The International Committee of the Red Cross said it would make a renewed attempt to evacuate residents from the war-torn port city of Mariupol on Saturday, after citing “impossible” conditions a day earlier. Its teams were “on the move” from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol, a spokesman told The Post early Saturday. Roughly 100,000 people remain trapped there, according to Ukrainian officials.
Russia appears to be pulling back troops stationed in the Kyiv area, as Ukrainian forces slowly regain control of villages to the east and northwest of the capital, Britain’s Defense Ministry said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s withdrawal in the north was “slow but noticeable.” But Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told national television that Ukrainians should prepare for “difficult fights” ahead in Mariupol, and the south and east of the country. Britain also warned of looming clashes in second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Here’s what to know
- The death toll from a missile strike that hit a main government building in the city of Mykolaiv this week has risen to 32, the governor of the southern Ukrainian region said.
- A Ukrainian photojournalist Maksym Levin was found dead on the northern outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, the country’s prosecutor general said Saturday, at least the sixth journalist killed covering Russia’s war on Ukraine.
- Eighty-six Ukrainian service members, including 15 women, from the Zaporizhzhia region were freed in a prisoner exchange with Russian forces, Ukrainian officials said. They did not disclose the number of Russians who were released.
- The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for update
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT
In Putin’s Ukraine quagmire, echoes of Soviet failure in Afghanistan
The Kremlin had banked on a quick, trouble-free decapitation to solve the problem of a neighbor appearing to stray too far from Moscow’s orbit. But after its vaunted army thundered across the border, very little went according to plan.
The invading troops met fierce resistance from outgunned fighters defending their homeland. International allies, including the United States, rushed to aid the underdogs. And a war that Moscow had seen as a chance to show off its might became instead a bloody and embarrassing display of weakness — one that threatened the stability of its deeply entrenched regime.
So has gone Russia’s stumbling, five-week-old invasion of Ukraine. But the same description applies to the Soviet Union’s ill-fated adventure in Afghanistan, which precipitated collapse at home and the Cold War’s end.
Now the history of that four-decade-old conflict looms over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision-making as he tries to navigate a self-inflicted quagmire. Veterans of the Afghanistan war say he has already failed to heed some of its most critical lessons, notably by overestimating his military’s capabilities and misjudging his adversaries.
“The Russians underestimated the Afghans in the 1980s,” said Bruce Riedel, who worked on the CIA’s covert program to aid the rebels. “They seem to have underestimated the Ukrainians today.”
Ukrainian officials hope for ‘good news’ for Mariupol as ICRC renews evacuation attempts
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is making fresh attempts to enter the besieged port city of Mariupol on Saturday, after failed efforts since a humanitarian cease-fire was declared in the region earlier this week.
“Our team is on the move this morning from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol,” ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told The Washington Post by email. “I’m not able to give further information at this stage.”
On Friday, an ICRC team of three vehicles and nine personnel was unable to reach Mariupol due to “impossible” conditions, the agency said. It added that it was “critical” for the ICRC to have security guarantees before it could facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol to “another city in Ukraine.”
Despite the ICRC’s struggle to accompany evacuation convoys, people are still exiting the battered southern city. About 3,000 left Friday, according to Ukrainian officials, some of whom remained relatively optimistic. “I think that today or maybe tomorrow we will hear good news regarding the evacuation of the inhabitants of Mariupol,” presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told Ukrainian television Saturday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address Saturday morning that he hopes for a “solution” to the crisis in Mariupol. “Europe has no right to react in silence to what is happening in our Mariupol. The whole world must react to this humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.
Across Ukraine, seven humanitarian corridors have been agreed for Saturday, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, including one from Mariupol. She said in a Telegram post that more than 6,000 people were evacuated from front-line cities to other parts of the country on Friday.
Vereshchuk said Friday’s evacuees included more than 1,400 people who left in their vehicles along planned routes from the southern cities of Berdyansk and Melitopol, which are under Russian control, to the Zaporizhzhia region. Among them were hundreds of people from Mariupol who had managed to escape in private vehicles. Separately, she said, a convoy of 42 buses carried Mariupol residents to Zaporizhzhia from Berdyansk, which they had previously reached on their own.
Tens of thousands of people in recent weeks have fled Ukrainian cities under attack by Russian forces after Kyiv and Moscow agreed on fragile evacuation deals.
China renews criticism of sanctions on Russia following E.U. summit
Beijing on Saturday renewed its criticism of sanctions placed on Russia and said it was not deliberately circumventing them, a day after a high-level virtual summit between China and the European Union.
“We oppose sanctions, and the effects of these sanctions also risk spilling to the rest of the world,” Wang Lutong, director general of European affairs at China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters Saturday.
Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February, E.U. leaders have taken a tougher stance on China, urging it to drop its tacit support for the invasion and work for peace — but Beijing is pushing back.
“China is not a related party on the crisis of Ukraine. We don’t think our normal trade with any other country should be affected,” Wang said. He added that China is contributing to the global economy by conducting normal trade with Russia.
