Russia-Ukraine latest updates: Biden defends Putin remarks

Ukraine news from March 28: Joe Biden refuses to backtrack after saying Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’

US President Joe Biden gives a speech at the White House.
US President Joe Biden said his remarks expressed moral outrage at Russian President Vladimir Putin. [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appeals for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces have retaken Irpin, a few miles from Kyiv, the local mayor says.
  • Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper suspends activities amid Moscow’s intensifying crackdown on critical reporting of the war.
  • Moscow has dismissed the possibility of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the time being.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 33

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates from March 28:

British intelligence says Russia’s Wagner Group deployed to eastern Ukraine

British military intelligence has said a Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, has been deployed to eastern Ukraine.

“They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leaders of the organisation, to undertake combat operations,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

The European Union had imposed sanctions on the Russian private military contractor in December for helping finance mercenaries in Ukraine, Libya and Syria.

Rocket strikes oil depot in Ukraine’s northwestern Rivne region: Governor

The governor of Ukraine’s northwestern Rivne region has said Russian forces carried out a rocket strike on an oil depot.

In a short video address posted online, Governor Vitaliy Koval said emergency services were at the scene, but did not give further details.

Ukraine’s communications company accuses Russia of cyber attack

The State Special Communications Service of Ukraine (SSSCIP Ukraine) has accused Russian forces of launching a cyberattack against Ukrtelecom, Ukraine’s telephone company.

SSSCIP chairman Yurii Shchyhol said the cyberattack was neutralised and that efforts were under way to resume service, the company wrote on Twitter.

In a separate post, it added Ukrtelecom had suspended services to the majority of its private users and business clients to continue providing service to the army.

Ukraine says 1,099 people evacuated from cities

A total of 1,099 people have been evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Monday, a senior official has said.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post that 586 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol by car and 513 were evacuated by bus in the Luhansk region.

The aftermath of a Russian attack in Byshiv village, on the outskirts of Kyiv, that caused widespread destruction.
A Russian attack in Byshiv village, on the outskirts of Kyiv, has caused widespread destruction [Narciso Contreras/ Anadolu Agency]

Zelenskyy hints at openness to compromise on eastern Ukraine

Ukraine is prepared to consider a compromise on contested areas in the country’s east, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, ahead of another round of talks set for Tuesday.

“I realise that it’s impossible to force Russia to fully leave the territory. It could lead to World War III. I understand completely. I’m fully aware of it,” he said. “That is why I’m saying, yes, this is a compromise: Go back to where it all started and then we’ll try to resolve the issue of Donbas, the complex issue of Donbas.”

Zelenskyy added the only way to end the war was a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader, a possibility Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed earlier.

Ukraine aims at ceasefire with Russia at Turkey talks: Foreign Minister

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said Kyiv’s most ambitious goal at the upcoming talks with Russia in Turkey is to agree on a ceasefire.

“The minimum programme will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum programme is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said on national television, when asked about the scope of the latest round of peace negotiations that are expected to kick off on Tuesday.

Russia to study video of alleged mistreatment of prisoners

The Kremlin has said Russian investigators will look into a video circulated on social media that purported to show Ukrainian forces mistreating captured Russian soldiers.

The footage shared on Sunday shows five of the prisoners tied up and lying on the ground being beaten by soldiers who are likely Ukrainian. Three other captives are shot in their legs without provocation.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the video contained “monstrous images” and needed to be legally assessed, and that those who took part in what he described as torture needed to be held responsible.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said the video could not be taken at face value. Military spokesperson Oleksander Motuzyanyk said the veracity of the footage could not be verified.

Biden says ‘I make no apologies’ for Putin remarks

United States President Joe Biden has said he is “not walking anything back” after his weekend comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”.

He dismissed claims that he was calling for regime change in Moscow. “I wasn’t articulating a policy change,” he said. “I was expressing the moral outrage that I felt toward this man.”

The remark about Putin, which came at the end of a speech in Warsaw, stirred controversy in the United States and among some allies in Western Europe.

“This is just stating a simple fact, that this kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable,” Biden said.

Ukrainian negotiators urge caution on poisoning reports

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has poured cold water on reports of the alleged poisoning of Ukrainian negotiators and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

“There is a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories,” Podolyak said.

Rustem Umerov, another member of the negotiating team, urged people not to trust “unverified information”.

Workers say Russian soldiers disturbed radioactive dust in Chernobyl

Russian soldiers who seized the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have driven their armoured vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust, workers at the site said.

Two sources told Reuters soldiers in the convoy did not use any anti-radiation gear. One employee said that was “suicidal” for the soldiers because the radioactive dust they inhaled was likely to cause internal radiation in their bodies.

