600 civilians died in March theater bombing in Mariupol; Zelenskyy says Russian advance halted: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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Evidence suggests close to 600 civilians died in the Russian airstrike on the Mariupol drama theater on March 16 that horrified the world and helped galvanize support for Ukraine’s effort to repel the invasion, according to an Associated Press investigation.

The theater had been used as a bomb shelter in the early days of Russia’s siege of the port city and had large warnings visible from the sky reading, “children.”

AP’s death total is twice the city government’s estimate and marks the deadliest single known attack against civilians in the war. AP said its journalists drew on accounts of 23 survivors, rescuers and people intimately familiar with the shelter operating at the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater. It also used two sets of floor plans of the theater, photos and video taken inside before, during and after that day.

Most witnesses said around 1,000 people were in the theater at the time of the assault.

Dozens of nations have provided military and/or humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The U.S. has committed $3.7 billion in weapons and other aid and President Joe Biden is seeking an additional $33 billion from Congress.

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Latest developments:

►Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed “nonsense” media reports that President Vladimir Putin might formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9, when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and announce a broad mobilization.

►New satellite images suggest fighting may be ongoing at a besieged steel plant in Mariupol. The Kremlin is denying Ukraine claims that Russian forces are trying to storm the Azovstal plant, the last holdout for Ukrainian fighters in the port city.

►The United Kingdom is sending a military support package worth almost $400 million to Ukraine. The package will include electronic warfare equipment, a radar system, GPS jamming equipment, heavy-lift supply drones and night vision devices.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine troops have halted Russia’s advance

Ukraine has stopped Russia’s advance and in some areas is retaking territory lost in the invaders’ latest surge, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy, speaking remotely to the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London, said that in some areas his troops are pushing forward and in others they are awaiting military equipment needed to press on.

“We are gaining ground and we are pushing away the Russian army,” he said. “Therefore, not a single step back.”

The Ukrainian leader said he wants to drive Russian forces back to their positions before the invasion and would then use peace talks to regain control over the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014. Zelenskyy said he would sign no deal that would allow Russian troops to remain in occupied territory of Ukraine.

EU chief calls for ban on oil imports from Russia

After weeks of negotiations, the European Union’s top official on Wednesday formally called on the 27 nations to ban oil imports from Russia and target the country’s biggest bank and major broadcasters. It is EU’s sixth package of sanctions over the war, and one that has already drawn dissent from Hungary and Slovakia. Both nations are likely to obtain exemptions from the oil ban, which could provide a pathway to the necessary unanimous approval. Russia provides the bloc with about 25% of its oil, and fierce debate in expected across many countries.

“We now propose a ban on Russian oil. Let´s be clear: it will not be easy,” said EU President Ursula von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion to maximize pressure on Russia while minimizing the impact on our economies.”

Pentagon warns that Russia’s military will learn from tactical errors

Top Pentagon leaders warned Congress that Russia’s military is learning from its mistakes as the war shifts into a new phase, which will affect how the U.S. supports Ukraine. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday that Ukrainian forces will need more tanks and mechanized vehicles as fighting tightens in on the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told senators that Russia failed to train young commanders, which led to a top-heavy organization that hasn’t been as effective as Ukraine’s forces.

But Austin said, “they will learn from what they did in the early stages of this fight. And we’ll see them improve their logistical efforts. And we’ll see them improve their massing of fires and that sort of business. But some things they won’t be able to correct.”

Ukrainian refugees wait in Mexico City, hoping for US entry

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees have fled to Mexico’s capital, in hopes of being able to enter the United States next. About 500 Ukrainians were waiting in a Mexico City refugee camp Tuesday, with 50 to 100 more arriving each day. The camp, set up with large tents across a dusty field, has only been open a week.

Over 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded. The United States in March pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainians and individuals who have been displaced due to the war, and the Biden administration extended the eligibility for Ukrainians for temporary protected status in mid-April, which allows them to stay in the United States for 18 months and apply for work permits.

Giorgi Mikaberidze, 19, arrived in Tijuana on April 25 but found the U.S. border closed. He went from being just yards from the United States to some 600 miles away in the Mexico City area. He said he traveled to Mexico alone.

“It’s very difficult to wait. We don’t know how the program will work,” he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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