By The Associated Press
The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. Army Patriot air defense batteries have been shifted from Germany to Poland as a precautionary defensive move.
It said the decision was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in consultation with the Polish government, which asked for the Patriots.
TIRANA, Albania — The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, or SOCEUR, opened its forward-based headquarters in Albania on Wednesday, aiming at enhancing regional stability, its head Maj. Gen. David Tabor said.
A 12- to 15-member Task Force Balkans group will be based in Tirana to coordinate joint and combined exchange training and civil military support element engagements, Tabor said. Tabor said Albania’s central location in the Balkans was behind the decision to open the command there, he said.
It will be the first-ever U.S. permanent military presence in Albania, said U.S. Ambassador in Tirana Yuri Kim.
Albanian senior officials said that opening such a U.S. military office is more important now.
The opening of the command in Tirana “came at the proper moment, at the culmination of the insecurity due to the gloomy situation in the continent after Russian aggression,” said Defense Minister Niko Peleshi.
PRAGUE — The Czech government has agreed to give refugees from Ukraine free access to the labor market without any work permit.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurecka said Wednesday that the refugees will be in a position “of any other citizen” if they want to get a job.
The refugees will only need to get a visa for their stay in the Czech Republic to work. Assistance centers in all regions of the Czech Republic are working around the clock to provide all necessary documents and other initial help, including housing, to the refugees.
It’s estimated some 150,000 people have arrived in the country that doesn’t border Ukraine invaded by the Russian troops.
Jurecka said there are some 350,000 jobs currently available in the Czech Republic.
The government also approved a plan to give all the refugees a financial contribution of $215 on arrival. They would be able to receive it monthly six times if needed.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus said the first 165-ton batch of humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine has been shipped to Poland via the Greek port city of Thesaloniki.
The foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the shipment will reach a European Union logistics hub set up in conjunction with Polish authorities.
The aid — collected mainly from individual donations — includes 88 tons of foodstuffs, sleeping bags, tents blankets and portable toilets, 5,000 pairs of shoes, bottled water, an electricity generator, personal hygiene kits and 14 tons of medical supplies.
The aid is a “tangible demonstration of the solidarity of Cyprus to the Ukrainian people,” the ministry said. Freight costs were covered by the ministry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Ukrainian “nationalists” for hampering the evacuation of civilians from besieged Ukrainian cities.
The Kremlin said that Putin discussed the situation in Ukraine in Wednesday’s phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with a “special emphasis given to the humanitarian aspects.” It said that Putin told Scholz about Russian “efforts to organize humanitarian corridors for civilians to exit areas of fighting and attempts by militants from nationalist units to hamper safe evacuation of people.”
Ukrainian officials said that the continuous Russian shelling has derailed efforts to evacuate civilians from areas affected by fighting.
LONDON — British American Tobacco said it has suspended all planned capital investment in Russia but continues to operate there, even as many other Western brands announce they’re halting all business in the country because of the Ukraine invasion.
The company, one of the so-called Big Four tobacco producers, said Wednesday that it has a “duty of care” to all its 2,500 employees in Russia. BAT said it’s focusing on its locally produced tobacco products in Russia, where it has substantial manufacturing and has been operating since 1991.
“Furthermore, we are scaling our business activities appropriate to the current situation, including rationalising our marketing activities,” the company said, adding it’s complying with all international sanctions related to the conflict.
The company said it is “deeply concerned about the conflict in Ukraine,” where it employs 1,000 people and has suspended all business and manufacturing.
In contrast, another major tobacco producer, Imperial Brands, said earlier Wednesday it would halt all operations in Russia, including production at its factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity.
Separately, S&P Global Ratings said it has suspended commercial operations in Russia. The credit rating agency said it would maintain analytical coverage from outside Russia.
LYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say a Russian strike has hit a children’s hospital and maternity facility in the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol.
A statement on the city council’s social media account on Wednesday said the hospital suffered “colossal” damage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that there were “people, children under the wreckage.” He called the strike an “atrocity.”
The deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities are trying to establish the number of people who may have been killed or wounded.
GENEVA — The international Red Cross says civilians caught up in places affected by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces should have “broader relocation alternatives” for evacuation – including to other parts of Ukraine – beyond the Russian government’s offer to take them into Russian territory.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which in particular is trying to arrange evacuations of civilians from the hard-hit port city of Mariupol, made the comments Wednesday after Russia offered in recent days to allow safe-passage corridors for Ukrainian civilians across the Russian border. Ukrainian authorities have rejected that idea.
ICRC has said authorities on both sides need to agree on any evacuation plan, and evacuations should be voluntary for the civilians concerned.
Some civilians might refuse evacuation “if the only escape route available to them implies resettling in the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus,” said ICRC spokesman Jason Straziuso in an email, referring to Russian ally Belarus. “In the view of the ICRC, civilians affected by the hostilities should be given broader relocation alternatives, including within Ukraine itself.”
