Live updates: Poland ready to supply MiG jets to Ukraine

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

WARSAW, Poland — Poland is ready to make its Russian-made fighter jest available to Ukraine, via NATO, Poland’s prime minister said Wednesday. But he added that it’s a “very serious decision” that should be taken by all NATO alliance members because it affects wider security.

Premier Mateusz Morawiecki says the decision on whether to make the MiG-29 planes available to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion is now in the hands of NATO and the U.S.

“Poland is not a side in this war (…) and NATO is not a side in this war,” Morawiecki said during a visit to Vienna. “Such a serious decision like handing over planes must be unanimous and unequivocally taken by by all of the North Atlantic Alliance.”

Morawiecki said talks on the subject are continuing.

Ukraine has been calling on the U.S. and Western countries to provide fighter jets. Poland responded on Tuesday by offering to transfer its planes to a U.S. military base in Germany, with the expectation that the planes would then be handed over to Ukrainian pilots. The Pentagon reacted by saying it had not been aware of the plan which it finds “untenable.”

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BRUSSELS — European Union countries have agreed to slap further sanctions on Russia, targeting oligarchs and their relatives who played a role in the invasion of Ukraine.

In addition to measures already adopted targeting President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s financial system and the country’s high-tech industry, the EU imposed new sanctions on 160 individuals and added new restrictions on the export of maritime navigation and radio communication technology. The extra measures are also aimed at Russia’s ally Belarus.

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The French presidency of the European Council said they will exclude three Belarussian banks from SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Civilians from besieged towns northwest of Kyiv worked their way toward the capital Wednesday, crossing over a small river via a damaged bridge.

The bridge area has come under sporadic mortar fire in recent days, with civilians killed. But there was little shelling reported in the area Wednesday morning, so civilians took their chance to leave their homes in the hope of finding safety.

Firefighters pulled an elderly man in a handcart, and police helped others across. A soldier held a child’s hand. A woman carried her cat.

One resident of the town of Irpin described four days without heat, electricity, water or cell phone connections. Others came from neighboring Bucha.

The route from Irpin and Bucha to Kyiv is part of a humanitarian corridor announced by Ukrainian authorities Wednesday.

Thousands have been entering Kyiv via this route in recent days, with many then taken to the railway station for onward evacuation by train to Ukraine’s west.

“We have a short window of time at the moment (for evacuations). Even if there is a ceasefire right now, there is a high risk of shells falling at any moment,” said Yevhen Nyshchuk, actor and former culture minister, now a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces.

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BRISTOL, England — Imperial Brands has become the first of the so-called Big Four tobacco producers to halt all operations in Russia.

Imperial Brands said in a statement Wednesday that “following recent developments, we have today suspended all operations in Russia. This includes halting production at our factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity.”

It had previously halted its operations in Ukraine.

Imperial Brands cited the impact of international sanctions on Russia and said it would continue to pay employees while operations are suspended.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says efforts are under way to evacuate some 18,000 people from the capital Kyiv and embattled towns near it.

He said Wednesday the efforts are part of broader evacuation attempts by multiple humanitarian corridors within Ukraine, and warned Russian forces against violating cease-fire promises.

He appealed again for foreign air support, saying “send us planes.” Western powers have sent military equipment and beefed up forces on Ukraine’s eastern flank, but have been wary of providing air support and getting drawn into a direct war with Russia.

He also issued an appeal, unusually in Russian, to urge Russian soldiers to leave.

“Our resistance for almost two weeks has shown you that we will not surrender, because this is our home. It is our families and children. We will fight until we can win back our land,” he said. “You can still save yourselves if you just go home.”

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LONDON — Britain has impounded a private jet it suspects of being linked to a Russian oligarch, and tightened aviation sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday the Luxembourg-registered plane had been seized at Farnborough Airport in southern England while U.K. authorities tried to unravel its ownership.

U.K. officials believe the Bombardier Global 6500 jet is connected to billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler. It arrived in the U.K. from New Jersey last week and had been due to fly to Dubai on Tuesday.

Britain has banned Russian-owned or operated planes from its airspace, but Shapps said the government was still working to close some “loopholes.”

The government announced late Tuesday it was toughening sanctions to include “the power to detain any aircraft owned by persons connected with Russia.” Britain also banned the export of aviation- or space-related items and technology to Russia.

