Firefighters try to extinguish a fire amid the destruction caused after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv.
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire amid the destruction caused after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv. Image Credit: AP

The battle for the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is raging on as Russia's war on Ukraine, now in its 27th day, shows no signs of abating. Follow the latest developments from the war zone:

Ukraine's Zelenskiy says Russia talks tough, sometimes confrontational

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday said peace talks with Russia to end the war were tough and sometimes confrontational but added "step by step we are moving forward."

In an early morning video address, Zelenskiy also said 100,000 people were living in the besieged city of Mariupol in inhuman conditions, without food, water or medicine.

Russia would only use nuclear weapons faced with 'existential threat': Kremlin

Russia would only use nuclear weapons in the context of the Ukraine conflict if it were facing an "existential threat," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN International Tuesday.

"We have a concept of domestic security, and it's public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used," Peskov said. "So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept."

Peskov's comment came as interviewer Christiane Amanpour pushed him on whether he was "convinced or confident" that Putin would not use the nuclear option in the Ukrainian context.

French energy giant to stop buying Russian oil

French energy giant TotalEnergies said it has decided to halt all its purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022 at the latest.

The French company said in a statement it will “gradually suspend its activities in Russia” amid the “worsening situation” in Ukraine.

Russia represented 17 per cent of the company’s oil and gas production in 2020.

TotalEnergies holds a 19.4 per cent stake in Russia’s natural gas producer Novatek.

It also has a 20 per cent stake in the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia. The group said it continues to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas from the Yamal LNG plant “as long as Europe’s governments consider that Russian gas is necessary.”

“Contrary to oil, it is apparent that Europe’s gas logistics capacities make it difficult to refrain from importing Russian gas in the next two to three years without impacting the continent’s energy supply,” the statement said.

Turkey wants NATO focused on cease-fire

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says this week's meeting between NATO leaders should be focused on ways of securing a cease-fire in Russia's attack on Ukraine and not just on sanctions and deterrence.

"Everyone's first aim should be a cease-fire," Cavusoglu told Turkish journalists on the sideline of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Pakistan on Tuesday. "It should be to stop the war that is going on right now. Everyone should act responsibly and constructively."

Cavusoglu continued: "Of course, we need to show unity and solidarity within NATO, we need to show deterrence. But who is paying the price of the ongoing war?"

US President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders are scheduled to meet on Thursday in Brussels. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the meeting is intended not just to show NATO's "support to Ukraine, but also our readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies,"Cavusoglu said Turkey was pressing with its efforts as a "mediator and facilitator" to end the fighting and was in touch with negotiators on both sides. Turkey was also trying to bring the warring sides to meet face to face again, Cavusoglu said.

Earlier this month, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met in Turkey on the sidelines of a diplomacy forum.

Russia adopts bill on jail terms for fake news on state actions abroad

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation imposing jail terms of up to three years for the publication of false information about Russia's actions abroad, as Moscow's military operation in Ukraine approaches one month.

The bill, adopted after a third reading, sets out jail terms and fines against people who publish "knowingly false information" about actions abroad by Russian government agencies "in the interests of Russia and its citizens".

Russia says 78 of its aircraft have been seized abroad

Seventy-eight Russian aircraft have been seized abroad, the Interfax news agency quoted Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev as saying on Tuesday, as Moscow grapples with the consequences of international sanctions over events in Ukraine.

Sanctions have cut off the supply of most aircraft, parts and services to Russia, while Russian airlines have 515 jets leased from abroad.

"(We have) lost 78 planes," Savelyev said, adding that these aircraft were seized abroad and would not be returned to Russia.

Russia has passed a law allowing the country's airlines to place aircraft leased from foreign companies on Russia's aircraft register, but airlines are hesitant to use it, fearing they may jeopardise ties with international partners.

Russia had 1,367 planes when sanctions were imposed, and almost 800 of them have now been placed on the country's aircraft register, Savelyev said, without specifying how many jets on the list were leased from global leasing companies.

Ukraine eyes Mariupol evacuation bid as Kyiv locks down

Ukrainian authorities announced a new bid Tuesday to rescue civilians from besieged port city Mariupol which has been under heavy bombardments since Russia's attack began almost a month ago, as capital Kyiv hunkered down in a curfew.

