Ukraine latest updates: NATO will ‘respond’ to chemical weapons

Ukraine-Russia news from March 24: US President Joe Biden warns Russia against using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden speaks a NATO summit in Brussels.
US President Joe Biden said the possibility of a chemical attack is a “real threat” [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]
  • NATO leaders have agreed to bolster defences along the alliance’s eastern flank at an emergency summit in Brussels.
  • The United Nations says more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and more than half of the country’s 7.5 million children have been displaced.
  • The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution demanding aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine.
  • The United States says it will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s offensive.
  • US President Joe Biden says NATO would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin used a chemical weapon.


This live blog is now closed. Thank you for joining us. For the latest news on March 25, go here.

Here were the updates for March 24:

Bulgarians protest Russia’s war in Ukraine

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to show solidarity with Ukrainians.

The rally, organised on social networks, followed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call on people around the world to protest the month-long war.

Some of the 60,000 refugees from Ukraine joined the demonstration. Waving Ukrainian and European flags, protesters chanted “Stop the war”, “Stop Putin” and “Freedom for democratic Ukraine”.

French president to work with Turkish counterpart for ceasefire in Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will work with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to bring about a ceasefire agreement for “lasting peace” in Ukraine.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels after a NATO and G7 summit, Macron said he and Erdogan shared the “same perspective” on the Russia-Ukraine war and had agreed to a joint humanitarian operation in Ukraine, especially in the city of Mariupol.

Regional issues were also discussed in the meeting with Erdogan, Macron added, noting that their cooperation provided an opportunity to solve longstanding issues and increase cooperation on Libya and the Middle East.

Russia offers safe passage to stranded ships

Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev has said Russia is offering to allow foreign vessels to gather in the Black Sea, 32km southeast of the port of Illichivsk and then follow a 129km-long “humanitarian corridor” to safety.

He added that 67 ships from 15 countries have been stranded in Ukrainian ports. A safe route will be open daily from 8 am to 7 pm Moscow time (05:00-16:00 GMT) starting on Friday.

Mizintsev charged that those ships have been unable to leave due to the threat of Ukrainian shelling and the presence of sea mines deployed by Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine says Russia conducted 1,804 air raids

Since the war began on February 24, Russia has conducted 1,804 air raids on Ukraine, including 467 missiles, the Defence Ministry in Kyiv has said on Telegram.

Moscow claimed all of its attacks were surgical, but Ukrainian and Western officials have accused it of deliberately targeting residential buildings, schools and hospitals.

Canada to increase defence spending, impose new sanctions on Russia

Canada will continue to increase its defence spending, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, as he announced new sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Canada will be increasing pressure by sanctioning 160 members of the Russian Federation Council who facilitated and enabled this unjustified invasion,” Trudeau told reporters in Brussels.

Ottawa will also impose new prohibitions on the export of certain goods and technologies to Russia, “with the aim of undermining and eroding the capabilities of the Russian military,” according to a statement.

Putin’s war to wipe out 15 years of progress for Russian economy

Russia is set to erase 15 years of economic gains by the end of 2023 after its invasion of Ukraine spurred a multitude of sanctions and prompted companies to pull out of the country, according to the Institute of International Finance.

The economy is expected to contract 15 percent in 2022, followed by a decline of 3 percent in 2023, leaving gross domestic product where it was about fifteen years ago.

Read more here.

ICRC President concludes Moscow visit

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has completed a two-day visit to Moscow to discuss pressing humanitarian needs in Ukraine with Russian officials.

Discussions focused on the need for all parties to facilitate evacuations and allow the passage of humanitarian supplies. The ICRC also addressed the repatriation and dignified treatment of the dead on all sides of the armed conflict, it said in a statement, without specifying whether an agreement had been reached.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he welcomed the efforts by the Red Cross to help people in Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.  “Unfortunately, we have no particular reason to rely on the fulfilment by the Ukrainian authorities of their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he told a press conference.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ICRC President Peter Maurer shake hands.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ICRC President Peter Maurer met to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine [Russian Foreign Ministry/Reuters]

Biden says NATO will ‘respond’ if Russia uses chemical weapons

US President Joe Biden has said NATO would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin used a chemical weapon during his invasion of Ukraine.

“We will respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” Biden said after a NATO summit in Brussels.

He added Putin had failed to divide the West and that “NATO has never, never been more united than it is today”.

Before departing for Europe on Wednesday, Biden had said that the possibility of a chemical attack was a “real threat”.

Ukraine’s comparison with Syria war draws criticism on social media

The Ukrainian National Guard’s official Twitter account has posted an infographic claiming that more missiles have been fired at Ukraine in less than a month than at Syria in five years.

The post, which calls on people to “realise the scale of the disaster”, does not have a source, but appears to reference a US assessment on March 21 that 1,100 missiles have been fired at Ukraine by Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24.

However, the Russian military has conducted 45,000 attacks in Syria since its intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, killing at least 4,300 civilians, according to the independent monitor Airwars.

The Ukrainian National Guard’s post, which has been deleted, was widely criticised on Twitter with one Syrian, Asaad Hanna, saying that there was “no need to compare suffering” and others calling out the inaccurate numbers.

An infographic claiming that more missiles have been fired at Ukraine in less than a month than at Syria in five years.

Biden says he thinks Russia should be removed from G20

US President Joe Biden has expressed himself in favour of removing Russia from the Group of Twenty (G20) leading economies and says that the topic was raised during his meetings with world leaders in Brussels.

“My answer is yes, depends on the G20,” Biden said when asked if Russia should be removed from the group.

