By The Associated Press
ROME — The war in Ukraine loomed over the traditional Good Friday procession at the Colosseum in Rome because the Vatican’s choice of a Russian woman as one of the cross-bearers angered Ukrainians.
Participants in the solemn torchlit procession in the ancient arena Friday night took turns carrying a plain, tall and slim cross as part of the commemoration of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican and the archbishop of Kyiv earlier this week denounced the Vatican’s plan to have a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman carry the cross together during the procession. They objected to projecting what they saw as the idea of reconciliation while Ukraine is ravaged by war unleashed by Russia.
The Vatican didn’t respond to the protests. Pope Francis has denounced the Feb. 24 invasion and attacks on Ukraine as a “sacrilege,″ but has refrained from naming Russia as the aggressor.
Other faithful applauded the decision to pair the two women. They work together in a palliative care section of a Rome hospital and are friends.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Police: More than 900 civilian bodies found in Kyiv region
— ‘We pray for you’: Ukrainian Jews mark Passover, if they can
— Ukraine’s port of Mariupol holds out against all odds
— War Crimes Watch: The woman who would make Putin pay
— Ukrainian mom’s pain at watching daughter’s burial on phone
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
BELGRADE, Serbia — Hundreds of protesters have joined a right-wing gathering in support of Russia, carrying pictures of Vladimir Putin and T-shirts with the letter ‘Z’ that has become a symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The rally Friday in central Belgrade was organized to protest Serbia’s vote last week in the United Nations in support of Russia’s expulsion from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Serbia remains the only country in Europe that has not imposed sanctions on Russia, but right-wing groups are angry that Belgrade voted against Moscow in the U.N.
Local media say that masked protesters lit flares and smoke bombs outside the offices of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the protest and placed a Russian flag on the presidency building.
Several similar protests have been held in Serbia since the start of the Russian invasion on Ukraine. Many Serbians remain loyal to Russia, convinced that Moscow was provoked by the West to launch the invasion.
Anti-western sentiments in Serbia stem from a 1999 NATO air war that forced Belgrade to give up control of the Kosovo province. Belgrade has enjoyed Russian support in trying to retain a claim on the territory, which declared Western-backed independence in 2008.
The governor of the Kharkiv region says seven people, including a seven-month-old child, were killed in shelling of a residential neighborhood in the city.
Oleh Sinehubov said Friday in a Telegram post that 34 other people were wounded.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been heavily hit by shelling and rocket attacks during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The city’s position about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Russia and 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the separatist eastern regions of Ukraine gives it significant strategic importance.
A senior U.S. defense official says the U.S. believes the Russian guided-missile cruiser that sank Thursday in the northern Black Sea had been struck by at least one Ukrainian anti-ship missile, as claimed by the Kyiv government.
Pentagon officials had previously said they could not confirm the Ukrainian claim, but they also did not refute it. The senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment, said the Moskva was hit by at least one, and probably two, Neptune missiles on Wednesday, creating the large fire aboard.
The official offered no further details beyond saying the U.S. believes the Russians suffered some number of casualties aboard the ship.
— reported by Associated Press writer Robert Burns
LVIV, Ukraine — The bodies of more than 900 civilians were discovered in the Kyiv region following the withdrawal of Russian forces, the regional police chief said in a briefing Friday.
Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force, said the bodies had been abandoned in the streets or given temporary burials. He cited police data indicating that 95% of the casualties had died from sniper fire and gunshot wounds.
“Consequently, we understand that under the (Russian) occupation, people were simply executed in the streets,” Nebytov said. “The number of killed civilians has surpassed 900 — and I emphasize, these are civilians, whose bodies we have discovered and handed over for forensic examination.”
He added that more bodies were being found every day, under the rubble and in mass graves.
“The most victims were found in Bucha, where there are more than 350 corpses,” he said.
According to Nebytov, utilities workers in Bucha had been gathering up and burying bodies in the Kyiv suburb while it remained under Russian control. Nebytov added that Russian troops were “tracking down” people who expressed strong pro-Ukrainian views.
KYIV, Ukraine — Two civilians died of shrapnel wounds after a rocket was shot down near the southern Ukrainian city of Kakhovka, according to a Facebook post published by Kakhovka’s municipal authorities that same day.
