The UN said a third operation is under way to evacuate civilians from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, where fighting continued on Thursday at a besieged steel plant despite Moscow’s pledge to open humanitarian corridors. Earlier, Poland said an international donor conference raised more than 6 billion euros to help rebuild the war-torn country. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
9:42pm: UN again trying to evacuate Mariupol civilians
A third operation is under way to evacuate civilians from the Ukrainian port city and the besieged Azovstal steel plant, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tells the UN Security Council.
The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have so far helped nearly 500 civilians flee the area during two operations in the past week. Guterres declined to give details on the new operation “to avoid undermining possible success.”
“I hope that the continued coordination with Moscow and Kyiv will lead to more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians safe passage from the fighting and aid to reach those in critical need,” he told the 15-member Security Council. “We must continue to do all we can to get people out of these hellscapes.”
7:10pm: UN convoy en route in bid to evacuate Azovstal civilians
A new UN convoy is heading to the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol to try to evacuate civilians, the UN’s humanitarian chief has said.
“Today as we speak, a convoy is proceeding to get to Azovstal by tomorrow morning hopefully to receive those civilians remaining in that bleak hell … and take them back to safety,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told a Ukraine donors’ conference in Warsaw.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed to AFP “that a safe passage operation is ongoing, in coordination with the UN and the parties to the conflict”.
“The ICRC insists on the fact that no details can be shared until the situation allows, as it could seriously jeopardise the operation,” it added.
7:02pm: German foreign minister will visit Ukraine shortly, chancellor says
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Ukraine shortly, after the two countries mended a diplomatic rift over Kyiv’s refusal to receive German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Steinmeier held “good talks” earlier on Thursday, Scholz told a news conference.The German head of state had planned to visit the Ukrainian capital in mid-April but Kyiv refused to welcome him, amid disquiet over his past support of rapprochement with Russia.
Kyiv’s refusal caused a scandal in Germany and prompted Scholz to say he would not visit the war-torn country before the German president had done so.
6:50pm: Israel says Putin apologised for Lavrov’s Hitler comments
The Israeli prime minister’s office has given its take on that phone conversation with the Russian president, saying Putin apologised for his foreign minister’s comments about Hitler.
Bennett, after a call with the Russian leader, said he accepted the apology and thanked Putin for clarifying his position.
Bennett also said he asked Putin to consider allowing the evacuation of civilians holed up in the besieged Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. Bennett said he made that request following an earlier conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and that Putin promised to set up a corridor for civilian evacuation.
5:40pm: Putin and Israeli PM discuss Ukraine, Holocaust
Attempts to resolve another diplomatic spat, this time between Russia and Israel, were at the heart of a phonecall between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, also today.
“A thorough exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine continued,” the Kremlin said, adding the two leaders also discussed “historic memory” and the Holocaust.
5:30pm: Zelensky invites Germany’s Scholz and Steinmeier to Kyiv
The Ukrainian president has invited Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to visit, the German president’s office has said, three weeks after Steinmeier was snubbed by Kyiv.
Zelensky made the invitation during a telephone call with Steinmeier on Thursday, a source from the president’s office told AFP, during which “past irritations were cleared up” and Steinmeier expressed his “solidarity, respect and support” for Ukraine.
A diplomatic spat had been rumbling between the two countries since Steinmeier admitted last month he had offered to visit but was “not wanted in Kyiv”.
The German president, also a former foreign minister, has come under heavy criticism since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February for his years-long detente policy towards Moscow.
4:58pm: NATO will increase Baltic presence if Sweden applies to join
NATO will increase its presence around Sweden’s borders and in the Baltic sea while a potential application to join the alliance is processed, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told Swedish public broadcaster SVT.
Sweden and neighbouring Finland have remained outside the alliance but Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of Ukraine have led the countries to rethink their security policies, with NATO membership looking increasingly likely.
Both countries are seeking military protection assurances during an application process, which could take up to a year to be approved by all NATO’s members.
“I am convinced that we will find solutions for the security needs Sweden will have in a transitional period,” Stoltenberg told SVT.
“From the potential moment Sweden is applying, and NATO says that they want Sweden to join, there is a very strong obligation from NATO to be able to guarantee Sweden’s security,” he added.
Moscow has warned Sweden and Finland of “serious consequences” and that it could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the European exclave of Kaliningrad if Sweden and Finland become NATO members.
3:55pm: Fighting blocks Mariupol evacuations, says Ukraine fighter
A Ukrainian fighter holed up in Mariupol’s besieged steel works has accused Russian forces of breaking a promise to allow a ceasefire so that civilians could be evacuated.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, posted a video online which purported to be shot in the Azovstal steel works where Mariupol’s last defenders are holding out with an estimated 200 civilians.
FRANCE 24 is unable to verify where Palamar was speaking.
“It is the third day that the enemy has entered the Azovstal steel plant. Heavy, bloody fighting is going on,” Palamar said.
“Yet again, the Russians have not kept the promise of a ceasefire and have not given an opportunity for the civilians who seek shelter (…) in basements of the plant to evacuate.”
He appealed to the international community for help in evacuating civilians and urged President Volodymr Zelensky to do all he could to evacuate wounded fighters.
2:38pm: International donor conference raises €6 billion for Ukraine
An international donors conference in Warsaw collecting funds for Ukraine has raised 6.5 billion dollars (6.16 billion euros) to help the war-torn country, Poland‘s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said.
Countries such as Finland, the Czech Republic, Croatia and others pledged millions of euros to support humanitarian and military efforts in Ukraine as part of the conference hosted by Poland and Sweden.
The European Commission also pledged 200 million euros in aid for displaced people in Ukraine, it said in a statement.
12:34pm: Zelensky launches global crowdfunding platform to help Ukraine win war
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday launched a global crowdfunding platform to help Kyiv win the war with Russia and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
“In one click, you can donate funds to protect our defenders, to save our civilians and to rebuild Ukraine,” Zelensky said in English in a video on his Twitter page as he launched the United24 platform. “Every donation matters for victory.”
Nine weeks into Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian cities have suffered vast destruction.
“All funds will be transferred to the national bank of Ukraine and allocated to the relevant ministries,” Zelensky said, indicating that his government would give an update “every 24 hours” about how the money was being used.
The Ukrainian leader called on ordinary people around the world to help Kyiv defeat Moscow.
“Only together we have the potential to stop the war and to rebuild what Russia has destroyed.”
He said Ukraine will “always remember” their contributions.
11:19am: Russia ‘trying to destroy’ last Ukrainian units in Azovstal, Kyiv says
Ukraine said on Thursday that Russia was “trying to destroy” its remaining soldiers holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, with Kyiv’s last defenders in the battered city saying Moscow forces have broken into the giant factory.
“Russian occupiers are focusing on blocking and trying to destroy Ukrainian units in the Azovstal area,” Kyiv’s army said in a statement.
“With the support of aircraft, Russia resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant.”
Fighting also raged in other parts of eastern Ukraine, with the governor of the Donbas region Pavlo Kyrylenko saying at least 25 civilians were wounded in an overnight Russian strike on the city of Kramatorsk.
09:21am: Poland, Sweden co-host donors’ conference to spur Ukraine aid
The prime ministers of Poland and Sweden will host a high-level international donors’ conference on Thursday in the Polish capital in partnership with other EU countries. The aim is to mobilise substantial pledges in order to support the UN humanitarian response in Ukraine as well as to discuss steps towards supporting Kyiv’s efforts to manage the economic consequences of the war. The conference is a follow-up to the April 9 Stand Up for Ukraine event that raised €9 billion for Ukrainian refugees. The event in Warsaw is set to kick off at noon today.
FRANCE 24 Brussels Correspondent Dave Keating tells us more.
06:12am: Three-day Russian ceasefire to begin at besieged Mariupol plant
A Russian-announced ceasefire was due to begin Thursday at the besieged steel plant in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol, to allow civilians to flee even as its defenders vowed to fight to the end.
The three-day halt in Russia’s attack on the Azovstal steelworks was announced as EU member states debated a proposed ban on Russian oil, the bloc’s toughest move yet over Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.
The EU also pledged to “significantly increase” support for Ukrainian neighbour Moldova, where a series of attacks in a Russia-backed separatist region has sparked fears a war that has killed thousands could spread more than two months after it began.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said the bloc would “phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year”, a move that would still not touch its huge gas exports.
But within hours, Hungary – whose populist leader Viktor Orban is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s few EU partners – said it could not support the plan “in this form”, as it would “completely destroy” the security of its energy supply.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hit back that EU countries blocking an oil embargo would be “complicit” in Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.
03:45am: US intelligence helping Ukraine kill Russian generals, NY Times reports
The United States has provided intelligence that has helped Ukrainian forces kill many of the Russian generals who have died in the Ukraine war, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing senior US officials.
Washington has provided to Ukraine details on Russia’s expected troop movements and the location and other details about Russia’s mobile military headquarters, and Ukraine has combined that help with its own intelligence to conduct artillery strikes and other attacks that have killed Russian officers, the newspaper said.
Ukrainian officials said they have killed about 12 Russian generals on the battlefield, according to the New York Times. US officials declined to specify how many generals had been killed as a result of American intelligence, the newspaper said.
FRANCE 24 was not able to independently verify the accounts.
03:20am: Modi, Macron call for ‘immediate’ end to Ukraine hostilities
India and France on Wednesday called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi again stopping short of condemning Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
India, which imports much of its military hardware from Russia, has long walked a diplomatic tightrope between the West and Moscow – notably refusing to denounce the latter or vote against it at the United Nations over its actions in Ukraine.
“France and India expressed their deep concern over the humanitarian crisis and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron said in a joint statement after they met in Paris for talks and a working dinner.
“Both countries unequivocally condemned the fact that civilians have been killed in Ukraine, and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in order for the two sides to come together to promote dialogue and diplomacy, and to put an immediate end to the suffering of the people.”
However, only France condemned “Russian forces’ illegal and unjustified aggression against Ukraine”.
1:50am: Ukrainian TV reporter-turned-soldier killed in fighting, says Zelensky
A Ukrainian television reporter who enlisted after the Russian invasion has been killed in fighting outside the northeastern city of Izyum, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday.
Oleksandr Makhov, 36, is at least the eighth journalist to have died in more than two months of conflict.
Makhov, known for graphic accounts from conflict zones, had also reported from Antarctica. He fought in a 2014 conflict after Russian-speakers staged separatist insurrections in two eastern regions of Ukraine.
“Patriotic and sincere, and always without vanity. And he was always among the bravest, among those first in line,” Zelenskiy said in an early morning video address.
1:18am: Over 300 rescued from Mariupol, as Zelensky pleads for more UN help
Over 300 Ukrainians were evacuated from the battered city of Mariupol on Wednesday as President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the UN to help to rescue the remaining wounded trapped underneath the giant Azovstal steel plant.
Speaking to the nation in his nightly address, Zelensky said 344 people were evacuated from Mariupol and nearby areas and headed northwest for the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is controlled by Kyiv.
But earlier in the day, he also pleaded with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help rescue the wounded who are still sheltering at the plant.
“The lives of the people who remain there are in danger,” Zelensky told Guterres by phone.
In a statement, the Red Cross said it was “relieved that more lives have been spared” and called for renewed efforts to continue evacuations from the region “in light of the immense suffering of the civilians.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)