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine — The besieged Azov Sea port city of Mariupol has seen some of the most desperate scenes of the war, with civilians struggling without water, heat, basic sanitation or phones for several days.

With water supplies cut, people have been collecting water from streams or melting snow.

The representatives of Ukraine’s Red Cross are trying to deliver first aid to those who need it the most, but resources are scarce.

“There is no heating, electricity, water, natural gas … In other words there is nothing. no household commodities. The water is collected from the roofs after the rain,” says Aleksey Berntsev, head of Red Cross of Mariupol.

People sheltered in underground basements, anxiously waiting for news of evacuation efforts as they struggled to survive in a city where bodies have been left uncollected on the streets.

Berentsev said that apart from delivering aid, giving local residents information is one of the most important task they are undertaking.

“Sometimes information is more important for the people than food,” he says.

Power cuts mean that many residents have lost internet access and now rely on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Unlike many countries that had already imposed sanctions, New Zealand’s laws didn’t previously allow it to apply meaningful measures unless they were part of a broader United Nations effort. Because Russia has U.N. Security Council veto power, that had left New Zealand hamstrung.

The new law, which was rushed through in a single day, targets those in Russia associated with the invasion, including oligarchs. It will allow New Zealand to freeze assets and stop superyachts or planes from arriving. Lawmakers said it would stop New Zealand becoming a safe haven for Russian oligarchs looking to avoid sanctions elsewhere.

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LONDON — British defense officials say Russia’s assault on Kyiv has failed to make progress but several Ukrainian cities continue to suffer heavy shelling.

In an update posted on social media Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence said “fighting north-west of Kyiv remains ongoing with Russian forces failing to make any significant breakthroughs.”

It said the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled by Russian forces and are being heavily shelled.

The ministry said Ukraine’s air defenses were holding up against Russian aircraft, “probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air.

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BEIJING — China says it is sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth 5 million yuan ($791,000) to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters an initial batch was sent to the Ukrainian Red Cross on Wednesday with more to follow “as soon as possible.”

China has largely backed Russia in the conflict and Zhao reiterated Beijing’s opposition to biting economic sanctions against Moscow.

Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing that “wielding the stick of sanctions at every turn will never bring peace and security but cause serious difficulties to the economies and livelihoods of the countries concerned.”

He said China and Russia will “continue to carry out normal trade cooperation, including oil and gas trade, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”

China has sought to blame the U.S. for instigating the conflict, citing what it calls Washington’s failure to adequately consider Russia’s “legitimate” security concerns in the face of NATO expansion.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have announced a 9 a.m.-9 p.m. cease-fire along several evacuation routes for civilians in besieged or occupied cities, though it is unclear whether Russian forces will respect it.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian authorities on Wednesday confirmed the cease-fire along the evacuation corridors to Ukrainian counterparts and the Red Cross.

She said the routes lead out of Sumy in the northeast, Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the Kyiv region.

All the corridors lead to sites elsewhere in Ukraine that are currently held by the Ukrainian government.

The route out of Sumy, on the Russian border, is the only one that has been used successfully so far, allowing for the evacuation of 5,000 people on Tuesday southwest to the city of Poltava.

Ukrainian officials released videos Wednesday showing trucks and buses with red cross symbols heading to besieged cities.

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BERLIN — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says he hopes that corridors to evacuate civilians from under-fire cities in Ukraine will begin to work better after a sputtering start.

ICRC President Peter Maurer told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday that his organization has been working for days to bring the warring parties together and encourage them to hold detailed military-to-military talks on enabling civilians to flee.

Maurer said it’s important that agreements succeed “because the military units stand close to each other and the smallest uncertainty, as we have seen in recent days, leads instantly to exchanges of fire, and that makes the escape routes impossible.”

He added: “We hope that it will work better today; in any case, we are talking to the parties and, above all, the parties are talking to each other — that is the most important thing at the moment.”

But, pressed on how confident he is, he added: “I really can’t speculate. But we hope that today a large number can at least get to safety at least from some cities.”

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Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has thwarted a large-scale plot to attack separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov on Wednesday cited from what he claimed was an intercepted Ukrainian National Guard document laying out plans for a weekslong operation targeting the Donbas region.

Konashenkov said in a televised statement: “The special military operation of the Russian armed forces, carried out since Feb. 24, preempted and thwarted a large-scale offensive by strike groups of Ukrainian troops on the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which are not controlled by Kyiv, in March of this year.”

