The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they happened.
NEW YORK — Three Russian cosmonauts arrive at the International Space Station wearing flight suits in yellow and blue colors that match the Ukrainian flag.
The men are the first new arrivals on the space station since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine last month.
Video of one of the cosmonauts taken as the capsule prepared to dock with the space station show him wearing a blue flight suit. It was unclear what, if any, message the yellow uniforms they changed into were intended to send.
Oleg Artemyev is asked about the yellow flight suits when the newly arrived cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth.
He says every crew chooses its own flight suits, so that they are not all the same.
3 russian cosmonauts on the international space station showing their solidarity with ukraine
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) March 19, 2022
“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he says.
Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 p.m. Friday (11:55 a.m. EDT). They smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.
WASHINGTON — Two former US presidents, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush, show their support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion by visiting a Ukrainian church in Chicago.
The two men, who wore blue and yellow ribbons in the colors of Ukraine’s flag, lay bouquets of sunflowers, the country’s national emblem, in front of the Catholic Church of Saints Volodymyr and Olha before taking a moment to reflect.
The initiative aims to show their “solidarity with the people of Ukraine” after Russia launched a war against its neighbor last month, according to a video of the visit posted on Clinton’s Twitter account.
America stands united with the people of Ukraine in their fight for freedom and against oppression. pic.twitter.com/O7INc9S1tq
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) March 18, 2022
“America stands united with the people of Ukraine in their fight for freedom and against oppression,” the tweet says.
That sets the 42nd and 43rd US presidents apart from Donald Trump, the 45th president, who just before the invasion described Vladimir Putin’s strategy of amassing troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine and then recognizing the independence of two pro-Russian separatist territories as a stroke of “genius.”
A US military aircraft with four crew on board is thought to have crashed in Norway while taking part in NATO exercises, Norwegian emergency services say.
The US Osprey aircraft “was reported missing at 18:26 (1726 GMT) south of Bodo” in northern Norway in bad weather, the regional emergency services (HRS) says in a statement.
The four-person crew were taking part in the Cold Response military exercises involving 30,000 people from NATO and partner countries.
Rescuers searching from the air later saw signs of the aircraft in the area where it went missing but the weather was too bad for them to land, the statement says.
Rescue teams and police are heading to the area, it adds.
“We are not at the site itself so we know nothing of the four people who were on board. But we know it is a crash site,” HRS spokesman Jan Eskil Severinsen says on the NRK television channel.
Cold Response 2022 aims to test how Norway would manage allied reinforcements on its soil in the event that NATO’s mutual defense clause was triggered.
This week’s exercises came amid high tension between Russia and NATO over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but they were planned long before that offensive began on February 24.
The US says it is “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by the visit of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to the UAE, his first trip to an Arab country since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
“We are profoundly disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar Al-Assad, who remains responsible and accountable for the death and suffering of countless Syrians,” says US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.
Residents of Ukraine’s besieged city of Mariupol are resorting to escaping on foot, Reuters quotes the region’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko as saying.
Kyrylenko says official evacuation efforts have mostly failed due to ongoing shelling by Russian forces.
RABAT, Morocco — Morocco demands Amnesty International provide evidence of its report that Rabat used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to monitor activists, including a human rights campaigner from the disputed Western Sahara.
Pegasus, developed by the Israeli NSO group, can hack into mobile phones without a user knowing, enabling clients to read every message, track a user’s location and tap into the phone’s camera and microphone.
In July 2021, a global investigation revealed Pegasus has been used by repressive regimes to target journalists, dissidents, diplomats and others.
The Moroccan authorities have consistently denied using the spyware, and dismissed a report by rights group Amnesty as “arbitrary accusations”, the government’s Interministerial Department for Human Rights says today.
The statement came in response to an Amnesty report earlier this month which claimed two phones belonging to prominent activist Aminatou Haidar had been targeted using the spyware.
Rabat denies Amnesty’s report and demanded to see the “material evidence supporting its allegations.”
Morocco has said it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”
Haidar comes from the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, which Rabat claims as its own sovereign territory but where the separatist Polisario Front seeks independence.
Morocco controls most of the territory and has offered autonomy but insists it must retain sovereignty.
TIJUANA, Mexico — About three dozen would-be asylum seekers from Russia found themselves blocked from entering the US today while a group of Ukrainians flashed passports and were escorted across the border.
The scene reflects a quiet but unmistakable shift in the differing treatment of Russians and Ukrainians who enter Mexico as tourists and fly to Tijuana, hoping to enter the US for a chance at asylum.
The Russians — 34 as of today — had been camped several days at the busiest US border crossing with Mexico, two days after city of Tijuana officials gently urged them to leave.
They sat on mats and blankets, checking smartphones, chatting and snacking, with sleeping bags and strollers nearby as a stream of pedestrian border crossers file past them. Five young girls sat and talked in a circle, some with stuffed animals.
Days earlier, some Russians were being admitted to the US at the San Ysidro crossing, while some Ukrainians were blocked. But by today, Russians were denied while Ukrainians were admitted after short waits.
“It’s very hard to understand how they make decisions,” says Iirina Zolinka, a 40-year-old Russian woman who camped overnight with her family of seven after arriving in Tijuana yesterday.
Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director for advocacy group Al Otro Lado, says the US began admitting all Ukrainians on humanitarian parole for one year around Tuesday, while at the same time blocking all Russians. There was no official announcement.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina gives the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last year after a decade-long pause in carrying out death sentences because of the state’s inability to procure lethal injection drugs.
The state Corrections Department says that renovations have been completed on the death chamber in Columbia and that the agency had notified Attorney General Alan Wilson that it was able to carry out a firing-squad execution.
Lawmakers set about tweaking state law to get around the lethal injection drug situation. Legislation that went into effect in May made the electric chair the state’s primary means of execution while giving inmates the option of choosing death by firing squad or lethal injection, if those methods are available.
During South Carolina’s lengthy debate, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian — a prosecutor-turned-criminal-defense lawyer — introduced the firing squad option. He argues that it presents “the least painful” execution method available.
“The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while,” Harpootlian says. “If we’re going to have it, it ought to be humane.”
According to officials, the death chamber now also includes a metal chair, with restraints, in the corner of the room in which inmates will sit if they choose execution by firing squad. That chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening, 15 feet away, through which the three shooters will fire their weapons.
