Britain will send a team of investigators to Ukraine to help gather evidence of war crimes, including sexual violence, its foreign minister has said.
- A British team of investigators will have a special emphasis on allegations of rape as a war crime
- Britain and the Netherlands support a full ban on Russian energy exports to Europe
- Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms his attendance at this year’s G20 summit
Both Ukrainian prosecutors and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are investigating potential war crimes in Ukraine since Russia’s February 24 invasion, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour.
That comes as Ukraine acknowledged it was taking heavy losses in Russia’s assault in the east, but said Russia’s losses were even worse.
People who have recently arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing their village describe what life was like for a month under Russian occupation, as the Mayor of Mariupol said citizens trapped there were “begging to get saved”.
Here’s a look at the latest from Ukraine.
‘No need’ for UN help with civilian evacuations
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appears to have dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities, striking a tough line a day after the UN chief toured war-wracked Kyiv with that very aim.
As an interviewer at Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV tried to ask Mr Lavrov about UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians, Mr Lavrov cut him off.
“There is no need. I know, I know,” an irritated Mr Lavrov said.
“There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors. There is only one problem… humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultra-nationals.”
Mr Lavrov said negotiations continued “almost every day”.
However, he cautioned that “progress has not been easy”.
Mr Lavrov in part blamed “the bellicose rhetoric and inflammatory actions of Western supporters of the Kyiv regime” for disrupting the talks.
During the hour-long interview, Mr Lavrov also accused the West of sabotaging Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine.
He claimed that thorny negotiations in Istanbul last month had been progressing on issues of Russian territorial claims and security guarantees until Ukrainian diplomats backtracked at the behest of the West.
“We are stuck because of their desire to play games all the time,” Mr Lavrov said.
“Because of the instructions they get [from] Washington, from London, from some other capitals, not to accelerate the negotiations.”
When asked about the risks of war spilling into neighbouring Moldova after a series of explosions rattled a breakaway border region within the country, Mr Lavrov struck an ominous tone.
“Moldova should worry about their own future,” he said.
“Because they’re being pulled into NATO.”
Ukraine says Russia taking ‘colossal losses’
Having failed in an assault on Kyiv in the north of Ukraine last month, Russia is now trying to fully capture two eastern provinces known, collectively, as Donbas.
Ukraine has acknowledged losing control of some towns and villages there since the assault began last week, but says Moscow’s gains have come at a massive cost to a Russian force already worn down from its earlier defeat near the capital.
US President Joe Biden called on Congress to send as much as $US33 billion ($47 billion) to help Kyiv withstand the attack.
“We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Mr Biden said.
“The cost of this fight — it’s not cheap — but caving to aggression is going to be more costly.”
By pledging tens of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine, Mr Biden dramatically increased US involvement in the conflict.
Russia said the arrival of Western arms into Ukraine means it was now fighting a “proxy war” against NATO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened unspecified retaliation this week, while his foreign minister warned of a threat of nuclear war.
Full ban on Russian energy imports possible
Moscow denies committing war crimes in Ukraine or targeting civilians during a war that has killed thousands, devastated many cities and towns and forced five million people, mostly women and children, to flee abroad.
Speaking after meeting with ICC officials, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said a British team would head to Ukraine in May with a special emphasis on allegations of rape as war crimes.
“This is about collecting a wide range of evidence, witness statements, forensic evidence and video evidence.”
Separately, Ms Truss met with her Dutch counterpart, Wopke Hoekstra, to discuss the need for further sanctions on Russia, including a halt on purchasing Russian fossil fuels.
The two NATO allies have been closely aligned on Ukraine policy, with both supporting the supply of heavy weaponry for its war efforts.
Both also support a full ban on Russian energy exports to Europe, including gas, by the end of 2022.
Hundreds evacuated to Kharkiv from nearby village
Hundreds of people were arriving in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Friday after being evacuated from the nearby village of Ruska Lozova.
The village had been under Russian occupation for more than a month.
Almost half the village escaped in buses, in shrapnel-damaged cars or on foot, after fierce battles saw Russian troops pushed back and Ukraine take full control of the village, according to the Kharkiv regional governor.
A video posted by Ukraine’s Azov battalion showed troops raising the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag over the government building in the centre of the village, although fighting continued on its outskirts.
Upon arrival to Kharkiv, less than 20 kilometres away, those who fled described the dire conditions they faced.
“We were hiding in the basement. It was horror,” resident Ludmila Bocharnikova said.
UN works to broker civilian evacuation from Mariupol
The United Nations doggedly sought to broker an evacuation of civilians from the increasingly hellish ruins of Mariupol on Friday, while Ukraine accused Russia of showing its contempt for the world organisation by bombing Kyiv while the UN leader was visiting the Ukrainian capital.
Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko said the situation inside the steel plant that had become the southern port city’s last stronghold was dire, and citizens were “begging to get saved”.
Ukraine’s forces, meanwhile, fought to hold off Russian attempts to advance in the south and east, where the Kremlin is seeking to capture the country’s industrial Donbas region.
Artillery fire, sirens and explosions could be heard in some cities.
As Russian troops try to move north out of Mariupol so they can advance on Ukrainian forces from the south, their progress has been “slow and uneven and certainly not decisive,” the official said.
In Mariupol, about 100,000 people were believed trapped with little food, water or medicine. An estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders and 1,000 civilians were holed up at the Azovstal steel plant.
The Soviet-era steel plant has a vast underground network of bunkers able to withstand air-strikes.
But the situation has grown more dire after the Russians dropped “bunker busters” and other bombs.
“Locals who manage to leave Mariupol say it is hell, but when they leave this fortress, they say it is worse,” Mr Boichenko said.
Moscow says more than a million fled to Russia from Ukraine
Some 1.02 million people have been evacuated from Ukraine into Russia since February 24, Mr Lavrov said in remarks published early on Saturday.
That number includes 120,000 foreigners and people evacuated from Russian-backed breakaway regions of Ukraine, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics.
Mr Lavrov — in comments to the Xinhua news agency and published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website — also reiterated that NATO’s vocal support of Ukraine stands in the way of reaching a political deal to end the conflict.
Putin, Zelenskyy to attend G20
Mr Putin confirmed his attendance at this year’s G20 summit in a conversation with Indonesia President Joko Widodo.
Indonesia — which will host the summit in Bali in November — has also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to attend.
Ukraine is not a member of the G20, but chairs of the grouping have previously invited guest countries.
Some members of the G20 — such as the United States, Britain, and Canada — have urged Indonesia not to invite Mr Putin because of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I would like to emphasise that Indonesia would like to unite the G20. There should be no division. Peace and stability are keys to the recovery and the development of the world’s economy.”
However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that, while Russia was preparing for this year’s G20 summit in Indonesia, it has not yet decided whether Mr Putin will attend in person or virtually.