Russia-Ukraine latest updates: Zelenskyy calls for more weapons

Ukraine news from April 21: Addressing Portuguese parliament, Ukraine president says Kyiv needs arms to defend itself.

A man rides his bicycle next to a destroyed Russian tank in Chernihiv, Ukraine.
A man rides his bicycle next to a destroyed Russian tank in Chernihiv, Ukraine [Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo]
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls for more heavy weapons and tougher Russia sanctions in speech to Portuguese parliament.
  • US President Joe Biden announces new $800m military aid package for Ukraine, saying it would help Kyiv in the fight against Russian forces in the Donbas region.
  • Zelenskyy says Russia controls most of port city of Mariupol, but Ukrainian troops remain stationed there.
  • Kyiv is appealing for a humanitarian corridor to be opened immediately to allow civilians and wounded fighters to be evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.
  • President Vladimir Putin has hailed Russia’s “liberation” of Mariupol, despite a last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Azovstal steel plant.
  • Governor of Luhansk says Russia now controls 80 percent of the eastern region.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 57

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Follow our continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine on our new live blog.

These were the updates on April 21:

Top Ukrainian official says troops facing very difficult battle

A senior Ukrainian defence official has said the nation’s military was facing “a very difficult battle” against a larger and better-equipped Russian force, the Interfax Ukraine news agency said.

It also cited Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar as telling national television that it took time to buy and arrange for the delivery of weapons, adding “we must be patient”.

Organisation of American States suspends Russia’s permanent observer status

The Organisation of American States has said it adopted a resolution suspending Russia as a permanent observer to the inter-governmental institution over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the suspension.

Ukraine official: Russia captured 42 villages in Donetsk region

Russian forces captured 42 villages in the eastern Donetsk region on Thursday, but Ukraine might take them back, an aide to the chief of staff to Zelenskyy has told national television.

“Today 42 villages were added to the list of those that have been occupied. This is at the expense of the Donetsk region,” said the aide, Olena Symonenko. “This happened today and might be that our forces will win them back tomorrow.”

Zelenskyy says Ukraine needs $7bn a month to make up for economic losses

Ukraine needs $7bn a month to function amid the devastating “economic losses” inflicted by Russia, Zelenskyy has said.

That is an increase from Kyiv’s previous estimate of $5bn in monthly needs, and Zelenskyy told the leaders of the IMF and World Bank via video link, the “Russian military are aimed at destroying all objects in Ukraine that can serve as an economic base for life. That includes railroad stations, food warehouses, oil, refineries.”

US understands Ukrainian forces still holding ground in Mariupol

The United States understands that Ukrainian forces still hold ground in Mariupol and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim to have liberated the city is disinformation, the US Department of State has said.

“We understand that Ukraine’s forces continue to hold their ground and there is every reason to believe that President Putin and his defense minister’s show for the media that we saw in recent hours is even yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook,” Department of State spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing.

Zelenskyy urges world to send more heavy weapons

Zelenskyy has said his war-ravaged country needed more heavy weapons to defend itself from Russia’s invasion that threatened its very survival, and asked Western nations to impose further sanctions.

Speaking in a video address to the Portuguese parliament, he accused the Russian army of committing many atrocities in Ukraine, including in the port city of Mariupol, and asked Portugal to support a global embargo on Russian oil.

Yellen says committed to working through G20 despite walkout over Ukraine war

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday that she was committed to working through the Group of 20 major economies to address difficulties brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite a walkout by her and several other Western officials from a G20 finance meeting as Russian officials spoke.

“I think we were looking for a way to make our disapproval known while still recognising we have a lot of work to accomplish,” Yellen told a news conference.

Yellen urges hold-out nations to condemn Russia, abide by sanctions

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged countries that have not yet condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to do so and to avoid violating sanctions imposed on Russia.

