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Russia-Ukraine war: UN calls for end to school strikes after nearly 100 child deaths in April; EU to consider Ukraine’s membership – as it happened

By Helen Livingstone (now); Johana Bhuiyan, Lauren Aratani, Léonie Chao-Fong, and Martin Belam (earlier)
A baby bed is seen inside an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk.
A baby bed is seen inside an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk. Photograph: Andriy Andriyenko/AP

We will be pausing our live coverage of the war in Ukraine and returning in a few hours to bring you all the latest developments.

In the meantime, here is a comprehensive rundown of where things stand as the time approaches 3am in Kyiv.

  • A court in Kyiv will hear the first war crime trial since the invasion began when a Russian soldier accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian appears in the dock on Friday. Vadim Shysimarin, a 21-year-old commander of the Kantemirovskaya tank division, is accused of shooting dead an unarmed man who was on a bicycle and talking on his phone in the village of Chupakhivka, Sumy, after being ordered “to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders”, according to prosecutors.
  • The Russian foreign ministry in Moscow said it would have to take “military-technical” steps if Helsinki applied for Nato accession, after Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, and prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the country must apply to join the military alliance “without delay”. Neighbouring Sweden is expected to follow suit in the coming days.
  • Republican senator Rand Paul has blocked the passage of a $40bn aid bill to Ukraine in the US Senate. Paul demanded changes to the legislation that would include implementing a special inspector general to oversee how the aid is spent.
  • Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said that “at least several thousand Ukrainians” have been sent to so-called “filtration centres” in Russia where they are subject to “brutal interrogations”. Tens of thousands more had been evacuated to Russia or Russia-controlled territory. Carpenter said that one survivor said “everyone was afraid to be taken to Donetsk”, where they could be the victim of “further investigation or murder”.
  • Urgent measures to break the Russian blockade of grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, including by trying to open routes through Romanian and Baltic ports, are being discussed at a three-day meeting of G7 foreign and agriculture ministers in Germany. Before the war, most of the food produced by Ukraine – enough to feed 400 million people – was exported through the country’s seven Black Sea ports.
  • Ukraine said it had damaged and set on fire a Russian navy logistics ship in the Black Sea. The Vsevolod Bobrov vessel was near Snake Island, said Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine. The Guardian could not independently verify the details. Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said “very difficult negotiations” were ongoing to evacuate 38 seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, in exchange for Russian prisoners of war. “We work step by step,’” he said. “We will exchange 38, then we will move on.”
  • The number of people who have fled Ukraine to escape Russia’s invasion has exceeded 6 million, the UN’s refugee agency said. A further 8 million people have been forced to flee their homes and are displaced inside Ukraine, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
  • Nearly 100 children were killed in Ukraine during the month of April alone, but actual figures could be significantly higher, the United Nations children’s fund said. Unicef’s deputy executive director, Omar Abdi, demanded an end to the bombing of Ukrainian schools, adding that one in six Unicef-supported schools in eastern Ukraine had been “damaged or destroyed” as of last week.
  • European Union leaders plan to assess Ukraine’s membership next month, according to the French foreign ministry. Ukraine’s application to become an EU member was being examined by the European Commission and would be “discussed at heads of state and government level at the European Council in the month of June”, a spokesperson for the ministry said.
  • Russia could cut its gas supplies to Finland tomorrow, a day after Finnish leaders said they would apply to join Nato, according to reports. Key Finnish politicians have been warned that Russia could halt its gas supplies on Friday, the local newspaper Iltalehti cited unnamed sources as saying.
  • The UN’s human rights council has passed a resolution to investigate alleged abuses by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine formerly under their control, with a view to holding those responsible to account. The resolution passed by a strong majority, with 33 members voting in favour and two – China and Eritrea – against. There were 12 abstentions.
  • The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said 1,000 bodies had been recovered in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in recent weeks. Many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes, she said.

The UK government has declined a Commons instruction to release information about the decision to make Evgeny Lebedev a peer, saying this would undermine the confidentiality of those nominated and could degenerate into “political point-scoring”, the Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker reports.

Labour called the decision “a cover-up” and promised more action over what it called a contempt of parliament.

The announcement said information had instead been provided to parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC). This prompted an immediate rebuff from the ISC, which said its request for details about Lebedev was separate and should have remained classified.

In March a humble address motion tabled by Labour was passed by the Commons amid a threatened Tory rebellion, directing ministers to release information about the elevation of the Russian-born businessman and son of a former KGB officer.

The vote, in which Tory MPs were instructed to abstain given the extent of backbench Conservative disquiet on the issue, followed revelations that the intelligence services had concerns about a peerage for Lebedev awarded by Boris Johnson, a close friend.

But a Cabinet Office document released on Thursday, running to nine pages, contained no new information beyond a handful of redacted emails, including one in which Lebedev confirmed he had completed a form, and another in which an unidentified official congratulated him on the peerage.

Read on here:

An update from US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin, who says he had a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov:

The call came as US plans for a $40bn aid package for Ukraine including money to boost the country’s defences was blocked in the Senate by a single senator, Republican Rand Paul.

AP reports:

With the Senate poised to debate and vote on the package of military and economic aid, Paul denied leaders the unanimous agreement they needed to proceed. The bipartisan measure, backed by President Joe Biden, underscores US determination to reinforce its support for Ukraine’s outnumbered forces.

The legislation has been approved overwhelmingly by the House and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Final passage is not in doubt.

Even so, Paul’s objection was an audacious departure from an overwhelming sentiment in Congress that quickly helping Ukraine was urgent, both for that nation’s prospects of withstanding Vladimir Putin’s brutal attack and for discouraging the Russian president from escalating or widening the war.

It was also a brazen rebellion against his fellow Kentucky Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell began Thursday’s session by saying senators from “both sides” – meaning Republicans and Democrats – needed to “help us pass this urgent funding bill today,” gesturing emphatically as he said “today.”

Paul, a libertarian who often opposes U.S. intervention abroad, said he wanted language inserted into the bill, without a vote, that would have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending.

He has a long history of demanding last-minute changes by holding up or threatening to delay bills on the brink of passage, including measures dealing with lynching, sanctioning Russia, preventing a federal shutdown, the defense budget, government surveillance and providing health care to the September 11 attack first responders.

Relatives and supporters of the Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant demonstrated in Kyiv on Thursday, pleading for them to be rescued, Reuters reports.

Russian forces have been bombarding the steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, the last bastion of Ukrainian defenders in a city now almost completely controlled by Russia after more than two months of a siege.

Many of the civilians holed up at the plant have been evacuated but no deal has been reached with Moscow on allowing out hundreds of fighters, some of whom are wounded.

Protesters outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demand a rescue operation for Ukrainian fighters trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
Protesters outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demand a rescue operation for Ukrainian fighters trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

Demonstrators, mostly women, marched through central Kyiv, holding banners and chanting, “Save defenders of Mariupol, save Azovstal,” “Glory to the heroes of Mariupol,” and, “Save the military of Azovstal.”

Maria Zimareva, whose relative is among the Azov battalion fighters, said tearfully:

I want all the defenders who are there to return home so that they can continue a normal life with their children and relatives.

People holed up in the steelworks were dying of wounds that could normally be treated, said Tetiana Pogorlova:

Nobody attempts to save them. There is nothing we can do except for gathering at such demonstrations and making demands on our authorities.