If countries such as Indonesia and others did not agree with Russia’s removal, he said then Ukraine should be allowed to attend the meetings.

Ukraine says it arrested man helping ‘draft-dodgers’ cross into Moldova

A foreigner organising the illegal passage for Ukrainian “draft-dodgers” has been detained, the Ukrainian border service has said.

Each person paid $1,500 to illegally cross into neighbouring Moldova, it wrote on Telegram without specifying the person’s nationality.

Men can face nine years in jail and their vehicles can be confiscated if found attempting to leave the war-torn country, which is under martial law.

Scholz warns Moscow not to use chemical weapons in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned Russia against using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“Should Russia be preparing a false-flag operation in order to use such [chemical and biological] weapons [in Ukraine], this would be in violation of all rules, agreements and conventions,” he told journalists in Brussels.

“It is our concern not only to point this out but also to warn in the conversations we have: Don’t do it,” he added.

Ukraine presidential adviser says ‘front line is practically frozen’

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said Russian troops do not have enough resources to push ahead with their offensive in many areas of Ukraine, leading to a slowdown in hostilities.

“The front line is practically frozen,” he said in a televised address. “The enemy in very many areas does not have the resources to continue the offensive.”

West ready to impose new sanctions on Russia when necessary: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Western powers are ready to ramp up sanctions against Russia if necessary, in a bid to force a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“These sanctions have an impact and are tangible and we must continue them for their dissuasive effect,” he told a news conference after a NATO and G7 leaders summit.

Macron added that he believed China still wanted to do everything to stop the war in Ukraine and avoid doing anything that could escalate the situation.

Commenting on the decision by French automobile manufacturer Renault to leave Russia, Macron said it was up to individual companies but that there was a “reputational risk” for those that decided to stay.

France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures during a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said the West is ready to increase sanctions against Russia [Thomas Coex/AFP] (AFP)

Italy says Russia’s demand for rouble payments would breach contract

Any demand by Russia to receive payment in roubles for its gas exports would represent a breach of contract, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

“This is basically a breach of contract, this is important to understand,” Draghi told reporters. He added the issue had not been discussed at the G7 summit but would likely be raised at a meeting of EU leaders scheduled to start later in the day.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia, the world’s largest natural gas producer, will soon require “unfriendly” countries to pay for fuel in roubles, raising alarm about a possible gas crunch in Europe.

Poland says EU must crush Russia with sanctions for Ukraine ‘massacre’

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said the EU needs to “crush” Russia with sanctions over the war in Ukraine, which has turned into a “massacre”.

“Russia is trying to re-establish the Empire of Evil,” Morawiecki said, in a reference to the former Soviet Union.

G7 says will ‘spare no efforts’ to hold Putin, ‘supporters’ accountable

The Group of Seven leading industrial countries has said it will do everything in its power to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters personally responsible for the Ukraine invasion.

“We will spare no efforts to hold President Putin and the architects and supporters of this aggression, including the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, accountable for their actions,” the G7 said in a statement after a summit in Brussels.

“To this end, we will continue to work together, along with our allies and partners around the world.”

Ukraine and Russia carry out first prisoner exchange: Official

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged 10 prisoners of war each for the first time since Moscow began its invasion on February 24.

“Today, by the order of President Zelenskyy, the first full exchange of military prisoners took place. In exchange for 10 captive occupiers, we pulled out 10 of our soldier,” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk said.

Vereschuk added that Ukraine sent home 11 Russian civilian sailors saved from a drowning ship near the Black Sea port of Odesa. In return, Ukraine got back 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors taken prisoner near the Black Sea island of Zmiiny, she said on Telegram.

UN General Assembly adopts Ukraine resolution

The 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA) has passed a resolution demanding aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine and criticising Russia for creating a “dire” humanitarian situation in the country.

The resolution, drafted by Ukraine and allies, was backed by 140 countries.

Five member states – Russia, Syria, North Korea, Eritrea and Belarus – voted against it, while another 38 abstained.

What did Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg say?

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed reporters in the wake of the US-led alliance’s emergency meeting earlier today. Here are some of his key remarks.

  • Stoltenberg said NATO leaders had agreed to reinforce defences along the alliance’s eastern flank.
  • He explained this will include establishing four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.
  • Stoltenberg said the alliance will continue to provide assistance to Kyiv in areas such as cybersecurity and “and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature”.
  • He warned Russia’s invasion marked the “biggest security crisis in a generation” and said NATO was determined to “continue to impose costs” on Moscow in a bid to make it end the offensive.

Ukrainian official says Russia blocking Mariupol evacuations

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister says Russian forces have prevented civilians from leaving the besieged, southeastern port city of Mariupol after Ukrainian authorities readied 40 buses for their evacuation.

Speaking at a televised briefing, Iryna Vereshchuk did not specify how Russian troops had prevented people from departing.

The human toll of the Russia-Ukraine war

Al Jazeera has put together an interactive feature documenting the humanitarian cost of Russia’s offensive.

Click here to take a look.

EU summit won’t bring new sanctions, Dutch PM says

European Union leaders will not agree to new sanctions against Russia during their two-day summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

“I do not expect concrete new sanctions today,” Rutte said upon arrival for the beginning of the meeting, which will be attended by all 27 leaders of the bloc’s member states.

“We can’t brainstorm about sanctions with such a broad group, we need proposals. We have already imposed a lot of sanctions, we are now entering more complex terrain.”