He did not address Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and attacks on Ukrainian civilians or cities, Russian military casualties or any other aspect of its bogged-down campaign.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” and official statements about the war have focused almost exclusively on fighting and evacuations in the separatist-held regions, where Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukraine’s military since 2014.

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LVIV, Ukraine — The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces says the country is building up its defense of key cities in the north, south and east as Russia’s advance has stalled.

In a statement early Wednesday, it said that forces around Kyiv are resisting the Russian offensive with unspecified strikes and “holding the line.”

The Ukrainian general staff said that in the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms.

And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv.

Meanwhile, the administration of the northeastern border city of Sumy says further civilian evacuations are planned Wednesday.

In a Telegram post, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy says a safe corridor will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 22 buses that traveled the day before from Sumy southwest to the city of Poltava would return Wednesday afternoon to pick up more people seeking to flee. Priority will go to pregnant women, women with children, the elderly and the disabled.

Sumy is on the Russian border and has seen deadly shelling in recent days. The Sumy-Poltava route is the only one successfully used so far for humanitarian evacuations, and some 5,000 people, including 1,700 foreign students, were brought out Tuesday. Other evacuation efforts stalled or were thwarted by Russian shelling.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s energy minister said Russian forces that now control a Ukrainian nuclear plant are forcing the exhausted staff to record an address that they plan to use for propaganda purposes.

Russian troops have been in control of the Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest in Europe, since seizing it an attack on Friday that set a building on fire and raised fears of a nuclear disaster. It was later determined that no radiation was released.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said on Facebook that about 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy equipment are inside the station. He said the Ukrainian staff are “physically and emotionally exhausted.”

Russia describes the war as a “special military operation” and says it is conducting targeted attacks. Halushchenko’s reference to propaganda appears to refer to Russian efforts to show it is not endangering Ukrainian civilians or infrastructure.

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LOS ANGELES — A former Miss Ukraine winner on Tuesday described her journey with her young son to escape Kyiv and her homeland as Russian troops invaded the country last month, and called on countries to do more to arm her countrymen and women.

Veronika Didusenko, who was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018, said she and her 7-year-old son woke on the first day of the invasion to the sounds of air raid sirens and explosions, and they joined thousands of others on the road to evacuate.

“On my … journey to the border of Ukraine, there was no place where sirens would not sound, where rockets and bombs would not explode,” she told a news conference in the Los Angeles office of women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred.

Didusenko and her son eventually made it to Moldova and traveled through other European countries before reaching Geneva, Switzerland. Didusenko said she made the “heartbreaking” decision to leave her son there to travel to the United States to hold the press conference with Allred.

“Right now, millions of Ukrainian children and their mothers are trembling at every sound in the subway stations and bomb shelters. Even more heartbreaking that women are giving birth in such conditions in these shelters,” Didusenko said.

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WASHINGTON — Additional air defense capabilities are the number one priority for Ukraine’s military right now, the country’s U.S. defense attache, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, said Tuesday after returning from a meeting at the Pentagon.

“It can be ground based air defense systems. It can be fighter jets, whatever possible,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said there are countries around the world that have Soviet-produced air defense systems that the Ukrainians already know how to operate. “The U.S. government can also motivate those countries to provide us this equipment,” he said.

They also need additional anti-tank, anti-armor weapons and coastal defense capabilities to defend against Russian ships at the south.

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UNITED NATIONS — Natalia Mudrenko, the highest-ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, is accusing Russia of effectively holding civilians “hostage,” and says “the critical situation” in Mariupol and other cities demands immediate action by world leaders and humanitarian and medical organizations.

She told a U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday on women in conflict that civilians, mostly women and children, “are not allowed to leave and the humanitarian aid is not let in.”

“If they try to leave, Russians open fire and kill them,” Mudrenko said, her voice shaking with emotion. “They are running out of food and water, and they die.”

The Russian military has denied firing on convoys and charged that the Ukrainian side was blocking the evacuation effort.

Mudrenko said a 6-year-old girl died Monday in the besieged city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, “alone in the last moments of her life as her mother was killed by Russian shelling.”

On Tuesday in the Mykolaiv region, she said “Russian occupiers fired at a van with a group of female teachers of the local orphanage (and) three of them were killed.” She said there are also “cases of child sexual violence committed by occupiers.”

Mudrenko said the war has highlighted the role of Ukrainian women in defending their country, saying there were 57,000 women in the army at the start of 2021, comprising 22.8% of the force.

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