Live updates: Ammonia leak contaminates area in east Ukraine

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A mother embraces her son who escaped the besieged city of Mariupol and arrived at the train station in Lviv, western Ukraine on Sunday, March 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

LVIV, Ukraine — An ammonia leak at a chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy has contaminated an area with a radius of more than 2.5 kilometers (about 1.5 miles), officials said early Monday.

Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy didn’t say what caused the leak.

The Sumykhimprom plant is on the eastern outskirts of the city, which has a population of about 263,000 and has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks.

“For the center of Sumy, there is no threat now, since the wind does not blow on the city,” said Zhyvytskyy.

He said the nearby village of Novoselytsya, about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) southeast of Sumy, is under threat.

Emergency crews were working to contain the leak.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

Russia demands Mariupol lay down arms but Ukraine says no

Zelenskyy evokes Holocaust as he appeals to Israel for aid

‘No city anymore’: Mariupol survivors take train to safety

— Across Europe, Ukrainian exiles pray for peace back home

— Ukraine war is backdrop in US push for hypersonic weapons

— How the U.S. and its allies united to punish Putin

Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS TODAY:

The Russian military has offered the Ukrainian troops defending the strategic port of Mariupol to lay down arms and exit the city via humanitarian corridors, but that proposal was quickly rejected by the Ukrainian authorities.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said Sunday that all Ukrainian soldiers could leave the Azov Sea port Monday using safe routes for evacuating civilians that had been previously agreed with Ukraine and head to areas controlled by the Ukrainian authorities. He said that “all those who lay down arms will be guaranteed a safe exit from Mariupol.”

Mizintsev added that Russia will wait until 5 a.m. Monday for a written Kyiv’s response to the Russian proposal for the Ukrainian troops to leave Mariupol but didn’t say what action Russia will take if its “humanitarian offer” is rejected.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in remarks carried by Ukrainska Pravda news outlet that Kyiv already had told Russia that “there can be no talk about surrender and laying down weapons.” She rejected the Russian statement as “manipulation.”

Mizintsev said that the deliveries of humanitarian supplies to the city will immediately follow if the Ukrainian troops agree to leave the city. He added that civilians will be free to choose whether to leave Mariupol or stay in the city.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the Russian bombing of a school in Mariupol where civilians took refuge.

Speaking in a video address early Monday, Zelenskyy said about 400 civilians were taking shelter at the art school in the besieged Azov Sea port city when it was struck by a Russian bomb.

“They are under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them have survived,” he said. “But we know that we will certainly shoot down the pilot who dropped that bomb, like about 100 other such mass murderers whom we already have downed.”

Zelenskyy, who spoke to members of the Israeli parliament via video link on Sunday, thanked Israel for its efforts to broker talks with Russia. He praised Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for trying to help “find a negotiation track with Russia ... so that we sooner or later start talking with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem.” “It would be the right place to find peace if possible,” he added.

The Ukrainian president also said that he had a call Sunday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a “true friend of Ukraine,” to discuss support for Ukraine during this week’s summit of the Group of Seven and NATO.

Zelenskyy said 7,295 Ukrainians were evacuated from zones of combat on Sunday, including nearly 4,000 from Mariupol. He also hailed people in the southern city of Kherson for taking to the streets Sunday to protest the Russian occupation, showing “Ukrainian courage, armless against the occupiers.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Management of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, said Sunday that 50 staff members who had been on the job since the plant was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24 have been rotated out and replaced.

Officials had repeatedly expressed alarm that the staff was suffering exhaustion after weeks of forced, unrelieved work and that this endangered the decommissioned plant’s safety.

The authority that manages the plant did not give specifics on how agreement was reached to let the workers leave and others come in to replace them.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian survivors of one of the most brutal sieges in modern history were in the final minutes of their train ride to relative safety.

Some carried only what they had at hand when they seized the chance to escape the port of Mariupol amid relentless Russian bombardment. Some fled so quickly that relatives who were still in the starving, freezing Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov aren’t aware that they have gone.