The Red Forest is the most radioactively contaminated part of the zone around Chernobyl, about 100 kilometres north of Kyiv.

Ukraine says it has ‘proof’ of use of banned weapons

Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has said Ukraine has proof Russian forces used banned cluster bombs in two southern regions of the country.

“We have proof of the [use] of cluster bombes in the Odesa region and in the Kherson area,” Venediktova told journalists. “I can only mention instances where I have very concrete proof, for example … when I have (bomb) fragments or soil samples and analyses.”

Cluster bombs spread dozens of tiny explosive charges across an area, some of which may not immediately explode and in effect become anti-personnel mines that pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.

Pressure groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also said they collected proof of the use of cluster bombs in areas where civilians were present.

Turkey’s Erdogan to meet Ukraine, Russia delegates

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he would meet “briefly” with the Ukrainian and Russian delegations ahead of two days of face-to-face talks scheduled to kick off on Tuesday.

In a televised address, the Turkish leader also said that separate telephone calls held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin were progressing in a “positive direction”.

US intelligence suggests ‘environmental’ factor sickened Abramovich: Reuters

A US official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity has said that intelligence suggests the sickening of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators was due to an environmental factor, not poisoning.

“The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental,” the source said, adding: “not poisoning”. They declined to elaborate further.

The account contradicts an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat saying Abramovich and the negotiators had suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv.

UK to strengthen economic pressure on Russia

Britain will increase economic pressure on Russia, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a call ahead of a new round of talks in Istanbul.

“President Zelenskyy provided an update on negotiations and the two leaders agreed to coordinate closely in the days ahead,” Johnson’s office said in a readout of the call.

“The Prime Minister reiterated the UK would maintain and strengthen economic pressure on Putin’s regime.”

EU countries look to share effort of hosting Ukrainian refugees

Germany has called for a more even distribution of Ukrainian refugees in the European Union, after some 3.8 million people fled war on their country and crossed into the 27-nation bloc.

“We need to more actively distribute refugees within the EU and show solidarity by taking in refugees,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters in Brussels, where interior ministers of all EU countries met to discuss the situation.

The country, the biggest in the bloc with more than 80 million people, says it has registered more than 270,000 Ukrainian refugees, compared with some 30,000 who have entered France, the second-biggest member.

The ministers discussed sharing information and synchronising databases, as well as transporting refugees further west in the EU.

Ukrainian negotiators, Russian oligarch suffered suspected poisoning: WSJ

Ukrainian peace negotiators and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Symptoms included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, the sources said, adding that they blamed the suspected attack on hard-liners in Moscow who want to sabotage talks to end the war in Ukraine.

Abramovich and the Ukrainian negotiators, who include Crimean Tatar lawmaker Rustem Umerov, have since improved and their lives aren’t in danger, WSJ reported.

The Russian oligarch became involved in attempts to end the war despite longstanding links to President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the American newspaper.

UN chief appeals for humanitarian ceasefire

Guterres says he has directed the world body’s aid chief, Martin Griffiths, “to explore with the parties involved” the possibility of a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.

“Since the beginning of the Russian invasion one month ago, the war has led to the senseless loss of thousands of lives, the displacement of 10 million people, mainly women and children, the systematic destruction of essential infrastructure and skyrocketing food and energy prices worldwide – this must stop,” he said at the UN’s headquarters in New York.

“But let’s be clear, the solution to this humanitarian tragedy is not humanitarian, it is political,” Guterres added.

“I am therefore appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow for progress in serious political negotiations aimed at reaching a peace agreement based on the principles of the United Nations charter.”

Guterres said a cessation of hostilities would also allow for “essential humanitarian aid to be delivered and enable civilians to move around safely”.

“It will save lives, prevent suffering and protect civilians,” he added.

A Ukrainian family are seen at the Lviv railway station
The war in Ukraine has torn families apart, with millions of people – mostly women and children – having fled the country in search of safety in neighbouring states [File: Bernat Armangue/AP]

EU seeks end to golden passport schemes, halt in sales of visas to Russians

The European Union’s executive arm has called on the bloc’s member states to end national programmes to sell citizenship to investors, also known as golden passport schemes, and urged them to suspend the sale of visas to Russians and Belarusians.

The move by the European Commission follows a new push from the European Parliament to shrink and regulate the multi-billion-euro citizenship and visa industry, which the EU has long considered a security risk.

It urged an immediate end to existing national programmes for the sale of passports. Currently, only Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria have such schemes and they have all committed to ending them.

Brussels also said governments should check whether sanctioned individuals were holding a golden passport or visa they had issued.

Several EU countries run golden visa schemes, including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy.

