India, Britain urge cease-fire in Ukraine

By The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — A top Ukrainian official says no humanitarian corridors for civilian evacuations will be open in Ukraine on Friday because it is unsafe.

In a post on the messaging app Telegram, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk asked people awaiting evacuation from war zones to “be patient” and “hang in there.”

Vereshchuk said Russian forces offered to open a corridor for military surrender but not for an estimated 1,000 civilians sheltering at a steel mill that is the last Ukrainian stronghold in besieged southern city of Mariupol.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Friday said Moscow was ready at any moment to introduce a “regime of silence” for both the troops and civilians at Azovstal. But Ukrainian troops must raise white flags in determined areas around the plant before evacuations can begin, the ministry said.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Possible mass graves near Mariupol shown in satellite images

— From Ukraine to Russia: Boy safer, but not closer to US dad

— EXPLAINER: Why Washington is boosting heavy arms for Ukraine

— UN rights chief sees ‘horror story’ of violations in Ukraine

— US to welcome Ukraine refugees but no longer through Mexico

— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK is looking at sending tanks to Poland to replace the Soviet-era T-72 tanks the Poles are shipping to Ukraine.

Johnson made the comments Friday during a news conference in New Delhi, where he held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I think perhaps what I haven’t said publicly before is we’re also looking more at what we can do to backfill in countries such as Poland who may want to send heavier weaponry to help defend the Ukrainians,” Johnson said. “So we’re looking at sending tanks to Poland to help them as they sending some of their T-72s to Ukraine.”

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK plans to reopen its embassy in Ukraine’s capital next week.

Johnson announced the planned action on Friday during a trip to India. Diplomats from other European nations have returned to Kyiv since Russian troops withdrew from the capital region to focus on eastern Ukraine.

Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv this month to show solidarity with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. At the time, the prime minister detailed a new package of financial and military aid, and Zelenskyy said the UK had pledged to help rebuild the city after the war.

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BERLIN — The UN human rights chief says that international humanitarian law appears to have been “tossed aside” in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Geneva-based human rights office said in a statement Friday that “Russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure — actions that may amount to war crimes.”

The office said its mission in Ukraine so far has verified 5,264 civilian casualties, including 2,345 deaths, since the war began on Feb. 24. It said that 92.3% of those were recorded in Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet added that “the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in these areas of intense fighting such as Mariupol come to light.”

She said that “over these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not merely been ignored but seemingly tossed aside.”

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PRAGUE — The Russian embassy in the Czech capital has a new address after Prague authorities renamed a section of the street where it is located.

Friday’s official ceremony comes after the decision to change the name to “Ukrainian Heroes” was approved by the City Hall at the request of the Prague 6 district where the embassy is located.

Prague’s mayor Zdenek Hrib unveiled the new street sign in the presence of Ukrainian ambassador to Prague, Yevhen Perebyinis, and the ambassadors of several European Union countries.

Hrib previously said the move honors the “unbelievable bravery of Ukrainian fighters.”

Neither the Russian government nor the embassy made any immediate comment on the modification.

Two years ago, Prague renamed a square in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, honoring the slain Russian opposition leader. That modification prompted the embassy to change its address, using the name of the street that has now been renamed.

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Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against prominent opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr for painstakingly spreading “false information” about the country’s armed forces, his lawyer said Friday.

Russia adopted a law criminalizing spreading false information about its military shortly after its troops rolled into Ukraine in late February, in an attempt to control the narrative around the invasion.

The offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Human rights advocates have counted 32 cases under the new law by late April, targeting those critical of the invasion.

Kara-Murza was detained earlier this month and jailed for 15 days for disobeying a police officer. Lawyer Vadim Prokhorov says Kara-Murza was due to appear in court Friday.

Kara-Murza was hospitalized with poisoning symptoms twice, in 2015 and 2017. He is aa journalist and associate of late Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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MOSCOW — A Russian military official says a “second phase” of the operation in Ukraine has begun with an aim to establish full control over the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas and southern Ukraine.

Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, on Friday told a defense industry event that the second phase started “just two days ago.” Minnekayev says control over eastern and southern Ukraine “will provide a land corridor to Crimea, as well as influence (over) the vital objects of the Ukrainian economy.”

