Ukraine latest updates: Zelenskyy asks Israel for weapons

Ukraine news from March 20: Ukraine’s president seeks Israel’s help; Moscow bombs Mariupol art-school-turned-shelter.

A Ukrainian service member stands at a position on the front line in the east Kyiv region.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked Israel for military help to fight the Russian invasion [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]
  • Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of bombing a school in Mariupol.
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suspends pro-Russian political parties.
  • Zelenskyy condemns Russia’s siege of Mariupol as a “war crime”.
  • Mariupol’s city council says Russian troops have forcefully deported several thousand people.
  • Drawing on historical parallels with the Holocaust, Zelenskyy appeals to Israel’s Knesset for military support.
  • Turkey’s foreign minister says Russia and Ukraine are getting closer to an agreement on “critical” issues.
  • The UN says at least 902 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and almost one in four have been displaced.
  • Russia says it used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the second time in Ukraine.


INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 25
(Al Jazeera)

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These were the updates on March 20:

Ukraine says 7,295 people evacuated: Deputy PM

A total of 7,295 people have been evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Sunday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, with four out of seven planned routes working.

Of the total, 3,985 people were evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. The Ukrainian government planned to send nearly 50 buses to Mariupol on Monday for further evacuations.

Russia calls on Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms in Mariupol

Russia says Ukrainian forces should surrender in the eastern port city of Mariupol.

“Lay down your arms,” Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Center for Defense Management, said in a briefing distributed by the defence ministry.

“A terrible humanitarian catastrophe has developed,” Mizintsev said. “All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol.”

He added that humanitarian corridors would be opened out of Mariupol at 10am Moscow time (07:00 GMT) on March 21.

David Beckham hands Instagram account to Ukrainian doctor

Former footballer David Beckham has handed control of his Instagram account to a Ukrainian doctor in charge of the regional perinatal centre in the city of Kharkiv.

Britain’s Beckham, who has 71.4 million followers on the social media site, said he wanted to highlight the “amazing work” of medical staff operating amid the Russian invasion.

“Today I’m going to show you how we work in times of war and who we have become during these war days,” the doctor, who was identified as Iryna, wrote on an Instagram post.

Russia says it is advancing towards Mariupol

The Russian army has advanced a further 12km into eastern Ukraine and reached the border of the settlement of Nikolske near Mariupol, Ministry of Defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, according to the news agency Interfax.

There was no confirmation from the Ukrainian side.

Can talks end the war in Ukraine?

Despite the fierce fighting, representatives from Ukraine and Russia have met several times.

A recent episode of Inside Story looks at three main points: a ceasefire, an end to all hostilities and humanitarian corridors.

‘What I saw, I hope no one will ever see’: Greek diplomat

Greece’s consul general in Mariupol, the last European Union diplomat to evacuate the besieged Ukrainian port, has said it “will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war”.

“What I saw, I hope no one will ever see,” Manolis Androulakis said as he arrived at Athens International Airport.

According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Androulakis assisted dozens of Greek nationals and ethnic Greeks before fleeing Mariupol on Tuesday. After a four-day trip through Ukraine, he crossed to Romania through Moldavia along with 10 other Greek nationals.

Israel’s parliament speaker expresses support to Zelenskyy

Mickey Levy, speaker of Israel’s Knesset, has expressed support for Ukraine following President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s virtual address to the Israeli parliament.

“I would like to express my sympathy with the pain of the Ukrainian people who are being attacked in their homes,” Levy said, adding that he was sending his condolences from “our capital Jerusalem”. The status of Jerusalem is disputed, and the city is not recognised as Israel’s capital.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine is a blatant violation of international order and everything must be done to bring about a ceasefire and an end to the war as soon as possible,” Levy added.

He did not comment on Zelenskyy’s request for Tel Aviv to provide arms to Kyiv.

Russia losing high-ranking military officers, Ukraine says

Russia is losing high-ranking military officers in the war in Ukraine, according to reports from the Ukrainian army.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, claimed on Twitter that six Russian generals had been killed.

Russia confirmed in daily newspaper Kommersant that Black Sea fleet Deputy Commander Andrey Paliy died while fighting in the Mariupol region.