“It was not a peaceful morning in Kakhovka. Five civilian residents with injuries were admitted to the Kakhovka Municipal Hospital. Two killed, three injured (one of them is in critical condition in intensive care, two have moderate injuries),” the Kakhovka Municipal Territorial Community wrote.
The municipal body added that all five were hit by shrapnel after they left their homes to see the remnants of a rocket downed over the nearby town of Tavriisk.
It was not immediately clear which of the warring sides had launched the weapon, and which had shot it down.
The post went on to urge local residents to stay inside and keep away from windows if they hear gunshots or explosions.
The website of France’s state-owned radio broadcaster, RFI, appeared to become unavailable in Russia on Friday after the country’s media and internet watchdog added one of its pages with critical coverage of the war in Ukraine to its registry of blocked websites.
The communications agency, Roskomnadzor, has been restricting access to news websites this week in line with a ruling by Russia’s Prosecutor General on Tuesday, which mandates the blocking of outlets publishing “information inciting mass disorder, extremist activity or participation in mass (public) events violating the established order, and unreliable information which is of public significance.”
According to the Roskomnadzor registry, the authorities blocked an RFI article citing a story by French magazine Le Figaro which alleged Russian servicemen rape women in Ukraine, but the broadcaster said its entire website ended up being unavailable in Russia.
Earlier on Friday, Roskomnadzor apparently cut access to the Russian-language site of Russia’s top independent English-language news outlet, The Moscow Times, citing the same ruling.
On Wednesday, Russian state media also reported that the agency ordered a Russian streaming platform to remove all podcasts published by the BBC, whose Russian-language website was blocked in March alongside those of U.S. and German news organizations.
MOSCOW — The wife of a Ukrainian politician held by Kyiv on a treason charge has accused Ukrainian security services of torturing her husband and fabricating his escape from house arrest in a press conference held in Moscow on Friday.
Oksana Marchenko, the wife of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, referred to her husband as a “political prisoner,” and claimed that she does not know where he is.
Medvedchuk was detained on Tuesday in a special operation carried out by Ukraine’s state security service, or the SBU. The 67-year-old oligarch escaped from house arrest several days before the hostilities broke out Feb. 24 in Ukraine. He is facing between 15 years and a life in prison on charges of treason and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization for mediating coal purchases for the separatist, Russia-backed Donetsk republic in eastern Ukraine.
“I have no doubt that my husband was beaten within hours after his capture,” she said at the press conference. “I am appealing for help in establishing (his) real whereabouts. I call for help to stop the physical and mental torture.”
She did not offer evidence to back up her claims, but referenced a televised statement made by Ukrainian officials on Wednesday, which said that Kyiv will aim to try Medvedchuk “as soon as possible, give him the appropriate sentence, obtain evidence from him and then exchange him” for Ukrainian captives held by Moscow.
Russia’s top independent English-language news outlet says Russian authorities have blocked its Russian-language website over critical coverage of the war in Ukraine.
The Moscow Times said Friday that its Russian-language website has become unavailable for some users and cited a ruling by the Prosecutor General’s office to restrict the access.
According to the news outlet, the authorities have separately blocked a page on the website with a story about 11 riot police officers who refused to fight in Ukraine. On Thursday, a journalist who first broke the story was jailed on the charges of spreading false information about the Russian military.
The Moscow Times said it hasn’t received any formal notification from the government.
The Kremlin has sought to control the narrative of the war from the moment its troops rolled into Ukraine. It dubbed the attack a “special military operation” and increased the pressure on independent Russian media that called it a “war” or an “invasion,” blocking access to many news sites whose coverage deviated from the official line.
KYIV, Ukraine — Mariupol City Council said Friday that local residents report Russian troops are digging up bodies previously buried in residential courtyards and not allowing any new burials “of people killed by them.”
“A watchman has been assigned to each courtyard and is not allowing Mariupol residents to lay to rest dead relatives or friends. Why the exhumation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken is unknown,” according to a statement on the messaging app Telegram.
The claim could not be independently verified.
Earlier this month, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told the AP that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to the city to dispose of the corpses of victims of the siege.