Speaking at a news conference during the IMF and World Bank spring meetings, Yellen also said the United States will give Ukraine another $500m in direct aid to continue critical government operations and avoid a worsening of the humanitarian crisis.

Western official says Russia can still win in Ukraine despite setbacks

Russian President Vladimir Putin could still win in Ukraine despite failing in his pre-war objectives, Western officials have said, adding that Russia had addressed some of the issues that had hindered it earlier on in the invasion.

“Putin has clearly failed in meeting his initial pre-war objectives, but is still in a position to win,” one official said, on condition of anonymity.

Satellite images show mass grave near Mariupol, Maxar says

Satellite imagery from near the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol shows a mass grave site that has expanded in recent weeks to contain more than 200 new graves, a private US company has said.

Maxar Technologies said a review of images from mid-March through mid-April indicates the expansion began between March 23-26. The site lies adjacent to an existing cemetery in the village of Manhush, 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Mariupol, Maxar said.

A satellite image shows an overview of the cemetery and the expansion of the new graves in Manhush, near Mariupol, Ukraine [Maxar images via Reuters]

Russia sanctions 61 Canadian officials, journalists, military experts

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced sanctions against 61 Canadian officials, journalists and military experts for supporting what it called the “Russophobic” stance of the Canadian administration.

The list includes Special Operations Forces Commander Major-General Steve Boivin, Central Bank Governor Tiff Macklem as well as John Tory and Jim Watson, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa.

The ministry said the 61 individuals were barred from entering Russia indefinitely.

Russia slaps travel ban on Kamala Harris, Zuckerberg, other prominent Americans

Russia has imposed a travel ban on US Vice President Kamala Harris, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and 27 other prominent Americans.

The Russian foreign ministry said the travel ban, which also includes top Pentagon officials, US business leaders and journalists, would remain in effect “in perpetuity”.

US rapidly developed ‘Ghost’ drones for Ukraine, Pentagon says

So-called “Ghost” drones that are part of a new $800m US arms package for Ukraine were rapidly developed by the US Air Force for Kyiv and have similar capabilities as armed “Switchblade” drones, the Pentagon has said.

“This was rapidly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

Biden says ‘questionable’ if Russia controls Mariupol

US President Joe Biden has said it was unclear if Russia had taken control of Mariupol after President Vladimir Putin claimed the “liberation” of the flattened Ukrainian city.

“It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “He should allow humanitarian corridors to let people … get out.

“There is no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”

Biden announces new $800m military package for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has announced a new package of $800m in military aid for Ukraine, saying it would help Kyiv’s forces in the fight against Russian forces in the Donbas region.

“This package includes heavy artillery weapons, dozens of howitzers, and 144,000 rounds of ammunition to go with those howitzers. It also includes more tactical drones,” Biden said.

Russia is failing in Ukraine, top US official says

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has said that Russia was not achieving its goals in its invasion of Ukraine and that Western sanctions were partly the reason for that.

“What we are aiming for here is a strategic failure for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. And I believe that is already happening, that no matter what happens … Ukraine is going to survive,” Sherman told a Friends of Europe think-tank event in Brussels.

She also said whatever the European Union decides on whether to impose oil and gas sanctions on Russia, the United States would aim to avoid higher prices that would help Russia’s finances.

US to give Ukraine another $500m to keep government running

The United States will provide Ukraine with further direct aid of $500m to help its government continue critical government operations, on top of $500m announced by President Joe Biden in March, a US Treasury official has said.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will make the announcement during a meeting on Thursday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko, the Treasury official said. US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo also will attend the meeting.

The new aid will help Ukraine pay government salaries, pensions and fund other programmes necessary to avoid a worsening of the humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion.

New UK trade sanctions hit caviar and diamonds from Russia

The United Kingdom set out further trade sanctions against Russia by expanding the list of products facing import bans and increasing tariffs, the government has said.

The latest sanctions will include import bans on silver, wood products and high-end goods from Russia including caviar, the UK’s department for international trade said.

