Latest: Ukraine warns Belarus could invade as Russia widens offensive

What you need to know right now

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday Ukraine had reached a strategic turning point in its war with Russia, but cautioned that it was not possible to say how long fighting would continue.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said there had been some progress in Moscow’s talks with Ukraine with “certain positive shifts,” but provided no further details.
  • The United States, together with the Group of Seven nations and the European Union, will move to revoke Russia’s “most favoured nation” status over its invasion of Ukraine, multiple people familiar with the situation told Reuters.
  • Satellite images show a Russian military column threatening the Ukrainian capital from the north has dispersed to new positions, private US company Maxar Technologies said, possibly in preparation for an assault on Kyiv.
  • Russia’s defence ministry said it would declare a ceasefire on Friday and open humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, although previous ceasefires have failed.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light on Friday to bring in thousands of fighters from the Middle East to fight against Ukraine.
  • The European Union will not impose sanctions on Russian gas or oil, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page on Friday, amid a summit of EU leaders in France
  • Meta Platforms will allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion, according to internal emails seen by Reuters, in a temporary change to its hate speech policy.
  • The United Nations Security Council will convene on Friday at Russia’s request, diplomats said, to discuss Moscow’s claims, presented without evidence, of US biological activities in Ukraine.
  • After international condemnation of a Russian strike on a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern town of Izyum on Friday. Emergency services said no one was hurt.
  • More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, UN agencies said on Friday, and a further 2 million have been driven from their homes within the country.
  • Russian forces are operating with “reckless disregard” for civilians as they face stronger-than-expected resistance in Ukraine, US spy chiefs said.
  • Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing Co and Japan Tobacco Inc said they would suspend some operations in Russia, in a U-turn by the Japanese consumer giants which had indicated they would stay in the market.

6.15pm: Ukraine is showing restraint towards Belarus but will fight back if Belarusian soldiers cross the border to join the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov said on Friday.

Danilov said Ukraine was being careful in dealing with Belarus despite the country being used as a launchpad for Russian planes to attack Ukraine, Danilov said.

If “one fighter crosses our border, we will fight back,” Danilov said.


6pm: Russian shelling stopped an attempt to evacuate civilians from the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum through a “humanitarian corridor” on Friday, the regional governor said.

“Izyum remains without electricity, heat, water or a phone signal,” governor Oleh Synegubov said.


5.45pm: The UN’s shipping agency will seek to create a safe maritime corridor to enable merchant ships and their crews stuck in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to sail away without the risk of being hit, it said on Friday.

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5.35pm:  YouTube is immediately blocking access around the world to channels associated with Russian state-funded media, the company said on Friday, citing a policy barring content that denies or trivializes well-documented violent events.

The world’s most used streaming video service, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now fell under its violent events policy.

“Our Community Guidelines prohibit content denying, minimising or trivializing well-documented violent events, and we remove content about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that violates this policy,” spokesman Farshad Shadloo said.

“In line with that, effective immediately, we are also blocking YouTube channels associated with Russian state-funded media, globally.”


5.2opm: Ukraine said on Friday the situation in Mariupol was now critical as Russian forces tightened their noose around the Black Sea port city and the death toll from Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade reached almost 1,600.


5.05pm: Kyiv mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said on Friday that he believed there were nearly 2 million people still left in the city, which is being squeezed by advancing Russian forces on several fronts.

He said the Ukrainian capital, normally with a population of 3.5 million, had enough vital provisions to last a couple of weeks, and that supply lines in and out remained open for now.

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His brother Wladimir, also a heavyweight boxing star, added in a joint interview that some men and women who had accompanied their families to the relative safety of the west of the country were returning to take part in the city’s defence.


4.50pm: Ukraine’s state Centre for Strategic Communications said it could not rule that Belarus would launch an invasion of Ukraine on Friday after a meeting in Moscow between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.


4.35pm: The United Nations is not aware of any ‘biological weapons program’ in Ukraine, the UN disarmament chief told a Security Council meeting on Friday, but warned that the possibility of an accident at Ukraine nuclear power plants was ‘growing by the day.’

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting requested by Russia, to discuss Moscow’s claims, presented without evidence, of US “biological activities”, Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said situations like the war in Ukraine required strengthening of the international ban on biological weapons.


4.15pm: Crypto firms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are being deluged with requests to liquidate billions of dollars of virtual currency as Russians seek a safe haven for their fortunes, company executives and financial sources said.

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Some clients are using cryptocurrency to invest in real estate in the UAE, while others want to use firms there to turn their virtual money into hard currency and stash it elsewhere, the sources said


4pm: At least 1,582 civilians in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement on Friday.

“We will never forget and will never forgive this crime against humanity,” it said.


