(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. Heavy shelling and missile attacks, many on civilian buildings, continue in Kyiv, as well as major cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. Russia also bombed western cities for the first time this week, targeting Lviv and a military base near the Poland border.
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:
Mar 18, 6:48 am
Russian foreign minister threatens countries arming Ukraine
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that any foreign supplies to Ukraine containing military equipment will be considered “legitimate targets” for Russian strikes.
“We clearly said that any cargo moving into the Ukrainian territory which we would believe is carrying weapons would be fair game. This is clear because we are implementing the operation the goal of which is to remove any threat to the Russian Federation coming from the Ukrainian soil,” Lavrov said in an English-language interview with the RT television channel.
Mar 18, 6:29 am
Putin says Ukraine ‘seeking to drag out’ negotiations
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call with Germany’s leader Olaf Scholz accused Ukraine of “seeking to drag out” negotiations with Russia to end the war by putting forward “new unrealistic proposals.”
Putin told Scholz Russia was “nonetheless ready to continue the search for a solution within the bounds of its well-known principled approaches,” the Kremlin said in a readout of the call.
It’s a negative sign for the ongoing talks with Ukraine that both sides have suggested have made some progress this week.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell
Mar 18, 4:41 am
Lviv struck by missiles for the first time
Russian missiles have hit the western Ukrainian city of Lviv for the first time Friday, a key location that had been spared from the assault until now.
The missiles struck the area around the city’s airport, according to the mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, around 6:30 a.m. local time, hitting an aircraft repair facility and destroying the building.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attack, according to the mayor.
Preliminary data indicated that six cruise missiles were fired from the Black Sea, according to the country’s western military command. Two were destroyed by anti-aircraft missile systems.
-ABC News’ Martha Raddatz
Mar 17, 8:34 pm
White House ‘focused’ on ways to help growing Ukrainian refugee crisis
The Biden administration is “focused” on ways to help Ukrainian refugees, as the number of people displaced by the war continues to grow, according to U.S. officials.
More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
“As the numbers increase, as the burden increases for European partners, we will certainly do everything we can to help,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday, adding it was “something we’re very focused on right now.”
Without offering specifics, Blinken confirmed the administration is “looking at things that we can do ourselves and do directly — for example, looking at steps we may be able to take on family reunification and other things.”
One limited option is fast-tracking the process to admit refugees to the U.S. itself, which is defined by law and requires a referral from the U.N.’s refugee agency and thorough vetting. A senior administration official told ABC News that the refugee program “is not an emergency response program, so our goal would be to provide humanitarian assistance to keep people safe where they are for now.”
As Blinken told reporters, the referral process to be granted refugee status “takes time.” Refugee resettlement is a yearslong process, and there are already 7,000 Ukrainian refugees in the pipeline, according to resettlement agency Church World Service.
The senior administration official also said U.S. embassies and consulates in the region are processing emergency visa applications, but that they are overwhelmed. “We are not able to process the volume of the people who are thinking about that as an option,” the official said.
Refugee resettlement agencies say the administration is considering using the Lautenberg program, which allows religious minorities — including Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Christians — to bring family members to the U.S. with a potentially expedited refugee status. One agency told ABC News there are thousands of Ukrainian applicants who the U.S. could swiftly admit.
The administration has already approved temporary protected status for any Ukrainians in the U.S. before March 1 — allowing them to stay and work in the U.S. for at least the next 18 months.
-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson, Sarah Kolinovsky and Conor Finnegan
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