A customer is seen handing over Russian rouble banknotes and coins to a vendor at a market in Omsk, Russia
Sweeping sanctions imposed on Russia have hammered the country’s economy and sent its currency, the rouble, plunging in value [File: Alexey Malgavko/Reuters]

China dismisses reports alleging ‘prior knowledge’ of invasion

China’s defence ministry has dismissed claims that Beijing had “prior knowledge” of Russia’s invasion, denouncing such assertions as a smear.

The ministry’s remarks came in response to foreign media reports that alleged China ignored warnings by the US that Russia would attack Ukraine.

China strongly disagrees and opposes these claims, which the US made to “shirk responsibility and smear China”, the ministry said in a statement.

‘Time is on Ukraine’s side’: Analyst

Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russia expert and researcher at Germany’s Bremen University, says Ukraine has successfully thwarted Moscow’s intended rapid offensive, turning the war into a conflict that exhausts demoralised and undersupplied Russian soldiers.

“The situation has finally stabilised on all fronts,” Mitrokhin told Al Jazeera.

“It could be temporary, but in the past two weeks, the [opposed] armies are in the same position, and the war has turned from manoeuvre warfare into a trench phase,” he added.

Instead of pushing forward in strategic directions, the Russians boast very moderate gains only in the breakaway, eastern Donbas region, where Moscow’s troops “take a village a day”, albeit with enormous losses, Mitrokhin said.

A Ukrainian soldier is seen standing guard on the outskirts of Kyiv
Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian troops for a month after Moscow launched its invasion on February 24 [Emilio Morenatti/AP]

Despite Russia’s lack of overall progress, its forces have the northern city of Chernihiv almost fully surrounded and launch “attack after attack” on the eastern city of Izium, Mitrokhin said, in addition to the almost continuous bombardment of Kharkiv and Mariupol.

“But time is on Ukraine’s side,” he said, noting its forces may encircle the Russians in areas north and west of Kyiv while Moscow accumulates more troops only to “patch the holes” in the locations it currently holds.

“Ukraine has withstood the aggression, it wages a just war on its territory, and the government and the president have remained in Kyiv and enjoy popular support,” Mitrokhin added.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Ukrainian servicemen are seen standing guard on a road in Kharkiv
Ukraine’s government has pledged its armed forces will repel Russia’s assault [Maksim Levin/Reuters]

Ukraine says Russian forces pushed back in some areas around Kyiv

A spokesman for Ukraine’s defence ministry has said its troops have pushed back Russian forces from some areas around Kyiv but warned Moscow retains hope of surrounding and seizing the Ukrainian capital.

“In some sectors the enemy was driven back by more than 70km (44 miles), in some sectors the enemy is at a distance of 35km (21 miles),” Oleksander Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing.

Without citing evidence, Motuzyanyk also claimed that the Kremlin had been sending additional military equipment to Belarus to reinforce Russian troops attacking Kyiv.

US announces new wave of Russia sanctions

The US has imposed a new wave of sanctions on Russia, targeting dozens of defence companies and hundreds of members of Russia’s parliament as Washington ramps up pressure on Moscow.

The measures target individuals and entities that “fuel [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war machine,” the White House said in a statement, including Herman Gref, the chief executive of Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank.

The Treasury Department also issued guidance on its website warning that gold-related transactions involving Russia may be sanctionable by US authorities in a move aimed at stopping Russia from evading sanctions.

Russian attacks kill six in Kharkiv, regional governor says

Russian attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv have killed at least six civilians and wounded more than a dozen others, the region’s governor has said.

“The Russians fired long-range weapons at a Nova Poshta office, near where Kharkiv residents were receiving aid,” Oleg Sinegubov wrote on social media, citing a local postal delivery service.

“Preliminary information suggests six civilians were killed and 15 others were injured and hospitalised,” he added.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the figures provided.

NATO leaders agree to bolster eastern defences

Leaders of the US-led transatlantic military alliance have agreed to bolster defences along its eastern flank.

“In response to Russia’s actions, we have activated NATO’s defence plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and placed 40,000 troops on our eastern flank,” they announced in a joint statement following the alliance’s emergency summit.

“We are also establishing four additional multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. We are taking all measures and decisions to ensure the security and defence of all Allies across all domains and with a 360-degree approach,” they added.

The statement said the alliance’s measures “remain preventive, proportionate, and non-escalatory”.

US to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing war

The US has announced it will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s offensive.

The White House said in a statement that Washington would use “the full range of legal pathways”, including the refugee admissions programme, for Ukrainians seeking to enter the country.

“While we expect many Ukrainians will choose to remain in Europe close to family and their homes in Ukraine … we will do our part to welcome Ukrainians to the United States,” it said.

UN says more than 1,000 civilians killed in Ukraine

The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR) says it has confirmed at least 1,035 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 1,650 others wounded since Russia started its offensive.

The death toll includes 90 children, OHCHR said in a statement, adding that the true figures were believed to be considerably higher due to delays in reporting from areas with intense hostilities, including Mariupol.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” it added.

Stoltenberg to stay on as NATO chief until October 2023

NATO allies have extended the term of Stoltenberg at the helm of the Western military alliance by a year until September 30, 2023.

“As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our alliance strong and our people safe,” the alliance’s secretary-general tweeted.

The 63-year-old, who has been in post since October 2014, had been due to step down at the end of September and assume a new role as governor of Norway’s central bank.

Russia accuses Poland of ‘dangerous escalation’ over expulsions

Russia’s foreign ministry has accused NATO member Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, of escalating tensions in eastern Europe after it expelled 45 Russian diplomats over alleged espionage.