Russia had previously said it had full control over Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson on the coast of the Azov Sea and partial control over the neighboring southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

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NEW DELHI — India and Britain have urged Russia to declare an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced steps to help move New Delhi away from its dependence on Russia by expanding economic and defense ties.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told reporters their meeting Friday focused on the situation in Ukraine, underscoring the importance of diplomacy and dialogue.

While India has condemned the killings of civilians in Ukraine, it has so far not criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin. India abstained when the UN General Assembly voted this month to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.

A British High Commission statement said Britain is offering next-generation defense and security collaboration. Johnson said he and Modi also discussed new cooperation on clean and renewable energy.

India receives relatively little of its oil from Russia, but ramped up purchases recently because of discounted prices. India is a major buyer of Russian weapons, and recently purchased advanced Russian air defense systems.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, has called for “unconditional” peace in Ukraine in an Easter message.

Porfirije on Friday said that “any war, anywhere and at any time produces only losers, and is a defeat of human dignity, defeat and shame of every man as an image of God.”

Some Orthodox Christian churches, including the Serbian and the Russian ones, celebrate Easter this weekend. The Serbian and Russian churches share close historic links.

Serbia remains the only country in Europe that has not joined sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine. The Balkan nation is formally seeking European Union entry but it has maintained close relations with traditional Slavic ally Russia.

Porfirije says he prays for the “unconditional peace, end to suffering and for all the refugees to return to their homes.”

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden is helping Ukraine to rebuild “a secure electricity supply” by sending equipment to repair electricity networks destroyed during the war.

Swedish Energy Minister Khashayar Farmanbar said “a secure electricity supply is necessary to maintain socially important activities in Ukraine.”

Svenska kraftnät, the authority responsible for Sweden’s electricity transmission system, received a request from Ukraine via the European Network of Transmission System Operators to contribute equipment for repairing electricity networks.

The equipment to Ukraine will be taken from Sweden’s emergency stock that exists for the repair of electricity networks and won’t affect the Swedish emergency preparedness request, the energy ministry said in the statement Thursday.

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LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says Russia’s decision to end its effort to take a staunchly defended steel plant in the city of Mariupol is an effort to free up troops for deployment in other parts of eastern Ukraine.

In an intelligence update posted Friday morning, the ministry says that “a full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness.”

The ministry says that heavy shelling and fighting continues in the Donbas region as Russia seeks to advance on the settlements of Krasny Lyman, Buhayikva, Barvinkove, Lyman and Popsana.

The ministry also says earlier losses are still affecting the Russian military, which is now being forced to ship damaged equipment back to Russia for repair while trying to reequip depleted forces.

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UNITED NATIONS — Russia and Ukraine squared off at the UN on Thursday over whether Russia’s war is to blame for rising food prices and hunger around the world.

Between them, the two countries account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley exports and millions of people in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia depend on them for affordable bread and noodles. Ukraine also is a major corn supplier and the biggest exporter of sunflower oil.

“As long as Russia persists in its efforts to invade Ukraine, the threat of hunger will be looming over many countries throughout the globe,” Ukrainian counsellor Natalia Mudrenko said Thursday at an informal UN Security Council meeting to discuss conflict and hunger.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Chumakov argued that sanctions, trade wars, the coronavirus pandemic and Western economic policies were shaking up the global food, energy and financial markets.

Chumakov said Russia’s critics were trying to deflect focus from sanctions and the “economic egoism of the developed countries during the pandemic.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the United States for the new package of $800 million in military aid, which he said was “just what we were waiting for.”

The latest military aid, announced Thursday by President Joe Biden, includes heavy artillery, ammunition and drones for the escalating battle in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Zekenskyy has urged Western countries to speed up the deliveries of weapons to help Ukraine fend off the Russian offensive.

“The occupiers continue to do everything possible to give themselves a reason to speak about at least some kind of victory,” Zelenskyy said late Thursday in his nightly video address to the nation. “They are building up their forces, bringing in new tactical battalions and trying even to begin a so-called ‘mobilization’ in the regions they occupy in Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy also warned Ukrainians in areas under Russian control not to provide troops with their IDs, which he said could be used “to falsify a so-called referendum on our land” to create a Moscow-friendly government.

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