Live updates: Zelenskyy reassures Ukraine in nightly address

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Anti- tank barricades are placed on a street as preparation for a possible Russian offensive, in Odesa, Ukraine, Thursday March 24, 2022.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

LVIV, Ukraine — With the war headed into its second month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of hope and determination in his nighttime video address to the nation late Thursday.

“It is already night. But we are working,” he said in a quiet voice. “The country must move toward peace, move forward. With every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace that we need so much. We are getting closer to victory. … We can’t stop even for a minute. For every minute determines our fate, our future, whether we will live.”

He reported on his conversations that day with leaders of NATO and European Union countries gathered in Brussels, and their promises of even more sanctions on Russia.

“We need to look for peace,” he said. “Russia also needs to look for peace.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

Ukraine president presses Biden, NATO for more aid as war enters second month

UN votes to condemn Russia for humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Russian stock market, crushed by war, partially reopens

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked EU leaders for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany’s decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But he lamented that these steps weren’t taken earlier, saying there was a chance Russia would have thought twice about invading.

He then appealed to the EU leaders, who had gathered Thursday in Brussels, to move quickly on Ukraine’s application to join the bloc. “Here I ask you, do not delay. Please,” Zelenskyy said by video from Kyiv. “For us this is a chance.”

He then listed the 27 member countries, noting those he said were “for us.” He appealed to Germany and particularly to Hungary not to block Ukraine’s bid.

“Listen, Viktor, do you know what is happening in Mariupol?” Zelenskyy said, addressing Hungarian President Viktor Orban. “I want to be open once and for all — you should decide for yourself, who you are for.”

Orban is widely considered to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally among EU leaders.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is certain that “in the decisive moment, Germany also will be with us.”

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BRUSSELS — President Vladimir Putin’s threat to have “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles from now on has got the not-so-friendly treatment from European Union nations.

Several EU leaders have come out saying it would be a gross violation of their contracts. From German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, they said they would not meet such demands.

The Russian threat is potent since the EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas.

Economists say such a move seems designed to try to support the ruble, which has collapsed against other currencies since Russia invaded Ukraine and Western countries responded with far-reaching sanctions against Moscow.

Making such demands though, would fundamentally change contracts and render them null and void, several European leaders said during the first day of their EU summit.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Thousands of people took to the streets of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, on Thursday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to show solidarity with Ukrainians.

The rally, organized on social networks, followed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call on people around the world to protest the month-long war.

Some of the 60,000 refugees from Ukraine joined the demonstration. Waving Ukrainian and European flags, protesters chanted “Stop the war,” “Stop Putin” and “Freedom for democratic Ukraine.”

The organizers of the event said that it was time for Bulgaria to come out in large numbers in support of a sovereign Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says it will offer safe passage to foreign ships that have been stranded in Ukrainian ports.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said Thursday that Russia is offering to allow foreign vessels to gather in the Black Sea 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of the port of Illichivsk and then follow a 80-mile-long (129-kilometer-long) “humanitarian corridor” to safety. He added that the safe route will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Moscow time (0500 to 1600 GMT) starting Friday.

He said that 67 ships from 15 countries have been stranded in Ukrainian ports. Mizintsev charged that those ships have been unable to leave due to the threat of Ukrainian shelling and the presence of sea mines deployed by the Ukrainian forces.

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BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden says that he wants Russia out of the G-20.

Biden made the comments during a press conference Thursday in Brussels following a series of urgent NATO meetings on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The G-20, or Group of Twenty, is an intergovernmental forum of 19 countries and the European Union that works on major global issues. He said he raised the issue Thursday with other world leaders.

Biden said that he would prefer Russia is removed from the group, but should Indonesia or other nations disagree, he would ask that Ukraine leaders be allowed in for conversations.

Biden and Western allies on Thursday pledged new sanctions and humanitarian aid in response to the continued assault in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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BRUSSELS - President Joe Biden says that Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong to assume NATO would be divided over Ukraine.

Biden says at a news conference that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has built greater unity within NATO, the European Union and the Group of Seven economies.

Biden says of Putin, “He didn’t think we could sustain this cohesion,” adding that NATO has “never been more united than it is today.”

NATO countries and other allies have imposed harsh sanctions against Russia, crippling that country’s economy. Still, the EU has refrained from taking the same steps as the U.S. by banning oil and natural gas from Russia.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel warned about “reputation risks” for French companies which are operating in Russia but said they are free to make their own choices.

“My position is to let the companies free to decide for themselves. That’s up to the companies’ leadership to assess” the situation, he said Thursday in a news conference in Brussels.

Macron’s remarks come after French automaker Renault announced plans to pause production at its Moscow plant in an apparent move to fend off mounting criticism.

Macron said he requested all French companies operating in Russia to comply with EU sanctions.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on French multinationals to stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine by leaving Russia, in a speech to the French parliament on Wednesday.

Naming Renault, supermarket chain Auchan and home improvement giant Leroy Merlin, Zelenskyy said they “must stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine.”

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BRUSSELS -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the world is united in its response to the Russian attack on Ukraine last month and said that sanctions against Russia were proving to be powerful.

Scholz told reporters in Brussels Thursday after the NATO summit that “we are united in our commitment to see these sanctions through as long as necessary and to keep reviewing them for effectiveness.”

Asked about the threat of a possible nuclear, biological, chemical weapons attack by Russia, Scholz said that such an attack “would be a breach of all the rules and agreements and conventions that exist.”

Scholz also said that Germany has committed to giving 370 million euros ($407 million) to Ukraine in humanitarian aid and pledged another 430 million euros for the global food supply to help prevent famines.

He called on the international community to help Europe shoulder the burden of the millions of refugees arriving from Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS — Italian Premier Mario Draghi says “extraordinary unity among allies” characterized both the NATO and G-7 meetings in Brussels.

Draghi told reporters during a break in gatherings on Thursday that the unity pertained to both applying the sanctions against Russia as well as to ”deciding to toughen them if necessary.”

He described as “unanimous” the analyses by summit participants that the sanctions are being “extraordinarily effective. The Russian economy is strongly weakened.”

As for the drama of the millions of refugees from Ukraine, Draghi said the feeling among participants was that the humanitarian drama must be managed, in addition to on a European level, also on world level, with the full involvement of the United Nations.

Regarding China, ’’there was no condemnation, on the contrary, there was the hope that China contributes to the peace process,” the Italian leader said.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Belarus’ authoritarian leader has warned that a Polish proposal to deploy a Western peacekeeping force in Ukraine could trigger World War III.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has allowed his ally Russia to use Belarus’ territory to launch an invasion of Ukraine, pointed Thursday at Poland’s offer of a peacekeeping mission made last week, saying “it will mean World War III.”

“The situation is very serious and very tense,” he added.

Lukashenko’s comment follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning at the start of the invasion of Ukraine that any foreign interference with Moscow’s military action would trigger an immediate Russian response that will lead to “the consequences you have never seen in your history.” A few days after the start of the invasion, Putin ordered to put Russia’s nuclear forces on special regime of combat duty.

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LVIV, Ukraine -- A local government official in the northern city of Chernihiv has said a “catastrophe” is unfolding for the population as Russian troops deliberately target food stores in a near-month-long siege.

An airstrike this week destroyed a bridge over the Desna River, which was a crucial route to bring in food and other aid from Ukraine-controlled territory further south.

“Humanitarian help, medicines and food used to be delivered into the city via this bridge,” city council secretary Olexander Lomako told The Associated Press in an audio message.

He estimated that more than 130,000 people are left in the city out of a pre-war population of 285,000 but that Ukraine remains in full control.

“Chernihiv is under total control of Ukrainian army, Ukrainian flag waves here,” he said.

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LVIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine and Russia exchanged a total of 50 military and civilian prisoners Thursday.

Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media that Ukraine exchanged 10 “captured occupiers” for 10 Ukrainian troops.

She also said that Ukraine had handed over 11 civilian Russian sailors who Ukraine had rescued from a sinking ship off Odesa, in return for 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors from a Ukrainian search and rescue boat. The boat will also be returned via Turkey, she said.

There have previously been reports of local prisoner exchanges on a smaller scale than those announced by Vereshchuk. They included a swap of nine Russian soldiers for a captured Ukrainian mayor. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday two prisoner swaps had taken place but didn’t provide details of when they happened or who was involved.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine says more than 400,000 of its citizens have been forcibly taken to Russia.

Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said at a briefing Thursday that the Ukrainians were taken to by Russian troops from Mariupol and other besieged Ukrainian cities. The number includes 84,000 children. She says they are held in primitive conditions with little food and water.

Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko also said that Russians are taking Ukrainians’ passports and take them to filtration camps place where Russian FSB counterintelligence agency officers conduct security checks before moving them to various distant areas in Russia.

Kyrylenko said that Mariupol’s residents had been long deprived of information and the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia. “Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.

Russian officials reported Wednesday that over 384,000 Ukrainians had voluntarily traveled to Russia where they were being offered accommodation and payments.

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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says Europe needs to beware of Russian efforts to destabilize the Western Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that such moves preceded Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s continued denial that it was preparing an attack.

Similar support by Russia for breakaway movements in Bosnia, for example, could endanger the integrity and sovereignty of Western Balkans nations, Baerbock said after a meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Goran Grlic Radman.

Baerbock said the European Union and its partners would do what they can to help countries now taking in large numbers of Ukrainians fleeing the war, particularly tiny Moldova, which has received the highest number of refugees per capita so far.

Germany has organized a first direct flight to bring refugees from Moldova to Frankfurt on Friday, with more to follow, she said.

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UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution blaming Russia for humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.

Thursday’s vote on the resolution was 140-5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including China.

The resolution deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.

The vote was almost exactly the same as on the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire and withdrawal of all its forces and demanding protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.

When the result of the vote was announced, many diplomats in the General Assembly chamber burst into applause.

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance is stepping up its defenses against chemical and nuclear weapons as concern mounts that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg says that NATO leaders agreed at their summit Thursday to send equipment to Ukraine to help protect it against a chemical weapons attack.

“This could include detection equipment, protection, and medical support, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management,” he told reporters after meeting in Brussels.

But Stoltenberg says the 30 NATO allies are boosting their own “preparedness and readiness.”

The leaders agreed Thursday to deploy four new battlegroups, which usually number from 1,000-1,500 troops, to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Four other battlegroups are stationed in the Baltic States and Poland.

NATO nations are concerned that Russia’s attempt to falsely accuse them of working on chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine is part of a ruse by Moscow to create a pretext for using such arms itself.

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LONDON — Britain is sanctioning 65 more companies and individuals over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The targets include Russia’s largest private bank and a woman the British government said was the stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the new round of sanctions target strategic industries, banks and business elites. Among those sanctioned are Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank and Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company.

The U.K. also targeted billionaires Eugene Markovich Shvidler, who has close ties to Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and Herman Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Polina Kovaleva, who was described as Lavrov’s stepdaughter, was also sanctioned as the U.K. broadens the scope of its sanctions to reach people linked to those responsible for “Russian aggression.”

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LVIV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says Russia is making arrangements to forcibly relocate thousands of civilians to Russia from the besieged port of Mariupol.

It said Thursday Russian forces had taken 6,000 Mariupol residents “to Russian filtration camps in order to use them as hostages and put more political pressure on Ukraine.”

The Foreign Ministry expressed concern for 15,000 people from a district of Mariupol under Russian control, saying Russian troops were confiscating their identity documents and insisting they traveled to Russia. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian troops of obstructing attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including by seizing bus drivers sent to collect civilians.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Thursday that Ukrainian civilians were being sent through a “filtration camp” in Russian-controlled territory then onward through southern regions of Russia and then to “economically depressed” parts of the country.

Some could be sent as far as the Pacific Ocean island of Sakhalin, Ukrainian intelligence said, and are offered jobs on condition they don’t leave for two years. The claims could not be independently verified.

Russia has said it is helping civilians evacuate from Mariupol and other cities affected by fighting. Russia claims many civilians are keen to find refuge in Russia.

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BRUSSELS — Group of Seven leaders have announced they are restricting the Russian Central Bank’s use of gold in transactions, while the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions targeting more than 400 elites and members of the Russian State Duma.

Previously, sanctions against Russian elites, the country’s Central Bank and President Vladimir Putin did not impact Russia’s gold stockpile, which Putin has been accumulating for several years. Russia holds roughly $130 billion in gold reserves, and the Bank of Russia announced Feb. 28 that it would resume the purchase of gold on the domestic precious metals market.

White House officials said Thursday the move will further blunt Russia’s ability to use its international reserves to prop up Russia’s economy and fund its war against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced more sanctions targeting 48 state-owned defense companies, 328 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower parliament, and dozens of Russian elites. The Duma as an entity was also named in the new sanctions.

The G-7 and the European Union also announced a new effort to share information and coordinate responses to prevent Russia from evading the impact of sanctions that western nations have levied since the Feb. 24 invasion.