(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 19, 2:32 pm
Kremlin confirms it used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine
The Kremlin confirmed Saturday that it used hypersonic missiles for the first time since invading Ukraine.
Russia used the Kinzhal aviation missile system, with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles, on the village of Delyatyn in Ukraine on Friday, according to Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry.
“On March 18, the Kinzhal aerial missile system equipped with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles destroyed a large underground missile and air ammunition depot of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the settlement of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region,” Konashenkov said at a briefing on Saturday.
The Russian military claims it is capable of hitting targets at a range of more than 2,000 kilometers.
Mar 19, 2:23 pm
Ukraine says it has detained at least 562 Russian prisoners of war
At least 562 prisoners of war are being held in Ukraine, Irina Vereshchuk, the head of the country’s Ministry of Reintegration, a ministry established in 2016 to manage occupied Ukrainian territories, said in an interview with Ukrainian news service TSN on Saturday.
Vereshchuk said they are being treated according to international humanitarian law.
Ukrainian forces in Kyiv have detained 127 saboteurs, including 14 infiltration groups, since the Russian invasion began, Mykola Zhyrnov, the capital’s military administration head, (told BBC).
Mar 19, 1:12 pm
At least 30 killed in strike on Ukrainian military base: witness
At least 30 people were killed in a strike on a Ukrainian military barrack south of Mykolaiv on Friday, according to a witness.
A civilian working with the Ukrainian military told ABC News that more than 30 people were killed in the attack– believed to be in retaliation to damage done to the Russian controlled facility in Kherson.
On Friday, Mykolaiv’s mayor said that “dozens” of troops were killed in the strike.
Mykolaiv’s governor said the rescue operation is ongoing and no official figures on casualties will be released until it’s over.
-ABC News’ Dada Jovanovic
Mar 19, 11:25 am
UNICEF calls for strengthened measures to protect children fleeing Ukraine from human trafficking, exploitation
The United Nations Children’s fund warned Saturday that children fleeing the war in Ukraine are at an increased risk of human trafficking and exploitation.
“Traffickers often seek to exploit the chaos of large scale population movements, and with more than 1.5 million children having fled Ukraine as refugees since [Feb.24], and countless others displaced by violence inside the country, the threat facing children is real and growing,” UNICEF said.
According to an analysis conducted by UNICEF and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking, 28% of identified victims of trafficking globally are children.
“In the context of Ukraine, UNICEF child protection experts believe that children would likely account for an even higher proportion of potential trafficking victims given that children and women represent nearly all of the refugees who have fled the country so far,” UNICEF said.
According to UNICEF, more than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing the Ukrainian border into Romania between Feb. 24 and March 17. It also estimates that the true number of separated children who have fled Ukraine is likely much higher.
“Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
Khan said children need to be screened for their vulnerability as they cross the border into another country.
“UNICEF is calling on governments to improve cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange between and among border control, law enforcement and child protection authorities and to quickly identify separated children, implement family tracing and reunification procedures for children deprived of parental care,” UNICEF said.
UNICEF also said additional screening for protection risks should be implemented in shelters, large urban train stations and other locations where refugees gather or pass through.
Mar 19, 11:01 am
Lavrov calls West ‘unreliable’ as an economic partner
The West has proven to be unreliable as an economic partner and a place for keeping foreign exchange reserves, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday.
“Even disregarding the situation with Ukraine and the sanctions, conduct of the West proves that it is unreliable both as a part of the world where major reserve currencies are generated, as an economic partner, and as a country where forex reserves could be kept. They might easily be stolen,” Lavrov told finalists of the international stage of the Leaders of Russia competition.
This is why Russia is strengthening cooperation with other countries, including China, he said.
Lavrov also commented on the reinstatement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which would allow Iranian oil supply on the global market.
“We never betray our friends in politics. Venezuela is our friend, and Iran is a state that is very close to us. Secondly, we do not pursue selfish interests, unlike the Americans,” Lavrov said in response to a question whether the JCPOA reinstatement was advantageous to Russia.
“You can see what they [the Americans] are actually doing, trying to spite Russia and teach it a lesson,” he said.
“So, the Americans have been contacting Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar regarding oil and gas. All of those countries, just like Venezuela and Iran, clearly said: when we discuss issues pertaining to the appearance of new actors in the oil market, all of us are committed to the OPEC+ format, where quotas for every actor are discussed and agreed upon by consensus,” he said.
“For now, I see no reason to believe that this mechanism may somehow be dismantled. No one is interested in that,” Lavrov said.
Mar 19, 7:06 am
112 children killed in Ukraine conflict, officials say
At least 112 children have been killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the local Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office said.
More than 140 children have been wounded during the first 24 days of the war, officials said.
Fifty-seven children have been killed in Kyiv, officials said. Another 36 were killed in Kharkiv and 28 were killed in the Donetsk Oblast, they said.
Mar 19, 5:38 am
Russia pursuing ‘strategy of attrition,’ UK military says
As Russia’s attempts to capture Ukrainian territory have been slowed by Ukrainian resistance, the invading forces have switched to a “strategy of attrition,” the UK Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.
“This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increase civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure, and intensify the humanitarian crisis,” the Ministry said on Twitter.
Mar 18, 8:31 pm
Zelenskyy responds to massive Moscow rally
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted to the massive concert that occurred Friday in Moscow in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and on the eight-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“A big rally took place. And I want to pay attention to one detail. It is reported that a total of about 200,000 people were involved in the rally in the Russian capital — 100,000 on the streets, about 95,000 at the stadium. Approximately the same number of Russian troops were involved in the invasion of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said in his latest national address Friday night.
