Firemen work to extinguish a fire at an educational institution hit by shelling in the town of Merefa in the Kharkiv region.
Firemen work to extinguish a fire at an educational institution hit by shelling in the town of Merefa in the Kharkiv region. Image Credit: AFP

War rages in Ukraine for the 22nd day on Thursday as Russian troops besiege and bombard cities in the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, which has also led to the biggest refugee crisis since then. Follow the latest developments from the war zone:


UN agency to give protective gear to Ukraine journalists

The United Nations' cultural agency said Thursday it would provide bulletproof vests and helmets to journalists working in Ukraine after the deaths of several reporters covering Russia's invasion.

UNESCO will also organise online training courses for working in combat zones and first aid. It is also trying to provide in-person training soon for journalists in Lviv, the western city where many media organisations have moved as the capital Kyiv is besieged.

"Journalists and media workers are risking their lives in Ukraine to provide life-saving information to local populations and inform the world of the reality of this war," UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.

An initial batch of 125 vests and helmets will be distributed in particular to Ukrainian journalists "who previously reported on local issues and have been thrust into the role of war correspondents, unprepared for the risks they now face," the agency said.

Ukrainian lawmakers travel to UK for meeting

A group of Ukrainian lawmakers says Britain should press allies including France and Germany to do more to help Ukraine defeat Russian attack.

Four female Ukrainian parliament members, who are meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday, urged the UK to step up military support to Ukraine and increase economic pressure on Russia.

"We wish that you could also pressure France and Germany to do more," said Alona Shkrum of the Batkivshchyna Party.

Shkrum, who spent two and a half days traveling from Kyiv to the UK, including a 12-hour journey by back roads to western Ukraine, also called for more public pressure on companies still operating in Russia to leave.

"Every dollar, every ruble they make right now goes just to the army and to the Russian soldiers killing Ukrainian kids," she said.

Ukrainian lawmakers are currently barred from leaving the country, but the women were given permission by President Volodymyr Zelensky for the trip.

Biden, Xi to speak Friday on Russia, Ukraine

US President Joe Biden will hold a call on Friday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the White House said on Thursday, as the United States piles pressure on China not to provide support to Russia in its attack of Ukraine.

'"The two leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries as well as Russia's war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern," as part of an ongoing effort to keep lines of communication open, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The call comes after White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held seven hours of talks in Rome with Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Monday, warning Beijing not to support Russian President Vladimir Putin in his attack of Ukraine.

Asked which side requested the call, an administration official said it was mutually agreed in Rome.

US officials described those talks as "tough" and are still debating how to react if Xi gives Putin military or economic support.

Firefighters work at residential buildings damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Firefighters work at residential buildings damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Image Credit: REUTERS

South Africa's Ramaphosa blames NATO for Russia's war in Ukraine

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine and said he would resist calls to condemn Russia, in comments that cast doubt over whether he would be accepted by Ukraine or the West as a mediator.

"The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region," Ramaphosa said, a view also maintained by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ramaphosa did, however, say South Africa "cannot condone the use of force and violation of international law", an apparent reference to the February 24 attack of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation" to disarm and "denazify" Ukraine.

Ramaphosa also revealed that Putin had assured him personally that negotiations were making progress. The South African leader said he had not yet talked with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Friday, Ramaphosa's office said South Africa had been asked to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and that he had told Putin it should be settled through negotiations. He did not say who had asked him to intervene.

"There are those who are insisting that we should take a very adversarial stance against Russia. The approach we are going to take (instead) is ... insisting that there should be dialogue," Ramaphosa added. "Screaming and shouting is not going to bring an end to this conflict."

Some survivors emerge from Ukraine theater hit by strike

Survivors began to emerge Thursday as authorities worked to rescue hundreds of civilians trapped in the basement of a theater blasted by Russian airstrikes in the besieged city of Mariupol.