They added that tariffs will increase by 35 percentage points on some products from Russia and Belarus, including diamonds and rubber.

INTERACTIVE - Sanctions on Russia SWIFT payment network

Ukrainian prime minister visits White House

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited the White House before President Joe Biden was due to deliver remarks on the next tranche of US aid for Ukraine, a US official has said.

It was not clear if the Ukrainian prime minister was meeting with Biden or whether he would be present at the upcoming announcement.

In pictures: Ukrainian man killed while out to buy bread in Kharkiv

Victor Gubarev, 79, stepped out to buy bread when he was killed by a fragment from a shell that landed in front of his apartment block in Kharkiv on Monday.

It was minutes before his daughter arrived to find an ambulance crew standing over his body.

Click here to read more.

Yana Bachek is consoled by her partner Yevgeniy Vlasenko
Yana Bachek is consoled by her partner Yevgeniy Vlasenko as medical workers retrieve the body of her father [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Ukraine says ‘urgent’ evacuation needed from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant

Kyiv is calling for a humanitarian corridor to be opened immediately to allow civilians and wounded fighters to be evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

“Hundreds of civilians, children, injured Ukrainian defenders are trapped in the plant’s shelters. They have almost no food, water, essential medicine. An urgent humanitarian corridor is needed from the Azovstal plant with guarantees people will be safe,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement on social media.

A further 51,000 Ukrainians flee war: UN

A total of 5,085,360 Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded on February 24, the UN refugee agency has said.

The figure marks an increase of 50,921 from Wednesday’s data. Women and children account for 90 percent of those who fled abroad, with men aged 18 to 60 eligible for military call-up unable to leave.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said an additional 218,000 citizens of third countries, largely students and migrant workers, have also escaped to neighbouring countries.

An estimated 7.1 million people are displaced within Ukraine.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine war Refugees DAY 57 April 21 6GMT
(Al Jazeera)

Russian tanker impounded by Greece will be released

A Russian tanker impounded by Greek authorities off the island of Evia this week will be released, the coast guard has said.

The 115,500-deadweight-tonnage Russian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was impounded near Karystos, on the southern coast of Evia, as part of EU sanctions.

“The coast guard has been ordered by the anti-money laundering authority to release the vessel,” a government official said, without providing further details.

German foreign minister fends off criticism on army delivery to Ukraine

Germany is examining what extra maintenance and ammunition its stock of ageing Marder armoured infantry fighting vehicles will need to be rendered fit for deployment by the Ukrainian military, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has said.

On the second day of a tour of the Baltic states, Baerbock addressed the growing chorus of criticism of Germany’s apparent foot-dragging on delivering the weaponry Kyiv says it needs to fend off Russian attacks.

“There are no taboos for us with regard to armoured vehicles and other weaponry that Ukraine needs,” she said.

Berlin’s priority was to ensure Ukraine quickly got older Soviet-designed kits that its military could use without extra training, she said, adding that it would backfill the stocks of allied countries that had such weaponry to spare, replacing it with more modern German-made equipment.

Russia closes Baltic consulates, expels employees

Russia has ordered the closure of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian consulates and asked their employees to leave in a retaliatory move.

In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry said it was closing the Latvian consulates in St Petersburg and Pskov, the Estonian consulate in St Petersburg and its office in Pskov, and the Lithuanian consulate in St Petersburg.

Earlier in April, Latvia and Estonia each ordered the closure of two Russian consulates over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, while Lithuania told the Russian ambassador to leave.

S. African leader speaks to Zelenskyy, calls for negotiated end to conflict

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for a negotiated end to the conflict with Russia in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“We agree on the need for a negotiated end to the conflict which has impacted Ukraine’s place in global supply chains, including its position as a major exporter of food to our continent,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ramaphosa has resisted calls to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and last month blamed military alliance NATO for not heeding warnings about its eastward expansion.