Kyiv mayor says death toll in the capital more than 100 people

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has said the Ukrainian capital’s current death toll stands at more than 100 people amid Russia’s offensive.

In an address to city councillors of Florence, which is twinned with Kyiv, Klitschko said more than 20 corpses could not be identified and that four of the victims were children.

He added another 16 wounded children were currently in hospital.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures provided.

Nearly 5,000 people killed in Mariupol, local official says

Nearly 5,000 people have been killed in Mariupol since Russia launched its attack on the city, a spokesperson for the city’s mayor has said.

Citing data from the mayor’s office, the spokesperson also said about 90 percent of buildings in Mariupol had been damaged and that about 40 percent had been destroyed.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures provided.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general accuses Russia of ‘genocide’ in Mariupol

Ukraine’s prosecutor general has said Russian forces’ alleged indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Mariupol and the reported forced deportation of thousands of Ukrainians from the city to Russia amount to “genocide”.

“What is happening in Mariupol is not just war crimes,” Iryna Venedyktova said during a news briefing.

“War has rules, and this is beyond rules. I look at it from the viewpoint of considering it genocide when an entire city is taken hostage,” she added.

Venedyktova also alleged that under the disguise of “evacuation”, thousands of Mariupol residents – including 2,000 children – had been forcibly deported to Russia in buses and had their passports confiscated.

“More than 2,000 children have been deported from Mariupol alone,” she said. “This is more than a war crime.”

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Italy helping Ukraine with security guarantees push, Zelenskyy says

Zelenskyy says he has spoken to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi about the country helping to create a system that would give Ukraine security guarantees to protect it from future threats.

“Discussed the course of countering Russian aggression. Thanked for the important defence and humanitarian support. Ukrainian people will remember this,” the Ukrainian president tweeted.

“We appreciate Italy’s willingness to join the creation of a system of security guarantees for Ukraine,” he added.

Kharkiv mayor says ‘there hasn’t been a second of silence’ amid Russian offensive

Weeks of Russian shelling have destroyed nearly 1,200 apartment buildings in Ukraine’s besieged northeastern city of Kharkiv, its mayor has said.

Some 1,177 multi-story buildings, 53 kindergartens, 69 schools and 15 hospitals were levelled by Russian forces, Ihor Terekhov said during a televised briefing.

“Since the war began, there hasn’t been a minute, a second of silence in Kharkiv,” he added, before accusing the Russian army of “deliberately targeting residential districts”.

Russia denies targeting civilians.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

A man walks past a school that was damaged by fighting in Kharkiv
Kharkiv has been repeatedly pounded by Russian forces in recent weeks [Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Ukrainian forces have retaken Irpin, local mayor says

The mayor of Irpin says Ukrainian forces have seized back control of the town, which has been one of the main hotspots of fighting with Russian troops near the capital, Kyiv.

“We have good news today – Irpin has been liberated,” Oleksandr Markushyn said in a video post on Telegram. “We understand that there will be more attacks on our town and we will defend it courageously.”

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify Markushyn’s claim.

Russia to restrict visas for people from ‘unfriendly countries’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Moscow is preparing to restrict entry into Russia for nationals of countries deemed “unfriendly” by the Kremlin, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and all 27 EU member states.

“A draft presidential decree is being developed on retaliatory visa measures in response to the ‘unfriendly’ actions of a number of foreign states,” Lavrov said in televised remarks.

“This act will introduce a number of restrictions on entry into Russia.”

Russian shares slump as all trading resumes

Russian shares have slumped as its stock market resumed trading of all companies after a monthlong halt.

The benchmark MOEX index slid by 2.2 percent after the Moscow Exchange reopened for all of its several hundred listed companies, but with restrictions still in place to limit volatility.

The last full trading session in Moscow was on February 25, a day after the index tumbled by a third after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Prices whipsawed last week when the exchange tentatively reopened for two days of limited trading, with investors allowed to trade only 33 of the MOEX index’s 50 companies.

Some restrictions have remained in place to prevent another big selloff. The daily session is shortened to four hours and there is a ban on short-selling, which essentially involves betting on stock prices to go down. Foreigners also are unable to sell shares until Friday.

Russian lawmaker warns G7 refusal to pay in roubles will mean gas supply halt: Report

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency has quoted lawmaker Ivan Abramov as saying a refusal by the G7 group of industrialised nations to pay for Russian gas in roubles will lead to an unequivocal halt in supplies.

Abramov sits on the economic policy committee of the Federation Council, the Russian parliament’s upper chamber.

His remarks came after Germany said earlier on Monday that energy ministers from the G7 reject a plan by Putin to charge countries deemed “unfriendly” by the Kremlin in roubles for Russian gas.

