By The Associated Press
The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an online portal to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, as he renewed his call to combatants to abide by the laws of war.
Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a written statement Friday that he is “closely following the deeply troubling developments in hostilities.” There have been reports in recent days of Russian strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian towns and cities, including the deadly strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol earlier this week.
Khan notes in a written statement that “if attacks are intentionally directed against the civilian population: that is a crime. If attacks are intentionally directed against civilian objects: that is a crime. I strongly urge parties to the conflict to avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.” He says there is no legal justification or excuse “for attacks which are indiscriminate, or which are disproportionate in their effects on the civilian population.”
Khan also said that two more of the global court’s member states, Japan and North Macedonia, have formally requested him to investigate in Ukraine, bringing the number of so-called state party referrals to 41.
The information will bolster evidence gathered by an investigative team Khan sent to the region last week to begin gathering evidence.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine is an ICC member state, but Kyiv has recognized the court’s jurisdiction, allowing Khan to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
BELGRADE, Serbia — A flight from Belgrade to Moscow was reverted and evacuated following a bomb alert, Serbian police said Friday.
The Belgrade airport received an email saying that an explosive device has been planted on the Air Serbia flight to Moscow, police said in an email.
The plane was then turned back shortly after take-off, and is being checked by police, the statement said. No other details were immediately available.
Serbian media said there were more than 200 passengers and crew on the plane.
Air Serbia carrier is the only one in Europe that still flies to and from Russia as Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions against its traditional ally over Ukraine.
Air Serbia has increased the number of flights to Russia amid high demand.
ATHENS, Greece — The leader of Greece’s Orthodox Church has contacted the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to offer support in housing refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
Archbishop Ieronymos, who heads the Greek church, said in a statement on Friday that he had telephoned Metropolitan Bishop Epiphanius of Kyiv, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader, and promised “full support” for Ukraine, adding that parishes across Greece had been sent a request to provide assistance.
Only several thousand refugees from Ukraine have traveled to Greece so far — out of the 2.5 million that have fled the country — but Greek authorities expect that number to increase in the coming weeks.
The Greek church has recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine despite strong opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.
ISTANBUL — Turkey on Friday evacuated its embassy in Kyiv, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Tanju Bilgic said staff at the mission would move to Chernivtsi near the Romanian border for security reasons, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The order to leave Kyiv came as Russian forces fanned out around the city and appeared likely to step up artillery and rocket attacks. Many countries ordered diplomatic staff to leave Kyiv before Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.
Turkey has close ties to both Ukraine and Russia and has been seeking to mediate between its warring Black Sea neighbors.
VERSAILLES, France — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is underlining the importance of keeping in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but is stressing that “we will not make decisions for the Ukrainians.”
Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken frequently with the Russian leader, together spoke to Putin on Thursday. After a European Union summit on Friday, Scholz said “it is absolutely necessary that we do not let the thread of talks break.”
Macron said he and Scholz would speak again with Putin later Friday.
Scholz stressed that he and Macron are consulting closely among themselves and with the Ukrainian leadership — and that a cease-fire is the top priority. Scholz said it’s good that there are talks, but they shouldn’t just drag on while “weapons every day destroy people’s lives, buildings, infrastructure and dreams.”
The chancellor said that there is “one very clear principle: we will not make decisions for the Ukrainians. They must know themselves what from their point of view is the right thing for their country in this threatening situation.”
BELGRADE, Serbia — Germany’s foreign minister has urged Serbia, which has not imposed sanctions on traditional ally Russia over the war in Ukraine, to align policies with the European Union if it wants to join the bloc.
Annalena Baerbock said Friday in Serbia’s capital Belgrade that “we all must have a clear position” over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Baerbock said, launched a “shameless campaign of destruction” that is targeting “maternity wards, schools, (people’s) homes.”
While Serbia has criticized the attack on Ukraine and voted in the United Nations for the condemnation of the attack, Belgrade has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Moscow.
Historically considered a friendly nation, Russia remains popular among the Serbs, particularly because of Moscow’s support for Serbia’s opposition to the Western-backed independence of the breakaway former Kosovo province.
Baerbock praised Serbia’s U.N. vote and the offer to host Ukrainian refugees. But she added that “joining the European Union means readiness to align with the positions of the union.”
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said that “Serbia has a very determined and clear position” and has done “nothing that would hurt Ukraine.”
MOSCOW — Russia’s communications and media regulator says it’s restricting national access to Instagram because the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel.”
The regulator, called Roskomnadzor, took the step Friday as Russia presses ahead with its invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier on Friday, Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement tweeted by its spokesman Andy Stone that it had “made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent speech, such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’.”
