Sun, 26 Mar 2023

Russia has stepped up attempts to break through Ukraine's defences with heavy fighting in the east of the country, underlining Kyiv's need of more Western weapons, Ukrainian officials said on Friday. Read FRANCE 24's liveblog below to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

8:37pm: Total of 321 heavy tanks promised to Ukraine, ambassador to France says

A total of 321 heavy tanks have been promised to Ukraine by several countries, Ukraine's ambassador to France said on BFM television on Friday.

"As of today, numerous countries have officially confirmed their agreement to deliver 321 heavy tanks to Ukraine," Vadym Omelchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to France, said in an interview with French news channel BFM.

"Delivery terms vary for each case and we need this help as soon as possible," he added. Omelchenko did not provide a breakdown of the number of tanks per country.

7:51pm: Zelensky invites Olympics chief to Bakhmut amid row over including Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday invited the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, to visit eastern Ukraine's town of Bakhmut, currently the epicentre of the war.

Zelensky extended the invitation after the committee said a "pathway" should be explored for Russians to take part in the 2024 Paris Games. "I am inviting Mr Bach to Bakhmut so that he can see for himself that neutrality does not exist," Zelensky said.

"It is obvious that any neutral banner of Russian athletes is stained with blood."

7:27pm: Ukraine to summon Hungary's ambassador over 'unacceptable' Orban remarks

The Ukrainian foreign ministry will summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "unacceptable" remarks Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, a ministry spokesman said on Friday.

Oleg Nikolenko, writing on Facebook, said Orban had told reporters that Ukraine was a no man's land and compared it to Afghanistan. Hungary was deliberately trying to ruin bilateral relations, he added.

7:09pm: Zelensky says situation on Ukrainian front is extremely acute

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said the situation at the front remained extremely acute, particularly in the eastern Donetsk region where Russia is stepping up an offensive.

Zelensky in an evening address said Russian forces were not just storming Ukrainian positions but also destroying the towns and villages around them

6:54pm: Ukraine sets up drone assault units

Ukraine said on Friday it was setting up drone assault companies within its armed forces that will be equipped with Starlink satellite communications, as it presses ahead with an idea to build up an "army of drones".

Commander-in-chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi signed off on the creation of the units in a project that will involve several ministries and agencies, the General Staff said.

"The most professional servicemen" have already been chosen to lead the companies, each of which will receive drones and ammunition, Starlink terminals and other equipment, it said on Facebook. Starlink is a satellite internet system operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX company, and widely used both by civilians and the military in Ukraine

6:51pm: Ukraine says pilots would need six months for F-16 combat training

Ukraine said on Friday it would take its pilots about half a year to train for combat in Western fighter jets such as US F-16s, as Kyiv steps up its campaign to secure fourth-generation warplanes in the wake of Russia's invasion last February.

Ukraine got a huge boost this week when Germany and the United States announced plans to provide heavy tanks to Kyiv, which is now hoping the West will also provide long-range missiles and fighter jets.

Western military support has been vital for Kyiv and has rapidly evolved. Before the invasion, even the idea of supplying lethal aid to Ukraine was highly controversial, but Western supplies have since shattered taboo after taboo.

6:11pm: Spain jails letterbomb suspect to avoid 'flight to Russia'

The pensioner who allegedly sent letter bombs to Spain's prime minister and the Ukrainian embassy was placed in pre-trial detention on Friday on grounds he could flee to "Russian territory".

The 74-year-old suspect, arrested Wednesday at his home near the northern town of Burgos, appeared before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's top criminal court, facing one charge of terrorism, court documents showed.

He is accused of having sent six letter bombs to targets including Spanish ministers and embassies to push Madrid into halting its support for Kyiv in its fight against Russia's invasion

5:44pm: On Holocaust Day, Polish PM accuses Putin of building 'new camps'

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Friday used the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of building "new camps" while waging war against Ukraine.

"On the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, let us remember that to the east Putin is building new camps," Morawiecki said on Facebook. "Solidarity and consistent support for Ukraine are effective ways to ensure that history does not come full circle," he added.

Morawiecki did not elaborate on his accusation against Russia, though it echoed a claim made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year

5:17pm: Putin repeats Ukraine 'neo-Nazis' claim on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday repeated a claim that neo-Nazis were committing crimes in Ukraine -- an allegation Moscow has used to justify its military intervention -- as the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies," Putin said.

"This is evidenced by the crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing and punitive actions organised by neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It is against that evil that our soldiers are bravely fighting," he said.

Supporters of Putin's war allege Ukraine's treatment of Russian speakers in the country is comparable with the actions of Nazi Germany.