“There is no city anymore,” Marina Galla said. She wept in the doorway of a crowded train compartment that was pulling into the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Even as they finally fled Mariupol, aiming to reach trains heading west to safety, Russian soldiers at checkpoints made a chilling suggestion: It would be better to go to the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol or the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula instead.

Mariupol authorities say nearly 10% of the city’s population of 430,000 have fled over the past week.

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WASHINGTON — China’s ambassador to the U.S. is defending his country’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, contending such a rebuke will do nothing to stop the violence.

Qin Gang tells CBS’s “Face the Nation” that China’s condemnation would not help and that he is doubtful it would have any effect on Russia.

He says China wants “friendly, good neighborly relations with Russia” and will keep up “normal trade, economic, financial, energy cooperation with Russia” as it continues “to promote peace talks” and urge an immediate ceasefire from Russia through negotiation and diplomacy.

Qin spoke after President Joe Biden last week warned Chinese President Xi Jinping of “consequences” if China gave material aid to Russia to support its war in Ukraine. Ukraine has since called on China to join Western countries and Japan in condemning Russia’s attack.

On Sunday, Qin said China is not providing any military assistance to Russia. He insisted that China remains “against a war” and “will do everything” -- short of condemnation -- “to deescalate the crisis.”

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JERUSALEM — Ukraine’s president called on Israel to take a stronger stand against Russia as he compared the invasion of his country to atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

In a speech delivered Sunday via Zoom to members of Israel’s parliament, Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to carry out a “permanent solution” against Ukraine. That was the term used by Nazi Germany for its genocide of some 6 million Jews.

Zelenskyy also noted that a Russian missile attack recently struck Babi Yar in Ukraine, where over 30,000 Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis over two days in 1941. The site is now Ukraine’s main Holocaust memorial.

“You know what this place means, where the victims of the Holocaust are buried,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has emerged as a key mediator between Russia and Ukraine, in part because Israel has good relations with both sides.

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, urged Israel to follow moves by Western countries to impose sanctions on Russia and provide Ukraine weapons.

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LONDON — The bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral rang out Sunday as a gesture of support for Ukraine.

The London landmark rang its 12 bells at 4 p.m. (1600GMT), the same time as church bells were due to sound in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Durham Cathedral in northern England and other churches around Britain also joined in.

Dean of St. Paul’s David Ison said he hoped Ukrainians would “find comfort in this act of solidarity.” He said “we continue to pray for strength and safety for the many people affected by the conflict, and for peace in Ukraine and around the world.”

Ukrainian politicians have likened their fight against Russian invasion to Britain’s struggle against Nazi Germany in World War II. One of the most iconic images of British wartime resilience is a photo showing the dome of St. Paul’s surrounded by thick smoke during a night of heavy German bombing in 1940.

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BERLIN — Alona Fartukhova has been coming to Berlin’s Ukrainian Orthodox Christian community every day since she arrived in Germany five days ago from war-torn Kyiv. The 20-year-old refugee has been attending daily prayers for peace and helped organize donations for her compatriots back home.

On Sunday, Fartukhova joined dozens of other Ukrainian worshippers at a red brick stone church in the German capital who sang together, lit candles, and received blessings from the head of the community, Father Oleh Polianko. Later they put medical crutches, sleeping bags, diapers, big boxes of gummi bears and countless jars of pickles — which were piling up everywhere inside the church — into big cardboard boxes to be send to Ukraine.

Across Europe, Ukrainians gathered for church services to pray for peace in their war-torn country. Newly arrived refugees mingled with long-time members of Europe’s 1.5 million-strong Ukrainian diaspora at houses of worship all over the continent from Germany to Romania to Moldova.

Since Russia attacked Ukraine more than three weeks ago, over 3.38 million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Most have escaped to neighboring Poland, Romania or Moldova, but as the war continues many are moving further west.

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BERLIN — More than 8,000 people are attending an open-air concert in the German capital to express their support for Ukraine.

The “Sound of Peace” concert at the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate on Sunday features German music stars such as Marius Mueller-Westernhagen, who was to perform his iconic song Freiheit, or freedom in German, violinist David Garrett, singer Peter Maffay, and the bands Revolverheld and Silbermond.

Up to 20,000 people were expected at the concert which started in the early afternoon and was supposed to last into the night.

On Sunday afternoon, police called on visitors that the main streets leading to the venue where so crowded that newcomers should look for others ways to get to the concert, German news agency dpa reported.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Mariupol City Council has issued a statement claiming that its residents are being evacuated to Russia against their will and one Ukrainian lawmaker says those people are being taken for forced labor in remote parts of Russia.

“The occupiers are forcing people to leave Ukraine for Russia. Over the past week, several thousand Mariupol residents have been taken to the Russian territory,” the city statement said.

The Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said Sunday that 2,973 people have been evacuated from Mariupol since March 5, including 541 over the last 24 hours.

The statement by the Mariupol City Council also claimed that cellphones and documents of evacuees have been inspected by Russian troops before sending Mariupol residents to the “remote cities in Russia.”

Ukrainian lawmaker Inna Sovsun told Times Radio that according to the mayor and city council in Mariupol, those citizens are going to so-called filtration camps and “then they’re being relocated to very distant parts of Russia, where they’re being forced to sign papers that they will stay in that area for two or three years and they will work for free in those areas.”

The besieged city of Mariupol, which has suffered under heavy Russian forces’ shelling, has been cut off from food, water and energy supplies.

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WARSAW, Poland — Officials in Poland say that trucks headed for Belarus are backed up for 40 kilometers (25 miles) while they wait to reach the Koroszczyn border point as a group of protesters is blocking the road there. The protesters are calling for a ban on trade with Russia and its ally Belarus.

The protesters, Ukrainians and Poles, have been blocking access to the crossing – on and off – for some two weeks, to pressure Moscow into ending its war on Ukraine.

The latest round of the “NO Trade with Russia!” protest in eastern Poland began early Saturday.

Some 950 trucks were waiting to cross into Belarus early Sunday, according to spokesman for the local tax office, Michal Derus. The waiting time was 32 hours, he said.

The road leading to the border point has been closed and the police were separating the protesters from the trucks and the drivers, road infrastructure authorities said.

The pressure of truck traffic on the Koroszczyn border point increased after Poland’s largest crossing into Belarus, in Kuznica, was closed in November, following border guard clashes with Middle East migrants who were trying to illegally cross into Poland, European Union member.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called on the European Union to halt all land and sea trade with Russia.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Germany’s economy minister is visiting the tiny, energy-rich state of Qatar to discuss improving stability in the energy market as Russia’s war in Ukraine sends gas prices to new highs.

Robert Habeck met with Qatar’s foreign minister and minister of state for energy affairs on Sunday about the short-term supply of liquefied natural gas, as Germany seeks to scale back its reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani spoke with Habeck about ways to boost energy cooperation and security, a Qatari government statement said.

Habeck is the latest Western official to visit the oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf amid turmoil in energy markets as Europe seeks to wean itself off Russian energy sources while keeping skyrocketing gasoline prices under control.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia last week in a bid to convince the countries to pump more oil after prices spiked dramatically on supply disruption concerns.

Italy's foreign minister, after visiting Algeria, also went to Qatar, as the Italian government is intent on quickly reducing reliance of Russian-energy. Italy is also looking to Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Libya, to boost its acquisition of gas.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says that six Russian generals and dozens of other senior officers have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion.

Podolyak tweeted on Sunday that “the high mortality rate among Russia’s senior military officers” reflects a “total lack of readiness,” adding that the Russian military relies on big number of troops and cruise missiles.

The Russian military hasn’t confirmed the death of any of its generals. But an associate and an officers’ group in Russia confirmed the death of one, Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the commanding general of the 7th Airborne Division.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister says Ukraine and Russia are close to an agreement on “fundamental issues” and that negotiations were ongoing.

Speaking on Sunday in Antalya, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was in touch with negotiators on both sides and was acting as a “mediator and facilitator.” He said he could not divulge details but that there was “momentum.”

The minister said in return for its neutrality, Ukraine was demanding that Turkey, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council act as guarantors. Cavusoglu visited Russia and Ukraine this week to meet his counterparts.

Turkey is close with both Russia and Ukraine. It has close energy, trade and defense relations with Moscow, even though it supports opposing sides in Syria and Libya. Ankara has not sanctioned Russia or closed its airspace but has closed the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, which affects Russian warships’ access except for those returning to port.

Turkey has been critical of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, where Crimean Tatars share ethnic and religious links with Turkey, and has emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

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BEIRUT — Dozens of people have demonstrated outside U.N. headquarters in Beirut to express support for Russia in its war against Ukraine. They contend that Moscow only moved in to protect Russian-speaking people who have been under attack for eight years.

Sunday’s gathering by nearly 150 Lebanese, Syrians and Russians.

Some Lebanese and Syrians support Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose military joined Syria’s civil war in 2015 and helped tip the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Lebanon is divided by a Western-backed coalition and another by groups supported by Iran and Assad’s government.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity.”

In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre.”

“There is no justification for this,’’ Francis said, in an apparent reference to Russia, which sought to justify its invasion as vital for its own defense. But Francis again stopped short of naming Russia as the aggressor. Pontiffs typically have decried wars and their devastating toll on civilians without citing warmongers by name.

Francis also called on “all actors in the international community” to work toward ending the war. “Again this week, missiles, bombs, rained down on the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,’’ the pope said. His thoughts, he said, went to the millions who flee. “And I feel great pain for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,’’ Francis added.

The pope said that “above all, defenseless life should get respected and protected, not eliminated.” That priority “comes before any strategy,’’ Francis said, before leading those in the square in a moment of silent prayer.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad says the first multinational NATO units with the Patriot air defense systems have been moving to his country.

Nad said on Sunday the transfers will continue in the next days.

Germany and the Netherlands have agreed to send their troops armed with the Patriots to Slovakia. The troops are some of the 2,100 soldiers from several NATO members, including the United States, who will form a battlegroup on Slovak territory as the alliance boosts its defenses in its eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nad says the Patriots will be initially deployed at the armed forces base of Sliac in central Slovakia before they will be stationed at various places to protect the largest possible Slovak territory.

He thanked Germany and the Netherlands for their “responsible decision” to fundamentally boost Slovakia’s defenses.

At the same time, Nad said, the Patriots would not replace the Russian-made S-300 air-defense system his country has relied on, calling their deployment “another component to protect Slovakia’s airspace.”

Nad previously has said his country will be willing to provide its S-300 long-range air defense missile system to Ukraine on condition it has a proper replacement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned the S-300s when he spoke to U.S. lawmakers by video Wednesday, appealing for anti-air systems that would allow Ukraine protect its airspace against Russian warplanes and missiles. NATO members Bulgaria, Slovakia and Greece have the S-300s.

The Slovak minister said Sunday his country will work to replace the S-300s with a different system that would be compatible with the systems used by the allies.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The authorities in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol say that nearly 40,000 people have fled over the past week. That’s nearly 10% of its 430,000 population.

The city council in the Azov Sea port city said Sunday that 39,426 residents have safely evacuated from Mariupol in their own vehicles. It said the evacuees used more than 8,000 vehicles to leave via a humanitarian corridor via Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia.

The strategic city has been encircled by the Russian troops and faced a relentless Russian bombardment for three weeks, coming to symbolize the horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Local authorities have said the siege has cut off food, water and energy supplies, and killed at least 2,300 people, some of whom had to be buried in mass graves. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that the siege of Mariupol would go down in history for what he said were war crimes committed by Russian troops.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv say at least five civilians have been killed in the latest Russian shelling.

Regional police in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, said the victims of the Russian artillery attack early Sunday included a 9-year-old boy.

Kharkiv has been besieged by Russian forces since the start of the invasion and has come under a relentless barrage.