ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — The United Nations has confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from a steel plant in the bombed-out Ukrainian city of Mariupol is underway.
U.N. humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told The Associated Press on Sunday that the effort to bring people out of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant was being done in collaboration with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.
He called the situation “very complex” and would not give further details.
Up to 1,000 civilians are believed to be hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters beneath the sprawling Soviet-era steel plant that is the only part of the city not occupied by the Russians.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukrainian forces fight Russia’s grinding advance in eastern Donbas region
— Wives of Mariupol defenders appeal for soldiers’ evacuation from final holdout
— Some Ukrainians go back across front line toward homes, despite dangers
— Ukrainian women learn how to clear land mines at course in Kosovo
— Angelina Jolie makes surprise Ukraine visit, meets children
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has brushed aside criticism that his government is not doing enough to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
Even though Germany reversed its policy of not sending weapons to countries at war, Scholz has been accused at home and abroad of being hesitant and slow in coming to Ukraine’s aid. In an interview published Sunday by newspaper Bild, the Social Democratic leader defended his government’s approach.
“I make my decisions quickly — and in coordination with our partners,” Scholz was quoted as saying. “I am suspicious of acting too hastily and Germany going it alone.”
Germany broke with tradition after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 to supply anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and other military equipment to Ukraine. It has since agreed to provide Gepard anti-aircraft guns, but Scholz has faced mounting pressure to send other heavy weapons including tanks and other armored vehicles.
Scholz, who replaced Angela Merkel as chancellor late last year, said he wasn’t bothered by opposition claims that he’s too hesitant and timid.
“It is part of a democracy that you are robustly challenged by the opposition,” he said.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has appealed again for a safe evacuation of Ukrainians trapped in the steel plant of Mariupol, saying he weeps thinking of their suffering and how their city has been “barbarously bombed and destroyed.”
Speaking Sunday during his traditional noontime prayer, Francis urged all the faithful to pray the Rosary every day in May for peace. He noted that May 1 begins the month Christians dedicate to Mary, the mother of God and for whom Mariupol is named.
He said: “Even now, even from here, I renew the request that safe humanitarian corridors be arranged for the people trapped in the steelworks of that city. I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, especially the weakest, the elderly and children.”
He noted the “terrible reports of children being expelled and deported” and the “terrible regression of humanity.”
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s armed forces said Sunday that military exercises involving thousands of NATO soldiers have begun. They are regular exercises aimed at improving the security of the alliance’s eastern flank but come this year with Russia’s war against Ukraine raging nearby.
Due to those circumstances, Poland’s military appealed to the public on Sunday not to publish information or photos of the columns of military vehicles expected to move through the country in the coming weeks.
It warned that “ill-considered activity” could harm the alliance’s security. “Let’s be aware of the dangers!” the statement said.
The Polish Army said in a statement that 18,000 soldiers from over 20 countries were taking part in the Defender Europe 2022 and Swift Response 2022 exercises that are taking place in Poland and eight other countries.
The exercises are scheduled to run May 1-27.
RZESZOW, Poland — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has praised the courage of the Ukrainian people and vowed continued U.S. support to help Ukraine defeat Russia after leading a congressional delegation to Kyiv to assess Ukraine’s needs for the next phase of the war.
Pelosi, a California Democrat who is next in line to the presidency after the vice president, is the most senior American lawmaker to visit Ukraine since Russia’s war began more than two months ago.
She and a half-dozen U.S. lawmakers met for three hours Saturday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top aides. Speaking to reporters Sunday in Poland, the delegation members were unanimous in praising Ukraine’s defenses so far and offering continued long-term military, humanitarian and economic support, vowing the United States would stand with Ukraine until it defeated Russia.
“This is a time we stand up for democracy or we allow autocracy to rule the day,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, a veteran and a member of the House intelligence and armed services committee said he came to Ukraine with three areas of focus: “Weapons, weapons and weapons.”
He said: “We have to make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to win. What we have seen in the last two months is their ferocity, their intense pride, their ability to fight and their ability to win if they have the support to do so.”
Pelosi said she was “dazzled” by Zelenskyy’s expertise of all the issues at hand and described him at their meeting as “a remarkable master class of leadership.”
LONDON — Russian “cyber soldiers” have launched a new offensive against foreign leaders, targeting social media platforms with a large-scale disinformation campaign that seeks to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine, according to research funded by the U.K.
Paid operatives working from a factory in St. Petersburg use the Telegram messaging app to recruit and coordinate supporters who then flood the social media accounts of Kremlin critics with comments supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, the U.K. Foreign Office said Sunday.
The so-called troll factory has developed new techniques to avoid detection by social media platforms, posting comments and amplifying pro-Kremlin content created by legitimate users rather than creating its own content, the Foreign Office said. Traces of its activity have been found on eight social media platforms, including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.
The operation has targeted politicians and wider audiences in a number of countries, including the U.K., South Africa and India, the Foreign Office said. It is believed to have links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by both the U.S. and Britain for financing the Kremlin’s online influence operations.
“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in the statement. “The U.K. government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show damage to oil depots just across the Ukrainian border in Russia after suspected Ukrainian attacks.