3.45pm: US president Joe Biden on Friday said the United States will revoke Russia’s “permanent normal trade relations” status to punish Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The change, which Biden said was being taken in concert with moves by US allies, would pave the way for the United States to impose tariffs on a wide range of Russian goods, heightening pressure on an economy on the brink of deep recession.


3.30pm: Russia is trying everything possible to drag Belarus into its 16-day war against Ukraine, said Ukraine’s deputy interior minister Yevheniy Yenin in a televised interview on Friday.

“We also understand that the Belarusian government has been doing everything possible to avoid joining this war,” Yenin added.

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Belarus has served as a staging post for Russian troops, missiles, and aircraft throughout the war, but Belarusian forces have not had any direct involvement.


3.15pm: Ukraine has agreed to only two of 10 humanitarian corridors proposed by Russia, and none of the proposed corridors into Russia, Tass news agency reported on Friday citing the Russian defence ministry.

The ministry also said that the southern port city of Mariupol, where attempts to establish a local ceasefire have failed so far, was now completely surrounded, with all bridges and roads into the city destroyed or mined by Ukrainian forces, Tass reported.


3pm: Russia might use chemical weapons in Ukraine in a “false flag” attack to provide a retrospective justification for its invasion, but there is nothing to suggest a broader use of such weapons in the war, a Western official said.

“We think that chemical weapons could be used in a false flag attack to provide a retrospective justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the official said on Friday.

“The context that we’ve been looking at it in is from a false flag perspective. Clearly, whilst the Russians are highly likely to have a chemical weapons capability, there is nothing to suggest that they intend to use at this point in a major escalation of the current conflict.”


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2.45pm: The situation in the encircled Ukrainian city of Mariupol is critical and it is not clear whether eight trucks carrying humanitarian aid will be able to reach the southern port on Friday, interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said.


2.35pm: Russia’s government on Friday proposed a raft of measures, including some for suppliers of state-owned companies and its IT sector, as it seeks to weather the impact of Western sanctions on its economy.

Prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said the government was actively working on a third package of measures to counteract the sanctions, which would seek to support small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as systemically important firms.


2.20pm: Ukraine’s air force said on Friday Russian aircraft had fired at a Belarusian settlement near the border with Ukraine from Ukrainian air space to try to drag Belarus into Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

“This is a PROVOCATION! The goal is to involve the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the war with Ukraine!,” Ukraine’s Air Force Command said in an online statement.


1.50pm: Kyiv mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko told Reuters on Friday that he believed there were nearly 2 million people still left in the city, which is being squeezed by advancing Russian forces on several fronts.

He said that the Ukrainian capital, normally home to some 3.5 million people, had enough vital supplies to last a couple of weeks, and that supply lines in and out remained open for now.

His brother Wladimir, also a heavyweight boxing star, added in the joint interview that some of the men and women who had accompanied their families to the relative safety of the west of the country were returning to take part in the city’s defence.


1.30pm: Russia opened a criminal case against Facebook’s parent Meta Platforms and moved to designate it as an “extremist organisation” after the social network changed its hate speech rules to allow users to call for violence against Russians in the context of the conflict in Ukraine.

“A criminal case has been initiated… in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation by employees of the American company Meta, which owns the social networks Facebook and Instagram,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said.

The committee reports directly to President Vladimir Putin. It was not immediately clear what the consequences of the criminal case might be.


1.20pm: Stocks extended their gains on Friday after Russian President Vladimir Putin said there had been some progress in Moscow’s talks with Ukraine, although the rally was not enough to stop shares heading for their fifth consecutive weekly loss.


1.15pm: The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Friday Russia had launched 328 cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities, towns and villages since the start of its invasion.

“This bloody crime of (Russian president) Putin’s regime is a blatant violation of the international humanitarian law,” General Valeriy Zaluzhny said in an online post. Russia has denied targeting civilians during what it calls its “special operation” in Ukraine.


1pm: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday Ukraine had reached a strategic turning point in its war with Russia, but cautioned that it was not possible to say how long fighting would continue.

“It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it. For we have already reached a strategic turning point,” he said in a televised address, urging the international community to increase sanctions pressure on Russia.


12.30pm: The Kremlin said the conflict in Ukraine would end when the West took action over Russia’s repeatedly raised concerns about the killing of civilians in eastern Ukraine and Nato’s enlargement eastwards.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked by reporters how the crisis could end, set out Russia’s position and said he believed that Ukraine was discussing Moscow’s demands with the United States and other allies.

“Russia formulated concrete demands to Ukraine to resolve those questions. As far as we understand, those demands are being discussed by the Ukrainians with their advisers, primarily the United States and European Union countries,” he said. “Let’s hope. That needs to be done. Then it will all end.”


12pm: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday there had been some progress in Moscow’s talks with Ukraine, but provided no details.

“There are certain positive shifts, negotiators on our side tell me,” Putin said in a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, adding that talks continued “practically on a daily basis”.