Zelenskyy wrote on the social media platform that he told Ramaphosa about Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression and discussed the threat of a global food crisis.

Danish premier pledges more weapons as she and Spanish PM visit Kyiv

Denmark’s prime minister has pledged to send more weapons to Ukraine during a trip to Kyiv with her Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez.

Mette Frederiksen also visited the badly damaged town of Borodyanka, which has been retaken after Russian troops pulled back from the region around Kyiv.

“We intend to deliver more weapons to Ukraine because that is what is most needed,” Frederiksen told the Danish channel TV2 as she walked around the town surrounded by armed soldiers.

Ukraine president’s adviser says Russia realised it could not take Mariupol’s Azovstal

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said Russia decided to blockade the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol because it could not take it by force.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there. Our defenders continue to hold it,” Arestovych said at a briefing.

It “can also be explained by the fact that they have moved part of their forces [from Mariupol] to the north in order to reinforce the troops attempting to fulfil their main objective … advancing to the administrative boundaries of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”.

Danish, Spanish PMs to meet Zelenskyy in Kyiv

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez have arrived in Ukraine’s capital to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The two centre-left leaders will discuss the current situation in the war-torn country and their support for the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations in connection with the Russian invasion.

According to the Europa Press news agency, Sanchez is also expected to officially reopen the Spanish embassy in Kyiv.

Italy should cut off Russian gas ‘soon’: Minister

Italy is obliged to stop buying Russian gas “soon for ethical reasons”, as the payments are funding the Ukraine war, the country’s ecological transition minister Roberto Cingolani said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper.

The minister is currently on a two-day trip to Angola and the Republic of Congo seeking energy deals to reduce Italy’s dependency on Russia, which provides about 45 percent of its gas.

Kyiv police find mass graves with civilians

The Kyiv regional police has said two mass graves with nine bodies were found on Wednesday in the city of Borodyanka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital.

The head of the Kyiv regional police, Andriy Nebytov, said two women and a teenager were among the “civilians killed by the Russian occupants”.

“I want to stress that these people are civilians. The Russian military deliberately shot civilians that didn’t put up any resistance and didn’t pose any threat,” Nebytov said, adding that some of the victims were apparently tortured.

All of the bodies were transported to the morgues of the Kyiv region for further forensic study.

Russian shelling in Donetsk kills two: Ministry

Two civilians have been killed and eight have been wounded, including one child, in the southeastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, the interior ministry has said.

Russian forces shelled eight towns throughout Donetsk amid Moscow’s renewed offensive, the ministry wrote on Telegram.

It added Russians used cruise missiles, Grad multiple-launcher systems, heavy artillery and tanks.

Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol says it destroyed Russian armed vehicles

Ukrainian fighters say they have destroyed three Russian tanks and three more armed vehicles in Mariupol, which Moscow claims to have “liberated”.

Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion said in a brief report on Telegram that the vehicles were destroyed “despite the ongoing situation”.

Hundreds of Azov fighters have been holed up in the sprawling underground labyrinth and Soviet-era bomb shelters below the giant Azovstal steel plant.

Five wounded in shelling in Kharkiv: Official

Russian forces have shelled the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv more than 15 times overnight, wounding at least five civilians, a defence official has said.

The shelling intensified after several calmer days and targeted residential areas in Kharkiv’s north and centre, Oleh Synehubov wrote on Facebook.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been under heavy attack since late February.

Two dozen Syrian and Libyan ‘mercenaries’ killed in Ukraine: Official

Syrian and Libyan mercenaries were killed in southeastern Ukraine, a top security official reportedly has said.

A military unit was “completely destroyed” in the town of Popasna in the southeastern Luhansk region, Ukraine’s national security council secretary Oleksiy Danylov told the NV online magazine.

The detachment “was small – about 20-25 people”, he was quoted as saying.

He estimated that between 300 and 500 Syrians and Libyans hired by Russia could be fighting in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow is concentrating its offensive.

Some civilians leave as Russians tighten noose on Mariupol

Four buses carrying civilians have managed to leave Mariupol after several unsuccessful attempts, Ukrainian officials have said, as thousands more remain trapped under relentless Russian attacks.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said another attempt to evacuate civilians would be made on Thursday.

Putin hails ‘liberation’ of Mariupol, tells forces not to storm steel plant

President Vladimir Putin has hailed Russia’s “liberation” of Mariupol after Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told him Moscow controlled the Ukrainian port city apart from the Azovstal steel plant.

He ordered his forces not to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged city but to block it instead.

“Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,” Putin said in a televised meeting, adding it would be “impractical” to storm the huge industrial area, where more than 2,000 Ukrainian servicemen remain according to Shoigu.

Russia plans to ‘forcibly mobilise Kherson locals for war’: Military

The Ukrainian military says Russian forces in the Kherson region plan to forcibly mobilise locals for war with Ukraine.

“The population is terrorised,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Facebook. It added that Russia also aims to “completely stop humanitarian support” coming into the region.

The military said Ukrainian forces have repulsed nine Russian attacks in the territory of Luhansk and Donetsk during the past day. They also destroyed one Russian tank, 10 armoured personnel vehicles, one artillery system, two units of special engineering equipment, an anti-aircraft missile system and an ammunition depot.

Many Americans think Biden’s Ukraine response not ‘tough enough’

A majority of Americans think their president has not been “tough enough” in his response to the Ukraine war, although few want US troops to get involved in the conflict, according to The Associated Press.

A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 54 percent of those surveyed think Biden has been “not tough enough”, 36 percent think his approach has been about right, while 8 percent say he has been too tough.

Only 32 percent of Americans say the US should have a major role in the conflict, which has fallen from 40 percent last month but remains slightly higher than the 26 percent who said so in February.

Russian troops advance on Kramatorsk amid ‘high levels’ of air attacks: UK

The British Ministry of Defence says Russian forces are advancing from staging areas in the Donbas towards Kramatorsk “which continues to suffer from persistent rocket attacks”.

In its latest update, the ministry said “high levels of Russian air activity” continue in eastern Ukraine amid Moscow’s bid to capture the region and that Russia may intensify attacks on Donbas as it “likely” wants to demonstrate successes in Ukraine ahead of its Victory Day celebrations on May 9.

Russia’s annual Victory Day marks the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Officials in Ukraine and the West see May 9 as a date by which Putin could target progress in the war.

Ukraine says Russia planning to use Kherson villagers as human shields

The Ukrainian military says Russian forces in the Kherson region have been prohibiting residents of the Zolotaya Balka village from trying to evacuate and are intending to use them as human shields.

“Representatives of the Russian occupation troops held a meeting with the local population where they announced that there would be no more ‘green corridors’, people were forbidden to leave the village,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Facebook.

The villagers were told that if Ukrainian forces started firing on Russia’s army units in the village, Russia’s forces would shell the settlement, the military added.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify these claims.

Procter & Gamble may leave Russia

Household goods maker Procter & Gamble Co said in a securities filing on Wednesday that it may not be able to stay in business in Russia, citing the war’s impact on its customers, suppliers and distributors as a factor in its decision.

P&G has roughly 2,500 employees in Russia, with business in the country representing  2 percent of its net sales and global profit. The company also said its two factories in Ukraine could be destroyed.

There are roughly 500 P&G employees in Ukraine.

Biden to speak on Russian invasion

US President Joe Biden will deliver an update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday as he works to complete a new arms package for its military.

Biden will make the address from the White House Roosevelt Room at 9:45am (13:45 GMT). A source familiar with the planning told Reuters that the US president is “expected to provide an update on our efforts to support Ukraine and the assistance we are providing”.

The new military package is likely to be roughly the same size as an $800m one announced last week but details were still being worked out, another US official told the news agency.

