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.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
– School bombed in Ukraine city; Zelenskyy cites war crimes
– Even if Russia is denied an easy victory, Putin can keep pounding Ukraine for months
– Surrogate babies born in Ukraine wait out war in basement
– Grassroots groups help rescue Holocaust survivors in Ukraine
– Minister: Clearing the live ordnance now scattered across Ukraine will take years and outside help
– Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS TODAY:
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.
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.
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.
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.
KYIV, Ukraine – Authorities in Ukraine have evacuated scores of baby orphans from a city engulfed by combat.
The governor of the northeastern Sumy region, Dmytro Zhyvytskyy, said Sunday that 71 infants have been safely evacuated via a humanitarian corridor. Zhyvytskyy said on Facebook that the orphans will be taken to an unspecified foreign country. He said most of them require constant medical attention.
Like many other Ukrainian cities, Sumy has been besieged by Russian troops and faced repeated shelling.
The Russian military says it has carried out a new series of strikes on Ukrainian military facilities with long-range hypersonic and cruise missiles.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that the Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostiantynivka near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv. The strike marked the second day in a row that Russia used the Kinzhal, a weapon capable of striking targets 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) away at a speed 10 times the speed of sound.
The previous day, the Russian military said the Kinzhal was used for the first time in combat to destroy an ammunition depot in Diliatyn in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.
Konashenkov noted that the Kalibr cruise missiles launched by Russian warships from the Caspian Sea were also involved in the strike on the fuel depot in Kostiantynivka. He said Kalibr missiles launched from the Black Sea were used to destroy an armor repair plant in Nizhyn in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine.
Konashenkov added that another strike by air-launched missiles hit a Ukrainian facility in Ovruch in the northern Zhytomyr region where foreign fighters and Ukrainian special forces were based.
KYIV, Ukraine – Authorities in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol say that the Russian military has bombed an art school where about 400 people had taken refuge.
Local authorities said Sunday that the school building was destroyed and people could remain under the rubble. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Russian forces on Wednesday also bombed a theater in Mariupol where civilians took shelter. The authorities said 130 people were rescued but many more could remain under the debris.
Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea, has been encircled by Russian troops, cut off from energy, food and water supplies, and has faced a relentless bombardment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol would go down in history for what he said were war crimes committed by Russian troops.
KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered activities of 11 political parties with links to Russia to be suspended.
The largest of them is the Opposition Platform for Life, which has 44 out of 450 seats in the country’s parliament. The party is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.
Also on the list is the Nashi (Ours) party led by Yevheniy Murayev. Before the Russian invasion. the British authorities had warned that Russia wanted to install Murayev as the leader of Ukraine.
Speaking in a video address early Sunday, Zelenskyy said that ‘given a large-scale war unleashed by the Russian Federation and links between it and some political structures, the activities of a number of political parties is suspended for the period of the martial law.’ He added that ‘activities by politicians aimed at discord and collaboration will not succeed.’
Zelenskyy’s announcement follows the introduction of the martial law that envisages a ban on parties associated with Russia.
KYIV, Ukraine — In peacetime, Ukraine has a thriving surrogate industry, one of the few countries where foreigners can get Ukrainian women to carry their pregnancies. Now at least 20 of those babies are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter in Ukraine’s capital, waiting for parents to travel into the war zone to pick them up.
They’re well cared for at the moment. Surrogacy center nurses are stranded with them, because constant shelling makes it too dangerous for them to go home. Russian troops are trying to encircle the city, with Ukrainian defenders holding them off for now, the threat comes from the air.
Nurse Lyudmilla Yashchenko says they’re staying in the bomb shelter to save their lives, and the lives of the babies, some of whom are just days old. They have enough food and baby supplies for now, and can only hope and wait for the newborns to be picked up, and the war to end.
The British defense ministry said the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense forces are ‘continuing to effectively defend Ukrainian airspace.’
‘Russia has failed to gain control of the air and is largely relying on stand-off weapons launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets within Ukraine,’ the ministry said on Twitter. ‘Gaining control of the air was one of Russia’s principal objectives for the opening days of the conflict and their continued failure to do so has significantly blunted their operational progress.’
A Ukrainian military official meanwhile confirmed to a Ukrainian newspaper that Russian forces carried out a missile strike Friday on a missile and ammunition warehouse in the Delyatyn settlement of the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine.
But Ukraine’s Air Forces spokesman Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainskaya Pravda on Saturday that it has not been confirmed that the missile was indeed a hypersonic Kinzhal.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said earlier Saturday that Russian military hit the underground warehouse in Delyatyn on Friday with the hypersonic Kinzhal missile in its first reported combat use. According to Russian officials, the Kinzhal, carried by MiG-31 fighter jets, has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol will go down in history for what he’s calling war crimes by Russia’s military.
‘To do this to a peaceful city, what the occupiers did, is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,’ he said early Sunday in his nighttime video address to the nation.
Zelenskyy told Ukrainians the ongoing negotiations with Russia were ‘not simple or pleasant, but they are necessary.’ He said he discussed the course of the talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.
‘Ukraine has always sought a peaceful solution. Moreover, we are interested in peace now,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Russia’s military isn’t even recovering the bodies of its soldiers in some places, Zelenskyy said.
‘In places where there were especially fierce battles, the bodies of Russian soldiers simply pile up along our line of defense. And no one is collecting these bodies,’ he said. He described as battle near Chornobayivka in the south, where Ukrainian forces held their positions and six times beat back the Russians, who just kept ‘sending their people to slaughter.’