WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the majority of Russian forces that had been around the port city of Mariupol have left and headed north, leaving roughly the equivalent of two battalion tactical groups there, or about 2,000 troops.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that even as Russian airstrikes continue to bombard Mariupol, Moscow’s forces are still making only “plodding” and incremental progress as the main fight presses on in the eastern Donbas region.
He said he has seen no change in Russian behavior or momentum as May 9 draws near.
Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9, the anniversary of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. There have been suggestions that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a major victory in Ukraine when he makes his address during the traditional military parade on Red Square.
Kirby said the U.S. still assesses that Russia is behind schedule and not making the progress in the Donbas that it expected.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— ‘Seemed like goodbye’: Mariupol defenders make their stand
— The AP Interview: Belarus admits Russia’s war ‘drags on’
— US shared intelligence about Moskva cruiser prior to the strike that sank it
— $6.5 billion raised at donors’ conference for Ukraine
— US announces seizure of superyacht owned by Russian oligarch
— Europeans weigh costs of cutting Russian energy over Ukraine
— Easy out from steel mill seen as unlikely for Ukraine troops
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- A cleanup operation took place in the center of Mariupol even as Ukrainian fighters held out against Russian troops in the city’s pulverized steel plant. The rest of the city is now under Russian control.
Municipal workers, as well as volunteers, were seen Thursday clearing debris near gutted, charred buildings, including the drama theater where hundreds died when the Russian military bombed it in March. Some workers hung a Russian flag on a tall utility pole.
One volunteer, who gave only his first name, Denis, said he was helping restore parks and war monuments so the city could celebrate Victory Day on Monday. Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9.
KYIV, Ukraine — In his nightly video address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described a “catastrophic” lack of access to medical services and medicine in areas of the country under Russian occupation.
In those areas, he said almost no treatment was available for those suffering from cancer and where insulin for diabetics was difficult to find or non-existent. He said antibiotics were in short supply.
Zelenskyy also said that during the course of the war, the Russian military has already fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine, while 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies. He said the destroyed or damaged infrastructure includes nearly 400 hospitals and other medical facilities.
WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. President George W. Bush says he spoke Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “the Winston Churchill of our time.”
“I thanked the President for his leadership, his example, and his commitment to liberty, and I saluted the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Bush said in a Twitter post, which included photos of the two men speaking by video link.
“President Zelenskyy assured me that they will not waver in their fight against Putin’s barbarism and thuggery. Americans are inspired by their fortitude and resilience. We will continue to stand with Ukrainians as they stand up for their freedom.”
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says a third operation is underway to evacuate civilians from Mariupol’s besieged steel plant and the city, which is surrounded by Russian forces.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that a third evacuation is taking place and U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said its aim is to evacuate more civilians from Mariupol and the sprawling Azovstal steel plant.
Guterres said 101 civilians were evacuated from the Azovstal plant along with 59 more from a neighboring area in the first operation that ended Tuesday. He said that in the second operation, which was completed Wednesday night, more than 320 civilians were evacuated from the city of Mariupol and surrounding areas.
The secretary-general negotiated the agreement for civilian evacuations from besieged areas including Mariupol with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. Guterres expressed hope that continued cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the two governments “will lead to more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians safe passage from the fighting and aid to reach those in critical need.”
Griffiths told a U.N. pledging conference for Ukraine in Warsaw, Poland, earlier Thursday that a convoy left for Mariupol on Thursday and expects to arrive Friday morning and hopes to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal plant.
KYIV, Ukraine — The regional governor says a missile attack on the city of Kramatorsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region injured 25 people and inflicted wide-ranging damage.
In a Telegram post, Pavlo Kyrylenko says 810 apartments in 32 high-rise buildings sustained damage as the result of an air strike Thursday morning. The post featured photos of multiple buildings reduced to rubble.
Kyrylenko added that six private houses, two schools, a kindergarten and a medical institution were also damaged. He said he had not received reports of any fatalities.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian army says Russian troops made “unsuccessful” attempts to advance in the eastern Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.
