Ukraine accused of sending helicopters to fuel depot in Belgorod ., Russia

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Two of the Ukrainian military helicopters hit a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod on Friday after crossing the border at low altitude, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

The resulting fire injured two workers, Gladkov said, while some areas in the city close to the Ukrainian border were evacuated.

It was not immediately possible to verify the claim or images circulating of the alleged attack. If confirmed, it would be Ukraine’s first known foray into Russian airspace.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has not commented on the allegation, and Russian oil company Rosneft, which owns the depot, reported the fire without identifying the cause.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kulebawas was asked by reporters about Belgorod on Friday and said he “neither confirm nor reject” claims that Ukraine was involved, because he did not have sufficient information.

This photo released Friday by the Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service shows a burning oil depot in Belgorod. The governor of the Russian border region Belgorod accused Ukraine of flying attack helicopters on Russian territory and attacking the oil depot on Friday morning. (Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service/The Associated Press)

A Kremlin spokesman said the incident on Russian territory could undermine negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian representatives, which resumed via video link on Friday.

“This is certainly not something that can be seen as creating comfortable conditions for the talks to continue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked whether the depot fire could be seen as an escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Purpose of control separatist region ‘unchanged’

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia on Friday follow a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Turkey on Tuesday, where Ukraine reiterated its willingness to refrain from attempting to join NATO and made proposals to maintain its neutral military status. guaranteed by some other countries.

The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, wrote on social media that Moscow’s stance on maintaining control over the Crimean peninsula and expanding territory in eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists” be unchanged”.

Residents carry food as they walk past a damaged apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the terms for a ceasefire were not yet “ripe” and that he was not ready to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until more work was done by negotiators, Italian Prime Minister Mario said. Draghi after a phone call on Thursday with the Russian leader.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said complex logistics are still being worked out for the operation to get emergency aid to Mariupol and civilians out of the city, which has suffered for weeks from fierce fighting over dwindling water, food and medical supplies.

“We are running out of adjectives to describe the horrors the people of Mariupol have endured,” ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson said at a UN briefing in Geneva on Friday. “The situation is appalling and deteriorating, and it is now a humanitarian imperative to allow people to leave and allow relief supplies.”

Mariupol evacuation limited to private cars

He said the group had sent three vehicles to Mariupol and a front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces, but two trucks carrying supplies for the city did not accompany them. Dozens of buses organized by Ukrainian authorities to take people out had also not begun to approach the dividing line, Watson said.

On Thursday, Russian troops blocked a convoy of 45 buses trying to evacuate people from Mariupol after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area, leaving only 631 people in private cars, the Ukrainian government said.

On Thursday, graves were seen next to an apartment building in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russian troops also seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies to reach Mariupol, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The city has been the scene of the worst suffering of the war. Tens of thousands of residents have managed to leave through humanitarian corridors in recent weeks, reducing the population from a pre-war 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 last week. But sustained Russian attacks have repeatedly thwarted relief and evacuation missions.

“We see no real desire on the part of the Russians and their satellites to allow the residents of Mariupol to evacuate to Ukraine-controlled territory,” Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote on the Telegram on Friday. -to inform. app.

An elderly woman who was evacuated from Irpin lies on a stretcher on the outskirts of Kiev on Thursday. (Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press)

In recent days, in an apparent shift in its war goals, the Kremlin said its “main objective” is now to take complete control of the Donbas, where Mariupol is located. The Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared two areas independent republics.

Western officials said there was mounting evidence that Russia was using its rumors of de-escalation in Ukraine as a cover to regroup, resupply and redeploy its troops for a ramped up offensive in the east.

Ukraine controls Chernobyl after Russians leave

Elsewhere, Russian forces left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early Friday after returning control to the Ukrainians, authorities said.

Ukraine’s state energy company Energoatom said the Chernobyl withdrawal came after Russian soldiers received “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed factory. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it could not independently confirm the exposure claim.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russians behaved irresponsibly at the site for more than four weeks under their control, preventing plant personnel from fully performing their duties and digging trenches in contaminated areas. areas.

Kuleba told a news conference in Warsaw that the Russian government had exposed its soldiers to radiation, endangering their health. He said Ukraine will work with the UN nuclear agency to determine what the occupying Russians have done there and to mitigate any danger.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi wrote on Twitter that he would visit the decommissioned plant as soon as possible and that his agency’s mission to Chernobyl will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine.

Grossi was in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on Friday for talks with senior officials on nuclear issues in Ukraine. Nine of Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors are currently in operation, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya facility, the agency said.

A man cries outside the IDP registration center in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya on Thursday. (Emre Caylak/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces seized the Chernobyl site shortly after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, raising fears they would cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. Staff there oversee the safe storage of spent fuel rods and the concrete-buried ruins of the reactor that exploded in 1986.

Russian forces have subjected both Chernihiv, a besieged and blockaded city in northern Ukraine, and the capital of Kiev to continuous air and ground-launched missile strikes, despite Moscow saying on Tuesday it planned to curtail military activity in those areas. Reduce.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have recaptured the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka, which the British Defense Ministry says lie south of the besieged northern city of Chernihiv and lie along one of the main supply routes between the city and Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

VIEW | NATO warns that Russian troops are repositioning; Zelensky renews plea for support

NATO warns Russian troops against repositioning, Zelensky renews plea for support

According to NATO intelligence services, Russia appears to be moving its troops from Kiev to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The move comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky renewed urgent pleas for immediate support in a speech to the Australian parliament. 2:01

Ukraine has also continued to mount successful but limited counterattacks in the east and northeast of Kiev, the ministry said.

Ukrainian soldiers carry the body of a civilian killed by Russian troops on Thursday across the destroyed bridge in Irpin, close to Kiev, Ukraine. four million from their country. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Western officials said there was mounting evidence that Russia was using its rumors of de-escalation in Ukraine as a cover to regroup, resupply and redeploy its troops for a ramped-up offensive in the eastern part of the country.

Zelensky warned that Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were merely a military tactic to build strength for new attacks in the southeast.

“We know their intentions,” Zelensky said in his overnight video address to the nation. “We know they’re moving away from those areas where we hit them to focus on other, very important areas where it might be difficult for us.”

He continued: “There will be battles ahead.”

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