Ukraine lobbying for its pipeline to carry Russian gas to Europe

Ukraine is working to convince Germany and other Western allies to shift Russia’s shipments of natural gas from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Ukraine’s pipeline, energy officials have told Reuters.

Germany has already halted approvals for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas project, which finished construction last year and was designed to double its gas shipments, as punishment for Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

Representatives from Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator and gas firm Naftogaz told officials in the US capital that the plan, which would force Russia to move more of its Europe-bound gas through Ukraine, would make Moscow pay more transit fees, which could help Ukraine’s wartime defence and deter Russia from damaging Ukraine’s pipelines.

Pipes at landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline are in Lubmin, northern Germany. Feb. 15, 2022.
Pipes at facilities of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are in Lubmin, Germany [File: Michael Sohn/AP]

Holocaust survivor dies ‘pleading for water’ in Mariupol basement

A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova, has died in a basement in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol.

Jewish organisation reported that her daughter shared the news after arriving with the rest of her family at a safe location, saying she died on April 4, pleading for water in a freezing basement.

Obiedkova was 10 years old when the Nazis occupied Mariupol and killed thousands of Jews in a single day, including her mother. She survived in a basement then, and died in a basement in the same city 81 years later.

G7 promises Ukraine $24bn in aid

G7 finance ministers have said they have provided and pledged, together with the international community, additional support to Ukraine exceeding $24bn for 2022 and beyond, adding that they were prepared to do more as needed.

In a statement, the ministers said they regretted Russia’s participation in international forums, including G20, International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this week.

“International organisations and multilateral fora should no longer conduct their activities with Russia in a business-as-usual manner,” the ministers said.

Xi repeats China’s opposition to ‘unilateral sanctions’

Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated China’s opposition to unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction”.

In a video speech to the annual Boao Forum for Asia gathering on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, Xi proposed a “global security initiative” which would, among other things, “reject Cold War mentality, oppose unilateralism, and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation”.

China has repeatedly criticised Western sanctions, including those against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, but has been careful not to provide assistance to Moscow that could lead to sanctions being imposed on Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivering keynote speech at opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia via video link, at a media centre in Boao, Hainan province.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivering the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia via video link, at a media centre in Boao, Hainan province. China April 21, 2022 [Kevin Yao/Reuters]

Russia will end war when NATO stops controlling Ukraine: Diplomat

A senior Moscow diplomat has said the war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, will end when NATO countries stop threatening Russia by using Ukraine for their own purposes.

“The special military operation will end when its tasks are completed. These include the protection of the civilian population of Donbas, the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, as well as the elimination of threats to Russia emanating from Ukrainian territory due to its being captured by NATO countries,” Alexey Polishchuk, director of the Second Department for CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Affairs of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told state news agency TASS.

Russia says Ukraine ‘cynically disrupted’ Azovstal evacuation

Russia has blamed Ukraine for disrupting the evacuation of civilians trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, state newspaper Izvestia has reported.

Ukraine said the evacuation did not go ahead due to Russian forces not observing the ceasefire. About 1,000 civilians are trapped in the steel plant with Ukrainian fighters who have not met several of Russia’s deadlines for them to surrender.

The head of the National Defence Control Centre, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, told Izvestia the Russian military had opened a humanitarian corridor for civilians to exit the plant on April 20 at 2pm local time (11:00 GMT). “In addition, the Ukrainian military and foreign mercenaries were asked to lay down their arms and voluntarily surrender to the Russian side,” he said.

“We are forced to state that the declared humanitarian operation by the Kyiv authorities was cynically disrupted, no one used the indicated corridor,” Mizintsev told the paper.

‘Liberated’ cities returning to life, Zelenskyy says

While the war in eastern Ukraine escalates, Zelenskyy has said 934 Ukrainian settlements had been liberated and were returning to normal life.

He said police had resumed work in 435 settlements, local government started working in 431 communities, and humanitarian headquarters were launched in 361 localities.