A Facebook post published Thursday afternoon on the official profile of the Ukrainian General Staff says the Russians also continue to launch missile strikes on transport facilities in order to prevent the movement of humanitarian cargo and military-technical assistance.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says its air force has destroyed 45 Ukrainian military facilities in the latest series of strikes.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the targets hit Thursday by the Russian air force included Ukrainian troops and weapons concentrations and an ammunition depot in the eastern Luhansk region.
Konashenkov said the Russian missile units hit a Ukrainian artillery battery at its firing positions near the settlement of Zarozhne, a battery of Uragan multiple rocket launchers near Mykolaiv and four other areas of concentration of military personnel and military hardware. He said the Russian artillery hit 152 Ukrainian troops’ strongholds and 38 artillery firing positions.
Konashenkov’s claims could not be independently confirmed.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the nation's foreign minister will soon travel to Ukraine on an official visit after the two countries resolved a diplomatic spat Thursday.
The German government had traded barbs with Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin after Kyiv appeared to snub an offer to visit by Germany’s president.
It was unclear when exactly Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Kyiv, and whether she would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Speaking after a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Scholz also said Germany is working hard to build new infrastructure for energy imports along its northern coast to help replace gas and oil currently delivered from Russia by pipeline. He said Germany is willing to cooperate closely with those countries that don’t have direct access to seaports.
ROME — The United Nations’ food aid agency is appealing for Black Sea ports in Ukraine to be open again to permit shipping of wheat and corn exports, which many poor nations depend on.
The Rome-based World Food Program noted in its appeal Thursday that before the war launched by Russia, 98% of Ukraine’s grain exports had moved through those ports.
It said in a statement that a month after the war began on Feb. 24, export prices for wheat had risen by 22% and maize by 20% — that’s on top of already steep rises in 2021 and earlier this year.
The U.N. agency says the ports, in Ukraine’s south, which has suffered from heavy shelling, must resume operations “to protect Ukrainian agricultural production and enable exports that are critical to Ukraine’s economy and global food security.” It cited war-ravaged, impoverished Yemen, which imports more than half of its wheat from Ukraine or Russia, and which depends on shipping for its food imports.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he accepted an apology from Russian President Vladimir Putin over controversial remarks about the Holocaust made by Moscow’s top diplomat.
There was no mention of an apology in the Russian statement on the call.
An Israeli statement says the two leaders spoke by phone Thursday and also discussed plans to evacuate civilians from a besieged steel plant in the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.
A statement from Bennett’s office says Putin “promised to allow the evacuation of civilians, including wounded civilians, through a U.N. and Red Cross humanitarian corridor.”
Bennett spoke to Putin after a call on Wednesday with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as the Israeli leader appeared to renew his role as a mediator in the conflict.
That role was thrown into doubt earlier this week when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested Ukraine could have Nazi elements even though Zelenskyy is Jewish, and then suggested Adolf Hitler had “Jewish origins.”
Israelis expressed shock and outrage at the remarks, which appeared to blame the Holocaust on Jews themselves, and the government summoned Russia’s ambassador in protest.
ROME — The Italian government is significantly stepping up its funding to help refugees from Ukraine who arrive in Italy.
Premier Mario Draghi told a high-level donors’ conference, being hosted in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday by Poland and Sweden, that Italy has already allocated some 500 million euros ($550 million) to help the refugees, but now it has increased that funding to more than 800 million euros.
As of this week, more than 107,000 people, most of them women or children, have fled the war in Ukraine for Italy. In addition to aid already earmarked for Ukraine’s general budget, Italy also plans to lend the war-ravaged country some 200 million euros more, Draghi said.
In addition, Italy has spent some 26 million euros on humanitarian aid such as tents, ambulances and medicine.
KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged local residents Thursday to leave for the countryside over the upcoming Russian Victory Day weekend. A municipal celebration set to take place from Friday to Sunday has also been canceled.