The statement stressed that the company “still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
PRAGUE — Prague City Hall has started readying temporary accommodation for a surge in refugees from Ukraine after the Czech capital ran out of housing options for them.
The government estimates that up to 200,000 refugees — 55% of them children — have arrived in the Czech Republic, a European Union and NATO member that doesn’t border Ukraine. About 25% of the refugees entering the country have gone to Prague.
Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib has asked the heads of 22 city districts to prepare at least 100 beds each in school gyms and also provide food for the refugees there.
Hrib compared the current situation in Prague to Germany facing the waves of refugees during a European migrant crisis in 2015-16.
“The difference is that Germany had months to react, we have just days,” Hrib said. “The demand for accommodation in Prague is enormous and by far surpasses what we can offer.”
ANTALYA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the war in Ukraine could have been avoided had the world spoken out against Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Would we have faced such a picture if the West, the whole world, had raised their voices?” Erdogan asked. “Those who remained silent in the face of Crimea’s invasion are now saying some things.”
Erdogan spoke Friday at a diplomacy forum near the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya, where the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met a day earlier for talks facilitated by Turkey’s foreign minister.
Erdogan said Turkey would continue its efforts for peace.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finnish President Sauli Niinistö spoke in a phone call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the war in Ukraine.
Niinistö’s office said in a statement that he informed Putin that he, earlier in the day, had a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and that Zelenskyy was prepared to talk directly with Putin.
The statement said Niinistö called for an immediate ceasefire and the safe evacuation of civilians, but also spoke to Putin about the security of nuclear energy facilities in Ukraine.
Niinisto is one of the few Western leaders who has kept a regular dialogue with Putin ever since the Finnish leader took office in 2012.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister said Friday that sanctions imposed against Russia by the European Union would not involve a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas.
In a video on his social media channels following a meeting of EU leaders in Versailles, France, Viktor Orban said it was possible that the war in Ukraine “would drag on,” but that “the most important issue was settled in a way that was favorable to us.”
“There will be no sanctions covering oil and gas, which means that Hungary’s energy supply is guaranteed for the next period,” Orban said.
Orban, widely considered to be the Kremlin’s closest ally in the EU, has supported the bloc’s sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Hungary’s neighbor.
But he has remained firm in insisting that the energy sector be left out of sanctions, arguing that such a move would damage EU countries more than Russia.
Last year, Hungary extended by 15 years a natural gas contract with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, and has entered into a 12 billion-euro ($13.6 billion) Russian build-and-finance agreement to add two nuclear reactors to Hungary’s only nuclear power plant.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says his country’s military forces have reached “a strategic turning point,” while Russia’s president says there are “certain positive developments” in talks between the warring countries.
Neither leader explained clearly what they meant, however.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday: “It’s impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it because … we have reached a strategic turning point.” He didn’t elaborate.
He said authorities are working on 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure needy people receive food, medicine and basic goods.
He spoke on a video showing him outside the presidential administration in Kyiv, speaking in both Ukrainian and Russian about the 16th day of war.
Meanwhile, in Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin said there have been positive developments in talks between the warring countries, but he didn’t offer any details about what those developments were.
Putin hosted Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for talks on Friday and told him that negotiations with Ukraine “are now being held almost on a daily basis.”
STOCKHOLM — Swedish authorities estimate that about 4,000 Ukrainian refugees are arriving in Sweden every day.
Official figures say a total of 5,200 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Sweden, but the true number is “significantly higher,” Mikael Ribbenvik, head of the Swedish Migration Board, said Friday.
Anders Ygeman, the Swedish Minister for Integration and Migration, stressed that Sweden “must accept its responsibility” but insisted that other European nations also take their share of refugees.
In neighboring Denmark, authorities were preparing to receive Ukrainian refugees.
“This can be huge,” Niels Henrik Larsen, the head of the Danish Immigration Service, said. “This can be the biggest we ever have seen.”
ANTALYA, Turkey — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the “paths of dialogue and diplomacy” are the only way toward ending the war in Ukraine.
“The senseless conflict in Ukraine is causing death and devastation to the country and its people with enormous security risks for the region and the world,” Guterres said.
He spoke Friday in a video appearance at a diplomacy forum being held at a resort near the Turkish Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya.
Guterres warned that the war has “disrupted the global economy with unforeseeable consequences. It has multiplied the danger of miscalculation and escalation.”
GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it has documented 549 civilian deaths and 957 injuries so far following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the toll and “general human suffering” are rising.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said Friday it has verified 29 attacks on health care facilities, workers and ambulances in the hostilities, including a high-profile one on a maternity hospital in southeastern Mariupol on Wednesday. In those, 12 people have been killed and 34 injured, WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said in an email.