“We are gradually restoring people’s access to medical and educational services, to social protection bodies. We are restoring road infrastructure, electricity, gas and water supply,” he said.

But he added mines and shells that hadn’t exploded were still a threat and urged citizens to be careful and not enter territory that had not yet been inspected.

A woman pets her cat as she sits on a bed in a restaurant that was transformed into a shelter for those fleeing the war in Dnipro, Ukraine.
Alexandra Kusminova pets her cat, Mouse, as she sits on a bed in a restaurant transformed into a shelter for those fleeing the war from the eastern region of the country, in Dnipro, April 20 [Leo Correa/AP]

‘Extraordinary situation’ as G20 members walk out on Russia

Top officials from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada walked out on Russia’s representatives at a Group of 20 meeting on Wednesday, and many members spoke to condemn Moscow’s war in Ukraine, the Reuters news agency has reported.

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who chaired the daylong meeting of G20 finance officials in Washington, DC, said this was an “extraordinary situation” adding it had not been “business as usual”.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told attendees she strongly disapproved of a senior Russian official’s presence at the meeting before she walked out, two sources told Reuters. She was joined by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.

Russia now controls 80 percent of Luhansk: Governor

The Luhansk governor has said Russian forces now control 80 percent of the region – one of the two regions that make up the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

One of Russia’s stated goals is to expand the territory in the Donbas under the control of Moscow-backed separatists. Before Russia invaded on  February 24, Kyiv controlled 60 percent of the Luhansk region.

Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, who renewed their offensive this week in eastern and southern Ukraine, have strengthened their attacks in Luhansk.

After seizing the town of Kreminna, Haidai said Russians now are threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna, and he has urged all residents to evacuate immediately.

Experts release white paper on further Russia sanctions

A group of international experts, in collaboration with Ukraine, have today released a white paper outlining advice on how governments and companies can strengthen sanctions against Russia.

A statement from the group – led by Ukraine’s Head of the Presidential Administration Andriy Yermak and former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul – says it is “united in believing that sanctions … should be expanded as quickly as possible until Putin withdraws Russian armed forces from Ukraine”.

The plan advises Russia and Belarus to be recognised as state sponsors of terrorism and Russia’s armed forces as a terrorist organisation.

Other recommendations include banning import and export flows of Russian crude oil, oil products, gas, and coal “to and from the democratic world, while minimising the leakage through secondary sanctions”. The group also suggests that the European Union immediately commit to ending all trade with Russia and Belarus in petroleum products.

Biden lauds commanders for ‘exceptional’ work arming Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has lauded American army officials for their “exceptional” work arming Ukraine, as he gathered the country’s top military leaders for an in-person meeting at the White House.

Biden also praised Ukrainian forces for their resistance to Russia’s invasion.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Ukraine a number of times before the war … and I knew they were tough and proud but I tell you what: They’re tougher and more proud than I thought,” he told the US military commanders. “I’m amazed at what they’re doing with your help.”

Zelenskyy says Russians being ‘maximally cruel’

Ukraine’s president says Russia’s full attack on Ukraine’s east and south is as cruel as it could be to produce even a small victory.

“The situation in the country’s east and south remains maximally cruel,” the Ukrainian leader said, adding that the battles for Mariupol, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and other cities “will decide the fate of our people and the fate of our freedom”.

Chechen chief says Russia forces will soon control Mariupol steel plant

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, has said Russian forces would be in complete control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Thursday.

“Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,” he said in an audio message posted online.

Chechen forces have been fighting in Ukraine as part of Russia’s military operation.

Cyprus to revoke more Russians’ citizenship

Cyprus is moving to strip citizenship from four more Russians who appear on the European Union’s updated list of sanctions.

Deputy Government Spokeswoman Niovi Parisinou said the decision brings to eight the number of Russians whose Cypriot citizenship will be revoked. They are among 1,091 people sanctioned by the EU.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine to receive more weapons soon

Zelenskyy has said the situation in Ukraine’s east and south remains difficult with Russian troops pushing their attacks.