Mariupol resident Alina Nesterenko was also at the demonstration in the capital:

The conditions they are in are horrible. I have no words to describe them. That’s why we are here. We are begging, we are pleading in every possible way, we are asking for our loved ones to be saved.

Kyiv set to hear first war crimes trial since beginning of Russian invasion

This is Helen Livingstone taking over the Guardian’s live coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.

A court in Kyiv will hear the first war crime trial since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine when a Russian soldier accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian appears in the dock on Friday, the Guardian’s Daniel Boffey reports.

The watershed moment comes as the number of crimes registered by Ukraine’s general prosecutor surpassed 11,000 and Unicef reported that at least 100 children had been killed in the war in April alone.

The defendant who will appear at Kyiv’s district court is Vadim Shysimarin, a 21-year-old commander of the Kantemirovskaya tank division, who is currently in Ukrainian custody.

It is alleged Shysimarin, a sergeant, had been fighting in the Sumy region in north-east Ukraine when he killed a civilian on 28 February in the village of Chupakhivka.

He is accused of shooting at a civilian car after his convoy of military vehicles had come under attack from Ukrainian forces. He then drove the car away with four other soldiers as he sought to flee Ukrainian fighters.

Shysimarin shot dead the unarmed man, who was on a bicycle and talking on his phone, after being ordered “to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders”, according to prosecutors.

Read on here:

Today so far

It’s 6 pm ET here in New York. I’ll be handing the blog over to my colleagues in Australia.

Here’s what happened so far:

  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said “very difficult negotiations” are ongoing to evacuate 38 seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, in exchange for Russian prisoners of war. “We work step by step. We will exchange 38, then we will move on,” Vereshchuk said.
  • The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat. Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be “forced to take reciprocal steps … to address the resulting threats to its national security” if Helsinki applied for Nato accession.
  • Russia could cut its gas supplies to Finland tomorrow, a day after Finnish leaders said they would apply to join Nato, according to reports. Key Finnish politicians have been warned that Russia could halt its gas supplies on Friday, the local newspaper Iltalehti cited unnamed sources as saying.
  • The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said 1,000 bodies had been recovered in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in recent weeks. Many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes, she said.

  • Michael Carpenter, the US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said that “at least several thousand Ukrainians” have been sent to so-called “filtration centers” in Russia where they are interrogated and reportedly beaten and tortured, according to a transcript of Carpenter’s remarks.

  • US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has blocked the passage of a $40bn aid bill to Ukraine. Paul demanded changes to the legislation that would include implementing a special inspector general to oversee how the aid is spent.

Updated

More than 1,100 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Wales under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, according to the BBC. Under the sponsorship scheme, 37,500 visas have been issued across the UK.

For those visas issued for refugees to go to England, 49% have arrived, 28% of those planning to go to Scotland arrived and 16% have arrived in Northern Ireland.

Updated

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Russia has destroyed 570 health care facilities and 101 hospitals, according to the New York Times. The remarks came during his nightly address to the nation. He also said some schools were struck on Thursday in northern Ukraine.

Earlier today, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution to investigate Russia’s human rights abuses in Ukraine in a 33-2 vote.

Updated

US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has blocked the passage of a $40bn aid bill to Ukraine. Paul demanded changes to the legislation that would include implementing a special inspector general to oversee how the aid is spent, according to CNN.

“We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the US economy,” Paul said.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered to allow a vote on the Republican senator’s amendment. But CNN is reporting that Paul insisted that it be added to the actual bill.

“The package is ready to go,” Schumer said. “The vast majority of senators on both sides of the aisle want it. There’s now only one thing holding us back the junior senator from Kentucky is preventing swift passage of Ukraine aid because he wants to add at the last minute his own changes directly into the bill. His change is strongly opposed by many members of both parties.”

Updated

Michael Carpenter, the US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said that “at least several thousand Ukrainians” have been sent to so-called “filtration centers” in Russia, according to a transcript of his remarks to the OSCE Permanent Council.

“During this so-called ‘filtration’ process, Russia’s forces reportedly process and interrogate detained Ukrainian citizens to identify anyone with ties to the Ukrainian government or military, as well as individuals with ‘pro-Ukraine’ convictions,” Carpenter’s remarks reads.

Carpenter went onto say that residents of Mariupol were reportedly evicted from shelters and forced onto buses to these “filtration camps” without telling them where they were going.

“Numerous eyewitness accounts indicate that ‘filtering out’ entails beating and torturing individuals to determine whether they owe even the slightest allegiance to the Ukrainian state,” his remarks continue.

More from his transcript:

According to these reports, those who are judged to have such an allegiance are transferred to the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” where they face a dark fate.

According to one survivor, “If a person was suspected of being a ‘Ukrainian Nazi’, they took them to Donetsk for further investigation or murder…. Everybody was afraid to be taken to Donetsk.” Another survivor recounted a conversation she overheard between two Russian soldiers as she and her family were undergoing “filtration” outside of Mariupol. “What did you do with people who didn’t pass the filtration?” one soldier asked. The response: “Shot 10 and stopped counting.”

Updated

Authorities in Spain have identified houses, companies and one luxury yacht belonging to Russian oligarchs who are on the sanctions list, Reuters is reporting. In the weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mariano García Fresno, the head of the General Council of Notaries’ money laundering prevention unit said the group noticed increased activity as oligarchs attempted to transfer ownership and stakes of businesses to relatives or associates.

More context from Reuters:

This week, the European Commission, the EU executive, said it would introduce a legislative proposal to prosecute those who attempted to evade sanctions, for instance by transferring their assets to family members.

After reviewing more than 1,000 names among millions of transactions registered with Spain’s public notaries since 2004, García Fresno’s unit established that sanctioned oligarchs had stakes in at least 10 Spanish companies and 13 foreign ones.

The information was handed over to the country’s financial intelligence unit and the Treasury and, in late April, the government confirmed it had frozen 12 funds and bank accounts linked to five people on the sanctions list, along with three luxury yachts and 23 properties.

Updated

Some interesting analysis from Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analyses in Washington DC, on Russia’s mobilization problem in its invasion of Ukraine.

Kofman argues that Russia is currently “operating at peacetime strength”.

He notes that Vladimir Putin seems hesitant to declare a state of war. Currently, Putin has designated the invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”.

Updated

Reuters is reporting that Ukrainian forces have set on fire a Russian ship in the Black Sea:

Ukrainian forces have damaged a modern Russian navy logistics ship in the Black Sea, setting it on fire, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine said on Thursday.

Spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said in an online post that the Vsevolod Bobrov had been struck near Snake Island, the scene of renewed fighting in recent days, but did not give details. The tiny island is located near Ukraine’s sea border with Romania.

Updated

Video footage shows the Azov fighters in Mariupol engaging in a counter-attack at the steel plant where hundreds of soldiers and civilians have been under siege.

Graffiti shows signs of Ukrainian resistance in Russian-occupied Kherson.

This is Lauren Aratani taking over for Léonie Chao-Fong.

Despite sanctions and boycotts against Russia’s oil exports, the country’s oil revenues are up 50% this year, according to Bloomberg, citing a report from the International Energy Agency.

In 2022, Russia earned about $20bn per month in 2022 from oil sales. The revenue stream represents exports of about 8m barrels a day, according to the agency.

The EU – despite its stance against the invasion – has taken in about 43% of the country’s oil exports.

Russia’s supplies were down by 1m barrels a day last month, meaning that the country could soon see an economic impact from the sanctions and boycotts.