The photos from Saturday show damage at two sites in Bryansk. The blasts damaged multiple tanks, leaving the surrounding grounds charred.
The explosions happened Monday. One hit an oil depot owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft that operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude oil to Europe.
The second facility is a short distance from the other.
Bryansk is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the border with Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has met with Ukraine’s president.
Footage released early Sunday by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office showed Pelosi in Kyiv with a Congressional delegation. Those with Pelosi included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.
Zelenskyy told the delegation: “You all are welcome.”
Pelosi later said: “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom. We are on a frontier of freedom and your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”
The visit was not previously announced.
KYIV, Ukraine — Some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian official and Russian state news organizations said.
But hundreds are believed to remain trapped with little food, water or medicine.
The United Nations was working to broker an evacuation of the up to 1,000 civilians living beneath the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal plant after numerous previous attempts failed.
Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at about 2,000. An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city.
U.N. humanitarian spokesperson Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but he could not provide details of the ongoing evacuation effort “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”
LVIV, Ukraine — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says American diplomats are making plans to return to Ukraine as soon as possible.
Blinken made the comment while speaking to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. An overnight statement Sunday said Blinken told Kuleba that America “plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.”
He said diplomats had been making “initial visits” to Lviv to prepare.
The U.S. evacuated its embassy in Kyiv in February just before Russia launched its war on the country. The U.S. had been bringing diplomats across the Polish border each day to work in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, before stopping the practice.
Lviv has largely been spared in the conflict, though a missile strike several days ago targeted a railroad facility near the city.
The U.S. is one of Ukraine’s main backers in the war, providing billions in aid and weaponry.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military says the Russian ruble will be used as currency in a Ukrainian city that Moscow seized earlier in the war.
The British military wrote that the city of Kherson will begin a four-month transition from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the ruble starting Sunday. The British Defense Ministry said the move is “indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term.”
It added: “Enduring control over Kherson and its transport links will increase Russia’s ability to sustain its advance to the north and west and improve the security of Russia’s control over Crimea.”
Kherson is some 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Russia seized the city just across the Crimean Peninsula in early March.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy switched into Russian in his nightly video address to urge Russian soldiers not to fight in Ukraine, saying even their generals expected that thousands of them would die.
He said Russia has been recruiting new troops “with little motivation and little combat experience” for the units that were gutted during the early weeks of the war so these units can be thrown back into battle.
He said Russian commanders fully understand that thousands of them will die and thousands more will be wounded in the coming weeks.
“The Russian commanders are lying to their soldiers when they tell them they can expect to be held seriously responsible for refusing to fight and then also don’t tell them, for example, that the Russian army is preparing additional refrigerator trucks for storing the bodies. They don’t tell them about the new losses the generals expect,” Zelenskyy said late Saturday.
“Every Russian soldier can still save his own life. It’s better for you to survive in Russia than to perish on our land,” he said.
STOCKHOLM — Sweden says a Russian military plane has violated Swedish airspace.
The incident happened late Friday in the Baltic Sea near the island of Bornholm.
In a statement Saturday, the Swedish Armed Forces said a Russian AN-30 propeller plane flew toward Swedish airspace and briefly entered it before leaving the area.
The Swedish Air Force scrambled fighter jets which photographed the Russian plane.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish public radio that the violation was “unacceptable” and “unprofessional.”
In a similar incident in early March, four Russian warplanes violated Swedish airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Sweden and neighboring Finland are both considering NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has warned that such a move would have consequences, without giving specifics.
LONDON — Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the progress of the U.N. effort to evacuate people from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and “offered the U.K.’s continued economic and humanitarian support” during a talk Saturday with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskky.
“The prime minister reiterated that he is more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine and ensuring (Russian President Vladimir) Putin fails, noting how hard the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom,” Johnson’s Downing Street office said.
“He confirmed that the UK will continue to provide additional military aid to give the Ukrainians the equipment they needed to defend themselves,” the statement said.
The United Nations has been attempting to broker an evacuation in the port city where some 100,000 civilians remain. Up to 1,000 civilians are living beneath a Soviet-era steel plant in Mariupol, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000.
A Russian rocket attack destroyed an airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a key Black Sea port, the Ukrainian army said Saturday.
In a Telegram post, Ukraine’s Operational Command South said there was no way that the Odesa runway could be used as a result of the rocket attack.
Local authorities urged residents of the area to shelter in place as Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, citing army sources, reported that “several” explosions were heard in Odesa.
Odesa’s regional governor, Maksym Marchenko, said that the rocket was fired from Russian-occupied Crimea. He said there were no reports of any injuries.
Russian forces have embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, the country’s industrial heartland, and capture the country’s Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s national grid operator says it has has restored “reliable” power supply in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, around the site of the 1986 nuclear reactor disaster.
“In the afternoon, the last necessary 330 kV power transmission line was put into operation,” the state-owned Ukrenergo wrote in a Telegram post Saturday.
According to the same post, Ukrenergo also restored another 330 kV line in the northern Kyiv region, helping stabilize the energy supply in the capital. It said the reconstruction of further transmission lines in and around Kyiv remains underway.