“We called on China to end the war in Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels on Friday after the summit. “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that the Russian invasion is “not only a defining moment for our continent, but also for our relationship with the rest of the world.”
Despite Putin ties, Hungary’s Orban gains popularity before election
As recently as eight weeks ago, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, trading quips at a joint news conference and defending Russia’s security demands as “normal.”
“I have good hopes that for many [upcoming] years we can work together,” Orban said, standing next to Putin, in what by his count was their 12th meeting.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has quickly become dangerous to have a warm relationship with Putin — and a legion of European populist conservatives has been left chastened and weakened as a consequence.
But Orban is an exception. He has angered his neighbors and triggered harsh blowback from Ukrainian leaders for what they see as a wishy-washy reaction to the war. Yet by portraying himself domestically as a steady hand navigating between larger world powers, he has gained ground on the political opposition in Hungary and increased his odds of winning a fourth consecutive term as prime minister in a parliamentary election Sunday.
Pope calls trip to Kyiv a possibility that is ‘on the table’
Pope Francis said Saturday that he is considering making a trip to Kyiv, the capital of war-battered Ukraine.
While traveling from Rome to Malta, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was asked by a reporter on board his plane whether a visit to Ukraine was a possibility following invitations from Ukrainian political and religious officials. Francis answered: “Yes, it is on the table,” but he offered no further details, according to Reuters.
Francis, 85, landed in Malta on Saturday for a two-day visit to the predominantly Catholic island nation in southern Europe. He urged Malta to do more to help refugees crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and the Middle East.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken twice with the pope by telephone, according to the Vatican, and along with Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has extended invitations to Francis to visit Ukraine. The country has a sizable Roman Catholic population. However, most Ukrainian Catholics identify with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern rite church that follows some traditions of Orthodox Christianity but is in “full communion with the Vatican,” according to the Pew Research Center.
Francis has vocally condemned the war in Ukraine, calling it a “senseless massacre where every day slaughters and atrocities are being repeated.” He has also called on all parties to negotiate seriously for peace.
White House keeps focus on ‘aggressor’ Russia after Belgorod claims
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sought Friday to keep the focus on Russia’s aggression following claims by Moscow that Ukraine had attacked a Russian fuel depot.
Russian officials have accused Ukraine of carrying out a helicopter attack against the depot in Belgorod, a city about 25 miles north of the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it would “neither confirm nor deny” the attack on Russian territory.
“We have seen those reports,” Psaki said Friday. “We’re not in a position to comment on the Kremlin’s statements. I would note Ukraine has not made any statements or confirmation of these reports.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the incident, days after Ukrainian negotiators offered their Russian counterparts a detailed peace proposal, was “certainly” an escalation.
But Psaki kept the focus on Russia, blaming President Vladimir Putin for the war.
“This is a war that President Putin started — a brutal war with Russia’s forces continuing to bombard cities across Ukraine and commit terrible acts of violence,” Psaki said. “We’ve seen the people of Ukraine fight valiantly in the face of unprovoked Russian brutality.”
“But there is one aggressor here: and that is President Putin and the Russian military at his direction,” she added.
Hitting a fuel depot is not unprecedented. Russia has targeted Ukrainian fuel depots in multiple strikes, including one last month in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv while President Biden was visiting neighboring Poland.
Death toll from strike in Mykolaiv rises to 32, official says
The death toll from a missile strike that hit a main government building in the city of Mykolaiv this week has risen to 32, the governor of the southern Ukrainian region, Vitaliy Kim, said Saturday on Telegram.
Dozens of people remain unaccounted for after Tuesday’s attack blasted a hole through part of the building, Dmytro Pletenchuk, a press officer of the Mykolaiv Regional State Administration, said earlier. More than 30 people were injured, he said as rescue workers continued to clear rubble Friday and funerals were held for many of the victims.
Since Russian forces seized the nearby southeastern port of Kherson, they have not advanced westward past Mykolaiv. Ukrainian forces there have managed to ward off a potential offensive on the key port of Odessa, but interviews in the front-line city where bodies have piled up illustrate the heavy price.
Isabelle Khurshudyan and David L. Stern contributed to this report.
U.S. cancels missile test to avoid Russia tension
The U.S. Air Force canceled a scheduled test of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month to avoid the potential for escalated tensions with Russia, the service said Friday.
The Minuteman III test flight was scheduled for early March, days after Russia invaded Ukraine and Moscow put its nuclear forces on alert.
The test was delayed due to an “overabundance of caution to avoid misinterpretation or miscommunication” as the conflict widened, and it was later canceled for the same reason, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement.
“Our next planned test flight is later this year. The Department is confident in the readiness of the strategic forces of the United States,” Stefanek said.
Reuters first reported the cancellation. Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told the outlet that the Minuteman missile is a reliable weapon system and downplayed the cancellation of this particular test.
“There’s a value to doing the tests, but I don’t think missing one test in the grand scheme of things is a really big deal,” Lewis told Reuters.
Zelensky won’t confirm or deny strike on Belgorod fuel depot
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to confirm or deny whether Kyiv was behind a helicopter strike on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod when asked Friday in a Fox News interview. But on the same day, a senior Ukrainian official suggested that Ukraine was not responsible for the incident — adding to the swirl of confusion around Kyiv’s potential culpability.