5:01pm: Ukrainians 'hugely proud' of country ahead of invasion anniversary

As the one year anniversary approaches of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, "Ukrainians are hugely proud of the way the country united and that the armed forces managed to fend off this invasion [when] most people didn't give them a chance," said FRANCE 24 Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg.

"They're also very pleased with the recent news of deliveries of main battle tanks, that they finally managed to persuade Western allies to deliver; that gives them some confidence that ultimately they are going to be able to force the invading Russians out," Cragg continued. "What you see in poll results would show that there's hugely high morale in Ukraine, if you like. Most people are confident that Ukraine will end up winning the war - and perhaps, probably, most people are hopeful that it's going to happen rather sooner than what the more sober neutral military analysts might suggest.

"There's that confidence; there's also the fear of perhaps Russia resorting to some kind of more terrible tactic than what they've used before, although you don't hear many Ukrainians talk about that fear that much," Cragg added.

4:49pm: EU diesel price cap to limit Moscow's choice of buyers, including Asia

A proposed EU price cap on Russian diesel may be high enough to allow Moscow to continue exporting the fuel, but in practice could deter big Asian buyers who have become used to buying cheap Russian crude to refine it themselves, analysts say.

The European Commission is proposing that the EU set a $100/bbl price cap on Russian diesel and a $45/bbl per barrel cap on discounted products like fuel oil, EU officials said. The February 5 price caps and EU ban on Russian oil product imports are part of several measures the West is using to slash Russia's export revenues, limiting Moscow's ability to fund its war in Ukraine which it waged nearly a year ago.

"Russia may struggle to offload its diesel to other buyers with key customers in Asia being more interested in feeding their refineries with heavily discounted crude," Saxo Bank analyst Ole Hansen told Reuters.

4:45pm: Ukraine needs $17 billion in additional financing for energy repairs, PM says

Ukraine will need an additional $17 billion in financing this year for energy repairs, de-mining and to rebuild infrastructure, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Friday.

He told a government meeting that five high-voltage substations in the central, southern and south-west regions were hit during Russia's air attacks on Thursday.

4:44pm: Russia blocks CIA, FBI websites for 'spreading false information'

Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor said on Friday it had blocked the websites of the CIA and FBI, accusing the two US government agencies of spreading false information, the TASS news agency reported.

"Roskomnadzor has restricted access to a number of resources belonging to state structures of hostile countries for disseminating material aimed at destabilising the social and political situation in Russia," Roskomnadzor said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

TASS quoted Roskomnadzor as saying that the two US websites had published inaccurate material and information that had discredited the Russian armed forces.

4:43pm: Russia orders Latvian ambassador to leave country within two weeks

Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday it had ordered Latvia's envoy to leave the country within two weeks following a similar decision by Riga earlier this week.

The ministry said it had summoned the Latvian charge d'affaires to protest over Riga's decision to downgrade relations with Russia.

Latvia has said it acted out of solidarity with Estonia after Tallinn also ordered out Russia's envoy. The three Baltic states, which also include Lithuania, have been among a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for more Western tanks to be sent to Ukraine

4:28pm: Ukrainian presidency says 10 killed in latest Russian shelling

Russian shelling killed at least 10 Ukrainian civilians and wounded 20 others in a day, the office of Ukraine's president said Friday as the country worked to recover from an earlier wave of Russian missile strikes and drone attacks.

The new deaths included at least two civilians in the southern city of Kherson, which Ukrainian troops recaptured in November, and two more in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province. The missiles and self-propelled drones Russian forces fired Thursday hit deeper into Ukrainian territory, killing at least 11 people.

The bombardments followed announcements by the United States and Germany of plans to ship powerful tanks to help Ukraine defend itself. Other Western countries said they also would share modern tanks from their stockpiles

3:28pm: EU signals irritation at South Africa's Russia ties

A top EU official visiting South Africa expressed irritation on Friday at the country's close ties with Russia amid Moscow's war on Ukraine.

A continental powerhouse, South Africa has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and this month announced it will host joint maritime drills with Russia and China in February. In Pretoria for talks with his local counterpart, the European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the planned naval exercises were "not the best thing".

All countries are free to develop their own foreign policy, he said, adding he understood "the desire" of some "to spare Russia for one reason or another"

3:22pm: Belgium steps up Ukraine aid with missiles, ammunition and guns

Belgium announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine on Friday, promising cash, missiles, machine-guns and armoured vehicles to help fight off the Russian onslaught.

But Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder had to admit that Belgium has no main battle tanks to match the latest offers from NATO allies like Britain, Germany, Poland and the United States.

The Belgian shipment, she said, would notably include "anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, machine guns, grenades and other military equipment".

2:50pm: Zelensky's party purges lawmaker for wartime trip to Thailand

Ukraine's ruling party has kicked out a lawmaker from its parliamentary faction after reports he had travelled to Thailand during Ukraine's grinding war with Russia sparked a public outcry.

Party spokesperson Yulia Paliychuk said on Friday that Mykola Tyshchenko was expelled from Servant of the People's voting bloc after an announcement appeared briefly on the website of the Ukrainian embassy in Thailand saying Tyshchenko would meet members of the Ukrainian diaspora at a hotel there.

Tyshchenko said on Facebook he had been on a business trip in Asia with approval of party leaders, "acting exclusively in the interests of Ukraine". Parliament Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk said he had approved no such trip

2:30pm: EU extends sanctions on Russia over Ukraine for six months

The EU extended its sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine for a further six months on Friday, as it mulls fresh measures against Moscow.

The sanctions, originally imposed when Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, were significantly ramped up after the start of the all-out invasion in February.

They have been routinely extended for six-month periods over the past eight years. The EU has imposed nine rounds of sanctions on Moscow since it launched a major cross-border offensive last year.

1:54pm: Ukraine says fighting for Vugledar 'fierce' in Donetsk

Ukraine said Friday its troops were locked in "fierce" fighting with Russian troops for control of the town of Vugledar in the region of Donetsk on the eastern front.

Russian-backed forces claimed they were "waiting for good news" from the town, which had a pre-invasion population of around 15,000 people, but Kyiv said Moscow's troops were misrepresenting any gains.

"There is fierce combat there," Ukrainian military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told local media. "For many months, the military of the Russian Federation... has been trying to achieve significant success there," he said. Moscow has made the capture of the industrial region of Donetsk its priority in its nearly year-long war in Ukraine

1:46pm: Poland to send 60 modernised tanks to Ukraine in addition to Leopards

Poland will send an additional 60 tanks to Ukraine on top of the 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks it has already pledged, the Polish prime minister said in an interview with Canadian television on Thursday.

In the video report below, Ukrainian solidiers express relief that their current equipment is still holding up but they hope the arrival of the modern Leopard tanks will be sooner than later. "Without modern tools, we are nothing", one of them says.

12:34pm: EU foreign policy chief Borrell urges South Africa to use its Russia ties to help end war in Ukraine

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday said he hoped South Africa would use its good relations with Russia to convince it to stop the war in Ukraine.

"The EU isn't asking South Africa to choose sides, just asking countries across the world to stand with the UN Charter," said Borrell, speaking alongside South Africa's foreign minister Naledi Pandor in the capital Pretoria.

The EU considers South Africa an important partner in the rules-based international order, he added. Pandor said: "It is not just South Africa and other African countries that must play a role at seeking peace."

11:48am: Putin repeats claims regarding 'neo-Nazis' in Ukraine on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday repeated a claim that neo-Nazis were committing crimes in Ukraine - an allegation Moscow has used to justify its military intervention - as the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies. ... This is evidenced by the crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing and punitive actions organised by neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It is against that evil that our soldiers are bravely fighting," Putin said in a statement.

Supporters of Putin's military operation allege Ukraine's treatment of Russian speakers in the country is comparable with the actions of Nazi Germany.

11:46am: Kremlin says Biden has key to end Ukraine conflict but doesn't use it

The Kremlin said on Friday that US President Joe Biden had the key to end the conflict in Ukraine by directing Kyiv, but that Washington had so far not been willing to use it.

In a daily briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the US could end the conflict quickly if it wanted but was instead "pumping weapons into Ukraine".

Moscow has in the past accused Ukraine of taking orders from Washington and says that the US is prolonging the conflict by supplying Kyiv with weapons. The US says that Moscow unleashed the war and it can only end if Russia withdraws its troops.

11:45am: Zelensky says 'indifference kills along with hatred'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky marked Holocaust Remembrance Day Friday by urging the world to unite against "indifference" and "hatred," nearly one year into Russia's invasion of his country.

"Today, as always, Ukraine honours the memory of millions of victims of the Holocaust. We know and remember that indifference kills along with hatred," Zelensky said in a video statement.

11:24am: Ukraine comes under Russian missile onslaught after securing tanks from allies

The Ukrainian military said fierce battles were under way, a day after Russian missiles and drones killed at least 11 people in what appeared to be a response to promises by Western nations to supply Ukraine with tanks.

After weeks of pressure from allies, Germany and the United States have promised Ukraine dozens of modern tanks to help push back Russian forces, opening the way for Canada, Poland, Finland, Norway and others to make their own pledges.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked allies for their support but renewed calls for tougher sanctions on Moscow and made clear his country needed more weapons to repel the invaders in the twelfth month of the war.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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