Updated

Summary

It is just past 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said “very difficult negotiations” are ongoing to evacuate 38 seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, in exchange for Russian prisoners of war. “We work step by step. We will exchange 38, then we will move on,” Vereshchuk said.
  • The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat. Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be “forced to take reciprocal steps … to address the resulting threats to its national security” if Helsinki applied for Nato accession.
  • Russia could cut its gas supplies to Finland tomorrow, a day after Finnish leaders said they would apply to join Nato, according to reports. Key Finnish politicians have been warned that Russia could halt its gas supplies on Friday, the local newspaper Iltalehti cited unnamed sources as saying.
  • The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said 1,000 bodies had been recovered in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in recent weeks. Many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes, she said.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, today as I hand the blog over to my US colleagues. I’ll be back tomorrow. Thank you.

Updated

A baseball signed by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has sold at auction for more than $50,000, with a portion of the proceeds going to Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion.

A Boston auctioneer, RR Auction, said the winning bid for the Rawlings Major League baseball was more than three times its estimate. The company will donate its $15,000 cut from the sale. The seller, Randy Kaplan, will donate an undisclosed portion of his proceeds to the global non-profit Americares.

The ball is signed in black felt tip in Ukrainian Cyrillic and Latin letters. It is accompanied by a letter signed by Volodymyr Yelchenko, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations.

The autographed baseball. The winning bidder wished to remain anonymous.
The autographed baseball. The winning bidder wished to remain anonymous. Photograph: AP

Kaplan is a well-known collector of baseballs signed by world leaders who rarely auctions his prized pieces. The winning bidder wished to remain anonymous, but was described by RR Auction as a “collector from the midwest who is thrilled to have some of the funds go to the Ukraine relief effort”.

Documents signed by the British naturalist Alfred Wallace, inventor Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein and founding fathers John Hancock and John Adams were sold in the same auction.

Updated

Ukraine’s EU application to be assessed in June, says France

European Union leaders plan to assess Ukraine’s membership next month, according to the French foreign ministry.

Ukraine’s application to become an EU member is being examined by the European Commission and will be “discussed at heads of state and government level at the European Council in the month of June”, a spokesperson for the ministry said.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Monday that the EU will publish an opinion on Ukrainian accession to the bloc next month.

Updated

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, welcomed the UN’s human rights council vote to launch an investigation into alleged rights abuses by Russian troops in the Kyiv region.

Kuleba tweeted that the “perpetrators of these barbaric crimes will be brought to justice”.

Updated

Nearly 100 children killed in Ukraine in April alone, says Unicef

Nearly 100 children were killed in Ukraine during the month of April alone, but actual figures could be significantly higher, the United Nations children’s fund said.

Unicef’s deputy executive director, Omar Abdi, was speaking at the UN’s security council:

In just this past month, the UN verified that nearly 100 children were killed, and we believe the actual figures to be considerably higher.

The war in Ukraine was creating a “child protection and child rights crisis”, he warned.

More children have been injured and faced grave violations of their rights, millions more have been displaced.

Abdi also demanded an end to the bombing of Ukrainian schools, adding that one in six Unicef-supported schools in eastern Ukraine had been “damaged or destroyed” as of last week.

He said:

Hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas.

A school gymnasium destroyed by bombing in Luch, Ukraine, last week.
A school gymnasium destroyed by bombing in Luch, Ukraine, last week. Photograph: Vincenzo Circosta/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the whole world afraid of the atomic bomb – even those who might launch one. Today that fear has mostly passed out of living memory, and with it we may have lost a crucial safeguard, Daniel Immerwahr, associate professor of history at Northwestern University, writes.

On an August morning in 1945, 600 metres over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, a small sun came briefly into existence. Few remember a sound, but the flash printed shadows on the pavements and sent buildings thrashing. The explosion – 2,000 times greater than that of any bomb yet used – announced not only a new weapon but a new era.

It was a stunning military victory for the United States. Yet jubilation there was undercut by “uncertainty and fear”, the newsman Edward R Murrow observed. It took only a moment’s reflection on the bomb’s existence to see the harrowing implication: what had happened in Hiroshima, and three days later in Nagasaki, could happen anywhere.

The thought proved impossible to shake, especially as, within the year, on-the-ground accounts emerged. Reports came of flesh bubbling, of melted eyes, of a terrifying sickness afflicting even those who’d avoided the blast. “All the scientists are frightened – frightened for their lives,” a Nobel-winning chemist confessed in 1946. Despite scientists’ hopes that the weapons would be retired, in the coming decades they proliferated, with nuclear states testing ever-more-powerful devices on Pacific atolls, the Algerian desert and the Kazakh steppe.

The fear – the pervasive, enduring fear – that characterised the cold war is hard to appreciate today. It wasn’t only powerless city-dwellers who were terrified (“select and fortify a room in which to shelter”, the UK government grimly advised). Leaders themselves were shaken. It was “insane”, US president John F Kennedy felt, that “two men, sitting on the opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilisation”. Yet everyone knowingly lived with that insanity for decades. It was as if, wrote the historian Paul Boyer, “the Bomb” were “one of those categories of Being, like Space and Time, that, according to Kant, are built into of the very structure of our minds, giving shape and meaning to all our perceptions”.

Boyer remembered the unsettling news of the Hiroshima bombing, which occurred the week of his 10th birthday and shaped the rest of his childhood. Today, someone remembering the bomb that well would have to be 86 at least. The memory of nuclear war, once vivid, is quietly vanishing. The signs on the fallout shelters – those that remain – are rusted, and most of the world’s population can’t even recall an above-ground nuclear test (the last was in 1980). The bomb no longer gives “shape and meaning to all our perceptions”; until recently, many thought of it only rarely. It has been tempting to see nuclear war as a bygone terror that no longer terrifies, like polio.

Read Daniel Immerwahr’s full article: Forgetting the apocalypse: why our nuclear fears faded – and why that’s dangerous

Updated

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, told his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, that France fully supported the country’s choice to join Nato, the Elysée presidential office said in a statement.

Updated

More than six million have fled Ukraine, says UN

The number of people who have fled Ukraine to escape Russia’s invasion has exceeded 6 million, the UN’s refugee agency said.

The majority of those who have fled the country have entered the European Union through border points in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

A further 8 million people have been forced to flee their homes and are displaced inside Ukraine, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Drivers queue at the Polish-Ukrainian border in Zosin village, eastern Poland.
Drivers queue at the Polish-Ukrainian border in Zosin village, eastern Poland. Photograph: Wojtek Jargiło/EPA
A young Ukrainian refugee waves from a minibus taking him and his mother further into Moldova after crossing the border in Palanca, south-eastern Moldova.
A young Ukrainian refugee waves from a minibus taking him and his mother further into Moldova after crossing the border in Palanca, south-eastern Moldova. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

A Ukrainian woman in her house after the 18 missiles hit the civil settlements of Komyshuvakha, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
A Ukrainian woman in her house after the 18 missiles hit the civil settlements of Komyshuvakha, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
One person was killed and three others were injured due to the missile attacks, while the bombardment destroyed 60 buildings.
One person was killed and three others were injured due to the missile attacks, while the bombardment destroyed 60 buildings. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said “very difficult negotiations” are ongoing to evacuate seriously wounded fighters from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Vereshchuk said yesterday that Kyiv had proposed to Moscow that badly injured defenders in the plant be swapped for Russian prisoners of war.

Writing on her Telegram, Vereshchuk said:

To be clear: we are currently negotiating only about 38 severely wounded (bedridden) fighters. We work step by step. We will exchange 38, then we will move on.

There are currently no talks on the exchange of 500 or 600 people, which is being reported by some media outlets.

Updated

Today so far...

If you’ve just joined us, here’s a quick roundup of the key events so far:

  • The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat. Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be “forced to take reciprocal steps … to address the resulting threats to its national security” if Helsinki applied for Nato accession.
  • Russia could cut its gas supplies to Finland tomorrow, a day after Finnish leaders said they would apply to join Nato, according to reports. Key Finnish politicians have been warned that Russia could halt its gas supplies on Friday, the local newspaper Iltalehti cited unnamed sources as saying.
  • The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said 1,000 bodies had been recovered in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in recent weeks. Many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes, she said.
  • The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has told residents who fled the city that it is still not safe to return to Ukraine. He said: “Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee the safety of every resident today. Every corner of Ukraine, every city and town, is under threat as Russia continues its barbaric war against our country.”

Good afternoon from London. I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll continue to bring you the news from the war in Ukraine. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.

Updated

Russia needs denazification, not Ukraine, according to the leader of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, who fled the country earlier this week by disguising herself as a food courier.

Maria Alyokhina, a long-time critic of Vladimir Putin, was speaking as her band was preparing for its anti-war concert tour beginning in Berlin. She said Russians needed to think carefully about the war, telling Reuters:

I have no idea what will be the end of this reflection but without that, the country doesn’t have a right to exist, like Germany after the second world war.

It’s Russia where we should have a denazification, not Ukraine.

There should be a tribunal against Putin and army generals and leaders, Alyokhina added.

Alyokhina told the New York Times this week that she had escaped Russia disguised as a food courier after being ordered to spend 21 days in a penal colony. The 33-year-old was then able to cross into Lithuania with help from an Icelandic artist who secured her travel documents.

Updated

UN votes to set up inquiry into alleged abuses by Russian troops in Ukraine

The UN’s human rights council has passed a resolution to investigate alleged abuses by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine formerly under their control, with a view to holding those responsible to account.

More than 50 countries backed Kyiv’s request for a special session of the council to examine “the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”.

The resolution passed by a strong majority, with 33 members voting in favour and two – China and Eritrea – against. There were 12 abstentions.

Updated

A Russian ship carrying grain stolen in Ukraine has been seen in the Syrian port of Latakia after being turned away from at least one Mediterranean port, according to reports.

CNN reports that the vessel, Matros Pozynich, weighed anchor off the coast of Crimea on 27 April and turned off its transponder. Photographs and satellite images show the bulk carrier at the port of Sevastopol, the main port in Crimea, the following day.

The Matros Pozynich is one of three ships involved in the trade of stolen grain, according to open-source research and Ukrainian officials.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the harbor of Latakia, Syria, on Tuesday.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the harbor of Latakia, Syria, on Tuesday. Photograph: Planet Labs PBC/AP

From Sevastopol, the Matros Pozynich was seen transiting the Bosphorus Strait and making its way to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, where it was turned away. The ship was also turned away from the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

The vessel turned off its transponder again on 5 May but satellite imagery showed it travelled to Latakia.

Ukrainian officials said the Matros Pozynich was laden with nearly 30,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat. Ukraine’s defence ministry has estimate that at least 400,000 tonnes of grain has been stolen and taken out of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on 24 February.

Updated

Germany may be able to cope with a boycott of Russian gas imports as soon as the coming winter, its economy minister, Robert Habeck, said.

Speaking in an interview with WirtschaftsWoche translated by Reuters, Habeck said:

If we have full storage facilities at the turn of the year, if two of the four floating LNG tankers we have leased are connected to the grid, and if we make significant energy savings, we can to some extent get through the winter if Russian gas supplies collapse.

Everyone could play a part, he said, adding that if industries and private individuals could reduce gas consumption by 10%, it would help avoid an emergency. Gas prices would increase further, he warned.

Germany has boosted efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian energy supplies but has said it expects to be largely dependent on its gas until 2024.

Updated

Russia could cut Finland's gas supply tomorrow, media reports suggest

Russia could cut its gas supplies to Finland tomorrow, a day after Finnish leaders said they should apply to join Nato “without delay”, according to the local newspaper Iltalehti.

Key Finnish politicians have been warned that Russia could halt its gas supplies on Friday, the newspaper reports, citing unnamed sources and without specifying where the warning came from.

If Russian gas was cut off, it would cause major problems for some Finnish industries, and food production, Iltalehti reports.

Updated

Urgent measures to break the Russian blockade of grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, including by trying to open routes through Romanian and Baltic ports, will be discussed by G7 foreign and agriculture ministers at meetings in Germany.

The grain exports blockade is fast becoming one of the most urgent diplomatic and humanitarian crises in Ukraine. On Tuesday, the US president, Joe Biden, said the US was working on solutions “to get this food out into the world so that it could help bring down prices.”

G7 foreign ministers are meeting in the Baltic Sea resort of Weissenhaus, north-east of Hamburg, and the agriculture ministers in Stuttgart.

Cem Özdemir, the German agriculture minister and a Green party member, has for months been looking with the EU at alternative train routes through Poland and Belarus to Baltic ports, but the different train gauges between Ukraine and Poland, a pre-existing backlog of traffic, and a shortage of suitable rail wagons all count against this option.

By one Ukrainian estimate, only 20% of the exports it normally sends through the Black Sea ports by ship could be transported by rail to the Baltic ports. The cost of road transport has risen five-fold in the past year.

Read more of our diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour’s report here: G7 to discuss action to break Russian blockade of Ukraine grain exports

Updated

Here are some of the recent images that have been sent to us over the newswires depicting the impact of the war in Ukraine.

A man shows a part of a missile found in a residential area after Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region.
A man shows a part of a missile found in a residential area after Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Photograph: Andriy Andriyenko/AP
Zorik (L) and Kristina (R), volunteers from the Poland-based charity Front Pomocy Ukrainie, sending humanitarian aid parcels to families in need from a post office in Ukraine.
Zorik (L) and Kristina (R), volunteers from the Poland-based charity Front Pomocy Ukrainie, sending humanitarian aid parcels to families in need from a post office in Ukraine. Photograph: Hesther Ng/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock
A baby bed is seen inside an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region.
A baby bed is seen inside an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Photograph: Andriy Andriyenko/AP
A woman waits with her pet dog on board a train leaving Kyiv for neighbouring Poland.
A woman waits with her pet dog on board a train leaving Kyiv for neighbouring Poland. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has tweeted his support of the Finnish move towards Nato membership today, saying he had spoken to Finland’s president:

I welcome Finland’s decision to support the country’s accession to Nato without delay. In a phone call with President Niinistö, I assured the full support of the federal government.

Updated

Antony Blinken to travel to Europe for Nato meetings at weekend

The US state department has announced that Joe Biden’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, will travel to Europe on Saturday for the informal meeting of Nato foreign ministers. The statement says:

On 14 May, the secretary will travel to Berlin to attend an informal meeting of Nato Foreign Ministers where Allies and partners will discuss their unified response to Russia’s continuing brutal war against Ukraine and the upcoming Leaders’ Summit in Madrid.

The following day he will have trade meetings with EU leaders in Paris, alongside the US trade representative Katherine Tai and the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo.

Updated

Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, has demanded an immediate EU embargo on Russian oil.