The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

Ukraine sees no sign of Russian forces pulling back from Kyiv

Ukraine’s defence ministry has said it sees no signs that Russia has given up a plan to surround the Ukrainian capital.

“According to our information, the Russian Federation has not abandoned its attempts, if not to capture, then to surround Kyiv,” ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing.

“For now we don’t see the movement of enemy forces away from Kyiv,” he added.

Carlsberg joins rival Heineken in quitting Russia

Carlsberg will exit the Russian market and take a “substantial” non-cash impairment charge, the Danish brewer has said.

“We have taken the difficult and immediate decision to seek a full disposal of our business in Russia, which we believe is the right thing to do in the current environment,” Carlsberg said. “Upon completion, we will have no presence in Russia.”

Dutch brewer Heineken announced earlier on Monday that it had also decided to pull out of Russia.

A man is seen near a board showing currency exchange rates in Russia's Saint Petersburg
Sweeping sanctions imposed on Russia have hammered the country’s economy and a long list of global firms have announced they are ending operations there [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

North Macedonia declares five Russian diplomats persona non grata

North Macedonia’s foreign ministry says the country has declared five Russian diplomats persona non grata for violating diplomatic norms and ordered them to leave within five days.

The Russian ambassador in the country was informed the individuals have carried out activities that are contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the ministry said.

North Macedonia has joined with several other countries in imposing sanctions against Russia over its invasion.

Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper suspends activities

Russia’s top independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, says it is suspending its online and print activities until the end of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Novaya Gazeta, which has already removed material from its website on Russia’s military action in Ukraine to comply with a new media law, said it had received a second warning from state communications regulator Roskomnadzor on Monday about its reporting, prompting it to pause operations.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was a co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Muratov announced last week that he was planning to donate his Nobel award to be auctioned to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees.

The Kremlin strictly limits how media outlets can describe events in Ukraine. Several other Russian media outlets have already opted to suspend operations rather than face heavy restrictions on what they can report, and Moscow has also blocked multiple foreign news outlets.

Read more here.

‘Impossible’ to rule out Belarus joining the war, Ukraine says

Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces has warned Belarusian forces may yet be sent into Ukraine to support Russia’s invasion, saying it is “impossible” to rule out their possible involvement.

It said in a statement on Facebook that it had noted four Belarusian battlegroups were currently involved in “strengthening and protecting the Belarusian-Ukrainian border” along the frontier in Ukraine’s western Volyn region.

Analysts have said that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may join the war on Moscow’s side and deploy several battalions, totalling thousands of forces altogether, to Ukraine.

Read more here.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Bolivia’s Morales accuses Biden of ‘seeking a coup’ in Russia

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales has accused the US of using the war in Ukraine to “militarily, politically and economically” attack the people of Russia and attempt to overthrow the latter’s government.

In a series of tweets, Morales also said United States President Joe Biden – who has called Putin a “war criminal” and over the weekend said his Russian counterpart “cannot remain in power” – was “seeking a coup” in Russia, adding Washington was ill-placed to accuse other countries of committing war crimes.

“The only country in the world that killed hundreds of thousands with atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that massacres peoples and plunders natural resources, has no morals to call anyone a ‘criminal’.” he tweeted.

Displaying ‘Z’ symbol could be criminal act in Germany: Report

Individuals who display the letter “Z” in Germany to symbolise support for Russia’s war in Ukraine could be liable for prosecution, the Reuters news agency has quoted a spokesperson for the country’s interior ministry as saying.

“The letter Z as such is of course not forbidden, but its use may in individual cases constitute an endorsement of the Russian war of aggression,” the spokesperson was quoted as telling reporters at a regular news conference.

“The Russian war of aggression on Ukraine is a criminal act, and whoever publicly approves of this war of aggression can also make himself liable to prosecution,” the spokesperson added.

More than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine, UN says

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.

About 90 percent of the 3,866,224 individuals who have left the country are women and children, the agency said.

The majority have fled to Poland, with more than 2.2 million people crossing into Ukraine’s western neighbour. More than half a million others have entered Romania, while Moldova and Hungary have received more than 300,000 refugees each respectively.

UNHCR does not count citizens from neighbouring countries who have left Ukraine to return home.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine war Refugees DAY 33 March 28 11GMT

Romanian dive team attempting to defuse Black Sea mine

A Romanian military dive team is trying to defuse a mine detected some 70km (43 miles) offshore in the Black Sea, the country’s defence ministry has said.

The mine, which was first spotted by fishermen, is one of several to have been found drifting in the region in recent days.