“The occupiers aren’t abandoning their attempts to score at least some victory by launching a new, large-scale offensive,” he said in a video address to the nation.

He added that Ukraine’s Western allies have “come to understand our needs better”, so they’re receiving new shipments of Western weapons “now, when Russia is trying to step up its attacks, not in weeks or in a month”.

Zelenskyy says the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine remains difficult [Efrem Lukatsky/AP]

Negotiating with Putin like dealing with a crocodile: UK’s Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris has compared negotiating with Putin to dealing with a crocodile as he warned Ukraine it will be hard to negotiate a peace deal with a leader who is so unreliable.

“How can you negotiate with a crocodile when it has your leg in its jaws, that is the difficulty that Ukrainians face,” Johnson told reporters on a plane to India for a two-day visit.

“It is very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin now given his manifest lack of good faith.”

France’s Macron says Le Pen’s interests tied to Russian leadership

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s interests are tied to Russia’s leadership, President Emmanuel Macron has said in a television debate with his far-right challenger.

“None of us went to seek financing from a Russian bank, and especially not from one that is close to power in Russia,” said Macron, who will face off against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24.

He said other French parties had managed to finance their operations with French loans, not through a bank connected to Russia.

US legislators urge Facebook to do more to fight Russian propaganda

A group of 21 US legislators have sent a letter to Facebook’s parent company Meta and its Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, voicing concern about what they called disinformation on the platform aimed at Spanish speakers about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Facebook has continuously failed to show it is adequately addressing this problem for Spanish-speaking communities, and the success of Russian sponsored outlets in crowding out the information ecosystem for Spanish speakers serves as proof to this fact,” the lawmakers wrote.

“The viral spread of these narratives stands in stark contrast to assurances that Meta made to the public and Members of Congress that it is prioritizing the pressing needs of Hispanic communities in the United States.”

US hits Russian bank, oligarch with new sanctions

The US has imposed new sanctions on a Russian commercial bank, an oligarch and dozens of individuals and entities.

The Treasury Department’s targets also include Russia-based units of virtual currency mining firm Bitriver.

The US “can and will target those who evade, attempt to evade, or aid the evasion of US sanctions against Russia, as they are helping support Putin’s brutal war of choice”, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E Nelson said in a statement.

Ukraine ready to hold ‘special’ talks with Russia in Mariupol: Negotiator

Ukraine is ready to hold a “special round of negotiations” with Russia in the besieged city of Mariupol without any conditions, negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak has tweeted.

He said the talks could be “one on one. Two on two. To save our guys, [the far right] Azov [battalion], military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded”.

Another key Ukrainian negotiator, David Arakhamia, said on Telegram that he and Podolyak “are ready to arrive in Mariupol to hold talks with the Russian side on the evacuation of our military garrison and civilians”.

There was no immediate response from Russia to the proposal.

Russian armed forces will start taking deliveries of new missile: Report

Russia will start taking delivery of the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile this year once testing is complete, the Russian state TASS news agency has quoted the head of the Roscosmos space agency as saying.

Dmitry Rogozin said deliveries would start “in the autumn of this year”, it reported.

Russia said on Wednesday that it had conducted a first test launch of the missile.

US will be sending more weapons to Ukraine: White House

The US military will be delivering additional military equipment to Ukraine in the coming days, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said.

Five US cargo flights arrived in the region in the last few days and more than half a dozen are scheduled shortly, Psaki told reporters during a media briefing.

“We have been working with Ukrainians and the Ukrainian military to determine exactly the kind of security assistance they need for this stage in the war,” Psaki said. “That has included an increase – as you’ve seen – in artillery and ammunition.”

The Biden administration will be announcing more weapons transfers soon, she added, without providing more details.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Wednesday, April 20 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies