LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Heavy fighting is raging at the besieged steel plant in Mariupol as Russian forces attempt to finish off the city’s last-ditch defenders and complete the capture of the strategically vital port. Thursday’s bloody battle came amid growing suspicions that President Vladimir Putin wants to present the Russian people with a major battlefield success in time for Victory Day on Monday. That is the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar, marking the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. Ukraine’s military claimed Thursday it recaptured some areas in the south and repelled other Russian attacks in the east.
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.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: — Ukraine repels Russian attacks; Mariupol plant battle rages
— The AP Interview: Belarus admits Russia’s war ‘drags on’
— $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
KYIV, Ukraine — According to Ukrainian news agencies, a Ukrainian cabinet body began Thursday to develop proposals for a comprehensive post-war 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.
NICOSIA, Cyprus – The prime minister of Luxembourg says the European Union should carefully weigh a total embargo on all Russian oil gas imports given that some member nations “have no alternative” supply for energy generation.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said after talks Thursday with the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades that “just to say no to the gas today when we know that some countries then will have no alternative tomorrow is something we should put on the balance.”
What’s paramount at this time is to maintain EU solidarity and for all 27 members to find ways of becoming energy self-sufficient and less dependent on energy from third countries, Bettel said.
He said one option is solar energy, referring to the east Mediterranean island nation’s potential to generate much more than Luxembourg.
Anastasiades said the war in Ukraine has refocused attention on discovered and potential natural gas reserves found in east Mediterranean waters off Cyprus and elsewhere as an alternative source of energy for Europe.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on the EU member states to ban oil imports from Russia and target the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters in a sixth package of sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland and Sweden are co-hosting an international donors’ conference on Thursday in Warsaw to raise funds for humanitarian efforts to help war-torn Ukraine, where thousands have been killed, cities devastated and millions of people displaced by Russia’s attack.
Poland’s government says that Ukraine’s needs are huge despite funds already donated due to the large scale of damage from the war, and that millions of Ukrainians require urgent help.
The High-Level International Donors’ Conference for Ukraine is jointly organized by the Polish and Swedish prime ministers in collaboration with the European Commission and European Council presidents.
The aims are to allow the international community to announce new pledges to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of Ukrainian society and to create a forum to discuss how to support Ukrainian society over the longer term.
The co-hosts are prime ministers Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland and Magdalena Andersson of Sweden.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the participants by video, who are gathering in Warsaw’s National Stadium.
PARIS — France’s ecology minister says she is confident that the European Union’s 27 nations will quickly agree to a proposed ban on oil imports from Russia.
Speaking to FranceInfo radio Thursday, the minister, Barbara Pompili, said the embargo could be agreed upon within days.
“I am confident,” she said. “It is normal that there are discussions because some countries are more dependent than others on Russian oil, so we have to try to find solutions so they can get on board with these sanctions.”
She added: “I think we’ll get there perhaps by the end of the week or at least as soon as possible.”
The European Union’s top official, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, proposed Wednesday that EU member nations phase out imports of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.
The proposals must be unanimously approved to take effect. Von der Leyen said that getting all 27 member countries — some of them landlocked and highly dependent on Russia for energy supplies — to agree on oil sanctions “will not be easy.”
Pompili said the embargo would be “for everyone” in the bloc and that “is to show Russia that Europe, from the end of this year, will completely do without its oil.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Five people were killed and at least 25 more wounded in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours because of the Russian shelling, Ukrainian officials said Thursday.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russian troops shelled the region 24 times on Wednesday, hitting the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Girske and Popasna, damaging at least 23 houses and killing five people.
An overnight shelling of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region wounded at least 25 people, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Thursday. He added that nine houses, a school and other civilian infrastructure were damaged as the result.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s General Staff says the country’s forces made some gains on the border of the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv and repelled multiple Russian attacks in the east.
In its daily morning update, the General Staff said that the Russians “lost control over several settlements on the border of Mykolayiv and Kherson regions.” Ukrainian forces also repelled 11 attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the update said.
At the same time, fighting over the Azovstal plant in Mariupol continued, the General Staff said.
“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant,” the update said, adding that the Russian troops were “trying to destroy Ukrainians units” at this last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the ravaged port city.
The General Staff also noted Russian efforts to stir tensions in the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova, which borders with Ukraine and has a Russian peacekeeping contingent. The Russian military “carries out regrouping of troops in certain areas, takes measures to replenish reserves” and is “trying to improve the tactical position of its units.”
The General Staff’s statements could not be independently verified.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military is saying an ongoing military drill in Belarus “is not currently anticipated” to threaten Ukraine.
The British Defense Ministry made the statement Thursday in a daily intelligence briefing posted to Twitter.
It comes after Belarus announced snap military drills. That sparked suspicion in Ukraine as Russia used Belarus to funnel troops through at the start of the war in February before Ukrainian forces repelled an advance targeting the capital, Kyiv.
“Russia will likely seek to inflate the threat posed to Ukraine by these exercises in order to fix Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas,” the British military said.
It added: “Deviation from normal exercise activity that could pose a threat to allies and partners is not currently anticipated.”