More than 200,000 people are trapped in the city described by those who managed to escape as a "freezing hellscape riddled with dead bodies and destroyed buildings", Human Rights Watch said, quoting data provided by a local official.

"We know that there will not be enough space for everyone" on Tuesday, but "we will try to carry out the evacuation until we have gotten all the inhabitants of Mariupol out," vowed Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk in a video address.

Ukraine refugee exodus surpasses 3.5 million

The UN refugee agency says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's attack, passing another milestone in an exodus that has led to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

UNHCR reported Tuesday that 3.53 million people have left Ukraine, with Poland taking in the lion's share - more than 2.1 million - followed by Romania with more than 540,000 and Moldova with more than 367,000.

Shortly after the attack on February 24, UNHCR predicted that some 4 million refugees might leave Ukraine, though it has been re-assessing that prediction. The outflows have been slowing in recent days after peaking at more than 200,000 each on two straight days in early March.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that nearly 6.5 million people are internally displaced within Ukraine, suggesting that some if not most of them might to flee abroad if the war continues.

Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, in Mariupol.
Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, in Mariupol. Image Credit: REUTERS

Ukraine retakes key Kyiv suburb, battle for Mariupol rages

Ukrainian forces said they retook a strategically important suburb of the capital early Tuesday, while Russia's attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol raged unabated, with fleeing civilians describing relentless bombardments and corpses lying in the streets.

While Russian forces carried on with the siege of Mariupol after the southern port city's defenders refused demands to surrender, the Kremlin's ground offensive in other parts of the country advanced slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.

Early Tuesday, Ukrainian troops forced Russian forces out of the Kyiv suburb of Makariv after a fierce battle, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said.

Ukraine forces holding Russia at bay: Zelensky

Zelensky repeated his assertion that Russian troops were still largely being held back, requiring them to focus on reinforcing existing positions rather than taking new ones.

In a late night video address, Zelensky said Russia had shelled locations in the Zhytomyr region of northern Ukraine. He accused troops of firing at convoys of civilians evacuating near Zaporizhzhia, a city in the south which has a nuclear power plant now controlled by Russia.

Humanitarian corridors designed to allow safe passage of people from conflict areas have struggled to hold in the south, including for the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, early Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Ukraine announces no new agreements with Russia on corridors to evacuate civilians

Ukraine said on Tuesday its efforts to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities were focused on the city of Mariupol but did not announce any new agreement with Russia to allow safe passage for trapped residents.

"We are focusing on evacuations from Mariupol," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

She listed a number of places from where buses would try to evacuate civilians but Mariupol was not among them. She also made no mention of any new agreements with Russia on establishing "humanitarian corridors" to evacuate civilians.

Civilians fleeing Mariupol describe street-to-street battles

Civilians making the dangerous escape from Ukraine's embattled southern port hub of Mariupol described fleeing through street-to-street gun battles and past unburied corpses as a steady Russian bombardment tried to pound the city into submission.

While Russian forces carried on with the siege after the city's defenders refused demands to surrender, the Kremlin's ground offensives in other parts of the country were advancing slowly or not at all, knocked back by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian army said early Tuesday that it had forced Russian troops out of a strategically important Kyiv suburb following a fierce battle.

As Mariupol hangs on, the extent of the horror not yet known

As Mariupol's defenders held out against Russian demands that they surrender, the number of bodies in the rubble of the bombarded and encircled Ukrainian city remained shrouded in uncertainty, the full extent of the horror not yet known.

With communications crippled, movement restricted and many residents in hiding, the fate of those inside an art school flattened on Sunday and a theater that was blown apart four days earlier was unclear.

More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering in the theater, and 400 were estimated to have been in the art school. Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol has been a key target that has been relentlessly pounded for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war.

Biden says Putin considering using chemical, biological weapons in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden said Monday that it's "clear" Russia is considering the use of chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine and warned of a "severe" Western response if it chose to do so.

"His back is against the wall," said Biden of Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that Russia has recently accused the United States of holding chemical and biological weapons in Europe.

"Simply not true. I guarantee you," he told a gathering of US business leaders in Washington.

"They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That's a clear sign he's considering using both of those," he said.

His warning echoed statements made by his administration earlier this month as well as other Western nations, after Russian officials accused Ukraine of seeking to hide an alleged US-backed chemical weapons program.

