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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Number of refugees grows to 2.5 million

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(NEW YORK) — Russian forces are continuing their attempted push through Ukraine from multiple directions, while Ukrainians, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are putting up “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The attack began Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation.”

Russian forces moving from neighboring Belarus toward Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, have advanced closer to the city center in recent days despite the resistance, coming within about 9 miles as of Friday.

Russia has been met by sanctions from the United States, Canada and countries throughout Europe, targeting the Russian economy as well as Putin himself.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

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Mar 11, 9:22 am
Ukraine fighting ‘four times longer than the enemy expected,’ says Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy on Friday said Ukrainians have been fighting “four times longer than the enemy expected,” in a statement posted online.

“Ukrainians are proud people who defend their land and won’t give up the tiniest part of this land to the occupier, nor the tiniest part of our freedom,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy said it is impossible to say how many days Ukraine will need to “liberate” its land, “but it’s possible and necessary to stress that this day will come and we will win, because we’ve already achieved a strategic breakthrough and we will continue down this path to victory.”

He also spoke about Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure saying, “In many regions of Ukraine there’s no power or water supply, no heating. It’s a real humanitarian catastrophe.”

Zelenskyy said that if Russian attacks continue, then sanctions placed on Russia “aren’t enough.”

“They continue to torture Mariupol and Kharkiv, fire missiles on Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. If all this is still going on it means that sanctions already imposed on Russia are not enough and new tougher measures are urgently needed. Russia has to pay for this terrible war, pay every single day,” Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian government set up 12 humanitarian corridors, according to Zelenskyy.

“If the other side will break the agreements again, our response will be so strong, that humanitarian corridors will be needed for occupiers themselves,” he said.

Mar 11, 7:56 am
Putin claims ‘certain positive movements’ in Ukraine negotiations

Russian President Vladimir claimed there have been “certain positive movements” in negotiations with Ukraine, “which are emerging almost daily.”

There have been several rounds of talks without any resolution.

Putin made the remarks in a televised meeting in the Kremlin with Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Both leaders also tried to put a positive spin on the devastating Western sanctions, with Lukashenko calling them a “time of opportunities” to develop their own industries.

Mar 11, 7:33 am
Russian general prosecutor wants Meta declared ‘extremist organization’

Russia’s general prosecutor’s office has asked a court to declare Facebook’s parent company, Meta, an “extremist organization,” a designation that would equate the company with terrorist groups like ISIS.

The prosecutor’s office has also opened two criminal cases for alleged public calls for extremism and assistance to terrorism, Russian state media reports. The step follows Meta’s decision yesterday to temporarily change its hate speech policy to allow calls for violence against Russia in Ukrainian war posts.

Designating Meta as an extremist group would put it alongside the organization of Russia’s leading opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who is currently jailed. Membership or assistance to extremist organizations is punishable by lengthy prison terms, ranging from 5-10 years.

Russia’s state censor has already blocked access to Facebook. This raises the possibility that those using Facebook in the country could also face prison, though that is not clear.

Mar 11, 6:48 am
UN bolstering assistance for growing number of displaced people

The U.N. said it is increasingly concerned about the nearly two million internally displaced people and nearly 13 million impacted by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Of particular concern are supplies of food, water, medicines and other necessities that are urgently needed in the hard-hit cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol, according to UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh. Access to these areas remains restricted because of military operations and hazards like land mines.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is working to provide heating stations at border crossings for those who are particularly vulnerable and is also working to roll out cash assistance.

Mar 11, 5:05 am
Number of refugees from Ukraine rises to 2.5 million

The number of refugees in the Ukraine crisis has increased to 2.5 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Commissioner Filippo Grandi called the conflict “senseless” in a tweet and said that the number of displaced people inside Ukraine had reached about two million.

Mar 11, 4:49 am
Putin orders Russian military to help volunteer fighters from Middle East travel to Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his defense minister to assist “volunteer” fighters to travel to Ukraine to join Russian forces there.

The order appears to relate to Russian efforts to recruit Syrian fighters that U.S. officials have said are underway.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, claimed to Putin that 16,000 volunteers from “the Middle East” had expressed a desire to come.

Shoigu claimed that the fighters, who he said had experience fighting ISIS, wanted to come not for money but a “sincere” desire to help.

U.S. officials have said they believe Russia is recruiting Syrians experienced in urban combat from its areas held by its ally, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. They are reported to be being offered just a few hundred dollars.

Mar 10, 11:08 pm
Senate approves $1.5 trillion funding bill with supplemental aid to Ukraine

The Senate passed a $1.5 trillion government funding bill late Thursday that includes $13.6 billion in supplemental aid to Ukraine by a vote of 68-31.

The legislation will now head to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki thanked leaders for “getting this bill done” and said Biden “looks forward to signing it into law.”

“With these resources, we will be able to deliver historic support for the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and democracy,” she said in part.

The supplemental Ukrainian aid is split between defense and nondefense funding. The $1.5 trillion also includes funding for many of the administration’s priorities as well as sizable amounts for defense spending.

Mar 10, 10:43 pm
Biden to call for end to normal trade relations with Russia: Source

President Joe Biden will call for an end to normal trade relations with Russia on Friday, following their invasion of Ukraine, according to a source familiar with the matter. The decision would give the White House clearance to increase tariffs on the Kremlin.

“Tomorrow President Biden will announce that the U.S., along with the G-7, European Union, will be calling to revoke Most Favored Nation status for Russia, or called permanent normal trade relations, ‘PNTR,’ in the U.S.,” according to the source. “Each country will implement based on its own national processes. President Biden and the administration appreciate the bipartisan leadership of Congress and its calls for the revocation of the PNTR. Following the announcement tomorrow, the Admin looks forward to working with Congress on legislation to revoke PNTR.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has already publicly voiced support for this move.

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