By The Associated Press
The secretary of Ukraine’s national security council has denied the country was responsible for a reported attack on a Russian fuel depot.
Moscow had earlier placed the blame on Ukraine. There was no independent confirmation of details about the incident.
“For some reason they say that we did it, but in fact this does not correspond with reality,” Oleksiy Danilov said on Ukrainian television on Friday.
Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said earlier that two Ukrainian helicopter gunships had flown at low altitude and struck the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border.
Two workers at the depot were injured, he said. But Russian media cited a statement from state oil company Rosneft that denied anyone was hurt.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy’s office said 86 Ukrainian service members were freed in the Zaporizhzhia region as part of a prisoner swap with Russia. The number of Russians released was not disclosed.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukraine top of agenda as China rejects sanctions at summit
— Ukraine strike on Russian territory reported as talks resume
— War in Ukraine fuels fears among draft-age Russian youths
— African refugees see racial bias as US welcomes Ukrainians
— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
KYIV, Ukraine – The mayor of Kyiv said the bombardment of satellite towns near the Ukrainian capital was ongoing despite Russian promises of scaling back troops from the region.
Vitali Klitschko told British broadcaster Sky News on Friday he could hear the sounds of explosions “nonstop during the day and night.”
Klitschko said that the cities northwest of Kyiv such as Irpin, Borodyanka and Hostomel were being targeted after Ukrainian fighters moved back Russian troops, and that fighting also persisted in Brovary, east of Kyiv.
For those who may want to return to Kyiv in light of the supposed Russian withdrawal, he urged people to wait a “couple of weeks” to see how the situation develops.
GENEVA — The International Committee of the Red Cross says a team intending to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol was unable to reach the port city on Friday.
The Red Cross said in a statement that the team hopes to try again Saturday.
“Arrangements and conditions made it impossible” for the convoy of three vehicles to get safely to Mariupol and they returned to Zaporizhzhia, it said.
“For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the organization said.
BERLIN — The International Energy Agency says its members agreed Friday to release further oil from their emergency reserves in response to the market turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Paris-based agency said in a statement that the agreement was reached at an extraordinary meeting of ministers. It did not provide information on how much emergency stock would be released, saying this would be made public next week.
The agency’s 31 members previously announced last month that they would release 62.7 million barrels of oil to ease shortages.
It said members noted the high oil price volatility caused by the war, with commercial inventories at their lowest level since 2014 and particular difficulties in diesel markets. Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer, with about 60% of exports going to Europe and 20% going to China.
The IEA said its member hold emergency stockpiles of 1.5 billion barrels.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron promised to keep working to establish a sustainable humanitarian corridor in and out of Mariupol in talks Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyy appealed to Macron to continue diplomatic efforts to get Russia to agree to conditions for evacuation and aid, according to Macron’s office. That includes a durable cease-fire announced far enough in advance to be able to organize help.
The French leader has been trying for a week to arrange help for Mariupol, so far without evident success.
Macron’s office said France is working to ensure that people fleeing Mariupol can go “in the direction of their choosing,” and that France is available to help civilians displaced by the war to settle elsewhere in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy tweeted after the call: “Told about countering Russian aggression. Discussed the negotiation process – the course and prospects, the importance of security guarantees. The initiative of (France) on humanitarian corridors from Mariupol must be implemented!”
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s president said he renewed a call for a meeting between leaders of Ukraine and Russia in a telephone call Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A statement from Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said he and Putin also discussed the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia that were held in Istanbul earlier in the week.
Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader told Putin that the Istanbul talks had “raised hopes for peace.” Erdogan said Turkey wanted to cap off those efforts by bringing Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together, according to the statement.
The statement said Erdogan told Putin that it was important for the sides “to act with common sense and to maintain the dialogue.”
During the call, Putin thanked Erdogan for hosting the meeting between the delegations, according to the Erdogan’s office.
Earlier on Friday, Erdogan said Zelenskyy was willing to participate in a leaders’ meeting to be hosted by Turkey.
MILAN — Italy’s foreign minister was visiting Azerbaijan on Friday as part of Italy’s efforts to diversify its natural gas supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Italy buys 40% of its gas from Russia, which Premier Mario Draghi acknowledged Thursday was directly financing Russia’s war.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will discuss the possibility of increasing the supply of gas from Azerbaijan through the Trans-Adriatic pipeline, which was developed as an alternative to Russia supplies. The pipeline transported its first gas at the end of 2020.
Di Maio has been on missions to Qatar, Algeria, Angola and Congo as Italy seeks to replace Russian gas.
VIENNA — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Russian forces’ departure from the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant is “a step in the right direction” and the U.N. nuclear watchdog plans to be there “very, very soon.”
IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi says he will head a support mission to Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, and that further nuclear safety missions to Ukraine will follow.
Grossi spoke Friday after visits to Ukraine and Russia. He said Russian nuclear and foreign ministry officials didn’t discuss with him why Russian forces left Chernobyl.
Of the overall situation in the area, he said: “The general radiation situation around the plant is quite normal. There was a relatively higher level of localized radiation because of the movement of heavy vehicles at the time of the occupation of the plant, and apparently this might have been the case again on the way out.”
Ukraine’s state power company said Russian troops received “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the exclusion zone around the plant. But Grossi said “we don’t have any confirmation” that soldiers were contaminated.
MOSCOW — Russian officials say their demand that natural gas be paid for in rubles doesn’t mean supplies will be immediately interrupted.
Gas used for heating and electricity was still flowing from Russia to Europe on Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “payments on shipments in progress right now must be made not this very day, but somewhere in late April, or even early May.”
President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia would start accepting ruble payments Friday and gas supplies would be cut off if buyers don’t agree to the new conditions.
A decree he signed gave Russian authorities and Gazprombank 10 days to make arrangements. It also says countries could pay foreign currency to the bank, which would convert it to rubles in a second account.
The European Commission’s energy chief tweeted that the European Union was coordinating “to establish a common approach.” Western leaders have said they will keep paying in euros and dollars.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s general staff says the country’s armed forces have retaken control over 29 settlements in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, where Russia has pulled back some of its troops.
The Russian military in the northeast continues to block and shell Chernihiv and Kharkiv, the general staff said Friday.
In the southeast of the country the Russians are trying to seize the cities of Popasna, Rubizhne and Mariupol in order to expand the territory of separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the Ukrainian military.
LVIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Mariupol say it is not possible to enter the besieged Ukrainian city and that it is dangerous for people to try and leave it on their own.
“We don’t see a real desire from the Russians … to provide an opportunity for Mariupol residents to evacuate to territory controlled by Ukraine,” Petro Andryushchenko, adviser the mayor of the city, said Friday on the messaging app Telegram.
“Since yesterday, the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian cargo, even in small volumes, to enter the city,” he added.
Russian officials on Friday allowed 42 buses with Mariupol residents to depart from the neighboring occupied city of Berdyansk, which Mariupol residents were able to reach on their own.
A convoy of about 2,000 refugees, escorted by the Red Cross, on Friday afternoon was heading to the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is under Ukrainian control.
The Mariupol city council on Friday said Russia’s actions in Ukraine and in their bombed-out city amounted to genocide.
WARSAW, Poland — Ukraine’s foreign minister says that now his country’s government is back in control of the Chernobyl nuclear site, it will work with the U.N. atomic agency to determine what the occupying Russians did there and mitigate any danger.
Russian troops left the heavily contaminated nuclear site early Friday after returning control to the Ukrainians.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russians behaved irresponsibly at the site during the more than four weeks that they controlled it, preventing staff at the plant from performing their full duties and digging trenches in contaminated areas.
Kuleba told a news conference in Warsaw that the Russian government had exposed its soldiers to radiation, endangering their health.
ROME — Venice is preparing special material to send to Lviv’s National Art Gallery and other museums in the Ukrainian city so artworks can be better protected during the war.
Mariacristina Gribaudi, head of the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, said in a statement Friday that some 65,000 artworks and 2,000 sculptures have been placed in Lviv storerooms as a precaution, but the objects aren’t adequately protected.
The Venice foundation will oversee a shipment of special fabric that can cover paintings and graphic art as well as furniture, costumes and materials made from glass or marble to protect the objects from the majority of solvents and gasses. The fabric also impedes mold and fungus growth while the works are in storage.
Also being sent are polyethylene foam shock-resistant panels.
Venice museums experts also gave advice in a video call with the Lviv gallery’s management about how to best store artworks.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says that new sanctions against Russia are needed “to force (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to end this crazy aggression.”
Le Drian, who was in Estonia and spoke through an interpreter, also said Friday that “Russia cannot expect to win this war.”
Le Drian was to travel later in the day to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated that he would like to host a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders in Istanbul, in the hope that it would “turn the negative course of events into a positive one.”
Erdogan made the comments on Friday hours before he was scheduled to hold a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the call, he was expected to renew an offer to host a leaders’ meeting.
Erdogan told reporters that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with whom he spoke on Thursday, had a “positive outlook” toward such a meeting in Turkey and that Putin’s attitude had been positive in the past.
Russian and Ukrainian delegations held a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul earlier this week during which Ukraine presented a list of proposals, including that it would have neutral status guaranteed by a range of foreign countries.
LVIV, Ukraine — Talks between Russia and Ukraine have resumed via video link.
Russian delegation head Vladimir Medinsky published a picture of the talks under way Friday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that the negotiations had resumed.
Friday’s talks came three days after the last meeting, in Turkey, between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.
Medinsky, the Russian lead negotiator, said “our positions on Crimea and the Donbas are unchanged.”
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine in 2014. The Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive arm is proposing that the 27-nation bloc’s countries allow the millions of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine to exchange their hryvnia banknotes into the currencies of host member nations.
The European Commission said Friday its proposal aims at promoting a coordinated approach within the region.
“This approach was necessary in light of the fact that the National Bank of Ukraine had to suspend the exchange of hryvnia banknotes into foreign cash in order to protect Ukraine’s limited foreign exchange reserves,” the commission said.
“As a consequence, credit institutions in EU Member States have been unwilling to carry out the exchanges due to the limited convertibility of hryvnia banknotes and exposure to exchange rate risk.”
According to EU figures, more than 3.8 million of people fleeing the war have arrived in the European Union. More than 4 million have fled Ukraine.
The Commission proposed a maximum limit of 10,000 hryvnias (306 euros) per person, without charges, at the official exchange rate as published by the National Bank of Ukraine.
BERLIN — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog says he will head a team to the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine “as soon as possible.”
Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote on Twitter that the International Atomic Energy Agency “assistance and support” mission to Chernobyl “will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine.”
Grossi’s comments followed his visits to Ukraine and then to Russia this week. He didn’t elaborate on his plans or give a more precise timeframe. He was due to hold a news conference in Vienna later Friday.
Russian forces took control of Chernobyl, the site of a 1986 nuclear disaster, at the beginning of the war. But authorities say the troops have now left after returning control to the Ukrainians.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian government is proposing a national 14.4 billion kroner ($1.7 billion) crisis package for the war in Ukraine, including spending on refugees and national defense.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told a press conference Friday, “We should take good care” of the Ukrainian refugees while they are in Norway. “This will demand the best of us,” he said.
If the proposal is passed by parliament, as expected, some 7.1 billion kroner ($815 million) will be spent on the refugees, police and the Norwegian immigration agency. Norway expects to receive 35,000 refugees this year.
Money is also going to strengthening the country’s military and civilian defense. Earlier the government has said it wants an extra allocation of 3.5 billion kroner ($402 million) for 2022 to strengthen NATO member Norway’s Armed Forces and civilian preparedness.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says reports that Ukrainian helicopter gunships attacked a fuel depot inside Russia, setting it ablaze, are not conducive to talks between the two sides in the war.
Asked if the reported incident could be viewed as an escalation of the conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Certainly, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of the talks.”
Russia-Ukraine talks were expected to continue Friday via video link.
The governor of the Russian border region of Belgorod accused Ukraine of flying helicopter gunships into Russian territory early Friday morning and targeting the oil depot, in what if confirmed would be the first attack of its kind.
It was not immediately possible to verify the report.
Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been informed about the reported fire. He told a daily conference call with reporters that Russian authorities were taking measures to ensure fuel supplies in the region were not disrupted.
BEIJING — China is accusing the United States of instigating the war in Ukraine and says NATO should have been disbanded following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
“As the culprit and leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has led NATO to engage in five rounds of eastward expansion in the last two decades after 1999,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing Friday.
“The number of NATO members increased from 16 to 30, and they have moved eastward more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to somewhere near the Russian border, pushing Russia to the wall step by step,” Zhao said.
While China says it is not taking sides in the conflict, it has declared a “no limits” partnership with Moscow, has refused to condemn the invasion, opposes sanctions on Russia and routinely amplifies Russian disinformation about the conflict, including not referring to it as an invasion or a war in keeping with Russian practice.
Zhao’s comments came as Chinese and European Union leaders were meeting virtually for a summit at which Ukraine was expected to dominate discussions. EU officials say they are looking for a commitment from China not to undermine sanctions and assist in efforts to halt the fighting.
GENEVA — The International Committee of the Red Cross says it’s not sure that a planned delivery of aid into Mariupol and an evacuation of civilians out of the besieged Ukrainian city will happen Friday.
Spokesman Ewan Watson told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that the humanitarian group has sent three vehicles toward Mariupol and a frontline between Ukrainian and Russian forces, but two trucks carrying supplies for the city were not accompanying them.
Dozens of busses that have been put together by Ukrainian authorities to take people out also have not started approaching the dividing line, he said Friday.
Watson called it an “extremely complex” operation, adding that “not all details are in place to ensure that this happens today.”
He said the hope was that “thousands” of people could be ferried out, and their destination would be into parts of Ukraine less affected by the fighting that has been ongoing since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Europol, the European Union police agency, has sent teams to countries bordering Ukraine in an effort to protect refugees from criminals.
The Hague-based agency said Friday its teams are supporting local authorities by running secondary security checks and seeking to “identify criminals and terrorists trying to enter the EU in the refugee flow and exploit the situation.”
The Europol teams are operating in Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova and are planning to deploy to Romania, too.
The agency says they also are gathering intelligence to feed into criminal threat assessments across Europe.
The United Nations says that more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Police in Norway say they have intensified information and intelligence gathering as a result of the security situation in Europe.
The move is to help “prevent and detect crime as a result of the migration flow and the tense security policy situation,” National Police Commissioner Benedicte Bjørnland said in a statement Friday.
She added that “we are particularly aware of the crime challenges that may arise as a result of the migration flow.” She did not elaborate.
More than 7,800 Ukrainians have sought asylum in Norway.
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