Rescuers work at a site of a food warehouse damaged by shelling, in Brovary, Kyiv region.
Rescuers work at a site of a food warehouse damaged by shelling, in Brovary, Kyiv region. Image Credit: REUTERS

More than a month into the war, the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, more than four million people have fled abroad, thousands have been killed and injured, and Russia's economy has been pummelled by sanctions. Follow the latest developments from the war zone:

Britain's GCHQ spy chief says Russian soldiers refused to carry out orders

The head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service said on Wednesday that new intelligence showed some Russian soldiers in Ukraine had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) chief Jeremy Fleming said President Vladimir Putin had “massively misjudged” the capabilities of Russia’s once mighty armed forces while underestimating both the resistance of the Ukrainian people and the resolve of the West, which has punished Moscow with largely coordinated sanctions.

“Putin has massively misjudged the situation,” Fleming said in a speech in Canberra at the Australian National University, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We believe Putins advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.” Citing new intelligence, Fleming said there was evidence that Russian soldiers had low morale and were poorly equipped.

“Weve seen Russian soldiers “ short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” Fleming said.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm GCHQ’s analysis.

Russians start to withdraw from Chernobyl nuclear site: US

Russian forces have begun to pull out of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power site after seizing control of the facility on February 24, a senior US defence official said Wednesday.

"Chernobyl is (an) area where they are beginning to reposition some of their troops - leaving, walking away from the Chernobyl facility and moving into Belarus," the official said.

"We think that they are leaving, I can't tell you that they're all gone."

Russian strikes hit Red Cross building in Mariupol: Ukraine

Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged and destroyed southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, Kyiv said Wednesday, where officials have warned of an unfolding humanitarian disaster.

"In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross," Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in a statement on social media, adding the building was targeted by aircraft and artillery.

Russia's Lavrov to visit India

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit New Delhi on Thursday for a two-day trip, the Indian foreign ministry said on Wednesday, as the two countries look for ways to maintain trade and other relations despite the Ukraine crisis.

It will only be Lavrov's third visit overseas since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, after a trip to Turkey for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart earlier this month and meetings in China starting on Wednesday.

While both India and China have called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine they have refused to explicitly condemn Russia's attack. They have also continued to buy commodities from Russia hard hit by sweeping Western sanctions.

An Indian government source said foreign ministry officials could discuss setting up a payments mechanism with Russia, whose banks have been sanctioned by Western countries. The source was not authorised to speak to the media and declined to be named.

Ahead of Lavrov's visit, Indian officials will hold talks with diplomats from the United States and Britain in New Delhi, according to official announcements from the two countries. Both want India to move away from Russia gradually.

Ukraine agrees 300 million euro loan from France: Ukrainian minister

Ukraine has agreed a 15-year, 300 million euro ($333 million)loan from France, Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said in a televised interview on Wednesday.

Marchenko said Russia's attack on Ukraine meant customs revenues for March were 6.7 billion hryvnias ($229 million) against a pre-war expectation of 32 billion hryvnias ($1.09 billion), and that value added tax revenues were also down significantly.

Kremlin says nothing 'promising' from Russia-Ukraine talks

The Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough following peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegates in Istanbul a day earlier.

"We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow considered it "positive" that Kyiv had started outlining its demands in writing.

UN names experts to probe on possible war crimes in Ukraine

The United Nations on Wednesday named three human rights experts to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes and other violations committed during the conflict in Ukraine.

The independent panel, to be led by Erik Mose of Norway, has a mandate to "investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation", a statement said.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed on March 4 to establish the commission of inquiry, for one year, at the request of Ukraine and allies including the European Union, Britain and United States.

Russia and China condemn Western sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine

Foreign ministers from Russia and China on Wednesday condemned what they called illegal and counter productive Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its action in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, where China was set to host two days of meetings on Afghanistan.

"The ministers had a thorough exchange of views on the situation around Ukraine. The head of the Russian foreign ministry informed his Chinese counterpart about the progress of the special military operation ... and the dynamics of the negotiation process with the Kyiv regime," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The sides noted the counterproductive nature of the illegal unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its satellites." The ministry said the two ministers had agreed that Russia and China would continue to strengthen their strategic partnership and to speak on global affairs "with a united voice".

Wang said Chinese and Russian relations had "withstood the test of international turbulence" and there was an increased willingness by them to develop relations that had "grown resiliently", China's Phoenix TV reported.

"There is no limit to China-Russia cooperation, no limit to our efforts to achieve peace, safeguard security and oppose hegemony," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a media briefing in Beijing.

Finland resumes rail link to Russia

Finland's national railway operator VR Group said on Wednesday it would resume services between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg in Russia on March 30, less than a week after having halted the service.

The operator had halted the service as a result of UK sanctions against Russian Railways, but it had later clarified that the sanctions do not apply to VR Group's contracts, it said in a statement.