11.45am: Russians who say they are ashamed of the country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine are not real Russians, the Kremlin said on Friday.

“A real Russian is never ashamed to be Russian,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about a slogan “ashamed to be Russian” that some had repeated both inside and outside Russia. “If someone says such things then they are just not Russian.”

Peskov said anti-Russian feelings were running dangerously high in the West and said he hoped Western leaders would stop stoking such Russophobia.


11.20am: At least 78 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russian invaded, Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on Friday.

She said fighting around the southern city of Mariupol, the eastern town of Volnovakha and the town of Irpin in the Kyiv region meant the authorities had not been able to establish how many people had been killed or wounded in those places.


11.10am: Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto called his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy ahead of a phone call he has scheduled for today with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the president’s office said in a statement on Friday.

The two leaders discussed the current state of Russia’s invasion to Ukraine, focusing on need for humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians and safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine, the statement read.


11.08am: A Russian air strike on a psychiatric hospital in Ukraine’s eastern region of Kharkiv on Friday caused no casualties, Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service said in a statement. “All 30 staff and 330 patients were in a bomb shelter at the time of the strike,” it said.


11am: More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, UN agencies said on Friday, and a further 2 million have been driven from their homes within the country since the start of the Russian invasion.

The United Nations has been planning its humanitarian needs on the assumption that some 4 million Ukrainian refugees would seek safety abroad. However, with around 200,000 people having fled to neighbouring countries over the past 24 hours, a UN refugee official said they may have to revise that figure higher.


10.55am: The European Commission aims to double the EU’s military aid to Ukraine and has proposed earmarking another €500 million for this purpose, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday.

“Everybody was completely aware that we have to increase our military support to Ukraine,” he told reporters as he arrived for the second day of a meeting of EU leaders in Versailles. “I am sure the leaders will approve this money.”

The EU is also considering imposing more sanctions on Russian oligarchs and the Russian economy, Borrell added.


10.50am: Russian authorities have put Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh on an international wanted list and are seeking that she be sent to jail, a Russian police database showed on Friday.

Yarmysh left Russia last year after a court imposed 18 months of restrictions on her freedom of movement for breaching Covid-19 safety rules. Russian authorities have cracked down hard on the opposition, and many of Navalny’s most prominent allies have left Russia rather than face restrictions or jail at home.


10.45am: Nearly one million Ukrainians were without electricity as of Thursday because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear energy provider Energoatom said on Friday. “Nearly 228,000 consumers have been left without gas,” it said in a statement.


10.26am: The eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv is under relentless bombardment from Russian forces, the city’s mayor said in a televised interview on Friday.

“As of today, 48 (of the city’s) schools have been destroyed,” said Mayor Ihor Terekhov. The city has a peacetime population of about 1.4 million.


10.20am: Ukraine accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum on Friday in what the regional governor called “a brutal attack on civilians”.

Oleh Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said 330 people had been at the hospital at the time, some of them confined to wheelchairs or unable to move, and that 73 had been evacuated. The number of casualties was being established, he said.

“This is a war crime against civilians, genocide against the Ukrainian nation,” Synegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.


10am: All Ukrainian nuclear power stations are operating stably but staff in the Zaporizhzhia plant that was captured by Russian forces are facing psychological pressure, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said on Friday. Radiation levels at all plants had not changed, it said.


9.45am: A large majority of EU leaders support sending a strong message to Ukraine that it will be granted membership in the European Union eventually, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Friday.

“Not tomorrow, off course, tomorrow they (Ukraine) can just become candidate,” he said as he arrived for the second day of a meeting with his European counterparts at Versailles.

Ukraine must respect all the necessary procedural steps before it can become member of the European Union but closing the door on the country would be “a big mistake,” Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said EU leaders should have already given Ukraine candidate status at the summit in Versailles, voicing his disappointment that a joint declaration did not go that far. “But we will come back to this issue,” he told journalists.


9.15am: Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light on Friday to bring in thousands of fighters from the Middle East to fight against Ukraine.

At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight with Russian-backed forces in the breakaway Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

“If you see that there are these people who want of their own accord, not for money, to come to help the people living in Donbass, then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone,” Putin said.


8.45am: Russian forces invading Ukraine have killed more Ukrainian civilians than soldiers, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday. “I want this to be heard not only in Kyiv but all over the world,” Reznikov said.


8.30am: US Vice President Kamala Harris will head to Romania on Friday and discuss the growing refugee crisis in the region. She will meet President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest, her second stop on a three-day trip through eastern Europe.

Harris met Polish leaders and Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Thursday and offered US support to calls for an international war crimes investigation against Russia. Her visit to Poland came amid a rift between the United States and Poland over supplying warplanes to Ukraine.