NEW YORK — Russia has admitted that conscript soldiers have been sent into Ukraine and that some have been captured by Ukrainian troops.
The admission comes after President Vladimir Putin vowed that conscripts would not be deployed and that Russian forces would rely on professional troops.
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that “unfortunately there have been detected several instances of the presence of conscript-service military personnel” with units in Ukraine but that “almost all” of them had been recalled to Russia.
He added that some conscripts were taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces while serving in a logistics unit and efforts are under way to free them. Konashenkov didn’t specify how many conscripts had served in Ukraine or how many were captured.
LONDON — Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain has urged the government to suspend visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the war, after the U.K. acknowledged fewer than 1,000 visas have been handed out so far.
Vadym Prystaiko told lawmakers that “if you can vote for some temporary releasing of us from these rules, to allow people to get here, we will take care of (them).”
Britain’s Conservative government says it is prepared to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine. But as of Wednesday the number of visas issued was just below 1,000.
European Union nations are allowing Ukrainians to live and work for up to three years without having to go through a formal asylum-seeking process. The U.K., which left the bloc last year, isn’t waiving the paperwork, saying applicants must submit biometric data for security reasons.
Ukrainians arriving at the English Channel port of Calais have been told to apply at British missions in Paris or Brussels, while others say they are waiting days for appointments at U.K. embassies in eastern Europe.
The British government says it is setting up a new visa center in Lille, northwest France, that will start work on Thursday.
ROME — Italy will let refugees arriving from Ukraine who have applied for a residency permit to work, either for employers or in self-employment, including seasonal work.
The existing quotas for foreign workers based on nationalities will be lifted for the Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland, Premier Mario Draghi told lawmakers.
As of Wednesday, nearly 24,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war had arrived in Italy, mainly through the Italian border with Slovenia. Of those, 9,700 are minors.
All the refugees will be required to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they aren’t already or take a swab test every 48 hours. In Italy, those 5 years and older can be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In terms of integration measures, children will be able to attend Italian schools. Draghi cautioned Italians to keep in mind that measures for the refugees will be needed not for days or months but “perhaps for far longer.”
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has documented 18 attacks on health facilities, workers and ambulances since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. health agency has delivered 81 metric tons of supplies to Ukraine and is now establishing a pipeline to send further equipment. To date, Tedros said WHO had sent enough surgical supplies to treat 150 trauma patients and other supplies for a range of health conditions to treat 45,000 people.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, acknowledged that sending medical supplies to Ukraine was unlikely to make a big difference.
“This is putting bandages on mortal wounds right now,” he said.
WHO chief Tedros said some of the main health challenges officials were facing in Ukraine were hypothermia and frostbite, respiratory disease, heart disease, cancer and mental health issues. He added that WHO staffers have been sent to countries neighbouring Ukraine to provide mental health support to fleeing refugees, mostly women and children.
LONDON — The European Union is working on sending communications equipment to Ukraine after the country asked Brussels for help to keep telecom networks running.
The EU “received a request from our Ukrainian friends and we’re in the process of coordinating on that,” French digital minister Cedric O said Wednesday.
The minister said EU officials discussed aid in the form of electronic and computer equipment that they could offer Ukraine to ensure the country’s telecom and administrative networks “continue as normally possible.”
He did not go into details but said it was all civilian equipment “necessary to keep an administration up and running.”
As the Russian offensive grinds on, Ukraine’s ability to maintain telecommunications in some areas is in question as cellphone networks went down in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is indicating that he doesn’t favor supplying old MiG fighter jets to Ukraine.
Poland late Tuesday offered to give the U.S. 28 MiG-29 fighter planes for Ukraine’s use. U.S. officials said the proposal was “untenable,” but they would continue to consult with Poland and other NATO allies.
Scholz was asked Wednesday whether Germany would be prepared to allow such a delivery, and whether he feared being drawn into the conflict by a jet delivery via the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany — which Poland had proposed.
Scholz noted that Germany has given Ukraine financial and humanitarian aid, as well as some weapons. He added: “otherwise, we must consider very carefully what we do in concrete terms, and that most certainly doesn’t include fighter planes.”
LONDON — Britain’s defense minister says Russia’s military assault on Ukraine will get “more brutal and more indiscriminate” as President Vladimir Putin tries to regain momentum against fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told British lawmakers that Russia was seeking to use mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Ukraine, calling that a sign of “desperation.”
The Wagner Group, owned by a confidant of Putin, has been accused by Western governments and U.N. experts of human rights abuses in Africa and involvement in the conflict in Libya.
Wallace said the group was “responsible for all sorts of atrocities in Africa and the Middle East. And the fact that Russia is now trying to encourage them to take part in Ukraine, I think, is a telling sign.”
Western intelligence officials are concerned that Russia plans to use violence to terrorize the population and deter protests in areas of Ukraine under its control. A European official told the AP that Russia was considering “aggressive measures” including “violent crowd control, repressive detention of protest organizers” and even public executions.