“Warsaw has embarked on a dangerous escalation in the region, proceeding not from national interests, but within the framework of NATO guidelines, which are based on outright Russophobia elevated to the rank of official policy,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We see this and will take it into account in our practical steps towards Poland,” it added.

Mariupol authorities say 15,000 people ‘illegally deported’ to Russia

Authorities in Mariupol say about 15,000 civilians have been illegally deported to Russia since Moscow’s forces seized parts of the city.

“Residents of the Left Bank district are beginning to be deported en masse to Russia. In total, about 15,000 Mariupol residents have been subjected to illegal deportation,” Mariupol’s city council said in a statement.

It claimed there was also evidence that Russian forces are seizing Ukrainians’ passports and other identity documents as they are deported.

Kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly traded blame for the consistent failure to agree on arrangements to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, control of which would help Russia secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Zelenskyy said in a video address to Italy’s parliament on Tuesday that there was “nothing left” in Mariupol after weeks of Russian bombardment, with civilians trapped there facing a desperate plight without access to food, water, power or heat.

Civilians are seen in Mariupol
Russian forces have pounded Mariupol for weeks, reducing swaths of the city to rubble [Anadolu]

Ukrainian president calls for unlimited military assistance from NATO

Zelenskyy has asked NATO to provide Ukraine with “military assistance without restrictions” as its forces battle to “save people” and the country’s cities from Russia’s onslaught.

Addressing the alliance’s emergency meeting via video link, the Ukrainian president urged the organisation to provide Kyiv with one percent of all its planes, tanks and anti-ship weapons, among other equipment.

“When all this finally happens, it will give us, as well as you, one hundred percent security,” he said, before warning Moscow will target member states of the organisation in Eastern Europe next.

Russia “wants to go further” and take military action against the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Poland, Zelenskyy said.

“But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” he added.


Kremlin says UK PM is most active ‘anti-Russian’ leader: Report

The Kremlin has labelled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the most active “anti-Russian” world leader and warned that London’s approach to Moscow will lead to a “foreign policy dead end”.

“As for Mr Johnson, we see him as the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“It will lead to a foreign policy dead end,” he added.

Analysis: Russia falls back on urban siege warfare in Ukraine

As its offensive enters a second month, Russia has shifted its strategy and is now focused on subduing the whole of Ukraine to sequential urban sieges, according to a military analyst.

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow in military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the tactics “are a brutal but effective way to take [control of] cities”.

To read Bronk’s full analysis piece for Al Jazeera, click here.

Zelenskyy accuses Russia of using phosphorus bombs

Ukraine’s president has accused Russian forces of deploying phosphorus munitions earlier today, without providing further details on where such munitions were used or providing evidence for his claims.

“This morning … phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again,” he told the NATO meeting.

Phosphorus munitions spread a powder that ignites when in contact with oxygen and causes severe burns.

Bulgaria to recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations

Bulgaria will recall its ambassador to Russia for consultations in response to “undiplomatic, sharp and rude” comments from the Russian ambassador, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has said.

“We will call our ambassador from Russia for consultations back to Bulgaria … Usually when one country calls back its ambassador for consultations, the other should follow and do the same,” Petkov said.

Earlier this week in an interview to a Russian TV channel, Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova said that the Bulgarian people did not support the government’s position over Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. Petkov has publicly condemned the invasion.

More than half of Ukraine’s children displaced: UNICEF

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) says Russia’s offensive has displaced the majority of Ukraine’s children.

“One month of war in Ukraine has led to the displacement of 4.3 million children – more than half of the country’s estimated 7.5 million child population,” UNICEF said in a statement.

The figure includes more than 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighbouring countries as refugees and 2.5 million who are now internally displaced inside Ukraine, it added.

“The war has caused one of the fastest largescale displacements of children since World War II,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director, said.

“This is a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come. Children’s safety, wellbeing and access to essential services are all under threat from non-stop horrific violence,” she added.

Red Cross chief to discuss POWs with Russia’s defence ministry

The head of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) says he plans to discuss prisoners of war (POWs) with Russia’s defence ministry during his visit to Moscow.

Peter Maurer, who was holding a second day of talks in the Russian capital on Thursday, told a news conference alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he also planned to discuss the Geneva Conventions with officials at the ministry.

What role is Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov playing in the war?

Just two days after Russia’s invasion was launched, Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Russia’s Chechen Republic, announced his forces were being deployed to back Moscow’s offensive.

But observers say that despite Chechen troops’ reputation as fierce fighters, they do not appear to have played a significant role on the ground yet.

Instead, the observers say, their presence in Ukraine appears to be something of a public relations exercise.

Click here to read more.

Switzerland reports more than $6bn worth of sanctioned Russian assets

The Swiss government has so far frozen about 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.17bn) worth of Russian funds and assets in Switzerland covered by sanctions, according to an official.

The assets included a number of properties in resorts, Erwin Bollinger told a news conference.

He added the figure is likely to rise significantly as further reports come in and potential additions are made to the EU’s sanctions lists.

Switzerland has pledged to act in step with the bloc as it moves to financially punish Moscow.

Zelenskyy says summits will show ‘who is a friend’

In a video address released earlier today, Ukraine’s president said the outcome of NATO, EU and G7 summits will reveal “who is a friend” to Ukraine.

“Politicians must … support freedom. All of them. They must support the struggle for life. We are waiting for meaningful steps. From NATO, the EU and the G7,” Zelenskyy said.

“We know that the Russians have already begun to lobby their interests. These are the interests of war,” he added.