“I ask, if possible, on May 7, 8 and 9, that ... all residents of Ivano-Frankivsk not gather in the city, on the lake, in the park and in other public places,” Ruslan Martsinkiv said in a video message posted on his Telegram channel.
He claimed to have received reports that Russia is planning to continue carrying out missile strikes in the region.
Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian authorities in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia announced that a curfew will be in force between Sunday evening and Monday morning. Similar long curfews have been put in place in Ukrainian cities near front lines over security concerns.
KYIV, Ukraine — According to Ukrainian news agencies, a Ukrainian government body began Thursday to develop proposals for a comprehensive postwar reconstruction plan.
The Reforms Office, which operates under the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, was cited as saying a working group mechanism was launched Thursday to “analyze the current situation and develop proposals for the plan for the reconstruction and development of Ukraine.” Earlier that day, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the launch of a “national fundraising platform” called United24.
The moves came as an international donors’ conference was closing in Warsaw, Poland. According to remarks made Thursday by the Polish prime minister, $6.5 billion in humanitarian was raised at the event, attended by prime ministers and ambassadors from Europe and beyond.
BERLIN — German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday in an effort to resolve a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
German government officials, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, had expressed annoyance after Ukraine made clear last month it didn’t want Steinmeier to visit because of his past dealings with Russia. Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin, in turn, branded Scholz an “offended liverwurst” for saying the incident was “a problem” in the countries’ relations.
Steinmeier’s office said the two presidents “resolved irritations of the past” during their call. Steinmeier expressed his “solidarity, respect and support for the brave fight by the Ukrainian people against the Russian aggressor,” it said.
It was unclear whether Steinmeier, whose position as head of state is largely ceremonial, would visit Kyiv soon. The President of parliament, Baerbel Bas, who is ranked after Steinmeier but before Scholz according to German political protocol, is expected to visit Ukraine on Sunday.
Separately, Scholz pledged at a Ukraine donors conference Thursday to provide the country with more than 600 million euros in additional humanitarian assistance, loans and development aid.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian officer leading the defense of the last bulwark of the strategic city of Mariupol has urged the global community to pressure Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians and wounded soldiers.
Heavy fighting raged Thursday at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, as Russian forces attempted to finish off the city’s last-ditch defenders and complete the capture of the strategically vital port.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers are holed up in the steel mill’s underground bunkers, many of them wounded. Some civilians are with them, too.
Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, said in a video statement from the steel mill’s bunkers Thursday that the “wounded soldiers are dying in agony due to the lack of proper treatment.”
He urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to help ensure the evacuation of the wounded and civilians still in the bunkers.
Addressing the world community, Palamar denounced the Russians for “refusing to observe any ethical norms and destroying people before the eyes of the world.”
Videos shared online appeared to show the steel mill targeted by intense shelling at dawn Thursday. Data from NASA fire-tracking satellites corresponded to blazes being seen at the plant just after 6 a.m. Thursday.
Russia maintains that its forces are not entering the maze of tunnels at the steel plant, but Palamar said the Russian forces are fighting in the Azovstal mill.
“It’s been the third day that the enemy has broken through to the territory of Azovstal. Fierce bloody combat is ongoing,” said Palamar.
“The defenders of the city (Mariupol) have been fighting alone for 71 days with the overwhelming forces of the enemy and show such endurance and heroism that the country must know what it means to be loyal to the motherland,” Palamar said on the Telegram messaging app.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Finland has decided to send more defense equipment to Ukraine, saying the war-torn country has requested assistance from the European Union and NATO member states.
“We will increase the amount of defense materiel assistance that we send to Ukraine,” Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said in a statement.
On Thursday, Finland’s president gave his approval to the Finnish government’s proposal to send more defense hardware.
No details on what types of defense equipment will be sent were released.
Finland, a member of the EU but not of NATO, earlier sent Ukraine bulletproof vests, composite helmets, stretchers, as well as assault rifles, anti-tank weapons and combat ration packages.