"Now that Russia has made these false claims... we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them," tweeted White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden also reiterated that such an action would prompt a "severe" but so far undefined response from Western allies.

Putin "knows there'll be severe consequences because of the united NATO front," he said, without specifying what actions the alliance would take.

Zelensky says Ukraine ready to discuss deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Monday he was prepared to discuss a commitment from Ukraine not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine's security.

"It's a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn't know what to do with us with regard to NATO, for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees, and for Russia, which doesn't want further NATO expansion," Zelensky said late Monday in an interview with Ukrainian television channels.

He also repeated his call for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unless he meets with Putin, it is impossible to understand whether Russia even wants to stop the war, Zelensky said.

Zelensky said that Kyiv will be ready to discuss the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists after a cease-fire and steps toward providing security guarantees.


War drives 10 million Ukrainians from homes

Russia's attacks on Ukraine have driven 10 million people - nearly a quarter of the population - from their homes, according to the United Nations, with growing numbers expected to head to western Europe.

While most of the displaced people have stayed in Ukraine, about 3.4 million - mainly women, children and elderly people - have sought refugee in other countries, including more than 2 million people in Poland, according to UN data.

Kyiv curfew tightened after mall attack

Kyiv tightened a curfew after eight people were killed in a Russian attack on a shopping center overnight.

Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said residents would need special permits to move around Ukraine's capital between 8 p.m. local time on Monday and 7 a.m. Wednesday.

"Do not open windows, and if you go outside, protect your lungs," he said, asking residents to wear special respirators because air strikes had caused fires around the capital. Klitschko said six residential apartment blocks near the mall were damaged in the strike, with three now uninhabitable. Two schools and two nurseries were also damaged, he said.

Kremlin says EU oil embargo would backfire

A possible EU embargo on Russian oil would "seriously affect the global oil market" and "hit everyone" the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Europe would suffer much more than the US, he said, which along with the U.K. announced earlier this month plans to ban imports of Russian oil. The EU relies heavily on Russian gas and members are divided over the idea of introducing such restrictions.

Russia claims Kyiv delaying peace talks

Progress in peace talks with Ukraine is "less than we would like," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, reiterating Moscow's allegations that Kyiv is delaying the process.

No agreements have been reached so far, he said. Kyiv accuses Russia of negotiating in bad faith in the talks as its forces continue to bombard Ukrainian cities. Talks are expected to take several more weeks at least, a Ukrainian negotiator said Friday, noting that Russia has eased its stance on some issues.

Several sites in Ukraine's west and north struck

Russia shelled a number of sites in Ukraine overnight, local officials said. That included a training base in the Rivne area in the country's west, and a large shopping mall on the outskirts of Kyiv, where a fire broke out. The Ukraine prosecutor general's office said preliminary investigations suggested eight people were killed.

A reservoir at Sumykhimprom, a chemical plant based in the vicinity of the northern city of Sumy, was hit, the state emergency service said. It added there was an ammonia leak although it was localized and posed no immediate threat to the city.

Biden plans call with European leaders

The conversation with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. will take place at 11am EDT, according to the White House. Biden, who is in Europe later this week, will also visit Warsaw on Friday and meet with President Andrzej Duda, it said.

Ukraine rejects Russian demand on Mariupol

Ukraine rejects a Russian demand for its forces to lay down their arms and leave the city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk was quoted as saying by Ukrainska Pravda.

"There can be no question of surrendering or assembling weapons," she was cited as saying. "We have already informed the Russian side about this." Vereshchuk said Russia should instead let residents leave and deliver humanitarian aid to those who want to stay.

Russia's Defense Ministry had issued the ultimatum for this morning, saying all troops and foreign fighters should leave the city in order for humanitarian convoys with food, medicines and other essentials to come in.

Russia delivers ultimatum to surrender Mariupol

The Russian military delivered an ultimatum for the surrender of Mariupol, the besieged city in southern Ukraine, according to the National Defense Control Center of the Russian Federation as cited by Tass.

Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said all armed units of Ukraine must leave Mariupol from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. local time on Monday, according to Tass, after which any fighters remaining would face a military tribunal. It said humanitarian convoys would deliver food, medicine and other essentials to the city.

The Russian statement demanded a response from Ukraine's government by 4 a.m. Kyiv time. Ukraine's government didn't immediately respond.