“We know that they want to put this issue out. The struggle against war. But this is the war that needs to be put out.

“Our firm position will be represented at these three summits. At these three summits we will see: Who is a friend, who is a partner, and who betrayed us for money.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Zelenskyy called on foreign leaders to ‘support freedom’ as Ukraine faces down Russia’s offensive [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

UK announces new Russia sanctions

The UK’s government says it has imposed new sanctions on 65 more Russian individuals and organisations, including “banks, defence companies and oligarchs”.

It said the moves were aimed at “cutting off vital industries fuelling Putin’s war machine”.

Eugene Shvidler, an oligarch said to have “close business links” to Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, and Polina Kovaleva, the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are among the individuals targeted.

“These oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement, adding there will be “no let-up” in the pressure on Putin and the Russian economy while Moscow’s offensive continues.

Kremlin says Abramovich played early role in Russia-Ukraine talks

The Kremlin’s spokesman has said that sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich played an early role in talks between Russia and Ukraine, but the process was now in the hands of the two sides’ negotiating teams.

“He did take part at the initial stage,” Peskov told reporters. “Now the negotiations are between the two teams, the Russians and Ukrainians.”

Western governments have targeted Abramovich and several other Russian oligarchs with sanctions as they seek to isolate Putin and his allies.

Rouble rallies as stock market trade restarts in Russia after hiatus

The rouble has extended its recovery amid a partial restart in trading on Russia’s stock market after a month-long hiatus that saw the majority of options rise.

The moves came after the Russian currency sank to a record low and the central bank ordered the suspension of most trade after foreign powers imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow.

As of 09:08 GMT, the rouble had firmed 1.6 percent to 95.61 to the US dollar, extending overnight gains driven by Putin’s statement that Russia would start selling its gas to “unfriendly” countries in roubles.

Click here to read more.

NATO believes Russian offensive ‘largely stalled’: AJE correspondent

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, says the alliance believes Russia’s offensive has “largely stalled”, with Moscow suffering a “great deal of losses”.

Citing an unnamed, senior military official from the alliance, Bays said NATO estimates between 7,000-15,000 Russian troops have been killed.

“But they say when you take into account the number that have been wounded or captured, then the number of Russian troops who are no longer able to fight could be 30,000-40,000,” he added.

However, Bays also said the same official believes the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol could fall under Russian control within “days”.

“Clearly that would be very important for the state of the battlefield and it would be an important but very barbaric victory by Russia,” he added.

“Mariupol … is so strategically important in the fight because it gives the access to the coast from Crimea to the Donbas.”

Turkish exports to Russia halved, exports to Ukraine near zero: Report

Turkish exports to Russia have halved, while exports to Ukraine are near zero, the Reuters news agency has quoted a Turkish Central Bank official as saying.

The remarks by the bank’s research and monetary policy general manager, Orhun Sevinc, were made during a call with investors and economists, according to participants cited by Reuters.

NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea. It has close ties with both countries and has attempted to mediate between the two.

Russia’s Gazprom still exporting gas to Europe via Ukraine

Russian energy giant Gazprom says it is still supplying natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company said requests stood at 104 million cubic metres for March 24, down from 106.5 million cubic metres the previous day.

EU’s Borrell: Russia has no interest in a ceasefire now

The Russian government has no interest in negotiating a ceasefire in Ukraine for now as its army has not reached its military goals, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has said.

“Right now, Russia doesn’t want to sit and negotiate anything: What it wants is to occupy the ground,” Borrell said in an interview with Spanish channel TVE. “It wants to … isolate Ukraine from the sea. It wants to negotiate in earnest only when it has secured a position of strength.”

The EU and its allies will keep on delivering military aid to the Ukrainian army, Borrell said.

Russia lost 15,800 soldiers, 530 tanks and 108 planes: Ukraine General Staff

In the month since Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russia has lost some 15,800 servicemen, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces has said.

Ukrainian forces have also destroyed 530 tanks, 1,597 armoured vehicles, 108 planes, 124 helicopters and 50 drones, it added in a Facebook post.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify any of the figures provided.

EU says assessing scenarios of potential Russian gas halt next winter

The EU is assessing scenarios including a full halt to Russian gas supplies next winter, as part of its contingency planning for supply shocks, European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis has said.

“We are reassessing scenarios for partial and full disruption of gas laws from Russia next winter to help member states revise their gas supply contingency plans,” Dombrovskis told the European Parliament.

West to warn Putin in three summits

Western nations will warn Putin that his country will pay “ruinous” costs for invading Ukraine, during an unprecedented one-day trio of NATO, G7 and EU summits that will be attended by US President Joe Biden.

The hectic day of diplomacy will kick off at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, where the transatlantic defence alliance’s leaders are expected to agree to ramp up military forces on its eastern flank.

Alarmed by the prospect that Russia might escalate the war, the 30 NATO nations are also anticipated to sign off on sending Kyiv equipment to defend against biological, chemical and nuclear attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin has faced intense international pressure over Russia’s offensive [Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters]

Belgium to inject another billion euros into its army: L’Echo

The Belgian government has agreed – a few hours before a NATO summit – to inject an extra billion euros ($1.098bn) in its defence forces, on top of 10 billion euros ($10.98bn) already agreed, according to Belgian newspaper l’Echo.

The new investments aim at reinforcing Belgian defence by 2030, including developing a cybersecurity unit in the Belgian army, replenishing stocks of fuel and munitions, military equipment and supplies, and improving intelligence and communication systems, l’Echo reported.