The strikes the previous evening had left a large section of the grand, 3-three story theater building in the center of Mariupol collapsed in a smoking ruin, according to photos released by the city council. Inside, hundreds of men, women and children - up to 1,000 according to some officials - had taken shelter in the basement, seeking safety amid Russia's 3-week siege of the strategic southern port city.

Putin vows to rid Russia of 'traitors' while waging Ukraine war

President Vladimir Putin warned he would cleanse Russia of the "scum and traitors" he accuses of working covertly for the US and its allies, as the government steps up pressure on domestic critics of his war against Ukraine.

Facing economic meltdown three weeks into the attack, the Russian leader accused the West of wanting to destroy Russia in a televised video conference laced with dark undertones.

"Any people, and particularly the Russian people, will always be able to tell the patriots from the scum and traitors and spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths," Putin said. "I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to meet any challenge."

Asked how such a cleansing would operate, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that people "are disappearing from our lives by themselves," including by resigning from work positions or leaving Russia. "This is how this purification happens," he told reporters on a conference call, adding that many people "show themselves to be traitors" at difficult times.

Hundreds feared trapped in Ukraine theater hit by airstrike

Ukrainian authorities struggled to determine the fate of hundreds of civilians who had been sheltering in a theater smashed by a Russian airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupol as officials said Russian artillery Thursday destroyed more civilian buildings in another frontline city. Some hope emerged, as an official said some people had managed to survive the Mariupol theater strike.

A photo released by Mariupol's city council showed an entire section of the large, 3-story theater had collapsed after the strike Wednesday evening. Several hundred people had taken refuge in the building's basement, seeking safety amid Russia's 3-week, strangulating siege of the strategic Azov Sea port city.

Ukrainian firefighters work by a destroyed apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Ukraine's president says 1991 borders must be recognised

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has not altered his position that the international borders in place when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 must continue to be recognised, a presidential adviser said on Thursday.

Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 but the region is still regarded by the United Nations as part of Ukraine. Russia has also recognised declarations of independence by two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine which rose up against Kyiv's rule in 2014.

Those two areas and Crimea were part of Ukraine when it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said repeatedly since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24 that he will not compromise on his country's "territorial integrity." "His main position has not changed," Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky, said on national television. "We will never give up our national interests."

Russia says air defence systems for Ukraine would destabilise situation

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that giving Ukraine air defence systems, as requested by Ukraine's president in the US Congress a day earlier, would be a destabilising factor that would not bring peace to the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged American lawmakers on Wednesday to do more to protect his country from Russia's attack, pushing for the imposition of a no-fly zone and asking for aircraft and defensive systems.

"Such deliveries ... would be a destabilising factor which will definitely not bring peace to Ukraine," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.

"In the long term, they could have much more dangerous consequences," she added.

The United States and its allies want to avoid NATO being drawn into the Ukraine conflict, but they have supplied Kyiv with military aid since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24.

Kremlin says talks with Ukraine continue, no deal yet

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia was putting colossal energy into talks on a possible peace deal with Ukraine that could swiftly stop the Russian military operation there.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said US President Joe Biden's claim that President Vladimir Putin was a war criminal was unacceptable and that the United States had no right to lecture Russia after its involvement in so many conflicts.

Russia-Ukraine conflict
Image Credit: Graphic News

Kremlin rejects top UN court order to halt Ukraine offensive

The Kremlin on Thursday rejected an order by the UN's top court for Russia to suspend the military offensive in Ukraine, a day after judges in The Hague announced their ruling.

"We cannot take this decision into account," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He added that both parties - Russia and Ukraine - had to agree for the ruling to be implemented. "No consent can be obtained in this case," Peskov said.

Zelensky urges Germany: tear down wall between peace and strife in Europe

Invoking the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday urged German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to tear down a wall between peace and strife in Europe and stop the war in Ukraine.

Recalling former US president Ronald Reagan's appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, to tear down the Berlin Wall, Zelensky told German lawmakers: "That's what I say to you dear Chancellor Scholz: destroy this wall." "Give Germany the leadership role that it has earned so that your descendants are proud of you. Support freedom, support Ukraine, stop this war, help us to stop this war," he added.

