Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country’s troops during a huge flag rally in Moscow as Russian forces again struck Ukrainian cities from a distance, pounding the capital of kyiv and the west of the country .
The war is now in its fourth week. Russian troops failed to take kyiv – a major objective in their hopes of forcing a settlement or dictating Ukraine’s future political alignments – but wreaked havoc and devastation.
The UN migration agency says the fighting has displaced nearly 6.5 million people inside Ukraine, in addition to the 3.2 million refugees who have already fled the country. Ukraine says thousands of people have been killed.
Here are some key things to know about the conflict:
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE PITCH?
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On Friday, missiles and shelling hit the edges of kyiv, and a barrage of missiles was launched against an aircraft repair facility at an airport outside the western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland. One person was reportedly killed in the attack on Lviv.
Ukraine said it shot down two of the six missiles launched in the attack from the Black Sea. The morning strike was the closest yet to central Lviv, which has become a hub for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or join the fight.
In town after town around Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought shelter were attacked.
Ukrainian officials said a firefighter was killed when Russian forces shelled an area where firefighters were trying to put out a fire in the village of Nataevka.
Early morning barrages hit a residential building in kyiv’s Podil district, killing at least one person, according to emergency services. The mayor of Kyiv said 19 people were injured in the shelling just north of downtown Kyiv.
Two other people were killed when strikes hit residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to the regional governor.
In the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, rescuers searched Wednesday for survivors of a Russian airstrike on a theater where hundreds of people were sheltering.
Britain’s defense intelligence chief said Russia was turning to a “strategy of attrition” after failing to take major cities. Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull warned the strategy will lead to “reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower” which will worsen the humanitarian crisis.
On Friday, Putin appeared at a large flag rally in Moscow and praised his country’s troops in biblical terms as they rained deadly fire on Ukrainian cities.
“Side by side they help and support each other,” Putin said of the Kremlin forces. “We haven’t had such unity for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.
Moscow police said more than 200,000 people attended the rally and a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine. But several Kremlin-critical Telegram channels reported that students and employees of public institutions had been ordered to attend rallies and concerts marking the anniversary. These reports could not be independently verified.
Earlier this week, Putin compared domestic war opponents to “mosquitoes” trying to weaken Russia at the behest of the West.
WHAT ARE GLOBAL LEADERS DOING?
President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours Friday via video as the United States seeks to dissuade Beijing from providing military or economic aid to invading Russia. Biden described the consequences the Chinese would face from the United States if it provided military or economic assistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to detail the possible consequences, but a senior administration official said Biden pointed to the economic isolation Russia faces.
For his part, Xi urged the United States and Russia to negotiate and blamed the United States for the crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire in a Friday phone call with Putin. Macron’s office said Putin blamed Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also pressed Putin for a ceasefire during a conversation on Friday.
Biden plans to travel to Europe next week for talks with European leaders on the Russian invasion and will attend an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels.
WHERE ARE THE RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TALKS STATE?
The head of the Russian delegation, in talks with Ukrainian officials, said the parties have moved closer to an agreement on a neutral status for Ukraine – one of the key Russian demands as its offensive continues. Vladimir Medinsky said on Friday that the parties had also narrowed their differences over the issue of Ukraine’s abandonment of its NATO bid.
But Mikhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted: “Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops and strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”
WHAT IS THE CIVILIAN TOLL OF THE WAR SO FAR?
The UN migration agency estimated on Friday that nearly 6.5 million people have now been displaced inside Ukraine. This is in addition to the 3.2 million refugees who have already fled the country. Estimates are from the International Organization for Migration.
The UN human rights office says it has recorded a total of 816 civilians killed and 1,333 injured since fighting began on February 24, although it only reports figures it can verify. He believes that the figures greatly underestimate the real toll. Ukrainian officials say thousands have been killed.
The World Health Organization says it has verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, killing 12 and injuring 34.
WHAT DID THE AP DIRECTLY WITNESS OR CONFIRM?
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, AP journalists have relayed images of destruction, distress and defiance across the country.
A soldier standing guard near the site of the strike in Lviv said he heard three explosions in quick succession around 6 a.m. A nearby resident described his building vibrating with explosions and panicked people. Smoke continued to rise from the site hours later.
HOW DOES THE WORLD RESPOND TO WAR?
The United States and its allies have implemented a series of sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy. Hundreds of international companies have announced that they are reducing their activities in Russia, and those that remain are under pressure to withdraw.
Pope Francis on Friday denounced what he called the “evil abuse of power” in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for help for Ukrainians whose identity, history and tradition are attacked. Francis’ comments were among his strongest to date in affirming Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state.
Aid agencies are stepping up their efforts to provide relief to civilians affected by the fighting and refugees who have fled Ukraine. The Polish town of Rzeszow, about 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, has become a humanitarian hub for the region.
Follow AP coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war: http://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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