NATO member states are supposed to spend more than two percent of their GDP on defence annually. Belgium is currently spending 1.2 percent and the latest investments will increase it to 1.54 percent.

NATO: Ukraine no-fly zone means attacking Russia

Stoltenberg has said declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine means the alliance would need to massively attack Russian air defence.

“Then the risk between a full war between NATO and Russia will be very high,” NATO’s secretary-general told reporters.

Ukraine says seven humanitarian corridors agreed, no safe passage from Mariupol

Agreement has been reached on the establishment of seven humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from Ukrainian towns and cities, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says.

She said civilians trying to leave besieged Mariupol would find transport at nearby Berdyansk, making clear Russia was not allowing a safe corridor to be created to or from the centre of the southern port city.

Stoltenberg warns chemical weapons could contaminate NATO territory

Any use of chemical weapons by Russia in its war in Ukraine could cause contamination in NATO territory, Stoltenberg has warned.

“Any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict – it would be a blatant violation of international law, and it will have widespread and severe consequences,” he said ahead of the NATO summit.

“The seriousness of using chemical weapons, of course, becomes even more obvious knowing that there is a risk always for contamination… we can see the spread of chemical agents also into NATO territory,” he said.

Putin made ‘big mistake’ invading Ukraine: NATO chief

Stoltenberg says Putin made a “big mistake” by invading Ukraine, as leaders gathered to discuss overhauling the alliance’s eastern defences.

“President Putin has made a big mistake and that is to launch a war against an independent sovereign nation. He has underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces,” Stoltenberg said ahead of the summit.

Stoltenberg said the leaders of the US-led military alliance would “address the need for a reset of our deterrence and defence in the longer term”, starting with agreeing on new deployments to eastern members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Bodies of Russian servicemen ‘endanger’ Ukraine’s environment: Official

A Ukrainian health official says Russia has not taken away many bodies of its servicemen killed in action, and the decaying corpses pose an environmental threat.

Russia “doesn’t need them, doesn’t take them away”, Anatoly Kotlyara, the top healthcare official in the northeastern Sumy region, was quoted by Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency as saying.

He added that 10 railroad refrigerators had been commissioned for storing the bodies, but their arrival was delayed by the hostilities.

Most of the bodies Russia does take away are shipped to neighbouring Belarus and only then delivered to relatives, Kotlyara said.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

UK PM says pressure could be applied to Putin’s gold reserves

The UK and its western allies will increase the economic pressure on Russia and are looking to see if more can be done to prevent Putin from accessing his gold reserves, Johnson said.

Ahead of the NATO summit, the British Prime Minister told the UK’s LBC radio station that Putin had already crossed a red line and that he should appear before the International Criminal Court.

“We need to do more economically,” Johnson said.

“Can we do more to stop him using his gold reserves for instance, in addition to his cash reserves? The more pressure we apply now, particularly on things like gold, that I believe the more we can shorten the war,” he added.

Banned phosphorus bombs kill 4, destroy houses in Luhansk: Governor

Russia has used banned white phosphorus bombs to shell residential areas in the southeastern Luhansk region, its governor has said on his Telegram channel.

Four people were killed, Serhiy Haidai said, adding that the shelling destroyed 10 apartment buildings and 13 private houses, and set fire to 16 of them.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of using phosphorus bombs, which cause huge fires and lead to severe injuries or excruciating death; the 1977 Geneva Convention bans their use if they endanger civilians.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Russian ship destroyed in occupied port of Berdyansk

Ukraine’s navy says it has destroyed a large Russian large landing ship, The Orsk, in Ukraine’s Azov Sea port city of Berdyansk.

The ministry posted a short Facebook statement about the ship – a landing support vessel for paratroopers – with accompanying photos and videos which appeared to show fire and thick plumes of smoke in the port.
Berdyansk, a city of 100,000 people, was seized by Russian forces on February 27. Its port was a crucial outlet for the export of grain, vegetable oil and steel until Russia blockaded the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian and international vessels.

Ukraine: Russia stepping up air raids

Russia is stepping up its air attacks, with more than 250 flights registered in 24 hours, the Ukrainian military’s general staff has said.

This was 60 more flights than the day before, the authorities said. The main targets remain areas in and around Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Kharkiv.

The Ukrainian army said 11 “enemy air targets” were hit Wednesday, including seven planes, a helicopter, a drone and two cruise missiles.

Photo gallery: One month of the war in Ukraine

Click here to see a selection of images marking one month since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukranians donating blood in Mariupol
Ukrainians queue up to donate blood in Mariupol, February 26 [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

Ukraine sunflower seed harvest likely to plunge 42 percent:  APK-Inform

Ukraine’s 2022 sunflower seed harvest could decrease by 42 percent to 9.6 million tonnes due to a sharp decrease in sowable areas, APK-Inform agriculture consultancy has said.

Ukraine is the world’s largest sunflower grower and sunflower oil exporter.

“This reduction is due to the fact that much of the battles in the country are concentrated in the main regions of sunflower cultivation,” the consultancy said.

Turkcell: 10 percent of its mobile infrastructure in Ukraine disabled

Turkish telecoms operator Turkcell, one of three main operators in Ukraine, says about 10 percent of its infrastructure in the country had been disabled by Russia’s invasion, but added there was no damage to its central network.

Turkcell, which operates under the name “lifecell” in Ukraine, said in a stock exchange statement on Wednesday that some 10 percent of its 9,000 base stations in Ukraine had been disabled, but there had been no casualties among its employees.

The company said it had provided the necessary equipment to maintain operations and established backup data centres in Lviv and some neighbouring nations, adding that 45 percent of its retail stores in Ukraine remained open.

Japan considers doubling humanitarian aid, loans to Ukraine: NHK

The Japanese government is considering extending additional humanitarian aid of $100m to Ukraine and neighbouring countries, on top of the $100m it has already announced, public broadcaster NHK said.

The government is also looking into doubling emergency loans to Ukraine to $200m and dispatching Self-Defence Force medical officers to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other neighbouring nations, NHK said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he plans to unveil Japan’s new support measures for Ukraine at a G7 summit meeting scheduled in Brussels on Thursday.

UN to vote on blaming Russia for humanitarian crisis

The UN General Assembly is voting Thursday on a resolution backed by over 90 countries that blames Russia for the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and demands an immediate halt to hostilities, especially attacks on civilians and their homes, schools and hospitals.

Russia has denounced the resolution as “anti-Russian” and accuses its supporters of not really being concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, saying they want to politicise aid.

The vote follows the Security Council’s overwhelming defeat on Wednesday of a Russian resolution that would have acknowledged Ukraine’s growing humanitarian needs – but without mentioning Russia’s invasion that has left millions of Ukrainians in desperate need of food, water and shelter.

Huge fire blazing in Sumy: Official

Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, governor of the Sumy region, says emergency workers have not been able to access the site of a huge fire that broke out in the city of Trostianets on Tuesday.

“For the third day in a row, Trostianets remains the hottest spot, fierce battles are going on,” he said in a video address.

“Due to the shelling and the fighting, it is impossible for firefighters to get there to extinguish the fire.”

24 bodies recovered from rubble of Kharkiv building: Ukraine official

Rescue workers have now recovered bodies of 24 people from the rubble of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, which was shelled on March 1, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

Rescuers are continuing to clear the debris, a spokesperson for the emergency service told local media.

Japan unsure how Russia will process rouble payments for its gas sales

Japanese finance minister Shunichi Suzuki says Tokyo does not know how Russia will handle the required rouble payments for its energy sold to “unfriendly” countries.

“Currently, we’re looking into the situation with relevant ministries as we don’t quite understand what is [Russia’s] intention and how they would do this,” he said in a parliament session.

Japan – which Moscow branded as an unfriendly nation along with the US and EU states – accounted for 4.1 percent of Russia’s crude oil exports and 7.2 percent of its natural gas exports in 2021.

Russian troops setting up ‘defensive positions’ outside Kyiv: US

A senior US defence official says Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions between 15 and 20 kilometres (9-12 miles) outside Kyiv, as they continue to make little to no progress moving towards the city centre.

In some cases east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have been able to push Russian soldiers away, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, claiming that Russian forces who had been 20 to 30 kilometres (12-19 miles) away to the east and northeast are now about 55 kilometres (34 miles) away.

The official said now Russian troops are exerting more energy and effort in the eastern Donbas region, specifically Luhansk and Donetsk.

Russian troops ‘kidnap’ esteemed theatre director in Kherson

Russian troops occupying the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson have seized one of the country’s most prominent theatre directors, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko.

Witnesses cited by The Associated Press news agency said nine Russian military vehicles pulled up to the home of Oleksandr Kniga, 62, early on Wednesday and led him out.

Kniga was among many in Kherson who oppose the Russian occupation. On Monday, Russian troops used stun grenades and fired in the air to disperse a protest there.

Dozens of Ukrainian orphans arrive in the UK

Dozens of orphans and their caretakers from Ukraine have arrived in the UK, where they are being given refuge following the Russian invasion of their country.

Aged between one and 18 years old, the 52 children came from orphanages in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

Their escape from Ukraine was coordinated by supporters of the Edinburgh-based football team, Hibernian.

Ukraine using facial recognition to identify dead Russian soldiers

Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov says Kyiv is using facial recognition software to identify the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in combat and trace their families to inform them of their deaths.

Fedorov told Reuters Ukraine has been using technology from Clearview AI, a New York-based facial recognition software provider, to find the social media accounts of the dead soldiers then message relatives to make arrangements to collect the body, he said.

He declined to specify the number of bodies identified through facial recognition but he said the percentage of recognized individuals claimed by families has been “high”.

Ukraine’s agriculture minister resigns: Report

Ukraine’s agriculture minister Roman Leshchenko has submitted his resignation but did not provide a reason for doing so, according to the Ekonomichna Pravda newspaper.

His resignation will have to be submitted to a vote in Parliament.

Leshchenko told Reuters Tuesday that Ukraine’s spring crop sowing area might more than halve this year from 2021 levels to some 7 million hectares (17 million acres) versus 15 million hectares (37 million acres) expected before the invasion.

Russian journalist killed in Ukraine

Oksana Baulina, a Russian reporter working for an independent Russian news outlet, has been killed while filming in Kyiv.

The Insider, Baulina’s employer, said the journalist died “under fire in Kyiv”.

“She was filming the destruction after Russian troops shelled the Podil district of the capital,” it added.

Ukraine carrying out ‘successful counter attacks’ near Kyiv: UK

The UK’s defence ministry says Ukrainian forces are successfully counterattacking Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

“There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

It added that these counterattacks will likely “disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganise and resume their own offensive towards Kyiv”.

Australia concerned over Putin’s plans to attend G20 meeting

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has been raising concerns about Putin’s plans to attend the next G20 summit in Indonesia this year.

“The idea of sitting around a table with Vladimir Putin, who the United States are already in the position of calling out [for] war crimes in Ukraine, for me is a step too far,” Morrison said during a media briefing.

