Live Updates | UN chief seeks Orthodox Holy Week cease-fire

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UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for a four-day halt in fighting in Ukraine, starting Thursday to coincide with Orthodox Christians’ Holy Week observances.

Noting that Orthodox Easter is coming amid an intensifying Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the U.N. chief said Tuesday that the need for a “humanitarian pause” is all the more urgent.

Guterres said the goal is to allow for evacuating civilians from “current or expected areas of confrontation” and or getting more humanitarian aid into desperately needy places such as Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. More than four million people in those areas need assistance, Guterres said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths traveled to Ukraine and Russia earlier this month to try to gauge the potential for a cease-fire and emerged saying he wasn’t optimistic at the time. Griffiths on Tuesday broached the idea of a Holy Week pause with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, an interfaith group, Guterres said.

“The four-day Easter period should be a moment to unite around saving lives and furthering dialogue to end the suffering in Ukraine,” the U.N. chief said.

The proposal comes after the U.N. recently helped to foster a two-month truce in Yemen’s civil war, halting fighting as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russian forces are attacking along broad east front, Ukraine says

— Displaced people from across Ukraine seek shelter in Lviv apartment building

Yellen to see Ukraine PM, avoid Russians at global meetings

— Global finance meeting focuses on war-driven food insecurity

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— UN chief urges 4-day Easter ‘pause’ in fighting in Ukraine

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

PRAGUE — The Czech Defense Ministry says local companies will work to repair Ukrainian military equipment damaged in fighting the invading Russian military.

The ministry says the first contract will focus on fixing T-64 Soviet-era tanks. Various armored vehicles of BRD and BRDM types will follow.

The ministry says the Czech Republic was the first partner country officially approached by Ukraine with such a request.

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PRAGUE — Czech authorities have launched a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

Prague’s High Public Prosecutor’s Office that oversees the investigation said Tuesday that the initial information from Ukraine “shows signs of war crimes,” according to international law.

The office said the purpose of the investigation is to secure evidence from witnesses and victims who have arrived to seek refuge in the Czech Republic. The Czechs coordinate their effort with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation.

The investigators are focusing on suspected use of banned and illegal means and methods of warfare.

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KHARKIV, Ukraine — Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv say at least four people were killed and three others wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area.

The attack on Tuesday happened as residents attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy in the eastern city, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas.

Kharkiv is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling from the Russian forces. Earlier on Tuesday, a regional governor in Kharkiv said 5 civilians had been killed and 17 wounded in the past 24 hours.

Also on Tuesday, an explosion rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk killing at least 1 person and injuring 3, according to AP journalists at the scene.

— By Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine

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MOSCOW — Russia said Tuesday it is expelling 15 diplomats from the Netherlands and an unspecified number of Belgian embassy staff in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats by those countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says it has ordered 14 employees of the Dutch embassy in Moscow and one from the consulate in St. Petersburg to leave the country.

“We expected Russia to take reciprocal measures. Nevertheless I regret this step. We are now going to see what the consequences are of the fact that so many colleagues have to leave Moscow and Petersburg,” Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

That follows the Netherlands expelling Russian diplomats last month. Dutch authorities said they expelled 17 and alleged they had been using diplomatic cover to work as spies. The Russian Foreign Ministry said a total 18 people with diplomatic status were expelled from its embassy in The Hague, a trade mission in Amsterdam and the Russian representation at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is based in the Netherlands.

The ministry added that the Belgian ambassador had been notified that embassy staff would have to leave by May 3, without saying how many people were affected. The ambassador of Luxembourg was summoned for an official protest after the small Western European nation expelled a single Russian diplomat this month.

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LONDON — British officials say the next phase of the war in Ukraine is likely to be “an attritional conflict” that could last several months.

A senior U.K. national security official briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday, as Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of the eastern Donbas region.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the official told ministers that Russia’s greater number of troops was “unlikely to be decisive on its own” against fierce Ukrainian resistance.

The official told Cabinet that there are signs Russia has not learned the lessons from previous setbacks in northern Ukraine, with evidence of troops being committed to the fight in a “piecemeal fashion” and some soldiers and units refusing to fight.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the prime minister had told Cabinet that Ukraine’s position remained “perilous,” with Russian President Vladimir Putin “angered by defeats but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost.”

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya says he is certain that the Russian forces will uproot the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the key port of Mariupol within hours.

Ramzan Kadyrov said on a messaging app channel that the Russian troops will “finish off” the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol on Tuesday and take full control of the giant Azovstal steel mill, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the city.

Ukrainian troops have defended the strategic port on the Sea of Azov for seven weeks despite the Russian blockade and relentless barrage that flattened most of the city.

The Azovstal plant, which covers the territory of about 11 square kilometers (over 4 square miles), offered Ukrainian defenders a strong fighting position thanks to its sprawling network of underground tunnels and depots.

Kadyrov, whose forces have taken part in the fighting in Mariupol, has repeatedly made blustery comments about the city’s inevitable fall.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says he plans to speak with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as part of Turkey’s efforts to halt the conflict.

Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey was also talking to P5 nations — the United States, China, France, Russia and the U.K. — and other countries about possible security guarantees for Ukraine, adding that Kyiv’s request for guarantees similar to Article 5 of the NATO treaty hadn’t found support, especially among Western countries.

“If there can be no guarantees (similar to) NATO’s Article 5, then what options are there? We are taking care of such these details,” Cavusoglu said. “We must be prepared for the possibility of a cease-fire.”

He was speaking during a joint news conference with Hungary’s foreign minister in Ankara.

NATO-member Turkey, which has maintained its close ties to both Russia and Ukraine, has hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers as well as talks between the two negotiating teams last month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he hopes to bring the Russian and Ukrainian leaders to the negotiating table.

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BERLIN — Germany-based consumer products company Henkel says it has decided to exit the Russian market in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Henkel’s range includes Persil detergent, Schwarzkopf hair products and Loctite glue. The company said Tuesday that “the execution process is now being prepared” and that, in the meantime, its 2,500 employees in Russia will continue to be employed and paid.

Henkel initially announced in early March that it would freeze future investment plans in Russia, stop advertising in state media and cancel all sponsoring activities in the country but would continue “for now” to supply essential goods in Russia.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council’s latest session on Ukraine is set to focus on refugees, human trafficking and foreign citizens’ difficulties in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Some 12 million people have fled their homes for other parts of Ukraine and for other countries, according to the U.N.

The Security Council has held a flurry of sessions on Ukraine but hasn’t been able to take any action. Still, the U.S. and its supporters on the council say the continued sessions are keeping pressure on Russia and isolating it on the international stage.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister has accused the U.S. and other Western nations of supplying Ukraine with weapons so that it continues fighting “until the last Ukrainian.”

Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday at a meeting with the top military brass that Washington and its allies are doing all they can to drag out Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

He noted that “the growing supplies of foreign weapons clearly signal their intention to provoke the Kyiv regime to keep fighting until the last Ukrainian.”

Shoigu said that the Russian military has “consistently implemented the plan to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.”

Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking region eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, that includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says security for his country also means security for Bulgaria and all other Black Sea countries.

“We are fighting not only for our safety,” Kuleba said after talks Tuesday with his Bulgarian counterpart, Teodora Genchovska. “We are fighting for you too, so that you never have to face the tragedy of Russia’s attempts to affect and damage your country.”

Kuleba expressed understanding that many in Bulgaria have emotional and historic links to Russia.

“But now it’s different — destroying, killing, torturing, raping,” he said. “This is not a Russia that deserves sympathy and understanding. I want everyone to understand that.”

No details of the talks have been disclosed, but media reports alleged that Kuleba may ask for a stronger engagement of Bulgaria in Ukraine’s defense from Russia’s aggression. Along with Hungary, Bulgaria is the only EU member that has so far been reluctant to send weapons to Kyiv.

During his unofficial visit to Sofia, Kuleba will also meet Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.

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MOSCOW — The Russian foreign minister says that Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine is entering a new stage.

Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Indian television broadcast Tuesday that “the operation is continuing, and another phase of this operation is starting now.”

Lavrov’s statement follows Ukrainian statements that Russia on Monday launched an offensive in the country’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years in the mostly Russian-speaking region and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Moscow.

Lavrov emphasized that the Russian operation is aimed at the “full liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.”

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AMSTERDAM — Automaker Stellantis says it is suspending production in Russia because of the impact of sanctions and logistical problems.

Stellantis was making vans in Russia under the Peugeot and Citroen brands at a factory in Kaluga which it shared with Mitsubishi. The Japanese manufacturer suspended its production there earlier this month.

Stellantis said Tuesday it wanted to “ensure full compliance” with international sanctions and “protect its employees” by suspending production. The company had previously warned the Kaluga factory was running low on parts. Many automakers with operations in Russia have struggled to import the components they need since the invasion of Ukraine began.

Based in the Netherlands, Stellantis is the world’s fourth-largest automaker with brands including Chrysler, Jeep and Fiat. It previously stopped vehicle shipments to and from Russia last month.

Russian authorities have criticized companies which shut down their operations, and warned they could take steps to put production facilities under state control.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in eastern Ukraine says five civilians have been killed by Russian shelling.

Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synyehubov said Tuesday that another 17 residents were wounded in the Russian rocket barrage of the center of Kharkiv and its outskirts.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has faced Russian attacks since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

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STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government wants to allocate 9.8 billion kronor ($1 billion) to the Swedish Migration Board for increased costs for receiving people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Sweden’s Finance Minister Mikael Damberg presented the budget for 2022 on Tuesday.

The Swedish government repeatedly has said that Sweden will take its share of refugees from Ukraine but not as many as it did in 2015 when it took in a record 163,000 migrants— the highest per capita of any European country.

The government largely wants to take the money for the Ukraine refugees from development aid.

The budget proposal also includes a previously announced increase of non-NATO member Sweden’s military spending in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military has made a new demand to the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol to lay down their arms.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev gave the Ukrainian troops holed up at the giant Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol until midday (0900 GMT) Tuesday to surrender.

He said that those who surrender will “keep their lives.”

Ukrainian troops who have defended the city for seven weeks have ignored such previous offers. The Azovstal plant, which covers the territory of about 11 square kilometers (over 4 square miles) is the last major Ukrainian pocket of resistance in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov.

Earlier Tuesday, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region, said that assault groups had moved into Azovstal in a bid to uproot the Ukrainian troops following bombing and artillery barrage.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danes need to be independent of Russian gas “as quickly as possible,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Tuesday, adding the Scandinavian country “must develop as much renewable energy as can be done.”

“Putin, he must be stopped. The war in Ukraine affects us all,” Frederiksen said.

Denmark is relatively self-sufficient and has other energy sources — onshore and offshore windmill parks, bioenergy, among others, and depend little on the import of Russian gas. Roughly 40% of EU gas imports come from Russia, and Denmark gets around 15% of its total energy from natural gas.

Copenhagen-based Ørsted, where the Danish government owns 50.1% of the stakes, has come under pressure to extricate itself from its 2006 contract with Gazprom that provides Russian gas. It has said that it would remain tied to the Russian company until when the contract expires in 2030 but has chosen not to extend the current deal.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say they have seized a Russian tanker in the Aegean Sea as part of European Union sanctions imposed against Russia.

The Greek coast guard said the Russian-flagged Pegas, an oil tanker with 19 Russian crew members on board, was seized April 15 and is currently anchored in the bay of Karystos, on the southern coast of the island of Evia. The coast guard said the seizure order concerned the ship itself, and not its cargo.

The European Union, of which Greece is a member, has adopted a wide range of sanctions against Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, designed to pressure the Russian economy and the government of President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions include import and export bans for a wide variety of goods, and a ban on access to EU ports by Russian-flagged ships.

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TOKYO — Japan will send gas masks, hazmat suits and drones to Ukraine to help defend the country against Russia’s invasion amid growing concern of chemical weapons use by the Russian military.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tuesday that Japan is sending the anti-chemical-warfare equipment at the request of the Ukrainian government.

Japan last month provided bulletproof vests, helmets and other nonlethal arms equipment to Ukraine as an exception to Tokyo’s ban on arms exports to countries in conflict, saying Ukraine is being invaded. The shipment has raised controversy in Japan, whose pacifist Constitution renounces war.

“Banding together with the international community and firmly taking action against Russia’s invasion, which violates international law, is extremely important from the viewpoint of our own national security as well,” Kishi said.

The government has revised its operational guideline of arms transfer to allow provisions of nonlethal equipment to Ukraine and says the new rule covers gas masks and protective gear. Japan is also sending commercially available drones that are not considered arms equipment.

Japan has been quick in joining the United States and European Union in imposing sanctions against Russia and supporting Ukraine and its people because Tokyo fears the impact its invasion could have on East Asia, where China has been increasingly pushing its own territorial claims.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Tuesday that Russian forces are focusing their efforts on taking full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east.

It noted that a “new phase of war” began Monday when “the occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire frontline in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.”

It said in a statement issued early Tuesday that “the Russian military has continued to blockade and shell Mariupol and to deal missile strikes on other cities.”

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