In an interview with Ukrainian media, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, responded to the Kremlin’s accusation that Ukraine was the culprit. “In reality, according to our information, it is not what actually happened,” he said, then quickly insisted that Ukraine was not commenting. Other Ukrainian officials have also declined to take a stance on Kyiv’s possible involvement.
Military experts told The Washington Post that Kyiv probably carried out the attack using two helicopters to fire rockets at the Russian depot, which caused a massive explosion and fuel tank fires. No casualties were reported.
If confirmed, the Belgorod operation would mark the first Ukrainian strike on Russian soil since the war broke out six weeks ago. The Kremlin called it “an escalation” in the conflict, dampening hopes of reaching a peace agreement.
But Danilov sought to focus the blame on Moscow, arguing that Russian shelling continues even as negotiators try to broker a cease-fire. “Does it help the negotiations when they are killing our children, our women, when they perform these disgraceful acts on our territory?” he said Friday.
In addition, Russia has targeted Ukrainian fuel depots in multiple strikes recently, including one in the western city of Lviv last month while President Biden was visiting neighboring Poland.
Zina Pozen contributed to this report.
Ukrainians in Rotterdam will use a cruise ship as a floating shelter
A cruise ship in the Netherlands will house as many as 1,500 Ukrainian refugees, the operator said Friday.
Holland America Line has sent the Volendam to dock at a cargo port in Rotterdam, where it will begin a three-month charter agreement with the city. Refugees who are staying in hotels will start moving onto the ship next week, the city said in a statement.
The cruise line — a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. — has agreed to provide three hot meals a day, private rooms, housekeeping services, fitness facilities and Internet access to the temporary residents. Holland America did not disclose terms of the agreement. The ship will have about 650 crew members on board.
Pentagon to send Ukraine another $300 million in security aid
The Pentagon will provide up to $300 million in military supplies to Ukraine, including drones, armored vehicles and machine guns, as part of a broader effort to boost Ukrainian forces fighting Russia’s invasion.
The aid will be sent under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a program that lets the United States procure arms directly from manufacturers instead of delivering weapons from its own stockpiles to Ukraine, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday.
The latest package shows that the assistance for Ukraine is evolving after weeks of fighting, as the United States and its partners learn more about Moscow’s assault tactics and Kyiv’s capabilities. The Pentagon said it has committed more than $1.6 billion in security assistance since Russia’s invasion. “This decision underscores the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in support of its heroic efforts to repel Russia’s war of choice,” Kirby said in a statement.
The new aid will include Puma unmanned aerial systems — hand-launched lightweight drones with a range of about a dozen miles that can fly for about two hours — providing Ukrainian infantry with extended reconnaissance capabilities. The Pentagon also intends to send Ukraine “nonstandard” machine guns, meaning the weapons aren’t regularly used by the U.S. military.
The United States will send armored Humvees, night-vision devices, thermal imagery systems, tactical secure communications systems, commercial satellite imagery services, medical supplies and Switchblade drones — small unmanned aircraft packed with explosives that crash into targets such as tanks in “kamikaze” fashion.
In targeted Russian economy, businesses operate without Western products
RIGA, Latvia — It did not take long for Russian businessman Kirill Kukkoyev to feel like he had been taken hostage by the events unfolding in neighboring Ukraine. That moment came eight days after Russia’s invasion when Swedish furniture giant Ikea announced it would halt trading in Russia the next day.
Kukkoyev had built an entire business renovating high-end apartments in St. Petersburg with Ikea fittings. He spent that final day sweating and trying to get in all his orders, hitting the payment button for the last time at two minutes to midnight, he recalled.
Then he applied to register the trademark Idea, copying Ikea’s trademark logo.
Ukraine taking back more territory around Kyiv, U.K. says
Russia appears to be pulling back troops stationed in the Kyiv area, as Ukrainian forces slowly advance and regain control of villages to the east and northwest of the capital, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update Saturday.
Ukrainian troops are in the process of moving toward Hostomel and Bucha, where intense clashes took place last month, British officials said. Several villages to the east of Kyiv have already been retaken.
The troop movements were also noted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said in a video posted early Saturday that Russia’s withdrawal from his country’s north was “slow but noticeable.” But he cautioned that airstrikes and shelling continue to threaten lives.
“Wait for our land to be cleared. Wait until you can be assured that new shelling is impossible,” Zelensky said.
London said Ukrainian forces also managed to secure a key path in the east of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which has been devastated by heavy Russian shelling. More clashes could occur near Kharkiv, it warned.
E.U. leaders call on China to help end Russia’s war in Ukraine
BRUSSELS — The European Union on Friday called on China to help end Russia’s war in Ukraine, urging the country to abandon its tacit support for the invasion and to work for peace.
The remark came after a virtual summit between top Chinese and E.U. leaders where Brussels wanted to discuss the fallout from more than five weeks of brutal fighting. Beijing appeared less interested in doing so.
“We called on China to end the war in Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels after the meeting. “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law.”