Earlier on Monday, Turkish authorities secured a mine close to the border with Bulgaria. On Saturday, they deactivated another ordinance, setting off a loud explosion north of Istanbul.

Russia’s main intelligence agency said earlier in March that several mines had drifted to sea after breaking off from cables near Ukrainian ports, a claim dismissed by Kyiv as disinformation and an attempt to close off parts of the sea.

Russia’s Gazprom says gas exports to Europe via Ukraine continue

Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom has said it is continuing to supply natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company said requests stood at 109.5 million cubic metres (mcm) for today, after 109.6 mcm on Sunday.

Turkey could be among countries to offer Ukraine security guarantees, Kyiv says

Turkey is among a number of countries that could offer Kyiv security guarantees as part of any deal with Russia to end the war in Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

“Turkey is among those countries that could become guarantors of our security in the future,” Ihor Zhovkva, the deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, said.

Kyiv has said it wants legally binding security guarantees that would offer Ukraine protection from a group of allies in the event of a future attack.

Kremlin says talks in Turkey could start on Tuesday

The Kremlin has said that talks in Turkey between officials from Russia and Ukraine may begin on Tuesday.

Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed in a telephone call on Sunday for Istanbul to host the discussions, which Ankara hopes will lead to a ceasefire.

Turkey had suggested the talks could begin today, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that was unlikely as the negotiators would only be arriving there in the coming hours.

He added it was important the discussions will be held face-to-face, after what he described as a lack of major progress in several previous rounds of talks so far.

A man rides his bike past flames and smoke rising from a fire following a Russian attack in Kharkiv
Several previous rounds of talks between Kyiv and Moscow have failed to produce a peace agreement [Felipe Dana/AP]

Russia adds Germany’s Deutsche Welle to ‘foreign agent’ list

Russia’s justice ministry has added German broadcaster Deutsche Welle to a list of media organisations it has labelled as “foreign agents”, a designation that requires outlets to publish a disclaimer on all their publications.

Deutsche Welle’s website was blocked by state communications regulator Roskomnadzor in early March.

Ukrainian troops counterattacking in Kharkiv region, governor says

Ukrainian forces have launched counterattacks against Russian troops in parts of the country’s northeastern region of Kharkiv, its governor has said.

Oleg Sinegubov said in a post on Telegram, a messaging app, that the villages of Mala Rohan and Vilkhivka were now “completely under the control” of Ukrainian troops.

He added that “fierce battles” continue to take place in the city of Izyum, located some 124km (77 miles) southeast of the city of Kharkiv – the second-largest in Ukraine.

Russia says diplomats expelled by Poland have left the country: Report

Russia’s TASS news agency has quoted the country’s ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreev, as saying that 45 Russian diplomats expelled by Poland have now left the country.

Warsaw last week accused the group of working for Russian intelligence — accusations Moscow has dismissed as baseless.

Ukraine puts cost of war damage, lost growth at more than $560bn

Russia’s war has so far cost Ukraine $564.9bn worth of damage to infrastructure, lost economic growth, and other factors, the latter’s economy minister has said.

Yulia Svyrydenko said in a post on Facebook that the fighting had damaged or destroyed 8,000km (4,970 miles) of roads and 10 million sq metres of housing.

Kremlin calls Biden’s remarks on Putin ‘alarming’

The Kremlin’s spokesperson has said Joe Biden’s comment this past weekend that Putin “cannot remain in power” is a cause for concern.

The United States leader made the remarks to a crowd in Warsaw on Saturday as he concluded a diplomatic visit to Europe. He later said that Washington was not seeking to overturn the government in Russia.

But Peskov told reporters the remarks were “alarming” and said Moscow would continue to closely follow Biden’s statements following the incident.

Lavrov talks down prospect of Zelenskky-Putin meeting

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed the possibility of top-level talks between Putin and Zelesnkyy for the time being.

Lavrov said any immediate meeting between the pair to exchange views would be counter-productive, adding discussions should instead take place when Ukraine and Russia are “close to agreeing on key issues”.

Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for face-to-face talks with Putin in a bid to end the war.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends an interview with some of the Russian media via video link.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for face-to-face talks with Putin [File: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters]

Ukraine says no plans for civilian evacuations, citing safety concerns

Ukraine has no plans to open any humanitarian corridors today due to concerns about safety, the country’s deputy prime minister has said.

The decision was taken because of intelligence reports warning of possible Russian “provocations” along the routes, Iryna Vereshchuk said in a post on Facebook.

Russia-China relations at strongest level ever, Lavrov says

Russia’s foreign minister has said Moscow’s relations with Beijing are now at their strongest level ever.

Sergey Lavrov’s remarks come after China has repeatedly voiced opposition to the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion, insisting it will maintain normal economic and trade exchanges with the latter.

Beijing has also refused to publically condemn Moscow’s offensive.

Talks come ‘amid an observable escalation’ in violence: AJE correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the city of Lviv, in Western Ukraine, says “circumstances on the ground” will no doubt affect the outcome of the talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials.

“They [the talks] come amid an observable escalation in the west of the country, as well as elsewhere – we have had air raid sirens going off all morning in Kyiv and shelling in many areas has continued,” Basravi said.

He noted that Ukraine had claimed Russian forces were “unable to advance”, however, adding that Kyiv believed it was in a “position of strength” ahead of further talks with Moscow.

Ukraine says Russian forces regrouping, but unable to advance

Russian forces are regrouping but are unable to advance, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister has said.

Hanna Malyar told a news briefing that Moscow’s troops were trying to reinforce positions they already hold and claimed they had no hope of capturing Kyiv despite trying to break through the capital’s defences.

Malyar did not provide evidence of the Russian troop movements.

Mariupol mayor fears humanitarian catastrophe

The southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe and must be completely evacuated, its mayor says.

Vadym Boychenko said about 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power. Twenty-six buses were waiting to evacuate civilians but Russian forces had not agreed to give them safe passage, he said.

“The Russian Federation is playing with us,” he said. Russia denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to agree on safe corridors for trapped civilians.

Heineken to pull out from Russia

Dutch brewing giant Heineken has said it will end its operations in Russia, after previously announcing it would halt new investments and exports there.

“We have concluded that Heineken’s ownership of the business in Russia is no longer sustainable nor viable in the current environment,” it said in a statement.

A man walks past a logo at the Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma brewery, a subsidiary of Heineken,
Heineken had previously announced it would halt new investments in Russia and exports to the country [File: Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

12th Russian defeat at Chornobaivka airport

For the twelfth time, Russian forces have been defeated in the southern town of Chornobaivka after trying to seize a strategic airport, a Ukrainian presidential aide has said.

The Chornobaivka airport between the seized city of Kherson and the besieged city of Mykolaiv has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance and spawned dozens of memes ridiculing Russia’s blind determination to seize the town by all means necessary.

“A pleasant yet predictable surprise – Chornobaivka, [defeat] number 12, it happened and keeps happening,” Oleksiy Arestovych wrote on Facebook.

Russian general Yakov Rezantsev, who commanded the combined 49th army, was killed in Chornobaivka last week, the Ukrainian defence ministry said.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Ukrainian official expects no breakthrough during talks

A senior Ukrainian official has said he does not expect any breakthrough during talks between representatives from Kyiv and Moscow in Turkey.

“I don’t think there will be any breakthrough on the main issues,” Vadym Denysenko, an interior ministry adviser, said.

Russian shelling kills one in Luhansk: Governor

Russian shelling has killed one civilian and wounded one more in the town of Rubizhne in the southeastern Luhansk region that has been partially controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014, an official has said.

“Disappointing morning news – Russians have yet again shelled Rubizhne,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Ukrainian-controlled part of Luhansk, wrote on Telegram.

The Russians and separatists have been advancing on Rubizhne and other towns in Luhansk since the invasion began on February 24.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Zelenskyy insists on territorial integrity as talks loom

Ukraine’s president has insisted on the territorial integrity of his country after earlier suggesting that he was ready for a compromise in peace talks with Russia.

In his video address to the Ukrainian people late on Sunday, Zelenskyy said there was a new round of negotiations coming up in Turkey and that his government’s priorities remained the same.

“Our priorities in the negotiations are known. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt. Effective security guarantees for our state are mandatory,” he said.

But in comments to Russian journalists earlier in the day, Zelenskyy had said Ukraine was willing to assume neutral status and compromise over the status of the eastern Donbas region as part of a peace deal.

China’s Sinopec pauses Russia projects: Report

China’s state-run Sinopec Group has suspended talks for a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia, according to Reuters.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, the news agenct said the suspension was a response to the Chinese government’s calls for caution as western sanctions on Russia mount.

One of the sources told Reuters that Sinopec had been planning to team up with Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical producer, to build a new gas chemical plant in Siberia.

But it hit pause on the project after realising that Sibur minority shareholder and board member Gennady Timchenko had been sanctioned by the West, the source said.

Russia, Ukraine likely hold differing views on concept of neutrality: Analyst

Zachary Paikin, a researcher at the Center for European Policy Studies, says Moscow and Kyiv likely hold differing views on what it means for Ukraine to be a neutral state.

“There’s the question of whether or not neutrality means being able to join NATO or not, versus being able to join the EU or not,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The central theme in the lead up to this invasion was Ukraine’s status in NATO, and that’s how Russia more or less explicitly chose to frame neutrality during those talks over previous months. But membership in the EU is just as much of a sticking point,” he said.

