Russia’s central bank reopens bond trading

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official says the Russians have increased the number of military aircraft sorties over Ukraine over the past two days, doing as many as 300 in the last 24 hours. The official said Monday that Ukraine has also increased the pace of its military flights, but declined to provide numbers.

Officials have made it clear that Russia has vastly more aircraft, and flies a great deal more than Ukraine does, but that Russia still does not have air superiority over the country yet.

The official said that most of the military flights involve air-to-ground strikes, mainly on stationary targets, and that the Russian aircraft are not spending a lot of time in Ukrainian airspace. The Ukraine military has continued to use its short and long-range air defense systems and drones to target Russian aircraft.

The Russians have also increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, but there are no indications at this point of an amphibious assault on Odesa. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— AP video journalist gives riveting first-hand account of the siege of Mariupol

— Russia demands Mariupol lay down arms but Ukraine says no

— ‘No city anymore’: Mariupol survivors take train to safety

— Biden adds stop in Poland, crucial ally in the Ukraine crisis, to his trip this week to Europe

Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS TODAY:

BEZIMENNE, Ukraine — A long line of vehicles lined a road in Bezimenne, Ukraine, as residents from the besieged city of Mariupol sought shelter at a temporary camp set up by the rebel Donetsk government.

Many of the cars had pieces of white cloth tied to door handles and carried homemade signs saying “children” in Russian.

Donetsk government officials said about 5,000 Mariupol residents have taken refuge at the camp since the start of the war.

Mariupol authorities have said several thousand people were taken to Russia against their will and that only about 10% of the city’s former population of 430,000 has managed to flee.

A woman named Yulia told The Associated Press that she and her family sought shelter in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine after a bombing destroyed six houses behind her home.

“That’s why we got in the car, at our own risk, and left in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, dead bodies are lying around,” she said.

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WARSAW, Poland – Leaders from Poland and The Netherlands discussed further sanctions on Russia for its war against Ukraine, including banning imports of Russia’s oil and gas and closing European ports to Russian ships.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hosted the Dutch leader Mark Rutte for talks Monday about ways of stopping Russia’s aggression on Ukraine and of helping Ukraine’s fighters and civilians.

“We talked today about a blockade of all European ports to Russian ships and also on all sorts of sanctions, including on oil and gas,” Morawiecki said.

Rutte said Putin has made a “very big mistake” by bringing war again to Europe.

“We will not accept this kind of aggression against a sovereign and democratic nation,” Rutte said.

“And these are not empty words. We are showing we are willing to put out money where our mouth is,” he said.

Morawiecki said they also discussed the gathering of evidence from the refugees of the ”really terrible, cruel crimes” committed during the war in an effort to make sure that the crimes are punished.

More than 2.1 million refugees fleeing the war have come to Poland.

Unlike Poland and The Netherlands, Ukraine is not a member of the European Union. Poland backs giving it candidate status in a fast-track procedure.

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MOSCOW — A Moscow court banned Facebook and Instagram on Monday for what it deemed extremist activity in a case against their parent company, Meta.

The Tverskoy District Court fulfilled a request from prosecutors to outlaw Meta Platforms Inc. and banned Facebook and Instagram for what they called “extremist activities.” The prosecutors have accused the social media platforms of ignoring government requests to remove what they described as fake news about the Russian military action in Ukraine and calls for protests in Russia.

The court’s ruling bans Meta from opening offices and doing business in Russia. Meta declined to comment when contacted by the AP.

Prosecutors haven’t requested to ban the Meta-owned messaging service WhatsApp, which is widely popular in Russia. The authorities also emphasized that they do not intend to punish individual Russians who use Facebook or Instagram.

Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after the communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers. In addition to blocking Facebook and Instagram, Russian authorities also have shut access to foreign media websites.

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Witnesses fleeing the besieged port of Mariupol say they are leaving behind a city that has been almost entirely destroyed by Russian bombardment and heavy fighting.

Maria Fiodorova crossed the border from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland, on Monday after an arduous, five-day journey. The 77-year-old woman told The Associated Press that the city is almost 90 percent destroyed, with every building razed to the ground.

Video captured by The Associated Press shows residents pushing carts and carrying bags of food and supplies along debris-ridden streets and passages. The siege has caused shortages of food, water and energy supplies, according to city officials who say at least 2,300 civilians have been killed thus far in Mariupol.

Residents have fled Mariupol not knowing what, if anything, will be left — if and when they return.

Another Ukrainian woman who made it to the Polish border said she left behind a sister in Mariupol who reported that Russian soldiers there are not allowing anyone to leave.

“She told me that they have already switched to a Russian time zone, that there are lots of Russian soldiers walking around the city. Civilians cannot leave,” Yulia Bondarieva, who fled Kharkiv for Medyka, told the AP. She feared that her sister and family would soon run out of food and water.

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WARSAW, Poland – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says he is encouraging Switzerland to take bolder steps in cutting off Russian oligarchs who support Russian leaders from the billions of U.S. dollars they have in Swiss banks or in business there.

Morawiecki spoke Monday at a joint news conference with visiting Swiss President Ignazio Cassis. They held talks about the situation in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russian troops Feb. 24. Morawiecki noted that Russia’s richest businessmen have deposited billions of U.S. dollars in Swiss banks, were doing business there and had other assets.

He said the assets could be used to help Ukraine rebuild from the war’s destruction.