UK to send Ukraine thousands more missiles

The UK is giving Ukraine 6,000 more missiles, including anti-tank and high-explosive weaponry, as well as 25 million British pounds ($33m) to help Kyiv pay its military and police forces.

Johnson said the UK “will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defenses as they turn the tide in this fight”.

The UK has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

Mexican legislators create Russia ‘friendship’ group

Mexican legislators have created a “Mexico-Russia Friendship Committee” nearly a month after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Six legislators from the ruling Morena Party, to which Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador belongs, supported the creation of the committee.

Russian Ambassador Viktor Koronelli welcomed the move: “For us, this is a sign of support, of friendship, of solidarity in these complicated times in which my country is not just facing a special military operation in Ukraine, but a tremendous media war,” he said in an address to the committee. “Russia didn’t start this war, it is finishing it.”

WHO records 64 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has verified 64 incidents of attacks on Ukrainian health care facilities and workers since the invasion began, amounting to two to three attacks on healthcare per day, causing 15 deaths and 37 injuries.

“Attacks on healthcare are a violation of international humanitarian law, but a disturbingly common tactic of war – they destroy critical infrastructure, but worse, they destroy hope,” said Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO representative in Ukraine.

“They deprive already vulnerable people of care that is often the difference between life and death. Healthcare is not – and should never be – a target.”

US making contingency plans in case Russia uses chemical or nuclear weapons: NYT

The New York Times says the White House has assembled a group of national security officials to draw up plans for how the US and its allies should respond if Putin orders the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Known as the Tiger Team, the group is also looking at responses if the Russian president reaches into NATO territory to attack convoys bringing weapons and aid to Ukraine, the Times reported, citing several officials involved in the process.

Zelenskyy urges global protests against invasion

Zelenskyy has called for global protests against the Russian invasion, saying that Moscow is trying to defeat the freedom of “all the people in the world” and show that only crude force matters.

“I ask you to stand against the war starting from March 24 – exactly one month after the Russian invasion, from this day and after then,” Zelenskyy said in a video message in English.

“Show your standing; come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities. Come in the name of peace. Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to sport freedom, to support life.”

Protesters rally in Bern, Switzerland in solidarity with Ukraine
Demonstrators rally for peace in front of the seat of the Swiss Bundeshaus, in Bern [File: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

Renault suspends operations at Moscow plant

French automobile manufacturer Renault says it has suspended operations at its plant in Moscow while it assesses options on its majority stake in Avtovaz, Russia’s top carmaker.

The move came amid mounting pressure over the French company’s continued presence in Russia. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, had called for a global boycott of Renault.

Russia ‘does not care’ about humanitarian crisis in Ukraine: US envoy

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, has slammed Russia for introducing a humanitarian resolution on Ukraine, which was defeated at the Security Council.

“Russia does not care about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions or the millions of lives and dreams the war has shattered,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“If they cared, they would stop fighting. Russia is the aggressor, the attacker, the invader, the sole party in Ukraine engaged in a campaign of brutality against the people of Ukraine.”

Expert says evidence so far raises ‘serious questions’ about Russian war crimes in Ukraine

James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative, says there seems to be ample evidence that at least raises “serious questions” of war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

“We are seeing more and more reports of indiscriminate attacks … attacks that are deliberately targeting civilians,” Goldston told Al Jazeera from New York City.

While the ICC is looking into the situation, the challenge lies in linking “responsibility to those highest authorities… The question is whether they can make the case,” Goldston said.

Russian-drafted proposal on Ukraine aid fails at UN Security Council

A Russian-drafted UN Security Council proposal calling for humanitarian aid access in Ukraine has been defeated with two “yes” votes and 13 abstentions.

Only Russia and China voted in favour of the draft resolution. The US and its allies voiced opposition to the measure because it does not assign blame for the crisis.

Biden thanks Belgium for supporting Russia sanctions

Biden has thanked Belgium for its role in supporting sanctions against Russia following his arrival in Brussels.

Biden told Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium that he was grateful for Brussels’s “robust support in the EU for sanctions against Russia and for ongoing coordination in providing security assistance to Ukraine,” a statement from the White House said.

First shipment from US’s $800m arms package to be sent to Ukraine this week

The first shipment from the US’s $800m arms package for Ukraine will be shipped in the next day or so, and will not take long to reach Ukraine, a senior US defence official has said.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify which systems would be included in the first shipments to Ukraine but said priority would be given to the kinds of defensive weapons already being used by Ukrainian troops.

“We are already aggregating stocks in the United States and we’re getting ready to ship them over there,” the official said.

Biden lands in Brussels ahead of key meetings with European allies

Biden has landed in Brussels ahead of NATO, G7 and EU summits on Thursday.

He is expected to announce fresh sanctions on Russia, while shoring up support for Ukraine among Washington’s allies.

Before he departed for Belgium, Biden told reporters as he boarded the Marine One helicopter at the White House that he sees “a real threat” of Russian chemical warfare against Ukraine.

More than 4,550 people evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Wednesday

A total of 4,554 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Wednesday, a senior official has said.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post that 2,912 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol in private vehicles.

A day earlier, Tymoshenko said 8,057 people had escaped from cities across the country.

US says it determined Russian forces committed ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington has determined that Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine, stressing that the assessment is based on information drawn from “public and intelligence sources”.

In a statement on Wednesday, he said there have been numerous credible reports of “indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians” in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began.

“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” he said.

Read more here.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Read all the updates from Wednesday, March 23 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies