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heavy losses Zelensky calls for more peace talks with Russia amid reports a fifth Russian general has been killed

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces are blockading Ukraine’s largest cities to purposely create a 'humanitarian catastrophe'

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A person holds a shooting target depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a shooting range in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Picture: Reuters

A person holds a shooting target depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a shooting range in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Picture: Reuters

A person holds a shooting target depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a shooting range in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Saturday for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow and also urged Switzerland to do more to crack down on Russian oligarchs who he said were helping wage war on his country with their money.

British intelligence warned that Russia, frustrated by its failure to achieve its objectives since it launched the invasion on February 24, was now pursuing a strategy of attrition that could intensify the humanitarian crisis.

Russian forces have taken heavy losses and their advance has largely stalled since President Vladimir Putin launched the assault, with long columns of troops that bore down on Kyiv halted in the suburbs.

But they have laid siege to cities, blasting urban areas to rubble, and in recent days have intensified missile attacks on scattered targets in western Ukraine, away from the main battlefields.

Zelensky, who makes frequent impassioned appeals to foreign audiences for help for his country, told an anti-war protest in Bern that Swiss banks were where the "money of the people who unleashed this war" lay and their accounts should be frozen.

Ukrainian cities "are being destroyed on the orders of people who live in European, in beautiful Swiss towns, who enjoy property in your cities. It would really be good to strip them of this privilege," he said in an audio address.

Neutral Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, has fully adopted EU sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, including orders to freeze their wealth in Swiss banks.

The EU measures are part of a wider sanctions effort by Western nations, roundly criticised by China, aimed at squeezing Russia's economy and starving its war machine.

In an address earlier on Saturday, Zelensky urged Moscow to hold peace talks now.

"I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk," he said in a video address. "The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia's losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover."

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Volodymyr Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky

  • War of attrition

Britain's Defence Attache to the United States said British intelligence believes Russia has been taken aback by the Ukrainian resistance to its assault and has so far failed to achieve its original objectives.

"Russia has been forced to change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition" likely to involve the "indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties", Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath said in a statement.

Putin, who calls the action a "special operation" aimed at demilitarising Ukraine and purging it of what it sees as dangerous nationalists, told a rally on Friday in Moscow that all of the Kremlin's aims would be achieved.

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On Saturday, Russia said its hypersonic missiles had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region. Hypersonic weapons can travel faster than five times the speed of sound and the Interfax agency said it was the first time Russia had used them in Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command confirmed the attack, but said the Ukrainian side had no information on the type of missiles used.

Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday they had not seen any significant shifts over the past 24 hours in front line areas, noting the cities of Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south and Izyum in the east continued to see the heaviest fighting.

The U.N. human rights office said that at least 847 civilians had been killed and 1,399 wounded in Ukraine as of Friday, with the real figure likely much higher. The Ukrainian prosecutor general's office said that 112 children were among the dead. Russia says it is not targeting civilians.

  • ‘Know how to fight’

Ordinary Ukrainians have joined the effort to defend their country, such as at a training facility in Odessa, a picturesque, multicultural Black Sea port, where young urban professionals were learning about handling weapons and applying first aid.

"Every person should know how to fight, how to make medicine," said 26-year-old graphic designer Olga Moroz.

More than 3.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine through its western border, with around 2 more million displaced inside the country. Ukraine has evacuated 190,000 civilians from frontline areas via humanitarian corridors, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday.

"I'll go (to Germany) for three weeks but I hope I can go home after that," said Olga Pavlovska, a 28-year-old refugee in the Polish town of Przemysl, hoping Zelekskiy's calls for comprehensive peace talks will end the invasion.

Hundreds of thousands have been trapped in the port city of Mariupol for over two weeks with power, water and heat supplies cut off. Bodies amid the rubble are a common sight. Local officials say fighting has reached the city centre and heavy shelling kept humanitarian aid from getting in.

Rescue workers were still searching for survivors in a Mariupol theatre that authorities say was flattened by Russian air strikes on Wednesday. Russia denies hitting the theatre.

Russia last acknowledged on March 2 that nearly 500 of its soldiers had been killed and has offered no updates since. Ukraine says the number by now has reached many thousands. Reporters have not been able to independently verify the death toll.

Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Moscow expected its operation in Ukraine to end with a signing of an comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine's neutral status.

Kyiv and Moscow reported some progress in talks this week towards a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine's security, while keeping it outside NATO, though both sides accused each other of dragging things out.

China has not condemned Russia's invasion, though it has expressed concern about the war.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said on Saturday Western sanctions against Russia were getting "more and more outrageous".

  • Ukraine claims fifth Russian general killed

A fifth Russian general has been killed during fighting near the southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials have claimed.

In a post on social media, the general staff of Ukraine’s army claimed that the Russian Lieutenant-General Andrei Mordvichev had died when Ukrainian forces hit an airfield in Chornobayivka, near Kherson airport.

The Kremlin has not confirmed Mr Mordvichev’s death.

“The commander of the 8th military army of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation of Lieutenant General Andriy Mordvichev was destroyed as a result of the fire attack on the opponent,” the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine wrote on social media.

They added: “Based on the fact that the enemy has suffered major losses in personnel, it is likely that the Russian military and political leadership will make a decision ... to prolong the length of the war.”

Ukrainian officials claimed that Russia “continues to bear significant losses” and that there is “a low level of morale” among their military forces.

Ukraine also said on Saturday morning that their fighter jets and anti-aircraft missile forces had hit “12 enemy air targets: 2 planes, 3 helicopters, 3 UAVs and 4 cruise missiles.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymr Zelensky claimed on Thursday that a fourth Russian general had been killed during the fighting.

An adviser to the interior ministry later named him as Major General Oleg Mityaev.

Analysts believe that around 20 generals are leading the Russian operations in Ukraine, the BBC reported - so if all the purported deaths are confirmed then a quarter of Russia’s generals will have been killed in action.

A person within Mr Zelensky’s inner circle told the Wall Street Journal that Ukraine had a military intelligence team that was dedicated to taking out high-ranking Russian officers.

“They look for high profile generals, pilots, artillery commanders,” the source said.

Major Generals Vitaly Gerasimov, Andrei Kolesnikov and Andrei Sukhovetsky have also been reported dead by Ukraine.

However Russia has only confirmed the death of one military leader - Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky.

US intelligence reportedly estimated that Russian forces have suffered 7,000 deaths - more than American military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Ukraine claimed on Saturday that more than 14,400 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war.

It has also been reported that Russia has been transporting home the bodies of its fallen troops under cover of night in order to hide the true scale of its military losses from its public.

  • Putin in ‘total panic’

Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of his neighbour was motivated by the fear a successful Ukraine would trigger a pro-democracy revolution in Moscow, Boris Johnson has said.

The British Prime Minister said Mr Putin was in a "total panic" about the prospect of a popular uprising if freedom was allowed to flourish in Kyiv.

Mr Johnson said the war was a "turning point for the world", forcing countries to stand up to Russia rather than "making accommodations with tyranny".

Failure to support Ukraine now would result in a "new age of intimidation across eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea".

In a speech at the Conservative Party spring conference in Blackpool, Mr Johnson said Mr Putin's actions were not the result of concern about Nato - "he didn't really believe that Ukraine was going to join Nato any time soon" - or the prospect of Western missiles being based there.

He also dismissed Mr Putin's "crazy essay" about the historical unity of the people of the two countries as "semi-mystical guff" and "Nostradamus meets Russian Wikipedia".

"I think he was frightened of Ukraine for an entirely different reason," Mr Johnson said to an audience including Kyiv's representative in the UK, Vadym Prystaiko.

"He was frightened of Ukraine because in Ukraine they have a free press and in Ukraine they have free elections."

It is "precisely because Ukraine and Russia have been so historically close that he has been terrified of the effect of that Ukrainian model on him and on Russia".

"He has been in a total panic about a so-called colour revolution in Moscow itself and that is why he is trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine and that's why it is so vital that he fails," Mr Johnson said.

"A victorious Putin will not stop in Ukraine, and the end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and then Moldova, it will mean the beginning of a new age of intimidation across eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea."

  • Putin call

Russian president Vladimir Putin has spoken on the phone with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, which is the second time this week the two leaders have talked.

According to the Kremlin’s readout of the call, Putin “outlined fundamental assessments of the course of the talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives,” while Bettel informed him about “contacts with the leadership of Ukraine and other countries.”

Putin also said that “incessant missile strikes by Ukrainian forces on Donetsk and other cities” of the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk republics in eastern Ukraine are “leading to numerous civilian casualties.”

Bettel tweeted Saturday about his call with Putin, too. He stressed that since their first call earlier this week “the situation on the ground has worsened, especially in the city of Mariupol.”

Bettel added that “the images that reach us (from Mariupol) are intolerable. The goal needs to remain de-escalation, adoption of ceasefire & furthering negotiation processes.”

  • Missing journalist

The office of the Prosecutor General in Ukraine has accused Russian security and military forces of kidnapping a Ukrainian journalist covering the Russian offensive in the east and the south of Ukraine.

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Victoria Roshchyna

Victoria Roshchyna

Victoria Roshchyna

In a Facebook statement on Saturday, the Prosecutor General’s office alleged that Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, and the Russian military abducted the journalist of Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske on Tuesday in Berdyansk, an occupied port city in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region. The statement didn’t identify the journalist, but went on to say that the reporter's whereabouts are currently unknown and a criminal investigation has been launched.

Hromadske on Friday tweeted that they lost contact with reporter Victoria Roshchyna last week.

“As we learned from witnesses, at that time the journalist was in the temporarily occupied Berdyansk. On March 16, we learned that the day before (probably March 15), Victoria Roshchyna was detained by the Russian FSB. Currently, we do not know where she is,” the outlet tweeted.

A number of journalists have been killed in the Ukraine war, including Irish cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.

Mr Zakrzewski was killed on Monday by Russian shelling outside Kyiv.

During the same attack, Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova was also killed while American broadcaster Benjamin Hall was seriously wounded.

Mr Zakrzewski’s mother said her son’s former employers, Fox and Sky News, are working with Irish officials and officials from France and Poland to fly him back to Ireland.

  • China

China’s vice foreign minister reiterated blame against NATO for the war in Ukraine and criticised sanctions against Russia in a speech delivered at a conference in Beijing Saturday.

Le Yucheng said NATO was a “Cold War vestige” and that its expansion could result in “repercussions too dreadful to contemplate” from a major power like Russia.

His comments come after the U.S. President and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a conversation about the war Friday.

China has consistently blamed the security bloc, led by the U.S., as pushing things to a crisis point between Russia and Ukraine.

Le went on also to criticize the economic sanctions against Russia.

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Internet marketing workers Murager Sharipov, 26, and his fiancée Mariia Pasternak, 25, who volunteered to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces, attend a firearms training session in Odessa, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Internet marketing workers Murager Sharipov, 26, and his fiancée Mariia Pasternak, 25, who volunteered to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces, attend a firearms training session in Odessa, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Internet marketing workers Murager Sharipov, 26, and his fiancée Mariia Pasternak, 25, who volunteered to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces, attend a firearms training session in Odessa, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

“Sanctions against Russia are now going to such lengths that globalization is used as a weapon, even people from the sports, cultural, art and entertainment communities are not spared,” Le said.

China’s government tried to distance itself from Russia’s offensive, but has avoided the criticism many other nations have levelled at Moscow, and continues refrain from calling it an invasion.

  • ‘Terror threat’

Russia could smuggle female agents into the UK among Ukrainian refugees to carry out biological or chemical terror attacks, British home secretary Priti Patel has claimed.

Defending the UK’s decision – alone among European nations – to demand visas from Ukrainians fleeing war, Ms Patel said that a handful of individuals infiltrated by Vladimir Putin into the flood of innocent refugees could “wreak utter havoc” in the UK.

And, with the majority of refugees made up of women and children as men stay in Ukraine to fight, she warned it would be “naïve and misguided” to think that only men were capable of unleashing terror attacks on British soil.

In a speech to the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool, Ms Patel said the security checks conducted as part of the refugee visa application process would help avoid a repeat of the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury which killed British citizen Dawn Sturgess in 2018.

Ms Patel told activists that calls for the UK to follow the EU in offering visa-free access to Ukrainians seeking sanctuary had “grown louder in recent weeks”.

But she said: “I’ve been asked why couldn’t we suspend security checks on people escaping Putin’s war?

“Times of conflict, my friends, emphasise our need to remain watchful.”

Ms Patel said that she had been warned in security and intelligence service briefings that global instability brings with it greater threats to the UK from terrorism, serious organised crime and state threats.

“Only four years ago, the Russian military intelligence services used a chemical weapon on British soil,” she said. “It happened in Salisbury, a beautiful city, whose inhabitants would have felt completely safe. Dawn Sturgess could never have imagined that she would lose her life to Novichok

“The truth is that a very small number of people can wreak utter havoc and Russia has a history of covert hostile activity.”

And she added: “I’m afraid it is naive and misguided to think that only men can be covert operatives. Or that refugee flows would not be subject to some form of exploitation.

“There are those who would come to our country - to this country - who would mean us harm and would plot to strike at our very way of life.

“The processes that we have put in place closely follow the advice of our intelligence and security services. They mean we can help Ukrainians in need without making our country less safe.

“State threats and terrorism take many forms. They also thrive on indifference and on appeasement and now we are seeing them supplemented by new types of targeted biological, chemical, cyber warfare, ransomware and online threats.