Former United States military commander and CIA chief David Petraeus told CNN it was “very, very, very, very uncommon” for generals to be killed. “The bottom line is that their command and control has broken down,” Petraeus said.

US delivers air defence system to Slovakia

The US-made Patriot air defence system is on its way to Slovakia, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad has said, paving the way for Bratislava to deliver similar hardware to Ukraine.

“I can confirm that the first units to deploy the anti-aircraft Patriot system are gradually arriving,” Nad said on Facebook, adding the delivery would continue over the next few days.

NATO member Slovakia said this week that it was willing to provide its Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft system to Ukraine on the condition that it received a substitute to avoid a security gap.

France freezes $940m of Russian assets

France has seized around 850 million euros ($940m) of Russian oligarchs’ assets on its soil, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

“We have immobilised … 150 million euros in individual’s accounts, credit lines in France and in French establishments,” in addition to “539 million euros in real estate on French territory” Le Maire said on television.

“The sanctions are hitting Russia, the state, [and Russia’s President] Vladimir Putin hard,” he added.

Germany seals energy deal with Qatar in pivot from Russia

Germany has agreed on a long-term energy partnership with Qatar, one of the world’s three biggest exporters of liquified natural gas (LNG), in a bid to reduce its dependence on Russia.

Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck secured the deal on a visit to Doha. The next step will be for the companies involved to “enter into the concrete contract negotiations”, a spokesperson for the ministry said.

Russia hypersonic missile ‘not a game-changer’: US

Russia’s claim it used a hypersonic missile in Ukraine is not a “game-changer,” the US Pentagon’s chief has said.

The use of the hard-to-intercept hypersonics by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has raised concerns of a dramatic escalation.

“I think the reason he is resorting to using these types of weapons is because he is trying to re-establish some momentum,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CBS.

Austin also commented on reports that Russia is recruiting thousands of Syrian army personnel for possible deployment in Ukraine, saying “We have not seen mercenaries show up on the battlefield to my knowledge.” 

Protests break out in Kherson as residents confront Russian troops

Residents in Kherson have staged a protest opposing Russian occupation, which is now in its third week in the southern Ukrainian city.

Chanting “go home”, dozens of people marched towards a tank marked with the letter Z, Moscow’s pro-war symbol.

The tank turned around and left the area, according to footage aired by Al Jazeera.

Zelenskyy tells Israel’s Knesset both countries face threat of destruction

Ukraine’s president has addressed Israeli lawmakers, saying both countries were confronted by the threat of “complete extermination of the people, the culture, the country and the state”.

Drawing a parallel with the Holocaust, Zelenskyy said Russia was adopting a “final solution” against Ukrainians.

“You feel what I’m talking about, but can you explain why you are not appealing to the world for help?” he asked.

Zelenskyy added that Israel’s military was well equipped and should be helping Ukraine.

US envoy to UN says claims of Ukrainians deported to Russia ‘disturbing’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield has said reports of thousands of residents of Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol being forcibly deported to Russia were “disturbing” and “unconscionable” if true.

“I’ve only heard it. I can’t confirm it,” she said on CNN. “But I can say it is disturbing. It is unconscionable for Russia to force Ukrainian citizens into Russia and put them in what will basically be concentration and prisoner camps.”

Turkey says it is ready to host meeting between Zelenskyy and Putin

Turkey has said it is ready to host a meeting between Ukraine’s Zelenskyy and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and expressed confidence that the two sides were close to an agreement.

“Of course, it is not an easy thing to come to terms with while the war is going on, while civilians are killed, but we would like to say that momentum is still gained,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in the southern province of Antalya.

Cavusoglu this week visited Russia and Ukraine as Turkey tries to position itself as a mediator.

Earlier, he told the Hurriyet Daily News that Russia and Ukraine were getting closer to agreeing on “critical” issues.

Read the story here.

Strike on Kyiv apartment block wounds five

A shell has exploded outside an apartment block in Kyiv, wounding five people, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram.