The figures from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, which run through the Feb. 24 start of the fighting to midnight Wednesday, focus on civilians in general. It uses a strict methodology and counts only confirmed casualties. It acknowledges that its tally is likely to underestimate the real toll.
“Civilians are being killed and maimed in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks, with Russian forces using explosive weapons with wide area effects in or near populated areas,” spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a U.N. briefing.
“Civilian casualties are rising daily, as is general human suffering,” Throssell said.
LVIV, Ukraine — A team of U.S. and U.K.-based doctors and nurses have begun a tour of medical facilities in Lviv, offering help and advice to Ukrainian doctors during the Russian invasion.
The team of nine brought in aid and medical equipment in 167 bags, including ventilators, ultrasound machines and gas masks, worth about $500,000, said Zaher Sahloul, a Chicago-based doctor.
“There is huge shortage of medical supplies and equipment, especially for trauma, and medication for chronic diseases,” he said. “It looks like the healthcare system is about to collapse because of the impact of the war, the huge displacement of the population, and the large number of injured people in many areas in Ukraine.”
Sahloul is a native of Syria and has visited that war-stricken country several times, working with volunteers and medical staff to establish or restore health services in opposition-held areas heavily bombed by the Russian air force over the years.
Sahloul said Ukrainian doctors mostly need basic supplies, such as tactical first aid kits. He said that, like in Syria, many of the doctors in Kyiv are working in basements to avoid being targeted by Russian forces.
LONDON —- Britain has slapped sanctions on 386 Russian lawmakers who recognized two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent, the precursor to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the Duma members who voted to recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk face a U.K. travel ban and a freeze on any assets they have in Britain.
Truss said U.K. sanctions were targeting “those complicit in Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and those who support this barbaric war.”
Friday’s announcement follows through on Britain’s promise two weeks ago to sanction the Duma members.
Britain has also slapped sanctions on Russian banks and on 18 wealthy individuals.
BERLIN — The German government says that more than 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine are known to have entered Germany, but the true number could be much higher.
Interior Ministry spokesman Marek Wede said Friday that federal police so far have recorded 109,183 people coming from Ukraine entering the country, more than 99,000 of them Ukrainian citizens.
He noted that the number may be higher because Germany doesn’t have full regular border checks on its eastern frontiers with Poland and the Czech Republic. However, federal police have stepped up checks on the Polish border.
Wede said it’s also unclear how many of the refugees who entered Germany may have traveled onward to other countries.
As of Friday, U.N. agencies said that more than 2.5 million people had fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24. More than 1.5 million of those went to Poland.
NEW DELHI — Hundreds of Indian medical students who sheltered in bunkers while Russia shelled a Ukrainian city have returned home to bouquets and hugs from their parents in emotional scenes at New Delhi’s international airport.
Thousands of Indians studying in Ukraine suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war after Russia invaded the country last month.
The group arriving home Friday were studying in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy.
“It was very, very scary for us,” Lakshyaa Dahiya, a medical student, said. “Seeing this much army with tanks… it was very dangerous also. We will not forget that thing ever, in our whole life.”
Arindam Bagchi, an External Affairs Ministry spokesman, said India has evacuated nearly 23,000 of its citizens, mostly students, from Ukraine.
Pressure on the Indian government to pull out its citizens intensified after one student died in shelling in Kharkiv last month.
TOKYO — Japan’s government is freezing the assets of three Belarusian banks in Japan and banning exports of high technology equipment to Russia and Belarus, as Tokyo steps up sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Japan is taking additional steps to remain in concert with the United States and European countries in their effort to pressure Russia and Belarus, which is helping Moscow, to stop the war.
Japan has previously frozen the assets of individuals and organizations from the two countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top government officials, as well as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and cut seven Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system.
Japan is also banning exports of semiconductors, telecommunication equipment and other high-technology goods to Russia and Belarus from March 18 to prevent them from bolstering their military capabilities.
BERLIN — Two German public broadcasters say they will resume reporting from their Moscow studios, after halting operations following the approval of Russian legislation penalizing any reports that authorities deem to be fake information about the country’s military.
ARD and ZDF said last weekend that they were suspending reporting from Moscow while they examined the consequences of the measure, which foresees prison sentences of up to 15 years. Several other Western media outlets made similar decisions.
The broadcasters said Friday that they have now decided to resume reporting from their Moscow studios in the coming days on the “political, economic and social situation in Russia.” But reporting on the military situation in Ukraine will be done from other locations.
ARD and ZDF said they will be transparent about “the special conditions” of reporting from Russia.
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