“Our duty is to safeguard our country’s interests and we will never take our eye off the ball when it comes to the safety and security of our country.”

Britain’s foreign secretary has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using talks with Ukraine as a “smokescreen” while he ramps up violence against the country.

Liz Truss told the Times of London newspaper that she was “very skeptical” about Russia’s seriousness in the talks, accusing Russian forces of trying to create space to regroup and unblock their stalled campaign.

She said that “we don’t see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposals on the table” and said Russia would resort to “worse and worse” violence as its military campaign falters.

The head of Britain’s defence intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull, says Russian forces have shifted to a “strategy of attrition” after failing to take major Ukrainian cities during the three-week invasion.

  • Corridors

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced on Saturday that 10 humanitarian corridors have been agreed on with the Russians.

They include a corridor from the besieged port city of Mariupol, several in the Kyiv region and several in the Luhansk region.

She also announced plans to deliver humanitarian aid to the city of Kherson, which is currently under control of the Russian forces.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces are blockading the largest cities with the goal of creating such miserable conditions that Ukrainians will cooperate. He said the Russians are preventing supplies from reaching surrounded cities in central and southeastern Ukraine.

Satellite images on Friday from Maxar Technologies showed a long line of cars leaving Mariupol as people tried to evacuate. Zelensky said more than 9,000 people were able to leave the city in the past day.

  • US service members killed

The prime minister of Norway says four U.S. service members have died in a plane crash during NATO drills.

Jonas Gahr Støre tweeted that the service members were participating in the NATO exercise “Cold Response,” which is taking place in northern Norway.

He wrote: “Our deepest sympathies go to the soldiers’ families, relatives and fellow soldiers in their unit.”

The annual drills in Norway are unrelated to the war in Ukraine. This year they included around 30,000 troops, 220 aircraft and 50 vessels from 27 countries. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden are also participating.

The exercises began on March 14 and end on April 1.

According to the Norwegian police, the American V-22B Osprey aircraft that crashed belonged to the U.S. Marine Corps.

The aircraft had a crew of four and was out on a training mission in Nordland County on Friday. It was on its way north to Bodø, where it was scheduled to land just before 6 p.m. Friday.

The plane crashed in Gråtådalen in Beiarn, south of Bodø. Police said a search and rescue mission was launched immediately. At 1:30 a.m. Saturday, the police arrived at the scene and confirmed that the crew of four had died.

  • Children killed

The Prosecutor General’s office in Ukraine says a total of 112 children have died in the country since the start of the Russian invasion.

The office says more than 140 children have been wounded since February 24.

According to the U.N. children’s agency, more than 1.5 million children had fled Ukraine.

Most families have fled to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.

UNCIEF says women and girls travelling on their own are especially at risk of gender-based violence.

  • Cosmonauts

Three Russian cosmonauts have arrived at the International Space Station wearing flight suits in yellow and blue colors that match the Ukrainian flag.

The men were 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 showed 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 was asked about the yellow flight suits when the newly arrived cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth.

He said every crew chooses its own flight suits, so that they are not all the same.

“It became our turn to pick a colour. 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 said.

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.

  • Port lost

Ukraine lost access to the Azov Sea during Russia's siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian General Staff said late Friday.

Mariupol is the key commercial port on the Azov Sea, which is connected to the much larger Black Sea by a narrow strait.

The General Staff said the Russian forces were still trying to storm Mariupol and the fighting was ongoing. It was unclear from its statement whether the Russians have seized the city.

  • Unexploded missiles

Ukraine’s interior minister said Friday 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 said 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 said. “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 demine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling,” Monastyrsky told the AP.

He noted 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.

  • Twitter block

Russia’s first deputy U.N. ambassador says Twitter has blocked his account, accusing him of “abuse and harassment,” due to a tweet about the maternity hospital in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

“This is very deplorable,” Dmitry Polyansky told reporters after a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday, “and this clearly illustrates how much alternative view and free press, and free information is valued by Twitter and in this country.”

Polyansky, who had more than 22,000 followers and was a prolific Twitter user, said he received a message earlier Friday from Twitter’s cloud service saying he was violating Twitter’s rules and was “engaged in abuse and harassment.”

He said Twitter referred to his warning in a tweet on March 7 “that the hospital in Mariupol had been turned into a military object by radicals. Very disturbing that UN spreads disinformation without verification.”

Journalists who have been reporting from inside blockaded Mariupol since early in the war, documented the March 10 attack on the maternity hospital and saw the victims and damage firsthand. They shot video and photos of several bloodstained, pregnant mothers fleeing the blown-out maternity ward as medical workers shouted and children cried.

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