Cassis noted that Switzerland has joined the European Union’s sanctions on Russia and has also has frozen the bank accounts and business of Russian oligarchs who are on the EU sanctions lists and also of some others.

Poland’s government is working on amendments to the constitution that would allow for the seizure of Russia’s assets in Poland.

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BERLIN — Germany’s Buchenwald concentration camp memorial says Boris Romanchenko, who survived camps at Buchenwald, Peenemuende, Dora and Bergen-Belsen during World War II, was killed Friday when his home in Kharkiv was attacked.

The memorial cited relatives in a series of tweets on Monday. It said his granddaughter said that he lived in a multistory building that was hit by a projectile. Romanchenko was vice president of the International Buchenwald-Dora Committee.

Romanchenko was 96, German news agency dpa reported.

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NEW YORK — Russia’s central bank has cautiously reopened bond trading on the Moscow exchange for the first time since the country invaded Ukraine.

The price of Russia’s ruble-denominated government debt fell Monday, sending borrowing costs higher. Stock trading has remained closed, with no word on when it might reopen.

The central bank bought bonds to support prices. It has imposed wide-ranging restrictions on financial transactions to try to stabilize markets and combat the severe fallout from Western sanctions that have sent the ruble sharply lower against the U.S. dollar and the euro.

Ratings agencies have downgraded Russia’s bonds to “junk” status. Russia’s finance ministry last week flirted with default by threatening to pay foreign holders of dollar bonds in massively devalued rubles before sending the money in dollars.

Stocks last traded on Feb. 25, the day after the invasion started and sent the main stock index sharply lower.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — The Dutch prime minister says that the European Union should be careful when imposing new sanctions on Russian gas and oil companies because some nations are still heavily dependent on these resources,

“We must be sure that energy independence has sufficient gas and oil in the system. It is very important for the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the countries of eastern Europe,” Mark Rutte told reporters after meeting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. “We need to do this as soon as possible, but we cannot do that tomorrow.”

Nauseda replied saying that Lithuania invested heavily into energy security for decades and now is ready for a full boycott of Russian oil and gas.

“Now that the masks have fallen, it is time to move forward implementing decisions that are absolutely necessary for Europe to feel safer, more independent and resistant to external shocks,” Nauseda said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency says the radiation monitors around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst meltdown in 1986, have stopped working.

In a statement Monday, the agency also said there are no longer firefighters available in the region to protect forests tainted by decades of radioactivity as the weather warms. The plant was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24.

According to Monday’s statement, the combination of risks could mean a “significant deterioration” of the ability to control the spread of radiation not just in Ukraine but beyond the country’s borders in weeks and months to come.

Management of the Chernobyl plant said Sunday that 50 staff members who had been working nonstop since the Russian takeover have been rotated out and replaced.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A cluster of villages on Kyiv’s northwest edge is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe, regional officials said Monday.

Bucha and other nearby villages have been all but cut off by Russian forces. Associated Press journalists who were in the area a week ago saw bodies in a public park in the town of Irpin, including a woman with a mortal wound to her head. Basement shelters beneath apartment buildings were filled, and not a day goes by without smoke rising from the area.

At a crematorium on Sunday in Kyiv, the bodies of three civilians from the area were delivered in the back of a van.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Odesa have accused Russian forces of damaging civilian houses in a strike on the Black Sea port city on Monday.

The city council said no one was killed in the strike and that emergency services quickly extinguished a fire. Mayor Hennady Trukhanov visited the site and said “we will not leave Odessa and we will fight for our city.”

Odesa is in southwestern Ukraine and has largely avoided the fighting so far, though Russia has ships operating off the Black Sea coast.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s prosecutor general said a Russian shell struck a chemical plant outside the city of Sumy a little after 3 a.m. Monday, causing a leak in a 50-ton tank of ammonia that took hours to contain.

Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed the leak was a “planned provocation” by Ukrainian forces to falsely accuse Russia of a chemical attack.

Konashenkov also said an overnight cruise missile strike hit a Ukrainian military training center in the Rivne region. He said 80 foreign and Ukrainian troops were killed.

Vitaliy Koval, the head of the Rivne regional military administration, confirmed a twin Russian missile strike on a training center there early Monday but offered no details about injuries or deaths.

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NEW YORK — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says more progress must be made in talks with Ukraine before Russian President Vladimir Putin can meet his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Peskov says that “in order to talk about a meeting of the two presidents, first it’s necessary to do the homework, it’s necessary to hold talks and agree the results.”

He adds that “so far significant movement has not been achieved” in the talks and that “there are not any agreements which they could commit to” at a joint meeting.

Ukraine and Russia’s delegations have held several rounds of talks both in person and more recently via video link. Zelenskyy has said he would be prepared to meet Putin directly to seek agreements on key issues.

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BRUSSELS — EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine, most notably in the besieged port city of Mariupol where hundreds of civilians have been killed.

Borrell says that “what’s happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime. Destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody in an indiscriminate manner. This is something awful.”

He says Russia has lost any moral high ground and he underlined that “war also has law.” Borrell’s remarks Monday came as he arrived to chair a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands is gathering evidence about any possible war crimes in Ukraine, but Russia, like the United States, does not recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says his country is “certainly open to other mechanisms for accountability in terms of the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine right now.”

Coveney says social media images of the war are “driving a fury across the European Union” for those responsible to be held to account.

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