Russia says talks with Ukraine continue via video link

Talks between Russian and Ukraine continue via video link, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

According to Zakharova, the parties are discussing military, political and humanitarian issues.

Theater-shelter in Mariupol blocked by rubble

Ukrainian officials say the status of people sheltering in a theater in Mariupol is still uncertain because the entrance was under the rubble caused by a Russian airstrike.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration, said on Telegram on Wednesday evening that “several hundred” residents of Mariupol were sheltering in the Drama Theater. He rejected the claims by the Russian military that the Azov battalion was headquartered in the theater, stressing that “only civilians” were in it when it was struck earlier Wednesday.

Kyrylenko said the airstrike also hit the Neptune swimming pool complex. “Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble there. It’s pure terrorism!” the official said.

At least as recently as Monday, the pavement outside the once-elegant theater was marked with huge white letters spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.

Cathay Pacific says not routing flights through Russian airspace

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Thursday it was not routing flights through Russia's airspace, joining a growing number of Asian airlines avoiding the area after the attack on Ukraine despite longer flight times.

"We regularly review our flight routings internally and also with information provided by external parties," Cathay said in a statement. "We are currently not flying through Russian airspace."

Downed missile hits Kyiv apartment block, kills one

At least one person was killed and three wounded after remains of a downed missile hit a residential building in the Ukranian capital, Kyiv, Ukraine's emergency service said on Thursday.

The 16-storey building was struck at 5:02 a.m. local time, it said in a statement, adding that 30 people have been evacuated so far and a fire has been put out.

About 300 Mariupol refugees arrive in Russia: Ifax

Thirteen buses carrying around 300 refugees from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol have arrived in Russia's Rostov region, Russia's Interfax news agency cited the Russian defence ministry as saying on Thursday.

Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday civilians waiting in line for bread and sheltering in a theatre in Mariupol had been killed by Russian forces. Russia has denied attacking the theatre.

Ukraine, Russia continue talks over video

Ukrainian and Russian delegations held talks again on Wednesday by video.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said Ukraine demanded a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and legal security guarantees for Ukraine from a number of countries.

“This is possible only through direct dialogue” between Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said on Twitter.

An official in Zelensky’s office said the main subject under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Ukraine was insisting on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on the signing of a legally binding document with security guarantees for Ukraine. In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral status.

The Security Council has scheduled a meeting on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, one day before an expected vote Friday on a Russian humanitarian resolution that makes no mention of its responsibility for the attack against its   neighbour.

Ukraine says Russia strikes Mariupol theatre sheltering residents

Russian forces dropped a powerful bomb on a theatre in the encircled Ukrainian port city of Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were sheltering on Wednesday, Ukraine's foreign ministry said.

The ministry said many people were trapped in the theatre and accused Russia of committing a war crime. It said the number of casualties was not yet known.

Russia denies targeting civilians. In Moscow, the defence ministry said its forces had not struck the building and instead accused the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian militia, of blowing it up, RIA news agency said.

It did not give evidence to back up the claim. Russia had previously accused the battalion of preventing civilians from leaving the city, which has come under heavy bombardment.

Maxar Technologies, a private US company, distributed satellite imagery that it said was collected on March 14 and showed the word "children" in large Russian script painted on the ground outside the red-roofed Mariupol Drama Theatre.

Biden says Putin is 'a war criminal'

US President Joe Biden told reporters on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a war criminal” over his country’s attack on Ukraine.

“He is a war criminal,” Biden told reporters following an event at the White House.

5 people, including 3 children, killed in Russian shelling of Ukraine city

Five people, including three children, were killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, emergency officials said on Wednesday.

Emergency workers recovered the five bodies from under the rubble of a multi-storeyed apartment building, Ukraine's emergencies ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

Here are key developments

— Russia says Ukraine talks are progressing but the military onslaught continues

— Ukraine’s president cites Sept. 11, urges US Congress to help his country

— US President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”

— The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has descended into despair

— US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to discuss a possible transfer of Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine