He said, however, that his country would continue to "seek diplomatic solutions. And until that is achieved, we will protect people from Russian aggression." 

Kuleba added that Ukraine had proposed a humanitarian corridor to and from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, as well as a ceasefire for at least a day to address the humanitarian problems of civilians.

He said the Russian side has not agreed to that proposal, but said he was prepared to continue negotiations.

Meeting between Ukrainian, Russian foreign ministers concludes

A meeting in Turkey between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, has concluded. 

The high-level meeting in southern Turkey came as Ukraine continued evacuations of residents trapped in hard-hit areas and as officials accused Russia of war crimes for appearing to target civilians. 

Major newspapers in Nordic region to translate articles into Russian to provide 'reliable' news

The Associated Press

Three major newspapers in the Nordic region are to translate some of their articles on the invasion of Ukraine into Russian.

The plan is to inform people in Russia about what is happening, after independent media there were shut down. The translated newspaper articles also will be posted on social media.

Denmark's Politiken newspaper Politiken said Thursday that "our goal is to provide the Russians with impartial and reliable news coverage."

It added that "democracy dies in the dark. The free dissemination of independent information is essential for maintaining the hope of peace and the hope of humanity."

Other newspapers participating in the initiative include Sweden's daily Dagens Nyheter and Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat.

Ukraine nuclear power plants operating ‘under the barrels of machine guns’, says operator

Ukraine's nuclear power operator has raised fresh concern over the situation at the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants, which are under Russian control, as it said workers continued to work "under the barrels of machine guns."

Out of the four power lines at the Zaporizhzhia plant, two have already been damaged, it said. “If two more are damaged, there will be a catastrophe,” Energoatom said Thursday in a statement on Telegram.

“Chernobyl is used as a military base. The station is partially de-energized,” it said. Emergency diesel generators are currently in operation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency had said yesterday that although the situation at the Chernobyl plant violates a “key safety pillar”, there has been no critical impact.

U.K. sanctions Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, billionaire soccer club owner

The Associated Press

Chantal Da Silva and The Associated Press

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Premier League soccer club Chelsea, has been sanctioned by the British government as part of an effort to ramp up pressure on Russian oligarchs.

Abramovich was one of several wealthy Russians to be named in new sanctions unveiled Thursday

He had recently announced his intention to sell London-based soccer club Chelsea, with plans to donate net proceeds from the sale to victims of the war in Ukraine. 

But that sale now appears to be on hold, with the British government saying Thursday that Abramovich’s assets are frozen, he is banned from visiting the U.K. and he is barred from transactions with U.K. individuals and businesses.

Also added to the U.K. sanctions list are industrialist Oleg Deripaska and Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin.

Moscow Stock Exchange remains shut for tenth consecutive day

Moscow stock exchange was closed Thursday for the tenth consecutive day with only limited exceptions allowed, The Bank of Russia announced in a statement.

The Russian Ruble fell sharply after the bank allowed its trade on Wednesday, falling to almost half of its value against the U.S. Dollar since February 10, reported CNBC.

The trading sessions in the foreign exchange and money market opened at 10.00 a.m. local time on Thursday (2 a.m. ET) 

Talks between Ukraine, Russia's top diplomats begin

Talks between Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have begun, a spokesperson for Ukraine's foreign ministry has said.

The talks are taking place in Antalya, Turkey, with Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko tweeting a photo of the diplomats meeting at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.

Kuleba has previously said he does not have "high hopes" for the meeting, but he said he would push for the "maximum" in bringing an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Attack on Mariupol children's hospital leaves three dead, including a child, city council says

NBC News

An attack on a children's hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol on Wednesday killed at least three people, including one child, city council officials said.

In a Telegram post, Mariupol's city council said that the attack had killed a young girl, in addition to injuring at least 17 others, including children, mothers and doctors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has condemned the strike and similar attacks in other cities as evidence of a "genocide" being carried out by Russian forces. 

“Europeans: You won't be able to say that you did not see what was happening to Ukrainians, what was happening in Mariupol,” he said. “You saw it. You know it. You need to continue to impose sanctions on Russia so that they would not be able to continue this genocide, so that they would sit at the negotiation table and stop this atrocious war."

Lawrence O'Donnell

Russian forces continue to suffer losses in Kyiv, U.K. defense ministry says

Russian forces situated northwest of Kyiv have made little recent progress, the U.K. defense ministry said Thursday.

“The large Russian column north west of Kyiv has made little progress in over a week and is suffering continued losses at the hands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” said the ministry in a tweet.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said the city’s defense is inflicting “fire damage on the offensive group of occupiers” and is maintaining defensive lines.

"Measures are being taken to deter the enemy from advancing in the direction of Kyiv,” it said in a statement on Facebook on Thursday morning.