MADRID — A judge in Spain on Thursday ordered the provisional release of Anatoly Shariy, a Ukrainian politician-blogger accused of treason in his home country.
Shariy was arrested on Wednesday in the coastal city of Tarragona on an international arrest warrant issued by Ukraine, according to Spain’s National Court. Court documents said Shariy is accused of “high treason and incitement of hatred.”
Shariy, who has reportedly lived in Spain since 2019, was ordered to turn in his passport and remain in the country. The court said officials in Ukraine now have 40 days to formally present a request for Shariy’s extradition.
His arrest was announced by Ukraine’s security services on Thursday, who said there was reason to believe Shariy “was acting on behalf of foreign entities.”
Shariy, the founder of a political party considered by many Ukrainians to be pro-Russian, has been a vocal and active critic of Ukraine’s government.
Ukrainian media reported that one of the members of the party said in February, prior to the start of the war, that Shariy had been granted asylum in the European Union.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says that $6.5 billion has been raised at an international donors’ conference in Warsaw to provide humanitarian help for war-torn Ukraine.
The conference on Thursday was co-hosted by Poland and Sweden and attended by prime ministers and ambassadors representing many European countries, as well as countries further afield and some businesses.
Much of the world has responded to the war in Ukraine with an outpouring of humanitarian support. But as the war drags on for weeks, the humanitarian needs in Ukraine have grown more acute. In addition to the thousands killed, millions of people have been displaced, and there are increasing reports of people being tortured and raped.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — A 500-million-euro ($530 million) Lithuanian-Polish natural gas transmission pipeline was inaugurated Thursday, completing another stage of regional independence from Russian energy sources.
The Gas Interconnection Poland-Lithuania pipeline that runs more than 500 kilometers (310 miles), comes “at a time when Russia has once again tried to blackmail us using gas,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the inauguration.
Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingridas Simonyte added that “any reduction or disappearance of this source of funding would have a very significant impact on the Russian economy and the ability to continue financing the war in Ukraine.”
The Lithuania-Poland leg is integrated with pipelines in the other two Baltic states — Estonia and Latvia — and Finland, and into the European Union gas transmission system. Before the pipeline was built, the four countries could only receive pipeline gas from Russia.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government has launched a global fundraising platform so individuals can donate to help rebuild Ukraine, offer humanitarian aid, and raise money for demining.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the initiative, called United24, on Thursday.
The United States and Europe, among others, have offered billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress for $33 billion to bolster Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
Ukraine’s newest fundraising drive is intended to give individuals a way to donate on their own with a single click, Zelenskyy said.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Thursday that Russia has decided to expel four diplomats with Denmark’s Embassy in Moscow.
“They have wrongfully become pieces in Putin’s cynical power play,” Kofod said. “It is a completely unjustified and deeply problematic decision, which underscores that Russia no longer wants real dialogue and diplomacy.”
Moscow said seven Danish diplomats were expelled. Danish media said that those expelled included four diplomats and three others without diplomatic status. They must leave within two weeks.
Moscow’s tit-for-tat decision came after Denmark last month expelled 15 Russian intelligence officers who worked at Russia’s Embassy in Copenhagen. Several other European countries also expelled Russian intelligence officers.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — In anticipation of a European Union embargo on Russian crude oil Bulgaria says it's looking for an exemption due to its dependence on supplies from Russia.
Bulgaria's only oil refinery near the Black Sea port of Burgas is owned by Russia’s oil giant LUKOIL and is the main fuel supplier in the country.
Still, Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev told reporters that the refinery is already processing up to 50% non-Russian crude and theoretically should be able to fully eliminate Russian crude.
“Bulgaria, technologically, can do without Russian crude oil, but this would significantly increase fuel prices,” Vassilev said. “In case the European Commission weighs some exemptions, we would like to take advantage of it, because it will be in the best interest of Bulgarian consumers.”
Slovakia and Hungary have already asked for such exemptions.
Russia stopped gas deliveries to Bulgaria last week in response to Sofia’s refusal to pay for it in rubles saying it violates existing contracts.