“Ukraine joining the EU poses certain problems for Russia, because the EU is more of a Western political construct and Russia insists that Ukraine forms part of the Russian world, and EU nominally has a common foreign and security policy as well. This would very much run up against the concept of neutrality from Moscow’s perspective.”

Ukraine restricts reporting on troop movements

Ukraine’s president has signed a law restricting the reporting on troop and military equipment movement unless such information has been announced or approved by the military general staff.

The state news agency Ukrinform reported on Sunday that the law calls for potential prison terms of three to eight years for violations.

The law bans “unauthorised dissemination of information about the direction, movement of international military assistance to Ukraine, the movement, movement or deployment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations of Ukraine, committed in a state of martial law or a state of emergency,” Ukrinform said.

300 shoes on the Danube Bank for victims of Mariupol theatre bombing

People in Hungary’s capital have placed 300 pairs of shoes on the banks of the Danube River to commemorate those who died in a Russian attack on a theatre in Ukraine’s Mariupol.

The worn shoes were left near the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial, which honours the Hungarian Jews who died during World War II.

Russia forces leave Chernobyl staff town: Mayor

Russian forces have left the Ukrainian town of Slavutych, home to workers at the defunct nuclear plant of Chernobyl, after completing their task of surveying it, according to the town’s mayor.

“They completed the work they had set out to do,” Yuri Fomichev, the mayor of the northern town, said in an online video post. “They surveyed the town, today they finished doing it and left the town. There aren’t any in the town right now.”

On Saturday, authorities in Kyiv said Russian forces had taken control of the town just outside the safety exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

A moment of silence for Ukraine at the Oscars

Hollywood has shared a little bit of its big night with the people of Ukraine, using text on a screen to ask the world for financial contributions for those suffering from the Russian assault.

“We’d like to have a moment of silence to show our support for the people of Ukraine currently facing invasion, conflict and prejudice within their own borders,” read the message displayed on a large video screen hovering over the stage.

“While film is an important avenue for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water and emergency services. Resources are scarce and we – collectively as a global community – can do more,” it said.

“We ask you to support Ukraine in any way you are able. #StandWithUkraine.”

Missile attack reported on oil depot in western Ukraine

The governor of Volyn in northwestern Ukraine has reported a missile attack on an oil depot in the city of Lutsk.

Yuriy Pohuliayko said on Telegram that the missile was fired from the territory of Belarus.

He said rescuers were at the site of the attack and that there were no victims according to preliminary data.

31 fires reported near Chernobyl nuclear plant

Authorities in Ukraine have reported 31 fires covering 10,111 hectares (24,985 acres) near the Russian-occupied Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Lyudmyla Denisova, a Ukrainian official, said the fires were “causing increased levels of radioactive particle pollution in the air” and said it was not possible to extinguish the blazes due to the presence of Russian troops.

Hollywood stars show support for Ukraine on the Oscars carpet

Several celebrities have walked the Oscars’ red carpet wearing blue ribbons to show support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.

Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, last year’s Oscar winner for best supporting actress Youn Yuh-jung and “Halloween” star Jamie Lee Curtis were among those sporting the ribbons.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jason Momoa wore a button and pocket square in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, respectively.

Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Sophie Hunter arrive at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Sophie Hunter arrive at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles [Jae C Hong/ AP]
Jason Momoa wears a handkerchief in the colours of the Ukrainian flag in a show of solidarity for Ukraine as Russia's invasion of the country continues as he poses on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals at the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles,
Jason Momoa wears a handkerchief in the colours of the Ukrainian flag in a show of solidarity for Ukraine as he poses on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals at the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US, March 27, 2022 [Reuters]
Youn Yuh-jung arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Youn Yuh-jung arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles [Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]

“It’s really, really strange to be here in tuxedos, knowing what’s going on in Ukraine,” said Emile Sherman, producer of the film “Power of the Dog”.

“It’s not an easy time trying to absorb what’s happening in that part of the world, while still celebrating the achievements of everyone who made this movie and all the movies here tonight.”

‘It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so funny’: Zelenskyy slams Russian censorship

Ukraine’s president has criticised Russia’s media watchdog after it tried to stop the publication of an interview in which he said Kyiv was prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Moscow.

The interview was conducted by Russian journalists from the Meduza news website, the Dozhd television station, and the liberal business paper Kommersant.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, has urged Russian media not to publish the interview and has launched an investigation into the circumstances under which it had been organised.

“Imagine, they were frightened there in Moscow because of my interview to Russian journalists, to those who can afford to tell the truth,” Zelenskyy said.