Boychencko said that the Russian forces were taking many bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators. “Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,” he said.
KYIV, Ukraine — Seven people died and 27 were injured after Russian forces opened fire on buses carrying civilians in the Ukrainian village of Borovaya, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office told Ukraine’s Suspilne news website Friday.
Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are working to establish the circumstances of the attack, Dmytro Chubenko said. He added that investigators are also establishing the routes and destination of the vehicles transporting civilians across the Russian-controlled territory around Borovaya.
Chubenko said that Ukrainian authorities had opened criminal proceedings in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder.”
The claims could not be independently verified.
MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry on Friday promised to ramp up “the scale of missile attacks” on Kyiv in response to Ukraine’s “diversions on the Russian territory.”
The statement comes a day after Russian authorities accused Ukrainian forces of launching airstrikes on residential buildings in one of the country’s regions on the border with Ukraine, in which seven people sustained injuries.
According to Russian officials, some 100 residential buildings were damaged in Thursday’s attack on the Klimovo village in the Bryansk region. The Defense Ministry said that the Russian forces in Ukraine’s Chernihiv region shut down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter that was allegedly involved in the attack on the Bryansk region.
Authorities in another border region, Belgorod, also reported Ukrainian shelling on Thursday.
LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says the loss of Russia’s naval flagship will likely force Moscow to change the way its naval forces operate in the Black Sea.
The Moskva sank after being damaged in disputed circumstances. Ukraine says it struck the vessel with missiles, while Moscow acknowledged a fire on board but not any attack.
In an update posted Friday on social media, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said the Soviet-era ship, which returned to operational service last year after a major refit, “served a key role as both a command vessel and air defence node.”
It said the sinking “means Russia has now suffered damage to two key naval assets since invading Ukraine, the first being Russia’s Alligator-class landing ship Saratov on 24 March. Both events will likely lead Russia to review its maritime posture in the Black Sea.”
KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians on Thursday they should be proud of having survived 50 days under Russian attack when the Russians “gave us a maximum of five.”
In his late-night video address, Zelenskyy called it “an achievement of millions of Ukrainians, of everyone who on Feb. 24 made the most important decision of their life — to fight.”
Zelenskyy gave an extensive and almost poetic listing of the many ways in which Ukrainians have helped to fend off the Russian troops, including “those who showed that Russian warships can sail away, even if it’s to the bottom” of the sea. It was his only reference to the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, which sank while being towed to port.
Zelenskyy said he remembered the first day of the invasion when many world leaders, unsure whether Ukraine could survive, advised him to leave the country.
“But they didn’t know how brave Ukrainians are, how much we value freedom and the possibility to live the way we want,” Zelenskyy said.
OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada is sending soldiers to Poland to help with the care, co-ordination and resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, including some who will come to Canada.
More than 2.6 million Ukrainians have fled into Poland since the first Russian troops crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and over 2 million more have fled into other surrounding countries.
Defense Minister Anita Anand announced the deployment of up to 150 troops Thursday, saying the majority of the deployed troops will head to reception centers across Poland to help care for and register Ukrainian refugees.
Another group is being sent to help coordinate international aid efforts.
Canada has deployed hundreds of additional troops to eastern Europe since Russia’s invasion as the NATO military alliance seeks to both support Ukraine and prevent the conflict from expanding into a broader war.
KYIV, Ukraine — The head of the U.N. World Food Program said people are being “starved to death” in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and he predicted the country’s humanitarian crisis is likely to worsen as Russia intensifies its assault in the coming weeks.
WFP executive director David Beasley also warned in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press in Kyiv that Russia’s invasion of grain-exporting Ukraine risks destabilizing nations far from its shores and could trigger waves of migrants seeking better lives elsewhere.
The war that began Feb. 24 was “devastating the people in Ukraine,” Beasley said, lamenting the lack of access faced by the WFP and other aid organizations in trying to reach those in need amid the conflict.
The fluid nature of the conflict, which has seen fighting shift away from areas around the capital and toward eastern Ukraine, has made it especially difficult to reach hungry Ukrainians.
The WFP is trying to put food supplies now in areas that could be caught up in the fighting, but Beasley acknowledged that there are “a lot of complexities” as the situation rapidly evolves.
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