- Joe Biden meets in Warsaw with Ukrainian ministers in the first face-to-face talks between the US president and top Kyiv officials since Russia’s invasion began.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls on energy producing countries to increase output to stop Russia from using its oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
- Ukraine says it has reached an agreement on the establishment of 10 humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.
- Russia says it is now focused on fully capturing Donbas in apparent shift in strategy.
- Ukraine says 7,331 people were evacuated from cities on Friday.
- The UN nuclear watchdog claims staff members at Chernobyl’s radioactive waste facilities have not been rotated in four days.
- President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of trying to “cancel” Russian culture.
Here are all the latest updates:
Biden’s words “narrow window” for improvements: Kremlin
Biden’s comments on Putin “narrow the window” for mending relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has warned, after the US president called his Russian counterpart a “butcher”.
“After all, the state leader must remain sober,” Peskov told TASS news agency. “Every time such personal insults narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current administration (USA). We must be aware of this,” he added.
Nearly 60 religious site bombed since war started
At least 59 places of worship across Ukraine have been shelled by Russian forces, said a report by the country’s authority responsible for church affairs.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which operates under the Moscow Patriarchate and is particularly strong in the east of the country, had suffered particularly heavy losses, it added.
A Catholic church, five Protestant churches, three mosques and three synagogues have also been damaged in the fighting so far.
Three explosions heard near Lviv: city council
Three explosions were heard near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, an official from the city council said.
“There have been three powerful explosions near Lviv… Everyone should keep calm and stay indoors,” Igor Zinkevych said in a post on Facebook, posting a picture of heavy black smoke.
Thick black clouds of smoke could be seen behind Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi who was reporting from the city about half an hour after the explosions.
“This is the second major attack to happen in Lviv city,” he said, noting that the West of the country has been spare much of the violence so far. However, Basravi added, “this is the second one to happen within Lviv city’s limits and its the closest one to happen near the city center”.
“This is a very clear escalation of the conflict,” he said.
Biden calls Putin ‘a butcher’
Asked what he thought of Putin after meeting refugees in Warsaw, Biden said: “He’s a butcher.”
The US president also said he was not sure that Russia had changed its strategy in its invasion of Ukraine, after Moscow said its focus was now to completely “liberate” the breakaway eastern Donbass region.
“I am not sure they have,” Biden said when asked by a reporter if Moscow had changed its strategy.
Ukraine offers to the EU its gas storage facilities
Ukraine is offering its own natural gas storage facilities to keep strategic energy reserves of the EU, Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said. The country can rely on the largest underground storage facilities in Europe, Halushchenko wrote in a post on Facebook.
The minister also welcomed EU efforts to wean the bloc off Russian gas supplies and buy jointly from other suppliers. Ukraine could contribute to this solidarity and balancing mechanism with its storage facilities, he added.
Clashes continue over Mariupol: Ukrainian, Russian sources
The Russian army is shelling civilian and military sites in the port city of Mariupol from the air and with artillery, the Ukrainian General Staff said in a report. Meanwhile Russian ground forces are trying to advance into the city centre. Oleksiy Arestovych, a senior adviser to Zelenskyy, also referred to street fighting in the southern city.
From the Russian side, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov published videos allegedly showing the deployment of his fighters in Mariupol.
NATO’s article 5 is ‘sacred commitment’: Biden
The US has a “sacred commitment” to the NATO military alliance’s collective defence, Biden told his Polish counterpart Duda while in Warsaw.
“You can count on that… For your freedom and ours,” he added. Biden’s comment came after Duda said that Poles were feeling a “great sense of threat” due to the ongoing war.
Biden also said he thought Putin “was counting on dividing, be able to separate eastern flank from the West.” However, he said, he had not been able to do so.
New Kyiv curfew from Saturday evening to Monday morning
A fresh curfew will be imposed on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv from Saturday evening until Monday morning, mayor Vitali Klitschko announced.
“The military command decided to reinforce the curfew. It will start from 8:00 pm Saturday and last until 7:00 am on Monday,” he said on Telegram.
He said residents could only “go out to seek shelter if sirens go off” and added that “public transport, shops, pharmacies and petrol pumps will be closed.”
Curfew has been imposed several times in Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24. The previous curfew lasted 35 hours between March 21 and 23.
Biden meets top Ukrainian ministers in Warsaw
Joe Biden met in Warsaw with two Ukrainian ministers in the first face-to-face talks between the US president and top Kyiv officials since Russia’s invasion began.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov made a rare trip out of Ukraine in a possible sign of growing confidence in the fightback against Russian forces.
The meeting took place at the Marriott Hotel in the city centre – opposite a Warsaw train station where there has been a constant flow of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict started.
Biden last met Kuleba in Washington on February 22 – two days before Russia began its assault.
Japan’s Kishida sees growing chance of Russia using nuclear weapons
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says the prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons was “increasingly real”, while welcoming a visit by the United States ambassador to Hiroshima, the first city to suffer a nuclear attack.
Japan, the only country attacked by atomic weapons, has regularly spoken out against nuclear armaments. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, visited the city’s peace memorial and museum on Saturday with envoy Rahm Emanuel.
“When the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia is increasingly real, I believe ambassador Emanuel’s visit to Hiroshima and his experience of seeing the nuclear reality will become a strong message to the international society,” Kishida told public broadcaster NHK.
“I believe our visit was meaningful.”
Putin has not directly threatened a nuclear attack. But he warned that anyone hindering Russia would face “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history” – a statement some leaders took as a threat to use nuclear weapons.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia would use nuclear weapons only to counter “an existential threat for our country”.
Missiles destroy Ukrainian arms depot: Russian defence ministry
Russian missiles have destroyed a depot containing arms and military equipment near the city of Zhytomyr in northwestern Ukraine, the Russian defence ministry said.
Four Kalibr missiles had been fired from a naval vessel on the Black Sea that hit the depot near the industrial city, located some 120km to the west of Kyiv, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov said that a total of 117 military targets had been destroyed within the past 24 hours, including six command posts and three aircraft.
Ukraine president makes surprise appearance at Doha Forum
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy has delivered a virtual address to a forum of more than a dozen world leaders at the annual Doha Forum in Qatar.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Doha, said that Zelenskyy’s address was not announced to be part of the programme, possibly because its organisers wanted to bring in the Russian side.
“Zelenskyy used the opportunity to address over a dozen world leaders participating at the forum to further press them to take stronger action in putting an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Elshayyal said from Doha.
The Ukrainian president asked countries attending to take steps to further isolate Moscow and boycott Russian oil and gas, and urged gas-rich nations like Qatar to step in and fill the void.
“Even if Qatar would want to do something like this, lucrative as it would be, it would be almost impossible to fill the 30 percent of Europe’s energy needs which are currently being supplied by Russia,” Elshayyal said.
Kyiv region head says Russian forces have seized Chernobyl workers’ town
The governor of Kyiv region says Russian forces have taken control of the town of Slavutych, where workers at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant live.
In an online statement, Oleksandr Pavlyuk said Russian troops had occupied the hospital in Slavutych and kidnapped the mayor.
On Friday, Ukraine said its troops had repulsed a first attack by Russian troops closing in on the town.
Biden to meet two Ukrainian ministers in Warsaw: White House
US President Joe Biden will join a meeting in Warsaw between the Ukrainian foreign and defence ministers and their US counterparts, the White House said.
“This morning, President Biden will drop by a meeting between secretaries (Antony) Blinken and (Lloyd) Austin and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov,” the White House said.
Russian defence minister seen speaking at army meeting after long public silence
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was seen chairing an army meeting and discussing weapons supplies in a video posted by his ministry, the first time he had publicly been shown speaking for more than two weeks.
In the video, uploaded on social media, Shoigu said he had discussed issues related to the military budget and defence orders with the finance ministry.
“We continue ahead-of-schedule delivery of weaponry and equipment by means of credits. The priorities are long-range high-precision weapons, aircraft equipment and maintenance of engagement readiness of strategic nuclear forces,” said Shoigu, who is overseeing what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The meeting was attended by a number of top Russian army officials including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who also had not been seen in public recently.
Ukraine says 10 humanitarian corridors agreed for front-line areas
Ukraine has reached an agreement on the establishment of 10 humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from towns and cities on the front line of the conflict, the deputy prime minister has said.
Speaking on national television, Iryna Vereshchuk said civilians trying to leave the besieged southern port of Mariupol would have to leave in private cars as Russian forces were not letting buses through their checkpoints.
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame when humanitarian corridors have failed to work in recent weeks.
Zelenskyy calls on energy producers to hike output
Ukraine’s president made a surprise video appearance at Qatar’s Doha Forum, calling on energy producing countries to increase output so that Russia cannot use its oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
Zelenskyy compared Russia’s destruction of the port city of Mariupol with the Syrian and Russian destruction wrought on the city of Aleppo in the Syrian war.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskyy said. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”
Zelenskyy called on countries to increase their exports of energy – something particularly important as Qatar is a world leader in the export of natural gas.
He also noted that Muslims in Ukraine would have to fight during the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan.
“We have to ensure this sacred month of Ramadan is not overshadowed by the misery of people in Ukraine,” he said.
More than 130 children killed in Russia’s war: Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine has killed 136 children so far, Ukraine’s office of the prosecutor general said in a message posted on Telegram.
At least 199 other have been wounded since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, the office added.
Russia conducts military drills on isles disputed with Japan: Reports
Russia was conducting drills on islands claimed by Tokyo, Japanese media reported, days after Moscow halted peace talks with Japan because of its sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s Eastern Military District said it was conducting military drills on the Kuril Islands with more than 3,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of army equipment, Russia’s Interfax news agency said.
It did not say where on the island chain, connecting Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula and Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, the drills were taking place.
Japanese media said they were on territory the Soviet Union seized at the end of World War II that is claimed by Tokyo. Japan’s foreign ministry and prime minister’s office could not be reached outside business hours to comment on the exercises.
‘Foolish’: Former Russian president dismisses sanctions’ effect
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed Western sanctions, telling the RIA state-owned news agency it was “foolish” to expect them to have an effect on government policy.
Medvedev, who is deputy head of the security council, says sanctions will only consolidate Russian society and will not cause popular discontent.
Al Jazeera has been reporting on the mood inside Russia, and asking what it means for Vladimir Putin. You can read the article here.
Zelenskyy says Ukraine has pounded Russia with ‘powerful blows’
President Zelenskyy says Ukraine’s military has delivered “powerful blows” against Russian forces, leading to “significant losses”.
Speaking in his nightly video address, he said about 16,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.
“The armed forces continue to repel enemy attacks in the south of the country, in Donbas, in the Kharkiv direction and in the Kyiv region,” he told Ukrainians late on Friday. “By restraining Russia’s actions, our defenders are leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: Talk is necessary. Meaningful. Urgent. Fair.”
Russia says about 1,300 of its troops have died in the fighting.
United Kingdom to fund food supplies for Ukraine
The United Kingdom is sending crucial food supplies to Ukraine following a request from Kyiv.
About 25 truckloads of dried food, tinned goods and water – worth about two million pounds ($2.6m) – will be sent by road and rail from Poland and Slovakia to Ukraine’s most at-risk towns and cities.
“The need on the ground in Ukraine is clear, with so many people in encircled areas trapped in basements without access to food or water,” Alice Hooper, the UK Foreign Office’s humanitarian adviser, said in a statement.
AP says it documented Russian attacks on 34 medical facilities
The Associated Press news agency has said it independently documented at least 34 assaults on Ukrainian medical facilities by Russian forces.
“AP journalists in Ukraine have seen first hand the deadly results of Russian strikes on civilian targets, including the final moments of children whose bodies were shredded by shrapnel and dozens of corpses heaped into mass graves,” the news agency said.
Russian advance on Kyiv appears to have halted: US official
A senior US defence official has said Russia’s military advance on Kyiv appears to have halted as Moscow turns its focus to fighting elsewhere in the country.
The official, cited anonymously by the Associated Press news agency, said Russia appears to be concentrating more on fighting for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region rather than its ground offensive aimed at capturing Kyiv, at least for now.
Spotify to halt service in Russia
Spotify is halting its services in Russia in light of the country’s strict new censorship law, which it says puts its employees and possibly even listeners at risk.
The Swedish music streaming company’s move comes on the heels of other firms pulling out of Russia due to its censorship law. Netflix and TikTok also suspended most of their services in the country earlier this month.
Blinken accuses Kremlin of killing ‘countless Ukrainians’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the Kremlin of killing “countless Ukrainians”. In a Twitter post, Blinken called on Moscow to end what he called “this inhumane war”.
The US government has previously accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Since the war in Ukraine began a month ago, the Kremlin has killed countless Ukrainians, displaced millions, and also has caused thousands of Russian casualties. This inhumane war must stop. pic.twitter.com/6N9Lw7WrJn
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 25, 2022
Russia ‘scaling back’ ambitions in Ukraine: Analyst
Russia is shifting its military goals in Ukraine to focus on fully capturing the eastern region of Donbas because it failed to take Kyiv quickly, Harry Nedelcu, policy director at Rasmussen Global, an international policy consultancy firm, has said.
“Now like a bully that got a bloody nose, Russia is scaling back its ambitions,” Nedelcu told Al Jazeera from Brussels, Belgium.
“It’s bringing this back to a focus on just the territories of the so-called people’s republics in eastern Ukraine, which Putin recognised right before he invaded Ukraine. So this allows Putin to concentrate firepower and resources on war aims which from Moscow’s perspective are more attainable.”
Ukraine says 7,331 people were evacuated on Friday
A total of 7,331 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Friday, a senior official has said, more than double the 3,343 who managed to escape the previous day.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in an online post that 2,800 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol using private transport.
Macron to hold talks with Putin over Mariupol evacuation initiative
French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will hold talks with Putin in the next 48 to 72 hours regarding the situation in Ukraine and an initiative to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol.
Macron said he is coordinating efforts with Greece and Turkey and hopes to convince Russia to allow the evacuation.
EU to Russia: ‘War crimes must stop immediately’
European Union leaders have urged Russia to fully respect its obligations under international law and abide by the recent order by the International Court of Justice that told Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.
“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine grossly violates international law and is causing massive loss of life and injury to civilians,” the leaders of the 27-nation EU said in a joint statement.
“Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and is targeting civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools and shelters. These war crimes must stop immediately.”
Russian focus on ‘liberating’ Donbas hints at shift in strategy
Russia has claimed that the first phase of its “military operation” in Ukraine was mostly complete and that it would focus on fully “liberating” eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The announcement appeared to indicate that Russia may be switching to more limited goals after running into fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said.
Read more here.
Read all the updates from Friday, March 25 here.