8am: New satellite photos appeared to show that a massive convoy outside the Ukrainian capital has split up and fanned out into towns and forests near Kyiv, with artillery pieces raised into firing position in a potentially ominous movement of the Russian military.


7.50am: The European Union will not impose sanctions on Russian gas or oil, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page on Friday, amid a summit of EU leaders in France.

“The most important issue for us has been settled in a favourable way: there won’t be sanctions that would apply to gas or oil, so Hungary’s energy supply is secure in the upcoming period,” Orban added.


7.30am: Russian-backed separatists have captured the Ukrainian city of Volnovakha north of the besieged Azov Sea port of Mariupol, the RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying on Friday. Volnovakha is strategically important as the northern gateway to Mariupol.

Russian troops have launched a high-precision, long-range attack on two military airfields in the Ukrainian cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk and taken them out of action, Russian news agencies also quoted Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.

He also said that Russian forces had destroyed 3,213 Ukrainian military installations since the launch of what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.


7am: About 222,000 people have been evacuated to Russia from Ukraine and its two Russian-backed rebel regions, the TASS news agency said on Friday, citing an unidentified source.


6.30am: The United States, together with the Group of Seven nations and the European Union, will move on Friday to revoke Russia’s “most favoured nation” status over its invasion of Ukraine, multiple people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Stripping Russia of its favoured nation status paves the way for the United States and its allies to impose tariffs on a wide range of Russian goods, which would ratchet up pressure on an economy already heading into a recession.

Washington’s moves to tighten the screws on Moscow come as US and European officials accuse Russia of war crimes over its bombardment of civilians in Ukrainian cities, amid repeated violations of ceasefires in which each side blames on the other.

Three air strikes early on Friday in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro killed at least one person, state emergency services said, adding that the strikes were close to a kindergarten and an apartment building.

Satellite images showed a Russian military column threatening Kyiv from the north had dispersed to new positions, private US company Maxar Technologies said, possibly in preparation for an assault on the capital.

Removing Russia’s status of “Permanent Normal Trade Relations” with the United States would significantly escalate pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the largest conflict in Europe since World War Two.

The US Senate voted on Thursday to approve legislation providing $13.6 billion (€12.4 billion) to help Ukraine finance ammunition and other military supplies, as well as humanitarian support.

“We’re keeping our promises to support Ukraine as they fight for their lives against the evil Vladimir Putin,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.

Russian column redeploys

Images provided by Maxar showed armoured units manoeuvring in and through towns close to Antonov airport northwest of Kyiv, while other elements further north had repositioned near Lubyanka with towed artillery howitzers in firing positions.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the images but the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said late on Thursday Russian forces had regrouped after heavy losses, without specifying which elements they were referring to.

After three weeks of war, Russia has failed to reach its stated objectives of disarming the Ukrainian military and ousting the democratically elected government, but it has caused thousands of deaths and forced more than two million people to flee the country, where several cities are under siege.

Putin on Thursday acknowledged there had been “problems and difficulties” in Ukraine but said Russia would emerge stronger from the war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the operation was going to plan, after holding talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Turkey on Thursday, the highest-level meeting since Putin ordered the invasion on February 24th.

Media in Russia are barred from reporting anything other than the Kremlin’s line on events in Ukraine, including allegations this week that the United States is secretly developing biological weapons there.

The United Nations Security Council will convene on Friday at Russia’s request, diplomats said, to discuss Moscow’s allegations, which Washington has described as disinformation.

The World Health Organisation advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population, the agency told Reuters on Thursday.

The information war picked up on social media as well, with Russia demanding that Washington stop the “extremist activities” of Facebook owner Meta Platforms, which temporarily lifted a ban on calls for violence against the Russian military and leadership.

The social media company will temporarily allow some posts that call for the death Putin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in countries including Russia, Ukraine and Poland, according to internal e-mails to its content moderators.

Civilians trapped

Hundreds of thousands of civilians remained trapped in Ukrainian cities, sheltering from Russian air raids and shelling despite repeated Russian promises to provide humanitarian corridors for evacuations.

Russia’s defence ministry said it would declare a ceasefire on Friday and open humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, although previous ceasefires have failed.

Officials in the besieged port of Mariupol said Russian warplanes again bombed the city on Thursday, a day after a maternity hospital was pulverised in an attack the United States said was evidence of a war crime.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington was “working with others in the international community to document the crimes that Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people”.

“They constitute war crimes; there are attacks on civilians that cannot be justified by any – in any way whatsoever,” she said in an interview with the BBC.

Lavrov said the hospital struck on Wednesday had stopped treating patients and had been occupied by Ukrainian “radicals”. Russia’s Defence Ministry later denied having bombed the hospital at all, accusing Ukraine of a “staged provocation”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that Ukrainian authorities had managed to evacuate almost 40,000 people from the cities of Sumy, Trostyanets, Krasnopillya, Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and Izyum.

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