“It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so funny. They destroyed the freedom of speech in their state and they are trying to destroy it in the neighbouring state. They portray themselves as global players and they themselves are afraid of a relatively short conversation with several journalists.”

Ukraine calls for measures to ‘demilitarise’ Chernobyl nuclear plant

A senior Ukrainian official has accused Russia of “irresponsible” acts around the occupied Chernobyl power station that could send radiation across much of Europe, and urged the United Nations to dispatch a mission to assess the risks.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian forces were “militarising” the exclusion zone around the station, the site of the world’s worst civil nuclear accident in 1986.

Russian forces, she said, were transporting large amounts of old and poorly maintained weapons, creating a risk of damaging the containment vessel constructed around the station’s wrecked fourth reactor.

Russian forces were also preventing firefighters from bringing large numbers of fires in the zone under control, she said.

“In the context of nuclear safety, the irresponsible and unprofessional actions of Russian servicemen present a very serious threat not just to Ukraine but to hundreds of millions of Europeans,” Vereshchuk said on her Telegram account.

“We therefore demand that the UN Security Council adopt immediate measures to demilitarise the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl station as well as dispatching a special mission to eliminate the risks of any repeat of the Chernobyl accident resulting from the actions of Russian occupying forces,” she said.

Biden says he was not calling for ‘regime change’ in Russia

US President Biden has said he was not calling for “regime change” in Russia when he said President Putin “cannot remain in power”.

When asked by a reporter in Washington, DC, whether he was calling for “regime change” in Moscow, Biden said: “No”.

Biden made the initial remarks last week during a speech in Poland, in which he also called Putin a “butcher” and said the world must prepare for a “long fight ahead”. Several US officials have since stressed that Biden was not calling for “regime change” in Moscow.

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event in Warsaw, Poland
Biden made the comments during a fiery speech in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday [Slawomir Kaminski /Agencja via Reuters]

NATO not seeking ‘regime change’ in Russia: Scholz

The NATO military alliance is not aiming to remove Putin from power, German Chancellor Scholz has said, a day after President Biden branded Putin a “butcher” and said he “cannot remain in power”.

It “is not the objective of NATO, nor that of the US president”, Scholz told German public broadcaster ARD.

“I’ve had the chance to talk at length with him at the White House and we have also discussed these questions,” he added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said NATO was not seeking regime change in Moscow [File: Christophe Gateau/Pool via Reuters]

Germany eyes buying missile defence system

Germany is considering purchasing a missile defence system to shield against a potential attack from Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

“This is certainly one of the issues we are discussing, and for good reason,” he told public broadcaster ARD when asked whether Germany might buy a defence system.

“We need to be aware that we have a neighbour who is prepared to use violence to enforce their interests,” he added.

In the same interview, the chancellor also addressed Germany’s decision to become more energy independent and said it would have to accept higher energy costs.

Scholz said it would not help to keep Germany’s nuclear power plants running longer, but he noted that the timing of the country’s plan to exit from coal was dependent on how quickly it made progress in expanding renewable energy.

INTERACTIVE- Which countries rely most on Russian oil AJLABS

Russia blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea coast: UK

Russia is maintaining a distant blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast which is effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade, the British Ministry of Defence has said.

Russian naval forces are also continuing to conduct sporadic missile raids against targets throughout Ukraine, the ministry added.

Zelenskyy considers Russian neutrality demand

Ukraine’s president says his government is “carefully” considering a Russian demand of Ukrainian neutrality, a key point of contention as negotiators for both sides prepare for a fresh round of talks aimed at ending the brutal month-long war.

“This point of the negotiations is understandable to me and it is being discussed, it is being carefully studied,” Zelenskyy said during an interview with several independent Russian news organisations.

Read more here.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends an interview with some of the Russian media via video link.
Zelenskyy spoke to journalists from several Russian media outlets [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters]

Russia plans a ‘Korean scenario’ for Ukraine: Intelligence chief

Russia is considering “a Korean scenario” for Ukraine and splitting the country in two after failing to seize the capital Kyiv and overthrow its government, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief has said.

Russia’s president “will try to impose a dividing line between the unoccupied and occupied regions of our country”, General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ministry of Defence’s Intelligence Directorate, said on Sunday as reported by the ministry’s Telegram account.

Read more here.

Next round of negotiations to be held this week

Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams will meet for talks in the Turkish city of Istanbul, the Turkish and Russian presidents have agreed.

No dates were given for the meeting.

Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia said talks would resume on Monday, while Russian delegation leader Vladimir Medinsky said they would kick off on Tuesday.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Sunday, March 27 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies