Ukraine accused of sending helicopters to strike fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia

On Friday, two Ukrainian military helicopters fired at a fuel storage facility in the Russian city of Belgorod after crossing the border at low altitude, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

The resulting fire injured two workers, Gladkov said, while some areas of the city, located near Ukraine’s northern border with Russia, were evacuated.

It was not immediately possible to verify the claim or circulating footage of the alleged attack. If confirmed, it would be Ukraine’s first known incursion into Russian airspace since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has not commented on the allegation, and Russian oil company Rosneft, which owns the depot, reported the fire without identifying the cause.

On Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kulebawas was asked by reporters about Belgorod and said he could “neither confirm nor deny” the claim that Ukraine was involved because he had no enough information.

This photo released Friday by the press service of the Russian Emergencies Ministry shows a burning oil depot in Belgorod. The governor of Russia’s Belgorod border region accused Ukraine of launching helicopter gunships into Russian territory and hitting the oil depot on Friday morning. (Russian Emergencies Ministry Press Service/The Associated Press)

A Kremlin spokesman said the incident on Russian territory could undermine talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials which resumed via video link on Friday.

“Certainly, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of the talks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied when asked if the fire at the depot could be seen as an escalation of the war in Ukraine.

The objective of controlling the separatist region “unchanged”

The negotiations between Ukraine and Russia on Friday follow a meeting of the Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Turkey on Tuesday during which Ukraine reiterated its willingness to drop its NATO candidacy and offered to secure its neutral military status by a series of foreign countries.

The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, wrote on social networks that Moscow’s positions on maintaining control of the Crimean peninsula and expanding territory in eastern Ukraine held by separatists backed by Russia “remain unchanged”.

Residents carry food past a damaged building in the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine on Thursday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the conditions were not yet “ripe” for a ceasefire and that he was not ready for a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until negotiators had not worked further, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said after a telephone conversation Thursday with the Russian president. chief.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said complex logistics were still being worked out for the operation to get emergency aid to Mariupol and civilians out of the city, which has suffered weeks of heavy fighting with dwindling water, food and medical supplies.

“We are running out of adjectives to describe the horrors suffered by the people of Mariupol,” ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told a UN briefing in Geneva on Friday. “The situation is appalling and deteriorating, and it is now a humanitarian imperative that people be allowed to leave and aid supplies be allowed in.”

Evacuation from Mariupol limited to private cars

He said the group had sent three vehicles towards Mariupol and a front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces, but two trucks carrying supplies for the city did not accompany them. Dozens of buses organized by Ukrainian authorities to ferry people out had also not begun to approach the demarcation line, Watson said.

Russian forces on Thursday blocked a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate people from Mariupol after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area, and only 631 people were able to leave by private car, said the Ukrainian government.

Graves are seen Thursday next to an apartment building in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Russian forces also seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies while trying to get to Mariupol, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The city was the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war. Tens of thousands of residents have managed to leave in recent weeks through humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from a pre-war 430,000 to around 100,000 last week. But continued Russian attacks have repeatedly thwarted relief and evacuation missions.

“We do not see a real will on the part of the Russians and their satellites to give the possibility to the inhabitants of Mariupol to evacuate to the territory controlled by Ukraine,” Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote on Friday. on Telegram messaging. application.

An elderly woman who was evacuated from Irpin lies on a stretcher on the outskirts of Kyiv on Thursday. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

In recent days, the Kremlin, in an apparent shift in its war aims, said its “main objective” was now to take complete control of Donbass, where Mariupol is located. Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region of eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared two areas as independent republics.

Western officials said there were growing indications that Russia was using its de-escalation rhetoric in Ukraine as a cover to regroup, resupply and redeploy its forces for a strengthened offensive in the east.

Ukraine controls Chernobyl after Russians leave

Elsewhere, Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early Friday after returning control to the Ukrainians, authorities said.

Ukraine’s state power company, Energoatom, said the Chernobyl pullout came after Russian soldiers received “significant doses” of radiation while digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the factory closed. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it could not independently confirm the exposure claim.

A satellite image of the site of the disused Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date occurred in 1986. Russian soldiers had seized the plant at the start of the invasion but destroyed it dropped this week. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says the Russians behaved irresponsibly at the site for more than four weeks of their control, preventing plant personnel from fully performing their duties and dig trenches in contaminated areas.

Kuleba told a news conference in Warsaw that the Russian government had exposed its soldiers to radiation, putting their health at risk. He said Ukraine would work with the UN’s atomic agency to determine what the occupying Russians did there and mitigate any danger.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi wrote on Twitter that he would visit the disused plant as soon as possible and that his agency’s “assistance and support” mission to Chernobyl “will be the first in a series. nuclear safety and security missions in Ukraine”.

Of the overall situation in the area, he said, “The overall radiation situation around the plant is quite normal. There was a relatively higher level of localized radiation due to the movement of heavy vehicles at the time of the plant occupation, and apparently this could have been the case again upon exit.”

Grossi was in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on Friday for talks with senior officials on nuclear issues in Ukraine. Nine of Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors are currently in operation, including two at Russia’s Zaporizhzhya facility, the agency said.

A man cries outside the registration center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Emre Caylak/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces seized the Chernobyl site shortly after invading Ukraine on February 24, raising fears they could cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. The workforce there oversees the safe storage of spent fuel rods and concrete ruins from the reactor that exploded in 1986.

Russian forces have subjected both Chernihiv, a besieged and blockaded city in northern Ukraine, and the capital of kyiv to continued air and ground missile strikes, although Moscow said on Tuesday it planned to reduce military activity in these areas.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have taken over the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka, located south of the besieged city of Chernihiv and located along one of the main supply routes between the city and the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, according to the ministry. British Defence.

WATCH | NATO warns that Russian troops are repositioning; Zelensky renews his request for support:

NATO warns repositioning of Russian troops, Zelensky renews call for support

Russia appears to be repositioning its troops away from kyiv and towards Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, according to NATO intelligence. The move comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky renewed his urgent calls for immediate support in a speech to the Australian Parliament. 2:01

Ukraine also continued to carry out successful but limited counterattacks east and northeast of Kyiv, the ministry said.

Ukrainian soldiers carry the body of a civilian killed by Russian forces across the destroyed Irpin bridge near kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday. The month-long war has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including almost four million from their country. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

Western officials said there were growing indications that Russia was using its de-escalation rhetoric in Ukraine as a cover to regroup, resupply its forces and redeploy them for a strengthened offensive in the east of the country.

Zelensky warned that Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were just a military tactic to reinforce themselves in preparation for further attacks in the southeast.

“We know their intentions,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation. “We know they are moving away from the areas where we hit them to focus on other very important areas where it can be difficult for us.”

He continued: “There will be battles ahead.”