“Just imagine 14,000 corpses and tens of thousands of wounded and maimed people at that stadium in Moscow,” he continued. “There are already so many Russian losses as a result of this invasion. This is the price of war. In a little more than three weeks. The war must end.”
Zelenskyy noted progress in evacuating more than 180,000 Ukrainians through humanitarian corridors, though charged that Russian invaders are blocking the supply of humanitarian aid to some besieged cities.
“This is a totally deliberate tactic. They have a clear order to do absolutely everything to make the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukrainian cities an ‘argument’ for Ukrainians to cooperate with the occupiers,” he said. “This is a war crime. They will be held accountable for this. 100%.”
Mar 18, 3:36 pm
Biden, Xi hold 1st call in months
President Joe Biden held a video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping for one hour and 50 minutes on Friday, marking the first time the two leaders spoke since November.
The White House readout of the call doesn’t say whether the conversation was constructive or not, but the White House said Biden made clear the “implications and consequences” if China aligns with Russia and provides them “material support.”
China’s readout of the call said China supports negotiations but passes the buck to the U.S. and NATO to “conduct dialogue with Russia to solve the crux of the Ukraine crisis and resolve the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine.”
The call was “direct,” “substantive” and “detailed,” according to a senior administration official.
The official said Biden “really wasn’t making specific requests of China” on the call and instead was “laying out his assessment of the situation, what he thinks makes sense, and the implications of certain actions.”
The official said that the call was “less about coming away with a particular view out of conversation today and more about making sure, again, that they were able to really have that direct candidate and detailed and very substantive conversation at the leader level.”
Mar 18, 2:53 pm
Macron speaks to Putin about Mariupol
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone Friday, sharing “his extreme concern” about Russian attacks on the besieged city of Mariupol, the Élysée said.
Macron “asked him for concrete and verifiable measures to lift the siege of Mariupol, humanitarian access and an immediate ceasefire,” the Élysée said.
Russian attacks have prevented many civilians from escaping Mariupol and is keeping humanitarian supplies from being brought in. The Mariupol City Council reported Sunday that 2,187 residents had been killed since the start of the invasion. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk said last week that the city was “beyond a humanitarian disaster,” with most roads destroyed, little communication with the outside and no power, gas or heat.
Mar 18, 1:38 pm
Russians have launched 1,080 missiles at Ukrainian targets: US
The Russians remain largely stalled on day 23 of the invasion of Ukraine and haven’t moved further toward Kyiv, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
Reports of missile strikes near Lviv’s airport seem accurate, the official said, adding that there was no additional information at this time.
Russians stalled on the battlefield by Ukrainian resistance are resorting to artillery and long-range missiles to strike at Ukraine’s cities. Russians have now launched 1,080 missiles at Ukrainian targets — an increase of 80 missiles in one day, the official said.
Mar 18, 1:08 pm
US ambassador calls Russia’s biolab allegations ‘potential false flag effort in action’
During the meeting Russia convened to air its allegations of dangerous biolabs in Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told her fellow Security Council members that they may be witnessing one of Moscow’s battle tactics unfolding before their eyes.
“I will reiterate the United States’ deep and serious concern that Russia’s calling for this meeting is — is –a potential false flag effort in action. Russia has repeatedly — repeatedly–accused other countries of the very violations it plans to perpetrate,” she stated. “We continue to believe it is possible that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people.”
“Last week we heard from the Russian representative a tirade of bizarre conspiracy theories. 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,” she said.
“President Joe Biden has a word for this kind of talk: malarkey,” Thomas-Greenfield continued, again flatly denying claims that Ukraine has a biological weapons program.
Thomas-Greenfield reminded the room that it is Russia that maintains such a program in violation of international law and has a documented history of using nerve agents against enemies of the Kremlin as well as supporting the use of chemical warfare in Syria.
“We aren’t going to dignify Russia’s disinformation or conspiracy theories. But we will continue to sound the alarm and tell the world where we think Russia is heading,” she added. “And we will remind the world that Russia has repeatedly — repeatedly — lied to this council over recent weeks.”
Mar 18, 12:32 pm
Russian negotiator says Russia, Ukraine have made progress on issue of neutral status, sticking point is ‘security guarantees’
Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine, said the two sides have made the most progress on the question of Ukraine’s “neutral status” during the negotiations, but that “nuances” remain around issues of security guarantees for Ukraine if it gives up joining NATO.
The “nuances are connected with what kind of security guarantees Ukraine gets in addition to ones it already has, in the case of renouncing joining the NATO bloc,” Medinsky told Russian media.
Medinsky said the two sides were “somewhere halfway” to meeting each other over the issue of Ukraine’s “demilitarization.”
“As for demilitarisation, I would say it’s 50-50. The issues is I am now authorised to divulge any details of the negotiations and I will not do that, nor concrete figures, nor arguments of the sides, but in this part we are somewhere halfway,” he said.
Mar 18, 10:28 am
Putin speaks at massive concert in Moscow
At a massive concert in Moscow on Friday in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the main goal of the military special operation to stop the genocide of the population of Donbass — a false claim Putin has been spreading.
“It is precisely to save people from this suffering, from this genocide that is the main, main reason, motive and goal of the military operation that we launched in the Donbass and Ukraine,” Putin told the packed crowd in the city’s main stadium.
The concert was timed to mark the eight-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
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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