Attacks continue near Kyiv, Ukraine says

Fighting continued north and west of Kyiv, despite Russia's declaration it would pull its forces back. Russian forces shelled targets in several cities, including Hostomel, Bucha and Makariv and there were skirmishes in villages along the main westbound highway out of the capital, according to Ukraine's defense ministry.

Russian forces also shelled the northern city of Chernihiv overnight, damaging civilian structures including libraries and shopping centers, according to Vyacheslav Chaus, the region's governor, who said he was skeptical of Russia's promise.

UN says over 4 million have fled Ukraine

The UN refugee agency says more than 4 million people have now fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, a new milestone in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees posted Wednesday on a website that tracks refugee flows around the world that 4.01 million people have now fled Ukraine. Of those, 2.3 million have entered Poland.

Aid workers say the flow has eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

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Refugees fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine arrive at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Image Credit: AP

NATO allies look for signs of Russian pullback

Skeptical NATO allies are evaluating whether Russia's promise to scale back military operations in Ukraine marks a turning point in the conflict or simply a tactical shift as attacks were still reported near Kyiv.

President Joe Biden said he'll wait and see whether Russia delivers on a pledge made after peace talks in Istanbul. De-escalation does not mean a cease-fire or complete withdrawal of troops from around Kyiv, said a person close to the Kremlin. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov touched down in China on his first visit since the conflict. Beijing has struggled for a consistent response to the war, supporting Vladimir Putin's rationale for invading but expressing concern about civilian casualties and pushing for talks to end the fighting.

Ukrainian President Zelensky to address Australian parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky will address Australia's parliament on Thursday evening by video, the parliament was told.

Employment Minister Stuart Robert told parliament on Thursday morning that Zelensky would make an address by video facility at 5.30pm (0730 GMT), parliament records showed.

The Australian government didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Australia has supplied defence equipment and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, as well as imposing a ban on exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

It has imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 33 entities, including most of Russias banking sector and all entities responsible for the country's sovereign debt.

Many in Mideast see hypocrisy in Western embrace of Ukraine

Within days of the Russian attack, Western countries invoked international law, imposed crippling sanctions, began welcoming refugees with open arms and cheered on Ukraine's armed resistance.

The response has elicited outrage across the Middle East, where many see a glaring double standard in how the West responds to international conflicts.

"We have seen every means we were told could not be activated for over 70 years deployed in less than seven days," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told a security forum in Turkey earlier this month. "Amazing hypocrisy," he added. The US-led war in Iraq, which began 19 years ago this month, was widely seen as an unlawful attack of one state by another.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands near the wreck of a Russian tank on the front line in the Kyiv region, Ukraine, March 28, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Major developments from yesterday

Ukraine isn't naive, Zelensky says after Russian pledge to scale down attack on Kyiv

Ukraine reacted with skepticism to Russia's promise in negotiations to scale down military operations around Kyiv and another city as some Western countries expected Moscow to intensify its offensive in other parts of the country.

Talks took place in an Istanbul palace more than a month into the largest attack on a European nation since World War Two that has killed or injured thousands, forced nearly 4 million to flee abroad and pummelled Russia's economy with sanctions.

"In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing (an) agreement, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions," Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters.

He made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.

"Ukrainians are not naive people," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Tuesday.

"Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbass, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result."

Russia has started moving very small numbers of troops away from positions around Kyiv in a move that is more of a repositioning than a retreat or a withdrawal from the war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

"We all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine," spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing. "It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over." Britain's Ministry of Defence in an intelligence update said: "It is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east." Reuters could not immediately verify the claims made by either side.

Biden is skeptical Russia is scaling back operations in Kyiv

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he wasn't yet convinced that Russia's announcement that it would scale back military operations near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv will lead to a fundamental shift in the war.

Biden, during an appearance with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong following bilateral talks at the White House, said he was waiting to see what Russia offers in ongoing talks with Ukraine and how Moscow readjusts its troop presence.

US and Western officials have expressed skepticism about Russia's announcement earlier on Tuesday that it would dial back operations in an effort to increase trust in ongoing talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Turkey.

"We'll see," Biden said. "I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are."

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield later expressed an even greater skepticism, saying the administration views any movement of Russian forces as a "redeployment and not a withdrawal" and "no one should be fooled by Russia's announcement."

"The world should be prepared for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine," Bedingfield said. "Everyone should expect that we're going to continue to see attacks across Ukraine."

Biden expressed his caution about the latest development after meeting with Lee for talks in which he sought to assure Singapore and other Pacific allies that his administration remains focused on the Indo-Pacific region even as they deal with the fallout of Russia's attack of Ukraine.


— Russian pledge to scale back in Ukraine draws skepticism

— UN food chief: Ukraine war’s food crisis is worst since WWII

— After Russian forces pull back, a shattered town breathes

— Sanctioned oligarch Abramovich seen at Russia-Ukraine talks

— Pentagon may need more budget funding to help Ukraine

— Ukraine’s other fight: Growing food for itself and the world