Podolyak tweeted:

If the leaders had acted decisively in 1938, Europe could have avoided WWII. But politicians acted cowardly & flirted with the aggressor. The result is million tragedies.

History won’t forgive us if we make the same mistake again.

Updated

Nato forces arrived in a military exercise held in North Macedonia aimed at displaying deployment readiness along the alliance’s eastern borders.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers from 19 nations are taking part in Nato’s “Swift Response” exercises, held in five separate locations from Norway to North Macedonia, the newest member of the alliance, Associated Press reports.

British soldiers deploy from a US helicopter during the Swift Response 22 military exercise at the Krivolak army training polygon in central North Macedonia.
British soldiers deploy from a US helicopter during the Swift Response 22 military exercise at the Krivolak army training polygon in central North Macedonia. Photograph: Boris Grdanoski/AP
British soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade at the Krivolak army training polygon.
British soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade at the Krivolak army training polygon. Photograph: Boris Grdanoski/AP
Italian paratroopers jump out of an airplane during the Swift Response 22 military exercise.
Italian paratroopers jump out of an airplane during the Swift Response 22 military exercise. Photograph: Boris Grdanoski/AP
Hundreds of Nato soldiers have presented on airborne operations followed by parachuting, helicopter and ground activities.
Hundreds of Nato soldiers have presented on airborne operations followed by parachuting, helicopter and ground activities. Photograph: Boris Grdanoski/AP

Updated

Russia inflicting ‘pure evil’ and ‘endless human rights violations’, says Ukraine

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Emine Dzhaparova, has condemned the “sheer horror” and “pure evil” of Russia’s war in Ukraine in an address to the UN’s human rights council.

Russia was committing “the most gruesome human rights violations on the European continent in decades”, Dzhaparova said at an extraordinary meeting of the council about Moscow’s alleged violations.

The UN’s top rights body will vote on a draft resolution calling for an investigation into alleged abuses by Russian troops in the Kyiv area that Ukraine says amount to war crimes, with a view to holding those responsible to account.

More than 50 countries backed Kyiv’s request for a special session of the council to examine “the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”.

Speaking from Kyiv, Dzhaparova said:

These have been 10 weeks of sheer horror to the people of my country.

Torture and enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence; the list of Russia’s crimes is endless.

Only the world standing strong in solidarity with the Ukrainian people can defeat this pure evil.

Updated

Yura Nechyporenko, 15, places chocolate at the grave of his father, Ruslan Nechyporenko, at a cemetery in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine
Yura Nechyporenko, 15, places chocolate at the grave of his father, Ruslan Nechyporenko, at a cemetery in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
Nechyporenko holds the hoodie he was wearing the day a Russian soldier tried to kill him. The hoodie, bloodied at the elbow where a bullet pierced him, is now the centerpiece of the family’s search for justice
Nechyporenko holds the hoodie he was wearing the day a Russian soldier tried to kill him. The hoodie, bloodied at the elbow where a bullet pierced him, is now the centerpiece of the family’s search for justice. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

Updated

One of the biggest donors to Britain’s Conservative party is suspected of secretly funnelling hundreds of thousands of pounds to the party from a Russian bank account, according to a report filed to the UK’s National Crime Agency.

The New York Times reports that a donation of £450,000 was made in February 2018 in the name of Ehud Sheleg, who was most recently the party’s treasurer. The money went towards propelling Boris Johnson and his party to its victory in the 2019 general elections.

The cash has since been found to originate from a Russian account of Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, who was a once a senior politician in Ukraine’s previous pro-Kremlin government and who now owns real estate and businesses in Crimea and Russia.

The donation was flagged by Barclays bank as both suspected money laundering and a potentially illegal campaign donation. It is illegal for UK political parties to accept donations of more than £500 from foreign citizens who are not registered to vote in Britain.

A lawyer for Sheleg said he received millions from his father-in-law before the donation, but said it was “entirely separate” from the campaign contribution. The NYT said there was no indication that the Conservative party or the prime minister knew about the source of the donation.

The journalist behind the story, Jane Bradley, has tweeted a thread that usefully provides the key points from her report:

Updated

Leaders of Nato member states have welcomed the announcement by Finland president and prime minister that the country should apply to join the alliance.

Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said Finland’s decision to apply for Nato membership was “great news for Poland and Europe’s security”.

The prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala, said his country would “of course” support Finland’s bid to join the alliance.

Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said history was being made by its northern neighbours and that Finland could count on her country’s “full support”.

Estonia’s president, Alar Karis, said Russia’s attempts to portray Nato expansion as offensive “are just fruits of their own failure to live at peace” with its neighbours.

The Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said Denmark would do “everything possible” to support a swift application process after Finland’s formal application.

The president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, said his country stood ready to support Finland in its Nato accession.

Latvia’s prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš, said Finland’s decision marked “an important turn towards an even stronger alliance and greater security in the Baltic Sea region”.

Also, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, described Finland’s move as a “historic step” that would “greatly contribute to European security”.

Updated

Russia will be ‘forced to take retaliatory steps’ in response to Finland's Nato bid

Russia will be forced to respond to Finland’s decision to join the Nato alliance, its foreign ministry said in a statement.

The statement said:

Finland joining Nato is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy.

Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising.

Updated

Nato’s secretary general says 'smooth and swift' Finland entry would be 'warmly welcomed'

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Finland would be “warmly welcomed” into the alliance and promised the accession process would be “smooth and swift”.

Nato membership of Finland would strengthen both the alliance and Finland, Stoltenberg said after Finland announced it would apply to join Nato “without delay”.

Stoltenberg said:

Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into Nato, and the accession process would be smooth and swift.

Finland is one of Nato’s “closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security”, he added.

Finnish membership to Nato would prove that the alliance’s “door is open”, Stoltenberg said, and that Finland “decides its own future”.

Updated

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said he had spoken with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, and “commended” him on Finland’s move to join Nato.

Niinistö tweeted earlier that he had spoken to Zelenskiy, who had “expressed his full support” for Finland’s steps towards Nato membership.

Here’s more from Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, who earlier said Finland’s move to join Nato was “definitely” a threat to Russia.

Asked in a briefing whether Finnish entry to the alliance presented a threat to Russia, Peskov replied:

Definitely. Nato expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.

Finland had joined “unfriendly steps” against Russia, Reuters cited him saying.

Asked what form Russia’s response would take, Peskov said:

Everything will depend on how this expansion process of Nato expansion plays out, the extent to which military infrastructure moves closer to our borders.

The Kremlin also spoke about Russian sanctions imposed on Gazprom’s former German unit and other entities, which it said meant they cannot receive gas supplies from Russia.

Peskov said:

Sanctions are blocking, so there could be no any relations with these companies, nor they can take part in (gas) supplies.

Updated

Ukrainian forensics experts carry the body of a Russian soldier exhumed in the village of Zavalivka, west of Kyiv.
Ukrainian forensics experts carry the body of a Russian soldier exhumed in the village of Zavalivka, west of Kyiv. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
To date, more than 230 Russian bodies have been collected and stored in Ukraine, with the vast majority of the bodies found in the capital’s outskirts.
To date, more than 230 Russian bodies have been collected and stored in Ukraine, with the vast majority of the bodies found in the capital’s outskirts. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Today so far …

  • Finland must apply to join Nato without delay in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, its president and prime minister have said, confirming a historic change in the Nordic country’s security policy after decades of military non-alignment.
  • Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin made the call in a joint statement on Thursday, adding: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
  • Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia. Public support for Nato membership has trebled in Finland. The president, prime minister and senior cabinet ministers will meet on Sunday to make the formal decision on submitting the country’s membership application. A positive decision would then be presented to parliament for approval early next week.
  • Dmitry Peskov said that Finnish entry to Nato is “definitely” a threat to Russia. The Kremlin spokesperson said everybody wants to avoid a direct clash between Russia and Nato, and that Nato expansion will not make the world or Europe more stable.
  • Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, has said he has spoken today to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and that Zelenskiy supported Finland’s steps towards Nato membership. Other European Nato leaders from Estonia, Denmark ands Romania have also voiced support.
  • The UN human rights chief has said a thousand bodies had been recovered in the area of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in recent weeks, adding that many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes.
  • “The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, is shocking,” Michelle Bachelet told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council via a video address.
  • Russian news agencies have reported that Russian forces hit two ammunition depots in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine overnight. The defence ministry also said Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile system in the Kharkiv region and a radar station near the city of Odesa.
  • Firing from Ukraine has killed one person and wounded seven in the Russian border village of Solokhi in the province of Belgorod, the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, has said.
  • Overnight the Ukrainian defence ministry published photos of what it said were destroyed Russian tanks and other equipment in the village of Bilohorivka, that had been struck when the Russians were attempting to construct a pontoon-bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river.
  • The Russian-controlled administration in the Ukrainian city of Kherson has said it plans to request annexation by Moscow, a move that would confirm the Kremlin’s permanent occupation of Ukrainian territory captured since February.
  • The withdrawal of Russian forces from Kharkiv is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said in its latest intelligence update.
  • Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv, has warned residents who fled the city that it is still not safe to return to Ukraine. He said “Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee the safety of every resident today. Every corner of Ukraine, every city and town, is under threat as Russia continues its barbaric war against our country.”
  • Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba praised Germany’s response to the war with Russia during a visit to Berlin, saying that the country had now taken a leading role. There had been some tensions in Berlin-Kyiv relations earlier in the war.
  • Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine, and its worrying pact with China,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said after talks with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated that a normalisation of relations with Vladimir Putin seemed impossible, accusing the Russian President of having “grossly violated human rights” and international law, saying “He’s guilty of absolutely barbaric onslaught on a totally innocent country.”
  • Freelance journalist from Spain Pablo González is spending his 10th week in Polish custody while prosecutors there investigate what they claim is a case of espionage linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, in London for now. I will be back later. In the meantime, Léonie Chao-Fong will continue to bring you the latest news.

Kremlin: Finland joining Nato is 'definitely' a threat to Russia

The Kremlin’s Dmitry Peskov has been giving one of his regular morning briefings by phone to journalists. The key lines being reported by Reuters include:

  • Peskov said Finnish entry to Nato is “definitely” a threat to Russia. He said Finland had joined the unfriendly steps towards Russia taken by the EU, which was a matter of regret and a reason for a symmetrical response.
  • The Kremlin spokesperson said everybody wants to avoid a direct clash between Russia and Nato, and that Nato expansion will not make the world or Europe more stable.
  • Peskov said attacks on Russian regions bordering Ukraine means additional measures are needed to ensure the security of those regions.

Updated

Here are some fuller quotes, via PA Media, of what the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier on LBC radio when he was being asked about any future normalisation of relationships with Vladimir Putin and Russia. Johnson said:

I think that repentance is going to be very difficult for Vladimir Putin now. Nothing is impossible, I suppose, but I just cannot see for the life of me how we can renormalise relations with Putin now.

He has grossly violated human rights, international law. He’s guilty of absolutely barbaric onslaught on a totally innocent country. And to renormalise would be to make the mistake that we made in 2014 [following the annexing of Crimea].

And if the Ukrainians were to do any kind of deal with Putin now, the risk is that he would do exactly the same thing, and they know it. So the short answer is no. No renormalisation and the UK is very clear about that.

The interview was recorded on Wednesday and broadcast this morning.

Ukraine’s announcement on Tuesday that it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point bringing Russian fuel to Europe does not present a gas supply issue, the European Commission said today, Reuters reports.

“While these developments may have an impact on part of the gas transit to the EU, they do not bring about any immediate security of supply issue for the EU,” a commission spokesperson said, adding that Ukraine’s inability to operate the Novopskov gas compressor station was a result of actions by Russia.

“Ukraine has been a reliable transit partner for many years,” the spokesperson said.

There was also confirmation that the EU energy commissioner will have talks today with Ukraine’s energy minister.

Updated

Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, has added his voice to those supporting Finland’s moves towards Nato membership. He tweeted:

I welcome the joint statement by Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Marin Sanna on Finland’s Nato membership. Romania is a strong promoter of Nato’s ‘open door’ policy and stands ready to support Finland in the process of Nato accession. Together we are stronger!

Updated

A freelance journalist from Spain is spending his 10th week in Polish custody while prosecutors there investigate what they claim is a case of espionage linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a case that raises red flags about press freedom in Europe at a time of war, prosecutors are expected next week to ask a judge for a further three-month extension to the detention of Pablo González, who has freelanced for media including Spain’s La Sexta TV channel, Spanish state news agency EFE and the US-government funded Voice of America.

The prosecutors’ request must be filed before 15 May, two weeks before his current three-month detention order expires. Under Polish law, González can be held in custody until he is put on trial, a process lawyers say could easily take more than a year.

Polish officials claim he is an agent of Russia’s GRU military intelligence.

“He carried out operations for the benefit of Russia, profiting from his status of journalist, which enabled him to freely travel around the world and Europe, including military conflict zones,” according to a spokesperson for Poland’s minister coordinator of special services.

Read more of Giles Tremlett’s report here: Spanish journalist held in Poland on suspicion of pro-Russian espionage

Updated

UN human rights chief: scale of unlawful killings in Ukraine is 'shocking'

The UN human rights chief has said a thousand bodies had been recovered in the area of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in recent weeks, adding that many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes.

“The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, is shocking,” Michelle Bachelet told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council via a video address.

Reuters reports the Human Rights Council will decide today whether to task investigators with an official probe into the events that occurred in Kyiv and other regions in February and March.

Updated

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, has just tweeted that he has spoken to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and that Zelenskiy supported Finland’s steps towards Nato membership. Niinistö said:

I spoke with President Zelenskiy and reiterated Finland’s firm support for Ukraine. I informed him of Finland’s steps towards Nato membership and he expressed his full support for it.

Updated

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and long-time ally of Vladimir Putin, has reacted this morning to news of Finland and Sweden moving closer to seeking Nato membership. He posted to Telegram:

In the context of the proxy war unleashed by western countries with Russia, I want to articulate once again very clearly things that are already so obvious to all reasonable people.

1. The pumping of Ukraine by Nato countries with weapons, the training of its troops to use western equipment, the dispatch of mercenaries and the conduct of exercises by the countries of the alliance near our borders increase the likelihood of a direct and open conflict between Nato and Russia instead of their “war by proxy”.

2. Such a conflict always has the risk of turning into a full-fledged nuclear war.

3. This will be a catastrophic scenario for everyone.

He finished by urging the west “do not lie to yourself and others” and “do not choke on your own saliva in the paroxysms of Russophobia!”

Updated

Finland and Sweden may be moving toward joining Nato at pace, but there are still some hurdles in the way. Robin Emmott at Reuters has written a quick projected timeline of what might happen next.

Nato officials and diplomats say that ideally the two countries should submit their requests together to simply the process. Representatives of the 30 allies would then meet in Brussels to discuss, and most probably accept, the membership request. Both countries are thought to already meet entry criteria around democracy and the status of their military.

There would then follow a meeting between Nato and representatives of the aspiring members, where they would be questioned about their commitment to Nato’s collective defence pledge.

Being accepted as members is not the end of the process though – membership would have to be ratified by the national governments of each of the 30 allies, in a process that could drag on for months.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, has tweeted in response to the announcement that Finland’s president and prime minister say Finland should seek Nato membership without delay. Linde tweeted:

Important message today from president Sauli Niinistö and prime minister Sanna Marin on Nato membership. Finland is Sweden’s closest security & defence partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account. Sweden will decide after the report from the security policy consultations has been presented.

Updated

Swedish newspaper Expressen is leading with what it claims is an exclusive that Sweden will move forward with an application to join Nato on Monday. Helena Gissén reports:

The government is holding an extra meeting on Monday to make the formal decision on a Swedish Nato application. Immediately after the meeting, the application will be submitted if nothing unforeseen occurs, sources told Expressen.

Russian news agencies have reported that Russian forces hit two ammunition depots in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine overnight. Reuters reports the defence ministry also said Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile system in the Kharkiv region and a radar station near the city of Odesa.

Swedish politician Annie Lööf is one of those who has seen Finland’s move today towards seeking Nato membership as a call to action for Sweden as well. Lööf has tweeted:

The eyes of the outside world are now resting on Sweden and Finland. Sweden needs to go hand in hand with Finland to strengthen security and safety in the Nordic and Baltic region.

Finnish politician Elina Valtonen has been interviewed on Sky News in the UK about the proposal that Finland joins Nato without delay, as set out by the Finnish president and prime minister this morning. She told viewers:

Finland has been a neutral country for many decades, but we never forgot about the threats of our eastern neighbour. We never were part of the Soviet Union because we have fought wars against Russia and the Soviet Union in our past. But now it’s a different time. We saw that our neighbour has become even more aggressive, more unpredictable. And we feel it’s the right time to join Nato.

Following the events in Ukraine, we feel that it’s just a logical situation now to join Nato, to partner up with our friends and our allies in the west. We are a western country. We have been a stable democracy for 100 years, and together we are stronger in defending our common values.

On the issue of whether joining Nato might increase the threat from Russia to Finland, she said:

Nato is a defensive alliance, and Nato is not there to threaten. Finland – and possibly Sweden also – in the future will have joined Nato based on their free will, the free will of the people. We are democracies and we want to defend our values. That’s as simple as it is.

Here is the full text of that joint statement from Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin, president and prime minister of Finland respectively:

During the spring, there has been an important discussion about Finland’s possible Nato membership. Time has been needed for domestic position formation both in Parliament and in society as a whole. Time has been needed for close international contacts with both Nato and its member countries, as well as with Sweden. We have wanted to give the debate the space it needs.

Now that the time for decision-making is approaching, we also state our own common positions for the information of parliamentary groups and parties. Nato membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of Nato, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for Nato membership as a matter of urgency. We hope that the national steps still needed to reach this solution will be taken swiftly in the coming days.

Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas has said that her country supports Finland’s rapid accession to Nato. In a tweet she said:

History being made by our northern neighbours. You can count on our full support. We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly.

Finland must apply to join Nato 'without delay': Finnish president and PM

Finland must apply to join the Nato military alliance “without delay”, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said this morning, Reuters reports, indicating a major policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Nato membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of Nato, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay,” Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”

Yesterday, a Gallup poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat reported that 73% percent of respondents believe that Finland should join the military alliance as Nato. The figure was eight percentage points higher than in a similar survey at the end of April.

Denmark’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen has already responded this morning by saying that Finland would be welcomed into Nato and that she will work for a quick process.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba praised Germany’s response to the war with Russia during a visit to Berlin, saying that the country had now taken a leading role. There had been some tensions in Berlin-Kyiv relations earlier in the war.

In an interview with German broadcaster ARD, Kuleba said there had been positive changes, after Germany decided to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine and back a proposed EU embargo on Russian oil following pressure from its allies.

During the Ukrainian diplomat’s visit, which will also include an appearance at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting on the German Baltic Sea coast, Reuters reports Kuleba said he plans to lobby for Ukrainian EU membership, as well as further sanctions on Russia and a response to food scarcity threatened by the conflict.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock (L) listens to Ukrainia’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba (R) during a joint news conference in Kyiv earlier this week.
Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock (L) listens to Ukrainia’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba (R) during a joint news conference in Kyiv earlier this week. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/AFP/Getty Images

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated his government’s position that there can be no renormalisation of relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports that asked on LBC radio whether Putin could be welcomed back on the global stage if he were to repent, Johnson said: “The short answer is no. No renormalisation and the UK is very clear about that.”

Overnight the Ukrainian defence ministry published photos of what it said were destroyed Russian tanks and other equipment in the village of Bilohorivka, that had been struck when the Russians were attempting to construct a pontoon-bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river. The general staff of the Ukraine armed forces published the pictures again this morning on Facebook.

An image released by Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command.
An image released by Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command. Photograph: Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Reuters
The remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River.
The remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River. Photograph: Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Reuters
An aerial view of burnt vehicles across the Siverskyi Donets River.
An aerial view of burnt vehicles across the Siverskyi Donets River. Photograph: Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Reuters

An unverified thread which claims to detail the logistics of the operation has also gone viral on social media.

Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv, has warned residents who fled the city that it is still not safe to return to Ukraine. In response to an interview question about the prospects for return, he posted to Telegram:

Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee the safety of every resident today. Every corner of Ukraine, every city and town, is under threat as Russia continues its barbaric war against our country.

Firing from Ukraine has killed one person and wounded seven in the Russian border village of Solokhi in the province of Belgorod, the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, has said according to Reuters.

Authorities in the area bordering Ukraine have accused Kyiv of a series of strikes, including a helicopter raid on a fuel depot.

Kyiv, which has been fighting off a Russian invasion since February, has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Kharkiv is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said in its latest intelligence update.

Ukrainian forces were continuing to counter attack to the north of the city and had recaptured several towns and villages near the Russian border, it continued.

It also said Moscow’s prioritisation of the operation in Donbas had left those units left around Kharkiv “vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force”.

“Despite Russia’s success in encircling Kharkiv in the initial stages of the conflict, it has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganise and replenish its forces following heavy losses.

“Once reconstituted, these forces will likely deploy to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, forming a blocking force to protect the western flank of Russia’s main force concentration and main supply routes for operations in the vicinity of Izium,” it continued.

The US State Department has released a fresh study on Russia’s disinformation campaigns on chemical and biological weapons, accusing Moscow of using its seats on international bodies such as the UN Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to help justify its war on Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s spreading of unfounded and debunked allegations that the United States and Ukraine are conducting chemical and biological weapons activities in Ukraine is part of a well-established Russian disinformation tactic.

The Kremlin has a long track record of accusing others of the very violations they commit. The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine and is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

Ukraine is also in full compliance with its obligations under the CWC and BWC. It is, in fact, the Russian Federation that has active chemical and biological weapons programs and is in violation of its international obligations.

The State Department said the Russian government had used similar tactics during the war in Syria, in a bid to shield the Assad regime when it used chemical weapons including a 2017 sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun.

It also pointed out that Russia has denied responsibility for the 2018 Novichok poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK and the related death of Dawn Sturgess, as well as the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Each time, the Kremlin used its seat in multilateral organizations as a platform to spread its disinformation.

A Ukrainian commander in Mariupol has appealed directly to Elon Musk on Wednesday, asking the world’s richest man to intervene on behalf of those trapped by Russian forces in control of the southern city, AFP reports.

The three-month-old war has devastated the strategic port, where Ukrainians have sustained a pocket of resistance from within the Azovstal steelworks after weeks of bloody battle.

Serhiy Volyna, commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, said he created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of reaching out to Musk.

“People say you come from another planet to teach people to believe in the impossible,” Volyna tweeted at Musk.

“Our planets are next to each other, as I live where it is nearly impossible to survive. Help us get out of Azovstal to a mediating country. If not you, then who?”

Serhiy Volyna, commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade.
Serhiy Volyna, commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade. Photograph: 36th Marine Brigade of Ukraine Naval Forces

He called on “every person on the planet Earth” to help ensure Musk saw his appeal.

Earlier this week, Kyiv said that more than 1,000 of its troops, many of them injured, remained in the sprawling Azovstal plant, sheltering in the labyrinth of Soviet-era bunkers and tunnels from the Russians who now control Mariupol.

Women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from the besieged site as part of a humanitarian mission coordinated by the United Nations and the Red Cross.

Twitter, which Musk is seeking to buy in a $44 billion deal, has seen an explosion of users due to the war in Ukraine, with people using the social media service to find news and support, according to the company.

Musk, who has more than 92 million followers, has previously used the platform to challenge Russian president Vladimir Putin to “single combat” over Ukraine.

Last month, the South African-born Tesla chief responded to a Ukrainian plea for internet service by activating his Starlink satellite broadband service and sending equipment to help bring connectivity to areas hit by Russian military attacks.

Finland expected to launch Nato membership bid

Finland is expected to announce its intention to join Nato on Thursday with Sweden likely to follow soon after, diplomats and officials have said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshapes European security and the Atlantic military alliance.

Nato allies expect Finland and Sweden to be granted membership quickly, five diplomats and officials told Reuters, paving the way for increased troop presence in the Nordic region during the one-year ratification period.

In the lead-up to their Nato accession, British prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday promised to defend Sweden and Finland against potential Russian threats as he travelled to both countries to sign mutual security agreements.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson meets Finnish president Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson meets Finnish president Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki. Photograph: Ilpo Musto/REX/Shutterstock

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already Nato members, and the addition of Finland and Sweden would probably anger Moscow, which says enlargement of the organisation is a direct threat to its own security.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has cited the issue as a reason for his actions in Ukraine, which has also expressed a desire to eventually join the alliance. Moscow has also repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, threatening “serious military and political consequences”.

Asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining Nato, president Sauli Niinistö said Putin would be to blame. “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror,” Niinisto said.

Read on here:

Russia 'most direct threat' to world order, says von der Leyen

Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine, and its worrying pact with China,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said after talks with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida.

Von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel are in Japan for talks that have touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but also growing concerns about China’s role in Asia and beyond, AFP reports.

The annual summit comes with much of the international community rallying to pressure Moscow over Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just a matter for Europe, but it shakes the core of the international order including Asia. This must not be tolerated,” said Kishida, whose government has joined tough sanctions on Moscow, including on energy.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Japan.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Japan. Photograph: Reuters

Beijing’s increasingly muscular stance in Asia was also on the agenda, with the EU looking to take a more high-profile role in confronting China.

Our cooperation in Ukraine is critical in Europe, but it’s also important in the Indo-Pacific and we also want to deepen our consultation on a more assertive China,” said Michel.

China must stand up to defend the multilateral system that it has benefitted from in developing its country.

Japan and the EU have been working to strengthen ties, including with a landmark 2019 trade deal, and Tokyo has broken with past diplomatic postures to take a strong stand on Ukraine.

It has sanctioned Russian businesses and officials, sent humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine and joined a G7 pledge to phase out or ban Russian oil.

Japan has, however, stopped short of measures on gas because of its reliance on energy imports.

Updated

Welcome summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine with me, Helen Livingstone. A roundup of the latest developments:

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned that Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine, and its worrying pact with China.” The annual summit with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida comes as much of the international community rallying to pressure Moscow over Ukraine.
  • Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, is expected to give a green light on Thursday for the country to join the NATO military alliance, while Sweden is expected to do so in the coming days. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to support Sweden and Finland against potential Russian threats in any way necessary.
  • A Ukrainian commander in Mariupol has appealed directly to Elon Musk, asking the world’s richest man to intervene on behalf of those trapped by Russian forces in control of the southern city. “People say you come from another planet to teach people to believe in the impossible,” Serhiy Volyna tweeted at Musk. “Our planets are next to each other, as I live where it is nearly impossible to survive. Help us get out of Azovstal to a mediating country. If not you, then who?”
  • The Russian-controlled administration in the Ukrainian city of Kherson has said it plans to request annexation by Moscow, a move that would confirm the Kremlin’s permanent occupation of Ukrainian territory captured since February. Kyiv said Moscow plans to hold a fake referendum on independence or annexation. The Kremlin responded that it was up to residents living in region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia.
  • Russian and Ukrainian forces appear to be settling into a gruelling and deadly stalemate in Ukraine’s east. Despite claims from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that Ukrainian counteroffensives around Kharkiv and elsewhere were pushing invading Russian forces back, Ukrainian successes appeared to be confined for now to the far north-eastern and south-western flanks of the 300-mile frontline.
  • Ukraine claimed it has recaptured Pytomnyk, a village north of Kharkiv, about halfway to the Russian border. “The occupying forces moved to the defence in order to slow down the pace of the offensive of our troops,” Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said in its latest report. “The settlement of Pytomnyk … was liberated.”
  • Ukraine has said it will suspend the flow of gas through a transit point that it says delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through Ukraine. GTSOU, which operates Ukraine’s gas system, said it would stop shipments via the Sokhranivka route from Wednesday, declaring “force majeure”, a clause invoked when a business is hit by something beyond its control. Gas flows from Russia’s Gazprom to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter on Wednesday.
  • Zelenskiy warned Kyiv was running out of patience to hold talks with Russia, given the mounting evidence of atrocities committed by Russian forces in his country. He said the possibility to negotiate “disappears” with “each new Bucha, each new Mariupol”.
  • The war will end when Ukraine reclaims everything that Russia took from it, Zelenskiy maintained. “The war will end for the Ukrainian people only when we get back what’s ours,” he said in an online address with students of leading universities in France, representatives of academia and the media.
  • Three Russian prisoners of war accused of targeting or murdering civilians, and a soldier who allegedly killed a man before raping his wife, are set to be in the dock in the first war crimes trials of the Ukraine conflict, the Ukrainian prosecutor general has revealed. More than 10,700 crimes have been registered since the war began by the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general, led by Iryna Venediktova, and a handful of cases have now been filed or are ready to be submitted.
  • Ukraine has proposed to Russia that badly injured defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol be swapped for Russian prisoners of war, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday. “There is no agreement yet. Negotiations are continuing,” she said in a post on Telegram.
  • A Chinese former ambassador to Ukraine, Gao Yusheng, has strongly criticised Russia’s invasion. In a speech which was reported on by the Chinese press before quickly being taken down, Gao said Putin’s frequent “violations” of former Soviet states’ territory were “the greatest threat to peace, security and stability in Eurasia”.
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