BERLIN — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Canada will soon send Ukraine “highly specialized equipment.”
Trudeau said during a visit to Berlin that Zelenskyy also accepted an invitation to address the Canadian Parliament during Wednesday’s conversation. Zelenskyy spoke to the British Parliament on Tuesday.
Trudeau said Canada will be able to start sending “in the coming days” equipment including cameras used in drones. He acknowledged that “there are challenges at the borders in terms of getting equipment securely across and into Ukrainian hands, but we are working through that.”
ROME — Luxury Italian car maker Ferrari says it has decided to suspend production of vehicles for the Russian market for now.
Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna said the company “stands alongside everyone in Ukraine affected by this ongoing humanitarian crisis.” He said “we cannot remain indifferent to the suffering,” adding that Ferrari is “playing our small part alongside the institutions that are bringing immediate relief to this situation.”
The company is donating 1 million euros to support Ukrainians in need.
BERLIN — The International Atomic Energy Agency says it sees “no critical impact on safety” from the power cut at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.
The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Ukraine had informed it of the loss of electricity and that the development violates a “key safety pillar on ensuring uninterrupted power supply.” But it tweeted that “in this case IAEA sees no critical impact on safety.”
The IAEA said that there could be “effective heat removal without need for electrical supply” from spent nuclear fuel at the site.
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — City authorities in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are burying their dead in a mass grave.
With the city under steady bombardment, officials had been waiting for a chance to allow individual burials to resume. But with morgues overflowing, and many corpses uncollected at home, they decided they had to take action.
A deep trench some 25 meters long has been opened in one of the city’s old cemeteries in the heart of the city. Social workers brought 30 bodies wrapped in carpets or bags Wednesday, and 40 were brought Tuesday.
The dead include civilian victims of shelling on the city as well as some soldiers. Workers with the municipal social services have also been collecting bodies from homes, including some civilians who died of disease or natural causes.
No mourners were present, no families said their goodbyes.
LONDON — Dutch brewer Heineken, TV company Discovery and the Universal Music Group have joined the corporate exodus from Russia over the Ukraine invasion.
Heineken said Wednesday it will stop the production, advertising and sale of the beer brand in Russia. The company said it stands with the Ukrainian people and called the Russian government’s war “an unprovoked and completely unjustified attack.”
“We will take immediate steps to ring-fence our Russian business from the wider Heineken business to stop the flow of monies, royalties and dividends out of Russia,” said Heinken, which earlier stopped all new investments and exports to Russia.
Discovery said in a brief statement that it decided to “suspend the broadcast of its channels and services in Russia.” The indefinite suspension is set to take effect by the end of Wednesday.
Universal Music Group said late Tuesday that it’s suspending all its operations and closing its offices in Russia, effective immediately.
Earlier Wednesday, Imperial Brands became the first of the so-called Big Four tobacco producers to halt all operations in Russia. It said the move includes halting production at its factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity in the country.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, has been knocked off the power grid. Emergency generators are now supplying backup power.
The state communications agency says the outage could put systems for cooling nuclear material at risk.
The cause of the damage to the power line serving Chernobyl was not immediately clear, but it comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The site has been under control of Russian troops since last week.
Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenerho said that according to the national nuclear regulator, all Chernobyl facilities are without power and the diesel generators have fuel for 48 hours. Without power the “parameters of nuclear and radiation safety” cannot be controlled, it said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the grid supplying electricity is damaged and called for a cease-fire to allow for repairs.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The Slovak government has approved a plan for NATO service members to be deployed in Slovakia. The move is part of NATO plans to strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Slovak Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that up to 2,100 troops could be deployed to help boost his country’s defence capabilities. It will be the first such a long term deployment of NATO troops in the country.
The plan still needs approval from the Parliament where the ruling coalition has a majority.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland has repeated its offer to make its Russian-made fighter jets available to Ukraine, via NATO or just the U.S., Poland’s prime minister said Wednesday. But he added that it’s a “very serious decision” that should be taken by all NATO alliance members because it affects wider security.
Premier Mateusz Morawiecki says the decision on whether to make the MiG-29 planes available to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion is now in the hands of NATO and the U.S.
“We are delivering only defensive weapons and for that reason we have not agreed to singlehandedly deliver the planes, because the decision should be taken by all of NATO,” Morawiecki said in Vienna.
Morawiecki said talks on the subject are continuing.
“This is a very serious decision and just a while ago the Chancellor (Karl Neuhammer) talked about very dramatic scenarios, even worse than those we are dealing with today,” that could unfurl, Morawiecki said.
Ukraine has been calling on the U.S. and Western countries to provide fighter jets. Poland responded on Tuesday by offering to transfer its planes to a U.S. military base in Germany, with the expectation that the planes would then be handed over to Ukrainian pilots. The Pentagon reacted by saying it had not been aware of the plan which it finds “untenable.”