State officials also have created protocols for carrying out the executions. The three shooters, all volunteers who are employees of the Corrections Department, will have rifles loaded with live ammunition, with their weapons trained on the inmate’s heart.
A hood will be placed over the head of the inmate, who will be given the opportunity to make a last statement.
The exchange of missile strikes by Iran and Israel in Iraq and Syria puts US forces at risk, the top US commander for the Middle East says, just days after an Iranian missile barrage struck near the US consulate complex in northern Iraq.
Marine General Frank McKenzie tells Pentagon reporters that over the past six months Iran has attacked US forces and facilities a number of times, but “very good action on the part of commanders on the ground” has thwarted any US casualties.
“Had US casualties occurred, I think we might be in a very different place right now,” says McKenzie.
McKenzie and other US officials said this week the missile strikes on Sunday that hit close to the consulate were not aimed at the US. And Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it had attacked what it described as an Israeli spy center in Irbil.
US and Israeli officials declined to publicly comment or describe the target. But the attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus, Syria, that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.
“I think it’s obvious that Israel is going to take steps to defend itself when it’s confronted with with Iranian actions. And of course, Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel,” McKenzie says. “I do worry about these exchanges between Iran and Israel, because many times our forces are at risk, whether in Iraq or in Syria. So that, in fact, does concern me.”
McKenzie, who is retiring after about three years as head of US Central Command, speaks at what is expected to be his final press briefing. He says that as he prepares to turn over the job to incoming Army General Erik Kurilla, his message to his successor is that Iran continues to be his biggest challenge.
“My central problem in my three years of command was Iran,” says McKenzie, who also oversaw the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and commando raids to kill Islamic State leaders. “There were other problems, other huge problems, but the headquarters as a whole… focused on the Iranian problem and everything attendant to that.”
The US presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where US troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.
More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No US personnel were killed or injured in the attack.
Last year, US forces in Iraq shifted to a non-combat role, but Iran and its proxies still want all American troops to leave the country. McKenzie says the Iranian leaders believe that they can launch a certain level of attacks against the US without affecting the ongoing negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Diplomats trying to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appear to be near the cusp of an agreement that would bring the US back into the accord and bring Iran back into compliance with limits on its nuclear program.
McKenzie says the US has gotten better at countering potential strikes by Iranian drones and other defensive measures, which contributed to the lack of American casualties. But he and others have noted that the Iranian ballistic missile strikes have gotten more precise.
“We don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and the best way to get to that is probably through a negotiated solution,” he says, adding that such a deal won’t likely solve other problems, such as Iranian conventional attacks in the region.
“I don’t think anybody in the United States government is blind to that fact, but… if you can take nuclear weapons off the table, that’s a powerful capability that you don’t have to worry about.”
Once that is done, he says, then the US could move on and deal with other problems, including Iran’s increasing ballistic missile and drone threats.
Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies shows Russian forces building berms around military vehicles and equipment northwest of Kyiv.
British intelligence earlier today said Russia was shifting tactics toward a war of attrition since its plan to overrun Ukraine quickly has faltered.
NEW: Russian forces are using earthworks to conceal troops and armored vehicles from Ukrainian attacks just miles from Kyiv.
Britain's Defense Intel Agency said this week that Russian forces were trying to reset in an effort to renew offensives that had stalled.
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) March 18, 2022
Other images show destruction in Ukrainian cities in Mariupol and civilians evacuating in cars.
New satellite images of Mariupol show more of the destruction wrought by indiscriminate Russian bombing. Massive chunks of civilian homes blown apart are clearly visible. Cloud cover prevented images of destroyed drama theater. 3rd image shows line of cars evacuating. ????: @Maxar pic.twitter.com/s9Rd0VR8Dy
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) March 18, 2022
Ukraine’s interior minister says that it will take years to defuse unexploded ordnances after the Russian invasion.
Speaking to The Associated Press in the besieged Ukrainian capital, Denys Monastyrsky says that the country will need Western assistance to cope with the massive task once the war is over.
“A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large part haven’t exploded, they remain under the rubble and pose a real threat,” Monastyrsky says. “It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”
In addition to the unexploded Russian ordnances, the Ukrainian troops also have planted land mines at bridges, airports and other key infrastructure to prevent Russians from using them.
“We won’t be able to remove the mines from all that territory, so I asked our international partners and colleagues from the European Union and the United States to prepare groups of experts to de-mine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling,” Monastyrsky tells the AP.
He notes that another top challenge is dealing with fires caused by the relentless Russian barrages. He said there’s a desperate shortage of personnel and equipment to deal with the fires amid the constant shelling.
Russian forces have fired over 1,080 missiles into Ukraine since the start of the invasion, a US defense official tells CNN.
He confirms missiles strikes near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, and says Ukraine’s airspace “remains contested.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad was in the United Arab Emirates today, his office says, marking his first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.
In a statement posted on its social media pages, the office says that Assad met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai. The two discussed expanding bilateral relations between their countries.
The visit sends the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with Syria’s once widely shunned president.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after the conflict broke out 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war, which displaced half of Syria’s population. Large parts of Syria have been destroyed and reconstruction will cost tens of billions of dollars.
Arab and Western countries generally blamed Assad for the deadly crackdown on the 2011 protests that evolved into civil war, and supported the opposition in the early days of the conflict.
With the war having fallen into a stalemate and Assad recovering control over most of the country thanks to military assistance from allies Russia and Iran, Arab countries have inched closer toward restoring ties with the Syrian leader in recent years.
A key motive for Sunni Muslim countries in the Persian Gulf is to blunt the involvement of their Shiite-led foe, Iran, which saw its influence expand rapidly in the chaos of Syria’s war.
The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency says the country’s de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to his palace in Abu Dhabi.
At the meeting, Sheikh Mohammed expressed his hope “this visit would be the beginning of peace and stability for Syria and tee entire region.”
The report says Assad briefed Sheikh Mohammed on the latest developments in Syria and the two leaders discussed mutual interests in the Arab world. Assad was reported to have left the UAE later today from Abu Dhabi.
US President Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping about supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during a video call between the two leaders today, the White House says.
Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” the White House says.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the administration worries China will step in on Russia’s side.
“We have that concern. The president detailed what the implications and consequences would be if China provides material support to Russia,” Psaki says. “That is something we’ll be watching and the world will be watching.”
Fighting has reached the center of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko tells The BBC, “They were really active today. Tanks and machine-gun battles continue.”
“Everybody is hiding in bunkers.”
Over 80% of residential buildings are damaged or destroyed, he says.
“There’s no city center left. There isn’t a small piece of land in the city that doesn’t have signs of war,” he says.
The rescue effort at the city’s theater, where hundreds are believed trapped, is ongoing.
The city lies at a strategic point between two Russian-controlled regions on the Sea of Azov, putting it in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.
Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah says none of the group’s members are going to fight in Ukraine.
Some Ukrainian reports earlier today said Hezbollah terrorists had been recruited by Russia for the war.
Nasrallah says Lebanon’s government should form a body to deal with the repercussions of the war.
Russian President Putin has reportedly recruited mercenaries from the Middle East to bolster his invasion force.
Hezbollah and Russia have both fought on the side of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War.
Refugees now fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are “more traumatized” than those who escaped in the first phase of the war, the UN says.
While those who made an early decision to leave were often those with contacts outside the country, a plan in mind and a place to stay, those fleeing Ukraine now are more likely to be lost as to what to do next, the UN Refugee Agency says.
Spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh, in Rzeszow in Poland near the Ukrainian border, says those fleeing now are in greater need of assistance.
“That is certainly something that we’ve noticed in the last five to six days in Poland,” he says.
“Those refugees who have been arriving have been more traumatized. They’ve been in shock, many of them. I think it’s fair to say that they have fewer means than those who arrived in the earliest phase of this crisis.”
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says 3.27 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24.
Polish border guards say two million have crossed west into their country.
“What we’ve noticed with many of them is they don’t have a plan when they arrive,” Saltmarsh says of recent arrivals.
“Many of those in the first phase might have had friends, diaspora networks, contacts and relatives to whom they could go and stay with initially, and then make a plan from there.
“That’s been less the case recently, which means that those who arrived are not clear where they can go.”
“That in turn has been putting more pressure on the Polish authorities, who have been reaching out to more municipalities and more regions to say ‘can you step up and can you find accommodation and places for the new arrivals’.”
The US Commerce Department moves to ground 100 planes for violating US export controls by flying to Russia, including an aircraft belonging to oligarch Roman Abramovich, who holds Israeli citizenship.
The department is targeting passenger and cargo planes, including from flag carrier Aeroflot, and Abramovich’s Gulfstream G650, Reuters reports.
The department issues a warning against servicing the planes in violation of US export controls.
It says “international flights from Russia on these aircraft are effectively grounded.”
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps threatens “Zionist bases” in Iraq.
Spokesman Ramezan Sharif says, “If Iraqi officials do not take action to remove other bases of the Zionists in that country while our security continues to be threatened from this region, we will respond without hesitation,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
“It is our natural right to destroy any base from which any attack is carried out against the security of Iran and this is a redline for us,” Sharif says, claiming Israeli drones flew out of Iraq into Iranian airspace.
Earlier this week, around 12 Iranian missiles hit targets in Irbil, the capital of Iraq Kurdistan. Some landed near the US consulate.
Iran claimed it hit Israeli bases in the attack, calling it retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard the previous week.
No injuries were reported in the attack but it marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US, and upset Iraq’s leadership.
Iran and the US are negotiating a nuclear agreement in Vienna, and the US is reportedly considering de-listing the Revolutionary Guards as a terror group, to Israel’s chagrin.
Another report this week said Iran’s attack on Erbil was related to an airstrike in February that caused major damage to Iran’s drone fleet.
Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accuses Russia of stoking tensions by releasing misleading statements about negotiations.
“Our positions are unchanged,” Podolyak says. “Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”
“The statements of the Russian side are only their requesting positions. All statements are intended, inter alia, to provoke tension in the media.”
Russia earlier claimed some progress in the negotiations, saying the two sides had inched closer toward agreeing on Ukrainian neutrality.
Negotiation status. The statements of the Russian side are only their requesting positions. All statements are intended, inter alia, to provoke tension in the media. Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) March 18, 2022
The UN migration agency estimates that nearly 6.5 million people have now been displaced inside Ukraine, on top of the 3.2 million refugees who have already fled the country.
Estimates from the International Organization for Migration suggest Ukraine is fast on a course in just three weeks toward the levels of displacement from Syria’s devastating war – which has driven about 13 million people from their homes both in the country and abroad.
The findings come in a paper issued today by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
It cites the IOM figures as “a good representation of the scale of internal displacement in Ukraine — calculated to stand at 6.48 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine as of March 16.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Kyiv of “war crimes” in a call with his French counterpart, saying that Moscow was doing “everything possible” to avoid civilian deaths in Ukraine.
“Attention was drawn to the numerous war crimes committed daily by the Ukrainian security forces,” the Kremlin says of the call between Putin and Emmanuel Macron, which lasted over an hour.
“In particular massive rocket and artillery attacks on the cities of Donbas,” the Kremlin adds, referring to Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, part of which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
Putin tells Macron the Russian army is “doing everything possible to safeguard the lives of peaceful civilians, including by organizing humanitarian corridors for their safe evacuation,” the Kremlin says.
Both leaders also discuss ongoing talks between Moscow and Kyiv to end the conflict in Ukraine in the telephone call, which was a “French initiative,” it says.
Macron expresses his “extreme concern” over the fate of Ukraine’s Mariupol, urging “a lifting of the siege and humanitarian access” to the city.
During the latest of several telephone calls between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion began three weeks ago, Macron “again demanded the immediate respect of a cease-fire” in Ukraine, Macron’s office says.
The head of the Russian delegation in talks with Ukrainian officials says the parties have come closer to an agreement on a neutral status for Ukraine.
Vladimir Medinsky, who led the Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, including this week, says the sides have narrowed their differences on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status.
“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in talks, and that is the issue where the parties have made their positions maximally close,” Medinsky says in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
He adds that the sides are now “half-way” on issues regarding the demilitarization of Ukraine.
Medinsky notes that while Kyiv insists that Russia-backed separatist regions in Ukraine’s east must be brought back into the fold, Russia believes that people of the regions must be allowed to determine their fate themselves.
Russia recognized the separatist regions’ independence and used their call for military support as a pretext to launch an attack on Ukraine on February 24.
Medinsky notes that a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is possible after the negotiators finalize a draft treaty to end the hostilities and it receives a preliminary approval by the countries’ governments.
Medinsky also bristles at a recent statement by Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskyy, who called for disrupting railway links to supply Russian troops in Ukraine, saying it could undermine the talks.
Britain’s defense intelligence chief says Russia is shifting to a ”strategy of attrition” after failing to reach its goals in the invasion of Ukraine.
Chief of Defense Intelligence Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull says Russian forces have changed their approach after failing to take major Ukrainian cities during the three-week invasion.
He says that the battle of attrition “will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower. This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis.”
Western officials say Russian forces have enough artillery ammunition to keep up the bombardments for weeks or even longer.
Despite the fact that there have been thousands of Ukrainian civilian casualties, Russia denies targeting civilians during what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine.
The top US commander for the Middle East says there have been no indications that Russia is moving troops out of Syria to bolster its forces in Ukraine, or that any more than a few Syrian fighters have been recruited to join the war.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie says he has seen little change in Russian military activities in Syria.
He added that the US military still has and uses a deconfliction phone line with the Russians in Syria, in contrast to the mixed success the US has had in maintaining such contact in connection with the Ukraine war.
“We can always contact them if we have a problem. They’ll always pick up the phone, and we feel that we respond in kind to them,” said McKenzie about the Russians, whose forces in Syria support the regime of President Bashar Assad. “That relationship has been very, very professional.”
The Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske says Russia is holding captive one of its reporters.
The site reporter Victoria Roshchyna was working in hotspots in eastern and southern Ukraine when her coworkers lost contact with her on March 12.
The site later learned she had been in the city of Berdiansk while it was occupied by Russia.
On March 16, the site found out that she had been detained by Russian security forces.
Her whereabouts are unknown.
Russian forces have killed several Ukrainian and international journalists during the war.
Our journalist Victoria Roshchyna is held captive by the Russian occupiers. She was reporting from hotspots in Eastern and Southern Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war. On March 12, we couldn't contact Victoria 1/3 pic.twitter.com/4728hwDs72
— Hromadske Int. (@Hromadske) March 18, 2022
Russian civilians at a massive, patriotic rally featuring Russian President Putin say they were pressured to attend.
Thousands of people packed into the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for today for the patriotic rally.
Many of them told The BBC bureau in Moscow that they were public sector workers whose employers pressured them to attend.
The BBC says most people dodged journalists, many seemed ashamed, and a group of teachers were instructed what to tell reporters.
Students say they were offered a day off to attend a “concert.”
A transportation worker says he was forced to go and tells the network, “I think most people here don’t support the war. I don’t.”
Many said they worked in the public sector (e.g. schoolteachers), and that they had been pressured into attending by their employers. One group of teachers, from a town near Moscow, were being told what to say to us by a woman who appeared to be from the local administration.
— Will Vernon (@BBCWillVernon) March 18, 2022
Putin has clamped down on independent media since the war started and it’s difficult to conduct polling on public opinion, but many Russians do support the Kremlin during the conflict.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams pays tribute to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a major Israeli religious figure who died earlier today.
“Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was a giant of the Torah and I join our Jewish community in mourning his loss,” Adams says.
“May his memory be for a blessing and may his wisdom and good works continue to inspire,” he says.
Adams has close, longstanding ties to New York Jewish communities.
Before becoming mayor, he served as the borough president of Brooklyn, where he forged relationships with some of its Haredi Jewish communities in areas like Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
He has appointed religious Jews to his administration and to his transition team before assuming office.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was a giant of the Torah and I join our Jewish community in mourning his loss.
May his memory be for a blessing and may his wisdom and good works continue to inspire. https://t.co/UIaWmheWGd
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) March 18, 2022
Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella organization based in New York, says Kanievsky’s “influence on the Torah world was unparalleled.”
“Rabbi Kanievsky’s greatness cannot be captured in a few words; our loss is incalculable. This is a time for introspection, when each and every one of us should recognize the special responsibility we have to strengthen ourselves in Torah, to collectively fill in some small measure the terrible void created by the passing of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.”
Three Russian cosmonauts blast off to the International Space Station.
Russian space veteran Oleg Artemyev and rookies Denis Matveyev and Sergei Korsakov set off, a NASA live feed showed, beginning a three-hour ride to the orbital lab where they will be greeted by a crew of two Russians, four Americans and one German.
In the years since Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea triggered a first wave of Western sanctions, space has proved an outlier of cooperation between Moscow and its American and European counterparts.
But tensions even in this field grew after Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed nationalist ally Dmitri Rogozin — an enthusiastic supporter of the current invasion — as head of the space agency Roscosomos in 2018.
Last month US President Joe Biden announced sanctions targeting Moscow’s aerospace industry in the wake of Russia’s invasion, triggering dark warnings from Rogozin.
“If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled de-orbiting and falling on US or European territory?” the Roscosomos head wrote in a tweet last month — noting that the station doesn’t fly over much of Russia.
The ISS, a collaboration among the US, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, is split into two sections — the US Orbital Segment, and the Russian Orbital Segment.
At present, the ISS depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above sea level, with the US segment responsible for electricity and life support systems.
NASA has said that it “continues working with all our international partners, including the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the ongoing safe operations of the International Space Station.”
In the latest blow to cooperation in space between Russia and the West, the European Space Agency (ESA) said Thursday that it was suspending participation in a Russian-European mission to land a rover on Mars.
Rogozin called the decision “bitter” but pledged that Roscosmos would carry out the mission on its own.
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show the Russian strike on the Lviv airport today destroyed the repair hangar just to the west of the north end of its runway.
Firetrucks stood parked amid the rubble.
A row of fighter jets near the hangar appeared intact, though an apparent impact crater sat right in front of them.
Two other buildings nearby the hangar also appear to have taken direct hits in the strike, with debris littered around them.
The early morning attack on Lviv’s edge was the closest strike yet to the center of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.
The war has swelled Lviv’s population by some 200,000.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who died earlier today at home at age 94, will be buried on Sunday in his home city of Bnei Brak.
The decision to bury him on Sunday was made after consultations with top rabbis about holding his body until then. Jewish funerals in Israel usually take place within 24 hours of the death.
Police are already preparing for the funeral, which is expected to be one of the biggest ever in Israel.
Kanievsky, a hugely influential leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, with hundreds of thousands of followers, was a scion of rabbinical dynasties known for his elite Talmud study.
The UN says at least 816 people are dead and 1,333 injured in Ukraine.
The fatalities include 152 men, 116 women, 16 boys, seven girls, plus 36 children and 489 adults whose gender has not been determined.
The United Nations Human Rights Office says most of the casualties are due to “the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems and missile airstrikes.”
The UN says the actual figures are likely “considerably higher,” but counting is difficult due to the fog of war.
The UN figures do not appear to include military casualties.
Western intelligence estimates over 7,000 Russian troops have been killed.
The mayor of Mariupol has said over 1,200 civilians have died in his city alone.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping conclude a video phone call in which Biden aimed to persuade his counterpart to join Western pressure on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, the White House says.
The two leaders end the 1:50 hour-long call, their first since November, at 10:53 a.m. in Washington, the White House says.
Xi says conflicts between states are “in no-one’s interest,” adding Beijing and Washington should “shoulder” responsibility for world peace during the call, Chinese state TV reports.
“State-to-state relations cannot go to the stage of military hostilities,” broadcaster CCTV reported Xi as saying. “Peace and security are the most valued treasures of the international community.”
“The international situation has undergone new and significant changes” since the duo’s last call in November, Xi says, according to CCTV.
“The theme of an era of peaceful development is facing severe challenges, and the world is neither very peaceful nor secure,” Xi says, adding the Ukraine crisis “is not something we want to see.”
China and the US should “shoulder our due international responsibilities, and put forth efforts for world peace and tranquillity,” he says.
Pope Francis denounces the “perverse abuse of power” on display in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
He calls for aid to Ukrainians who he says have been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and are “defending their land.”
Francis’s comments, in a message today to a gathering of European Catholic representatives, mark some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state and to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
It comes just days after Francis told the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, that the concept of a “just war” was obsolete since wars are never justifiable and that pastors must preach peace, not politics.
Israeli leaders pay tribute to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of Israel’s leading religious figures, who died earlier today at age 94.
Kanievsky was a leader of the “Lithuanian,” non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community.
Prime Minister Bennett says, “Together with all the people of Israel, with deep sorrow, I heard the news of the death of one of the generation’s greats, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.”
“Despite his greatness with the Torah and the public, the rabbi made sure to always receive everyone with an open heart and a light in his eyes. He was a true public leader.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says, “Rabbi Kanievsky was an important and meaningful leader in the lives of many Jewish people, and I send my condolences to them, and to his family.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz says, “Beyond his greatness when it came to religious law, Rabbi Kanievsky was a man with deep wisdom of life. He cared for the Torah, and he cared for humankind.”
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu says, “The people of Israel lost a tremendous, wise scholar, who was a central link in the chain of passing down the Torah from generation to generation.”
The UN refugee agency says it’s noticing a slowdown in the number of people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, though its estimate of internally displaced people has soared in the wake of evacuations from embattled cities like Mariupol and Sumy.
Speaking by video conference from Poland, UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh says the number of refugee arrivals, “particularly here in Poland, has been falling in recent days.”
Some of those fleeing the violence may have been “recuperating” in the western city of Lviv and “waiting to see whether they should cross the border or not.”
Saltmarsh says UNHCR’s latest estimate of people internally displaced in Ukraine is now above 2 million. He said it was not possible to estimate how many of those might travel abroad. UNHCR has previously projected that 4 million people, or more, could flee Ukraine.
In Poland, which has taken about two-thirds of the some 3.2 million refugees from Ukraine, those arriving in recent days appear “more traumatized” and “in shock,” Saltmarsh says, and often come without a plan for where to go.
More than 93,000 people fled Ukraine on Thursday, according to UNCHR, the lowest single-day figure since fighting began on February 24. That was down from peaks of more than 200,000 daily on two consecutive days in early March.
Russian state television cuts President Vladimir Putin’s speech mid-sentence as he addresses tens of thousands of supporters at Moscow’s main football stadium.
As the Russian leader addresses the crowds, state television switches to showing a clip of patriotic music from earlier in the event.
Putin was cut mid-sentence as he was saying: “It so happened that the beginning of the operation coincided by chance with the birthday of one of our outstanding military…”
Russian state television is tightly controlled and such interruptions are highly unusual.
The Kremlin later says that the broadcast was “interrupted due to technical problems on the server.”
Around 10 minutes later, state television replays Putin’s speech from start to finish before he walks off stage.
Putin was speaking at an event in support of the Russian army in Ukraine and to mark the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Transmission of Putin’s speech suddenly cuts. Funny business with Russian TV. Kremlin can’t help itself. pic.twitter.com/VrT9SMOonO
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 18, 2022
The UN warns that humanitarian needs are becoming ever more urgent across war-ravaged eastern Ukraine, with a potentially fatal lack of food, water and medicines in besieged cities.
“The humanitarian situation in cities such as Mariupol and Sumy is extremely dire,” Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, tells reporters via video link from Poland.
Residents in those two cities, he warns, are “facing critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water and medicines.”
Since Russia launched its invasion on February 24, several cities in the east — from Sumy in the north to Mariupol in the south — have been effectively besieged, cut off and faced near-constant attack.
Local officials in Mariupol say more than 2,000 people have died in indiscriminate shelling, and 80 percent of its housing has been destroyed.
UNHCR says more than 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine in the three weeks of war, with millions more displaced internally.
Across Ukraine, 13 million people need humanitarian assistance, it said.
Needs are also surging in a number of cities.
Saltmarsh points out that authorities in Odesa in the southwest had appealed for food assistance to cover 450,000 people there, as well as medicines.
Separatist-controlled areas in the east are also seeing ever more urgent needs.
“More than 200,000 people are now without access to water across several localities in Donetsk oblast,” Saltmarsh says, adding that constant shelling in the Lugansk region had meanwhile “destroyed 80 percent of some localities, leaving 97,800 families without power.”
At the same time, he warns, “targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and lack of safe passage are increasing protection risks and posing serious threats to the lives of thousands of civilians.”
A woman who escaped the Mariupol theater bombing in Ukraine says only a small proportion of the people who were inside were able to get out.
“There were 800 people. They were cooking something inside, and when the stage collapsed only about 100 ran away,” she says.
A woman describes the Mariupol theatre bombing in a video.
????WATCH HERE: pic.twitter.com/upOqYmhegF
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 18, 2022
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis, dies at home at age 94.
Kanievsky was the leader of a large section of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping begin a phone call in which Biden will urge his counterpart to join Western pressure against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, warning of “costs” if Beijing goes to the Kremlin’s aid.
The two leaders started the call, their first since a video summit in November, at 9:03 a.m., the White House says.
The high-stakes conversation will be a chance for Biden to try to persuade Xi to give up any idea of bailing out Russia from the effects of Western sanctions or even sending military assistance for Russia’s onslaught against neighboring Ukraine.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told CNN on Friday that China should get off the fence and join forces with the West against President Vladimir Putin.
China should “understand that their future is with the United States, with Europe, with other developed and developing countries around the world. Their future is not to stand with Vladimir Putin,” she said.
Biden has successfully marshaled a tight Western alliance against Russia, while giving military support to Ukrainian forces.
But Beijing has refused to condemn its fellow authoritarian ally, and Washington fears the Chinese could switch to full financial and military support for Russia, transforming an already explosive transatlantic standoff into a global dispute.
If that happened, not only could Beijing potentially help Putin weather sanctions and continue his war, but Western governments would face the painful decision of how to strike back at the world’s second-biggest economy, likely prompting turmoil on international markets.
The White House was tight-lipped on whether Biden will threaten China with economic sanctions during his call, but some sort of response is on the table.
Biden “will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression and we will not hesitate to impose costs,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
China should use “whatever leverage they have to compel Moscow to end this war,” the top US diplomat urged, but said he was “concerned that they’re considering directly assisting Russia with military assistance.”
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the top Haredi rabbinical authorities in Israel, collapses at home and is undergoing resuscitation efforts.
Dozens of people gather outside his home
A source close to the rabbi, who is in his 90s, tells Ynet, “His condition is severe. We’re praying.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 18, 2022
Finland is named the world’s happiest country for the fifth year running, in an annual UN-sponsored index that again ranks Afghanistan as the unhappiest, followed closely by Lebanon.
Israel is in 9th place, apparently its highest ever position.
Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania record the biggest boosts in well-being. The largest falls in the World Happiness table, released on Friday, came in Lebanon, Venezuela and Afghanistan.
Lebanon, which is facing economic meltdown, falls to second from last on the index of 146 nations, just below Zimbabwe.
War-traumatized Afghanistan, already bottom of the table, has seen its humanitarian crisis deepen since the Taliban took power again last August.
UN agency UNICEF estimates one million children under five could die of hunger this winter if not aided.
“This (index) presents a stark reminder of the material and immaterial damage that war does to its many victims,” co-author Jan-Emmanuel De Neve says.
The World Happiness Report, now in its 10th year, is based on people’s own assessment of their happiness, as well as economic and social data.
It assigns a happiness score on a scale of zero to 10, based on an average of data over a three-year period.
This latest edition was completed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Northern Europeans once again dominate the top spots — with the Danes second behind the Finns, followed by the Icelandic, the Swiss and the Dutch.
The United States rises three places to 16th, one ahead of Britain, while France climbed to 20th, its highest ranking yet.
As well as a personal sense of well-being, based on Gallup polls in each country, the happiness score takes account of GDP, social support, personal freedom and levels of corruption.
The report raised some eyebrows when it first placed Finland at the top of its listings in 2018.
Many of the Nordic country’s 5.5 million people describe themselves as taciturn and prone to melancholy, and admit to eyeing public displays of joyfulness with suspicion.
But the country of vast forests and lakes is also known for its well-functioning public services, ubiquitous saunas, widespread trust in authority and low levels of crime and inequality.
ISTANBUL — The EU says it is not applying a double standard toward refugees from Ukraine compared to Syria, as it grapples with the biggest migration crisis in Europe since World War II.
The bloc has come under fire for allegedly welcoming refugees from Ukraine more openly, compared to their non-white counterparts fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
But EU Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas says there is no difference in the bloc’s refugee policy based on country of origin.
He adds however that the current situation with refugees from Ukraine is “unique” as the country directly borders several EU nations, unlike Syria.
“We have a number of (EU) member states that are bordering Ukraine, so actually the movement comes straight into the European Union,” he tells journalists in Istanbul.
The UN says over three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24, with more than two million crossing into EU member Poland.
The EU has granted Ukrainian refugees temporary protection status, which gives them the right to stay, access healthcare, attend school and work.
By comparison, over 1 million people mostly from Syria reached European shores in 2015, but were not granted automatic protection status.
The EU says its member states ended up granting asylum to over 550,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016.
Many Syrians have instead settled in Turkey in line with a 2016 EU deal offering incentives for Ankara, including financial assistance, for taking them in.
Schinas says the EU fulfilled its responsibility for Syrian refugees.
“We did our part and I would not see that there are double standards in this argument,” he says.
Syrians who fled the war can apply for asylum in Europe, but they are not granted automatic status as with Ukrainian refugees.
The Ukrainian embassy in Israel claims that Russia is deliberately targeting synagogues and Jewish centers in Ukraine.
“Nazi Russians continue to intentionally destroy synagogues and centers of Jewish culture throughout Ukraine. What else needs to happen for the Israeli government to help Ukraine in self-defense?” the embassy says in a Facebook post.
The statement is accompanied by a number of photos that are apparently Jewish sites damaged in the fighting, but no further evidence is provided to confirm deliberate targeting.
The Ukrainian envoy to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk has repeatedly slammed Israel for its refusal to provide military aid to Ukraine, even defensive equipment such as helmets and flak jackets.
Israel has, however, provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine,
Jerusalem has sought to walk a tightrope to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, the latter of which maintains a military presence in Syria and is negotiating Iran’s return to a nuclear deal.
Israel has pointed to its neutral position as an asset that enabled Bennett to assist as a mediator between Kyiv and Moscow, but Korniychuk has dismissed this as an excuse for not being more actively supported of Ukraine, following Russia’s February 24 invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was to “denazify” the neighboring country, which has a Jewish president.
The russian nazis deliberately keeps destroying synagogues and centers of Jewish culture across Ukraine.What else…
There have been 130 people rescued so far from the rubble of a theater that was being used as a shelter in the besieged city of Mariupol when it was destroyed in a Russian strike, says a Ukrainian official.
Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova says rescue work is ongoing as some 1,300 people are believed to still be trapped.
There are not yet any reports of deaths.
Most of those who were in the building at the time of the Russian airstrike are thought to have been in an underground bomb shelter.
Satellite imagery from Monday showed huge white letters on the ground in front of and behind the theater spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian, in an attempt to alert enemy forces.
Russia’s military has denied bombing the theater or anyplace else in Mariupol on Wednesday.
LONDON — The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other top global lenders Friday warn of “extensive” economic fallout from the Ukraine war and express their horror at the “devastating human catastrophe.”
“The entire global economy will feel the effects of the crisis through slower growth, trade disruptions, and steeper inflation,” reads a joint statement, warning that the conflict was curbing energy and food supplies and increasing poverty.
The other signatories are the Council of Europe Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, plus the European Investment Bank.
The statement is issued after bosses met Thursday to discuss the global impacts of the Ukraine war — and their individual and collective responses to the escalating crisis.
“We are horrified and deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing crisis,” the lenders add.
Attacks on civilians and their infrastructure are “causing tremendous suffering, creating massive population displacements, threatening international peace and security, and endangering basic social and economic needs for people around the world.”
“In addition to the devastating human catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine, the war is disrupting livelihoods throughout the region and beyond,” the statement says.
BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock indicates that her country should consider imposing an oil embargo on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
In a security policy speech, she says it is important to take a stance and not remain silent due to economic or energy dependency.
“Even if it’s difficult, including on questions now with regard to oil or other embargoes,” says Baerbock.
Germany receives about a third of its oil from Russia and half of its coal and natural gas.
Baerbock also warns against China’s growing influence over energy infrastructure in Africa and Asia, saying Germany will soon propose a new strategy on dealing with Beijing.
Activists put strollers in the central Market Square in the western Ukraine city of Lviv — one for every child killed since the start of the Russian invasion.
The Kyiv Independent, an English-language news site, says that according to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Russian forces have killed 109 children and injured more than 130 since February 24.
— Chris Brown (@CBCChrisBrown) March 18, 2022
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Ukrainian authorities of stalling talks, but adds that Moscow is ready to search for solutions as he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“It was noted that the Kyiv regime is trying in every possible way to stall negotiations, putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals,” the Kremlin says after the phone call.
“Nevertheless, the Russian side is ready to continue to search for solutions in line with its well-known principled approaches,” the Kremlin says.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov calls the phone talks between Putin and Scholz “tough,” but adds that such contacts were still needed.
Peskov says it is still early to talk about an agreement that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators could sign.
“I can only state that the Russian delegation is showing a willingness to work much faster than it is doing now,” he tells reporters.
“Unfortunately, the Ukrainian delegation is not ready to accelerate the pace of talks.”
In talks with Scholz, Putin also stressed that Russian troops were “doing their best” to save civilians including through safe corridors, the Kremlin says, adding that some 43,000 people had been evacuated from the southeastern city of Mariupol on Thursday.
Putin will also speak by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron Friday evening, Peskov said.
Bennett, Lapid urge US not to delist Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terror group: ‘Insult to victims’
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid urge the United States not to delist Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organization, as it moves closer to reviving the nuclear agreement with Tehran.
“The Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans. We have a hard time believing that the United States will remove it from the definition of a terrorist organization,” Bennett and Lapid say.
“The fight against terrorism is a global one, a shared mission of the entire world. We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists,” the ministers say.
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are Hezbollah in Lebanon, they are Islamic Jihad in Gaza, they are the Houthis in Yemen, they are the militias in Iraq,” the statement reads.
“The Revolutionary Guards are behind the attacks on American civilians and soldiers throughout the Middle East, including in the past year. They are the ones behind the plans to assassinate senior American government officials,” the two senior ministers say.
“The Revolutionary Guards took part in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, they destroyed Lebanon, they are engaged in the murderous repression of Iranian civilians. They kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they do not surrender to them,” the statement charges.
“They are a central and integral part of the murderous repression machine in Iran. Their hands are stained with the blood of thousands of Iranians and the trampling of the soul of Iranian society,” the ministers say. “The attempt to abolish the definition of the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization is an insult to the victims and the erasure of a documented reality, with unequivocal evidence.”
“We find it hard to believe that the definition of the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization will be abolished in exchange for a ‘promise not to harm the Americans,'” the statement concludes.
The statement comes after Axios reported the administration of US President Joe Biden was considering the move, and in return, Tehran would commit to de-escalation in the region.
The IRGC, a hardline militia with close ties to Iran’s supreme leader, was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by former US president Donald Trump’s administration after it withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
WARSAW — Poland’s border guards said Friday that more than two million refugees had crossed into the EU member from neighboring Ukraine since the February 24 Russian invasion.
“At 9 am the number of refugees from Ukraine exceeded two million. It is mainly women with children,” the guards said on Twitter.
The United Nations says some 3.2 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, with millions more displaced internally.
One person is killed and four people are wounded when debris from an intercepted Russian missile falls on a residential building in Kyiv, emergency services say.
Rescuers in the Ukraine capital say 12 people are rescued and a further 98 evacuated from the five-story building in the northern district of Podilskyi, the BBC reports.
Emergency services are working on the scene.
— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) March 18, 2022
LONDON — Britain’s communications regulator revokes the license of Russian-backed broadcaster RT amid investigations of its coverage of the Ukraine war.
The regulator, Ofcom, says in a statement that it does not consider RT’s licensee, ANO TV Novosti, to be “fit and proper to hold a UK broadcast license.”
Ofcom says the decision follows 29 ongoing investigations into the impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The regulator says: “We have concluded that we cannot be satisfied that RT can be a responsible broadcaster in the current circumstances. Ofcom is therefore revoking RT’s license to broadcast with immediate effect.’’
Russian troops and their separatist allies are fighting in the center of Mariupol, a strategic port city in the southeast of Ukraine, the Russian defense ministry says.
“In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People’s Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city center,” the ministry says in Moscow.
There is no confirmation from Ukrainian officials.
Meanwhile, rescuers continue searching for survivors of a Russian airstrike on a theater in the besieged city where hundreds of people were sheltering, local officials say.
The city has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the start of the Russian invasion, with residents suffering continued bombardments.
The most recent intelligence assessment by the British Ministry of Defense is that Russian forces have made “minimal progress” in their invasion of Ukraine over the past week.
“Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Mykolaiv continue to frustrate Russian attempts to encircle the cities. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Mariupol remain encircled and subject to heavy Russian shelling,” the assessment reads.
Four residents of East Jerusalem have been arrested for suspected ties to Hamas, Israel Police announces.
Following a joint investigation with the Shin Bet security agency, police say three of the suspects — a family from Sur Baher — were detained upon their entry to Israel last month.
A fourth suspect — a resident of Beit Hanina — is also arrested, with half a million NIS ($155,000) in cash, vehicles, and other assets being seized, as well as bank accounts belonging to a charitable organization being frozen.
The charity, Lajnat Zakat al-Quds, which has offices in the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City, is accused of funneling money to Hamas, tax offenses, and money laundering.
Police say some of the suspects also received firearms training outside the country, and one recently met with a Hamas official in Turkey.
An indictment will be filed against them later today.
Lviv mayor says Russian missiles destroy plane maintenance building at airport; no casualties reported
Mayor Andriy Sadovyi says in a Facebook post that a building used for plane maintenance was hit in early morning strikes on Lviv airport in western Ukraine.
He says that the building was destroyed, but nobody was working in the plant at the time of the attack.
Sadovyi says rescue teams are on the scene.
The airport is located some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Ukraine’s border with Poland.
LVIV — Russian forces struck an area around Lviv’s airport in western Ukraine, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi says, with ambulance and police vehicles racing to the scene.
Writing on messaging app Telegram, Sadovyi says he can’t not give a precise address of the targeted area ” but it’s definitely not an airport.”
At least three blasts were heard in Lviv and armed checkpoints have turned motorists back from roads toward the airport.
A British intelligence assessment says Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian is still plagued by logistical issues.
“Logistical problems continue to beset Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine,” says the UK Defense Ministry.
“Reluctance to maneuver cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel,” the assessment says, noting that Ukrainian counter-attacks mean Moscow is diverting troops to defend supply lines.
Struggling to advance, Russian forces have bombed apartment buildings and appear to be targeting civilians and killing non-combatants.
Russian troops have been accused of taking people hostage as human shields, rape, killing a man who had his hands up, and of war crimes.
There are reports of the sounds of explosions in the western Ukraine city of Lviv.
At least three loud blasts are heard in the city at around 6:30 a.m.
Videos and photos posted to social media seem to show smoke rising near Lviv International Airport.
Three explosions heard across #Lviv this morning. We were woken up by an early air raid siren, but unlike other days it was followed by three distinct blasts. We can now see plumes of smoke on the city skyline. Pics by @abcnews camera operator Fletcher Yeung. pic.twitter.com/POziXMMjG9
— Emily Clark (@Em_Dawn) March 18, 2022
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he was thankful to US President Joe Biden for the additional military aid but said he would not say specifically what the new package included because he didn’t want to tip off Russia.
“This is our defense,” he says in his nighttime video address to the nation. “When the enemy doesn’t know what to expect from us. As they didn’t know what awaited them after Feb. 24,” the day Russia invaded. “They didn’t know what we had for defense or how we prepared to meet the blow.”
Zelensky says Russia expected to find Ukraine much as it did in 2014, when it seized Crimea without a fight and backed separatists as they took control of the eastern Donbas region. But Ukraine is now a different country, with much stronger defenses, he says.
He says it also was not the time to reveal Ukraine’s tactics in the ongoing negotiations with Russia. “Working more in silence than on television, radio or on Facebook,” Zelensky said. “I consider it the right way.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — Drugmaker Moderna asks the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a fourth shot of its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for all adults.
The request is broader than rival pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s request earlier this week for the regulator to approve a booster shot for all seniors.
In a press release, the company says its request for approval for all adults was made “to provide flexibility” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical providers to determine the “appropriate use” of a second booster dose of the mRNA vaccine, “including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities.”
US officials have been laying the groundwork to deliver additional booster doses to shore up the vaccines’ protection against serious disease and death from COVID-19. The White House has been sounding the alarm that it needs Congress to “urgently” approve more funding for the federal government to secure more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, either for additional booster shots or variant-specific immunizations.
Local officials say more than 2,200 people have died so far in indiscriminate shelling of Mariupol, a strategic port, and 80 percent of its housing has been destroyed.
Under new Russian shelling, rescuers were combing through the smoking rubble of the Drama Theatre, where Ukrainian officials said more than 1,000 civilians were sheltering in a basement bomb shelter when it was bombed. Human Rights Watch believes they numbered at least 500.
Among the 30,000 civilians said to have fled Mariupol so far, evacuees say they were forced to melt snow for drinking water and cook food scraps on open fires, with water and power supplies cut off.
“In the streets there are the bodies of many dead civilians,” Tamara Kavunenko, 58, tells AFP after reaching the central city of Zaporizhzhia.
“It’s not Mariupol anymore,” she said. “It is hell.”
NEW YORK — An NGO in New York had hundreds of bulletproof vests stolen after they were donated by officers and destined for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion, police and the organization says.
The theft occurred at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), where police arrived yesterday and learned that “approximately 400 bulletproof vests were removed from the location,” NY Police Department spokeswoman Lieutenant Jessica McRorie says.
“There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing,” she adds.
A spokesperson for UCCA says a smaller number of vests, about 300, were missing from the group’s Manhattan location. “We don’t know… why, how” the robbery occurred, or who would have committed it, the spokesperson told AFP.
The secondhand vests were donated by the police on Long Island, New York and were to be sent to aid workers who would deliver them by truck throughout Ukraine, the group says.
Four people, including an 11-year-old boy are wounded in a shooting incident in the southern town of Ar’ara BaNegev, medics say.
A 21-year-old man is in a serious condition, while three others, including the boy, are in a moderate condition, says the Magen David Adom rescue service.
The men are evacuated to the Soroka Hospital in nearby Beersheba.
Hebrew Media says the shooting is part of a feud between rival clans in the town.
WASHINGTON — A US Navy veteran who was jailed in Iran for nearly two years sues the Iranian government for $1 billion, alleging that he was kidnapped, held hostage and tortured.
The federal lawsuit describes in unsparing detail the “prolonged and continuous” abuse that Michael White says he suffered behind bars, including being beaten and punched, whipped on his feet, deprived of food and drink, and pressured to falsely confess that he was a spy for the US government.
“Mr. White endured this trauma for nearly two years, never knowing if or when he would be released and reunited with his family, repeatedly promised that his conditions would improve soon, only to be crushed psychologically when they did not,” the lawsuit states.
The allegations in the complaint mirror the claims made by White in a 156-page manuscript that he wrote behind bars and that was later obtained by The Associated Press.
The 31-page complaint traces White’s travel to Iran, saying he was lured there in the summer of 2018 by a woman he considered his girlfriend so that he could be kidnapped by Iranian government agents and put in prison. He was charged with insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader and cooperating with the US government against Iran — charges the lawsuit says were fabricated — and sentenced without a trial to 10 years in prison.
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