KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says Russia has been beefing up its forces and trying to probe Ukrainian defenses.
The Ukrainian military command said Sunday that the Russian troops have continued attempts to break Ukrainian defenses near Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv. It reported that Russia was sending reinforcements to Izyum while continuing the shelling of Kharkiv.
The military added that the Russians also continued their attempts to take control of Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port that has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months.
After Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv and other big cities in northeastern Ukraine quickly failed, Ukrainian and Western officials expect Moscow to launch a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Zelenskyy: Russian aggression not limited to Ukraine alone
— Zelenskyy, in AP interview, says he seeks peace despite atrocities
— Poland-Ukraine ties seen as target of Russian disinformation
— War Crimes Watch: A devastating walk through Bucha’s horror
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he focused on the need to track down perpetrators of war crimes in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that in Sunday’s call “we emphasized that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other places near Kyiv, where hundreds of slaughtered civilians, many with their hands bound and signs of torture, were found after Russian troops retreated.
Zelenskyy also said he and Scholz “discussed anti-Russian sanctions, defense and financial support for Ukraine.”
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has opened Holy Week with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”
Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”
Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear. He has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians.
HELSINKI — Finland says that a shipment of art works from Russian museums has been returned to Russia after it was seized under European Union sanctions against Moscow.
Finland’s customs service said late Saturday that the Foreign Ministry granted a special permit to return the consignment with a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million). It said that trucks carrying the art works from the Hermitage Museum and the Pavlovsk State Museum in St. Petersburg, among others, left Finnish territory on Saturday afternoon.
The shipment was seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing at the beginning of April. The works were en route to Russia after loan to museums in Europe and Japan. Experts say that art works loaned from Russia typically travel overland via Finland.
Russia has demanded the return of all works on loan to “unfriendly” nations that imposed sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has struck Ukrainian air defense batteries in the country’s south and east.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that the military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in Starobohdanivka in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv in the eastern Kharkiv region.
Konashenkov also said that sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit near Zvonetske in the Dnipro region.
The Russian military claims couldn’t be independently verified.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says more civilians are expected to leave Mariupol Sunday in their personal vehicles.
Evacuations are also planned from Berdyansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar in the south and Sieverierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna and Rubizhne in the east.
Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months, cut from food, water and power supplies and pummeled by relentless bombardment that has killed at least 5,000, according to local officials.
Ukrainian authorities have urged civilians in the east to evacuate in the face of an imminent Russian offensive. They accused Russia of killing 52 people on Friday at the train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as they were preparing to evacuate.
GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people who have left Ukraine since the beginning of the war has reached 4.5 million.
A regular update Sunday of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ online portal on numbers of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Feb. 24 brought the total to some 4.504 million.
About 2.6 million of those fled at least initially to Poland and more than 686,000 to Romania. However, UNHCR notes that there are very few border controls within the European Union and it believes “a large number of people” have moved on from the first country they arrived in.
LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that Russia’s armed forces are seeking to respond to mounting losses by boosting troop numbers with personnel who had been discharged from military service since 2012.
In an intelligence update on Twitter, the ministry also said Sunday that the Russian military’s efforts to “generate more fighting power” also include trying to recruit from Trans-Dniester, a breakaway region in Moldova that borders Ukraine.
Russia maintains some 1,500 troops in the region, which is not internationally recognized.
BORODIANKA, Ukraine — Firefighters continued searching Saturday for survivors or the dead in the debris of destroyed buildings in a northern Ukrainian town that was occupied for weeks by Russian forces.
Residents of Borodianka expect to find dozens of victims under the rubble of the several buildings destroyed during fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops. The town is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northwest of the capital of Kyiv and had more than 12,000 residents.
Russian troops occupied Borodianka while advancing towards Kyiv in an attempt to encircle it. They retreated during the last days of March following fierce fighting. The town is without electricity, natural gas or other services.
A 77-year-old resident, Maria Vaselenko, said her daughter and son-in-law’s bodies have been under rubble for 36 days because Russian soldiers would not allow residents to search for loved ones or their bodies. She said her two teenage grandchildren escaped to Poland but are now orphans.
“The Russians were shooting. And some people wanted to come and help, but they were shooting them,” she told The Associated Press. “They were putting explosives under dead people.”
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Shelling by Russian forces of Ukraine’s key port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has collapsed several humanitarian corridors and made conditions seldom right for people to leave.
It was not clear Saturday how many people remained trapped in the city, which had a prewar population of 430,000. Ukrainian officials have put the number at about 100,000, but earlier this week, British defense officials said 160,000 people remained trapped in the city.
Ukrainian troops have refused to surrender the city, though much of it has been razed.
Resident Sergey Petrov said Saturday that recently two shells struck around him in quick succession, but neither exploded upon landing. He was in his garage at the time and said his mother later told him, “I was born again.”
“A shell flew in and broke up into two parts but it did not explode, looks like it did not land on the detonator but on its side,” he said.
He added that when another shell flew in and hit the garage, “I am in shock. I don’t understand what is happening. I have a hole in my garage billowing smoke. I run away and leave everything. I come back in several hours and find another shell lying there, also unexploded.”