“It was lucky” that there were not more casualties, Sviatlana Vodolaga, a spokeswoman for the state emergency service, told AFP, adding that six people were rescued from the block.

The 10-storey building in the northwestern Sviatoshyn district was badly damaged, with all the windows blown out and scorch marks from a fire that broke out, in the latest bombardment as Russian forces try to encircle the Ukrainian capital.

Berlin anti-war concert draws 20,000

Some 20,000 people attended an anti-war concert in central Berlin, police said, with listeners waving Ukrainian flags or holding banners with slogans opposing the Russian invasion.

Gathered near Brandenburg Gate, performers wore blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine.

Syrian opposition flags with the slogan ‘freedom’ were also visible in the crowd, drawing a parallel between Russia’s actions in Ukraine and in the Arab country.

People hold signs at the anti-war concert "Sound for Peace".
People hold signs at the anti-war concert ‘Sound for Peace’ [Christian Mang/Reuters]

Zelenskyy says failure of negotiations will lead to third world war

Ukraine’s president has renewed his plea for talks, saying on US television that negotiations were the only way to “end this war”.

“I’m ready for negotiations with him,” Zelenskyy told CNN, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war,” he said.

Ukraine accuses Russian forces of attacking retirement home in Luhansk region

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova has accused Russian forces of shooting dozens of people at a home for the elderly in the Luhansk region.

“Today it became known about another terrible crime against humanity committed by the racist occupation forces – the shooting of 56 elderly people in Luhansk region,” Denisova said on Telegram.

According to the ombudsman, Russian troops fired from a tank in the town of Kreminna on March 11, killing 56 people. Fifteen survivors were abducted by the occupiers and taken to the occupied territory in Svatove.

Denisova did not provide evidence for the attack in the statement.

Ukraine front lines not shifting as Russia loses momentum: Official

The front lines between Ukrainian and Russian forces are “practically frozen”, as Russia does not have enough combat strength to advance further, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said in a video address.

“[Over the past day] there were practically no rocket strikes on [Ukrainian] cities,” Arestovych added.

At least 902 civilians killed in Ukraine since conflict began: UN

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has confirmed at least 902 civilian deaths and 1,459 injuries in Ukraine as of March 19.

The actual toll is thought to be considerably higher since OHCHR’s monitoring team has not yet been able to receive or verify casualty reports from several badly hit cities, including Mariupol.

France doesn’t rule out energy sanctions against Russia

Sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine are hurting its economy and Russia’s president, France’s finance minister said, adding that banning Russian oil and gas imports into the European Union remained an option for Paris.

“They’re hurting the Russian state and they’re hurting Vladimir Putin,” Bruno Le Maire told LCI television in an interview.

“Should we in the immediate stop buying Russian oil, should a little bit further down the line we stop importing Russian gas? The president has never ruled out these options,” he said.

Pope slams war as ‘sacrilege’, ‘repugnant’

Pope Francis has denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as a “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity”.

In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on February 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City in Rome that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre”.

Francis also called on “all actors in the international community” to work towards ending the war. “Again this week, missiles, bombs, rained down on the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,’’ the pope said. His thoughts, he said, went to the millions who flee. “And I feel great pain for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,’’ Francis added.

‘Constant bombardment’ in Kharkiv

Standing on a street strewn with rubble and destroyed buildings, Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig said Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv has been facing constant bombardment.

“We’ve heard heavy artillery firing all morning and all afternoon,” he said. “This is what Ukrainians here are facing: constant bombing, missile strikes, shelling, [and] heavy artillery.”

Standing in front of a courthouse that was targeted a few days ago, Baig said the impact of the shelling took out windows.

“On the opposite side of the street was residences, again completely destroyed. Workmen are actually working now to clear the drains from the rubble. We understand that behind that is a military police building. The Russians actually missed that and hit a residence building where two people died and five others [were] injured.”

According to Kharkiv’s mayor, more than 600 buildings including schools and hospitals were destroyed.

Ukraine says seven humanitarian corridors will open on Sunday

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said seven humanitarian corridors would open today to enable civilians to leave front-line areas.

Ukraine has evacuated a total of 190,000 people from such areas since the Russian invasion began on February 24, Vereshchuk said, though Ukraine and Russia blame each other for hobbling the process.

‘Bomb shelters, battlefronts’: Ukrainians resist Russian assaults

In a Kyiv basement converted into a nursery, Svitlana Stetsiuk plays tenderly with an infant, one of 19 surrogate babies whose non-Ukrainian biological parents are outside the country.

These children of Ukrainian surrogate mothers, some just days old, are stuck in this makeshift bomb shelter, waiting for their parents to pick them up from a war zone. Their caretaker nurses cannot leave the shelter because of the constant shelling by Russian troops.

Nanny Svitlana Stetsiuk plays with one of the babies in the nursery in Kyiv
Nanny Svitlana Stetsiuk plays with a baby in a Kyiv nursery that cares for 19 infants who were born to surrogate mothers – and whose biological parents are outside the country due to the invasion by Russia [Rodrigo Abd/AP]

Read more here.

‘Deteriorating situation in Mariupol’: Al Jazeera correspondent

The besieged port city of Mariupol is witnessing worsening conditions, Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said, after the city council said an art school sheltering 400 people was bombed by Russia.

“We are still waiting to see whether there are survivors,” McBride said, speaking from the western city of Lviv.

“The problem, the authorities in Mariupol say, is that they simply can’t get close to this place because of the ongoing fierce fighting in the surrounding street.”

While people are being allowed to leave through humanitarian corridors, the Russian soldiers are checking if they are civilians instead of being soldiers or fighters, he added.

10 million people forced from homes in Ukraine war: UN

Russia’s war on Ukraine has driven 10 million people from their homes, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said.

“The war in Ukraine is so devastating that 10 million have fled – either displaced inside the country, or as refugees abroad,” Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, wrote on Twitter.

“Among the responsibilities of those who wage war, everywhere in the world, is the suffering inflicted on civilians who are forced to flee their homes.”

According to UN data, almost 3.4 million refugees have left Ukraine since the war began on February 24, with more than 2 million taken in by neighbouring Poland, close to 530,000 by Romania and over 362,000 by Moldova.

Some 6.5 million are estimated to be internally displaced in the country.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine war Refugees map DAY 25 March 20
(Al Jazeera)

Gazprom says it continues Russian gas exports to Europe via Ukraine

Russian energy giant Gazprom said it continues to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company said the requests stood at 106.6 million cubic metres for March 20.

Ukraine sees high risk of attack from Belarus on western Volyn region

Ukraine sees a high risk of an attack on western Ukraine’s Volyn region being launched from Belarus, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said, citing the military.

The Russian invasion has mostly focused on northern, southern and eastern areas of Ukraine, though missiles last week also hit the Yavoriv military base, close to the Polish border.

It was not immediately clear whether Ukraine saw the threat of an attack on Volyn from Russian forces or the Belarusian military, which has so far not publicly committed troops to supporting Russia.

Turkey: Russia and Ukraine getting closer to agreement on ‘critical’ issues

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Hurriyet Daily News that Russia and Ukraine were getting closer to an agreement on “critical” issues and have nearly agreed on some subjects.

Cavusoglu also said that he was hopeful for a ceasefire if the sides don’t take a step back from the progress they have made towards an agreement.

Russia says has again fired hypersonic missiles in Ukraine

Russia said it had again fired its newest hypersonic missiles in Ukraine, destroying a fuel storage site in the country’s south.

“Kinzhal aviation missile systems with hypersonic ballistic missiles destroyed a large storage site for fuels and lubricants of the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Kostyantynivka in the Mykolaiv region,” the Russian defence ministry said.

The strike marked the second day in a row that Russia used the Kinzhal, a weapon capable of striking targets 2,000km (1,250 miles) away at a speed 10 times the speed of sound.

Officials say art school used as shelter bombed by Russians

Ukrainian authorities in the besieged port city of Mariupol said the Russian military has bombed an art school where about 400 people had taken refuge.

There was no immediate word of casualties from the Saturday attack. Local authorities said the school building was destroyed and people could remain under the rubble.

Five reported dead in Kharkiv after shelling

At least five people are dead in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after shelling of a multiple-storey dwelling near an industrial area, according to police.

Officials posted on Facebook that one of the dead is a 9-year-old boy. They also posted images of the building, which they say caught fire during the attack. The picture showed smoke pouring out of multiple levels, with windows smashed.

Officials say that 266 civilians have died in the city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began a month ago.

Zelenskyy suspends parties with Russian links

Ukraine’s president has ordered the suspension of activities of 11 political parties with links to Russia.

The largest of them is the Opposition Platform for Life, which has 44 out of 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament. The party is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has friendly ties with Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.

Also on the list is the Nashi (Ours) party led by Yevheniy Murayev.

“Given a large-scale war unleashed by the Russian Federation and links between it and some political structures, the activities of a number of political parties [are] suspended for the period of the martial law,” Zelenskyy said, adding that “activities by politicians aimed at discord and collaboration will not succeed.”

INTERACTIVE_Military dispatch day 25
(Al Jazeera)

More than 40 Ukrainian soldiers killed in Mykolaiv attack: Report

The New York Times, citing a senior Ukrainian military official, says more than 40 soldiers were killed in a Russian attack on a marine base in Mykolaiv.

The official told the Times that it was likely that the headquarters of the 36th Ukrainian Naval Infantry Brigade had been hit by a long-range weapon, like an Iskander-M ballistic missile.

71 children evacuated from Sumy orphanage

A Ukrainian official says 71 children have been evacuated from an orphanage in the embattled city of Sumy.

“We were hiding these children in bomb shelters for almost two weeks. Those who can shelter them in a safe place, in another country, were found quickly, thank God. And with the first opportunity to evacuate through the humanitarian corridor, we took the children from a specialised orphanage out of the combat zone,” said Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, head of the Sumy Regional Military Administration.

China stands on ‘right side of history’ on Ukraine war: Wang Yi

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said Beijing stands on the right side of history over the crisis in Ukraine and its position is “in line with the wishes of most countries”.

“China will never accept any external coercion or pressure, and opposes any unfounded accusations and suspicious against China,” Wang told reporters on Saturday evening.

“We have always stood for maintaining peace and opposing war,” Wang said.

“China’s position is objective and fair, and is in line with the wishes of most countries. Time will prove that China’s claims are on the right side of history.”

Ukraine holding 562 Russian prisoners of war

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, has said Kyiv “officially” has 562 Russian soldiers in its custody.

“All Russian prisoners are treated in accordance with international human rights law,” she said.

Zelenskyy calls Russian siege of Mariupol a ‘war crime’

Ukraine’s president says the siege of Mariupol will go down in history for what he is calling “war crimes” by Russia’s military.

“To do this to a peaceful city, what the occupiers did, is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” he said in his night-time video address to the nation.

Russia’s military is not even recovering the bodies of its soldiers in some places, Zelenskyy said.

“In places where there were especially fierce battles, the bodies of Russian soldiers simply pile up along our line of defence. And no one is collecting these bodies,” he said.

Russia accused of forcefully deporting thousands from Mariupol

Mariupol’s city council says Russian troops have forcefully deported several thousand people from the besieged city.

“Over the past week, several thousand Mariupol residents were deported onto the Russian territory,” the council said in a statement on its Telegram channel.

“The occupiers illegally took people from the Livoberezhniy district and from the shelter in the sports club building, where more than 1,000 people [mostly women and children] were hiding from the constant bombing.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry had said last week that buses carrying people it called refugees from Mariupol began to arrive in Russia on Tuesday.

Russia’s initial campaign to seize Kyiv, force regime change ‘has failed’: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War says the initial Russian campaign to seize Ukraine’s capital and force regime change has failed.

“The doctrinally sound Russian response to this situation would be to end this campaign, accept a possibly lengthy operational pause, develop the plan for a new campaign, build up resources for that new campaign, and launch it when the resources and other conditions are ready,” the United States-based group said.

But the Russian military has not yet adopted this approach and continues efforts to restore momentum to this “culminated campaign”, the ISW said.

This is creating conditions of “stalemate throughout most of Ukraine”, a bloody phase that could last for weeks or months, it added.

Australia bans alumina exports to Russia

Australia has imposed an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia, as part of its sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia relies on Australia for nearly 20 percent of its alumina needs,” the Australian government said in a statement, adding that the move will limit Russia’s capacity to produce aluminium, which is a critical export for Russia.

The government also said it will donate at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to Ukraine to meet its energy needs.

Anger after Johnson compares resistance in Ukraine with Brexit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sparked outrage by comparing the struggle of Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion to people in the United Kingdom voting for Brexit.

In his speech to a conference of his Conservative Party in the coastal town of Blackpool, Johnson said it is the “instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom,” with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example”.

Former European Council President Donald Tusk said the prime minister’s words “offend Ukrainians, [and] the British and common sense”, while former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the comparison was “insane”.

Conservative peer Gavin Barwell also criticised Johnson, pointing out that Ukraine is seeking to join the European Union and adding that voting in the 2016 referendum “isn’t in any way comparable with risking your life” in a war with Putin’s forces.

Russia ridicules idea cosmonauts wore yellow in support of Ukraine

Russia’s space agency has dismissed Western media reports suggesting Russian cosmonauts joining the International Space Station (ISS) had chosen to wear yellow suits with blue trim in support of Ukraine.

“Sometimes yellow is just yellow,” Roscosmos’s press service said on its Telegram channel.

“The flight suits of the new crew are made in the colours of the emblem of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which all three cosmonauts graduated from … To see the Ukrainian flag everywhere and in everything is crazy.”

In this frame grab from video provided by Roscosmos, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev are seen during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the International Space Station, Friday, March 18, 2022, the first new faces in space since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russian cosmonauts emerged from the Soyuz capsule wearing yellow flight suits with blue stripes, the colours of the Ukrainian flag [Roscosmos via AP]

Six journalists killed in Ukraine: Swiss group

A Switzerland-based press freedom group says six journalists have been killed and eight others have been wounded during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The journalists were killed under various circumstances, from shrapnel after a rocket attack to a bullet wound,” the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) said.

Three of them were killed while covering battles close to Kyiv, near the city of Irpin, it said.

PEC also said Russian forces in southern Ukraine have kidnapped two journalists.

Ukraine’s military continuing to ‘effectively defend Ukrainian air space’: UK

The UK Ministry of Defence says Ukraine’s air forces are “continuing to effectively defend Ukrainian airspace”.

“Russia has failed to gain control of the air and is largely relying on standoff weapons launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets within Ukraine,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

“Gaining control of the air was one of Russia’s principal objectives for the opening days of the conflict and their continued failure to do so has significantly blunted their operational progress,” it added.

Zelenskyy wants Switzerland to freeze bank accounts of all Russian billionaires

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the Swiss government to freeze the bank accounts of all Russian billionaires.

Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported that Zelenskyy, who spoke via livestream on Saturday to thousands of antiwar protesters in the Swiss city of Bern, said “in your banks are the funds of the people who unleashed this war. Help to fight this. So that their funds are frozen. … It would be good to take away those privileges from them”.

SRF also reported that the Ukrainian president criticised the Swiss multinational food conglomerate Nestle, which has decided not to withdraw from Russia for the time being, as opposed to many other international companies.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a demonstration for peace, via videolink, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in front of the seat of the Swiss federal parliament Bundeshaus in Bern, Switzerland March 19, 2022.
Zelenskyy speaks via videolink during a demonstration for peace in front of the seat of the Swiss federal parliament Bundeshaus in Bern, Switzerland on March 19, 2022 [Arnd Wiegmann/ Reuters]

Chinese diplomat says NATO should have ‘been consigned to history’

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng has said that NATO should stick to what he claimed was a promise not to expand eastward.

Echoing a Kremlin talking point, the diplomat said if NATO’s “enlargement goes further, it would be approaching the ‘outskirts of Moscow’ where a missile could hit the Kremlin within seven or eight minutes”.

“Pushing a major country, especially a nuclear power, to the corner would entail repercussions too dreadful to contemplate,” he said.

He expressed an understanding for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oft-repeated position, saying that NATO should have disintegrated and “been consigned to history alongside the Warsaw Pact”.

“However, rather than breaking up, NATO has kept strengthening and expanding, and intervened militarily in countries like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan,” he said. “One could well anticipate the consequences going down this path. The crisis in Ukraine is a stern warning.”

He said Chinese President Xi Jinping in talks with US President Joe Biden on Friday urged the parties in Ukraine to demonstrate “political will and keep the dialogue and negotiation going. The US and NATO should also have dialogue with Russia to address the crux of the Ukraine crisis and ease the security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine.”

Germany courts Qatar, UAE for alternatives to Russian gas

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck will discuss liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply on a trip to Qatar and the UAE, as he aims to secure a hydrogen deal, making Germany less dependent on Russia for gas.

Russia is the largest supplier of gas to Germany, according to data on the Economy Ministry’s website. Roughly half of Germany’s LNG imports come from Russia.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Habeck has launched several initiatives to lessen Germany’s energy dependence on Russia, including large orders of non-Russian LNG, plans for a terminal to import LNG and slowing the nation’s exit from coal.

Read the full story here.

What is China’s strategy on Ukraine?

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke on the phone on Friday, for the first time since the war began.

Washington is concerned about Beijing’s stance on the conflict as Chinese officials have refused to condemn the invasion. Biden has warned of consequences for China if it provides material support to Moscow.

So, what does it all mean for China’s relations with the West?

Ukrainian refugees seek ID cards in Poland

Hoping to restore some normalcy after fleeing the war in Ukraine, thousands of refugees waited in long lines on Saturday in the Polish capital Warsaw to get identification cards that will allow them to get on with their lives – at least for now.

Refugees started queueing by Warsaw’s National Stadium overnight to get the coveted PESEL identity cards that will allow them to work, live, go to school and get medical care or social benefits for the next 18 months. By mid-morning, many were told to come back another day.

The demand was too high even though Polish authorities had simplified the process.

Refugees who fled Russia's invasion of Ukraine wait in a queue to obtain Polish national identification number
Refugees wait to obtain Polish national identification number (PESEL) in front of National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland [Maciek Jazwiecki/Agencja via Reuters]

Increased risk for child refugees – UNICEF

Children fleeing the war in Ukraine are at an increased risk of exploitation and abuse, UNICEF has warned.

“It’s a huge concern, almost 1.7 million children have fled Ukraine and a further 3.3 million are internally displaced,” UNICEF’s Joe English told Al Jazeera from Lviv in Ukraine.

“When children are separated from parents or caregivers, the risk of exploitation, trafficking, abuse and being forced into child labour is high. We know that gangs and criminal networks exist across Europe and it is critical that we scale up our programming and response to really mitigate that risk.”

Mykolaiv facing air raids: Local official

Russian air raids on Mykolaiv were taking place in quick succession on Saturday, a regional official said.

Vitaly Kim, head of the regional administration, said there was not even enough time to raise the alarm over the raids “because by the time we announce this tornado, it’s already there”.

“The [alert] message and the bombings arrive at the same time,” he said on social media.

Ukraine says 6,623 people evacuated on Saturday

A total of 6,623 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Saturday, a senior official said, considerably fewer than managed to escape the previous day.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post that 4,128 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol. On Friday, he said 9,145 people had managed to leave cities across the country during the day.

Local residents sit in a car as they leave the besieged southern port city of Mariupol
Residents sit in a car as they leave the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine [Reuters]

‘The city is destroyed’: Mariupol police officer

Russian forces have pushed deeper into Ukraine’s besieged and battered port city of Mariupol, where heavy fighting shut down a big steel plant and local authorities pleaded for more help.

The fall of Mariupol, the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, would mark a crucial battlefield advance for the Russians, who are largely bogged down outside key cities more than three weeks into the biggest land invasion in Europe since World War II.

“Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin said on Saturday from a rubble-strewn street in a video addressed to Western leaders.

A local resident walks inside a damaged apartment
A resident walks inside an apartment which was damaged in Mariupol, Ukraine [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Click here to read all the updates from March 19.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies