By The Associated Press
HELSINKI — Estonia says it is prohibiting public meetings where people display Russian flags military symbols during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which is traditionally celebrated by the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian population to mark the end of World War II.
“The Estonian state has so far been tolerant of the events of May 9, but Russia’s current activities in Ukraine preclude public meetings in Estonia expressing support for the aggressor state and displaying war symbols,” Police and Border Guard chief Elmar Vaher said Wednesday.
Police said Wednesday that commemorating those killed in World War II wasn’t forbidden in the country but “it’s not to be used to incite violence and hatred between people.”
Among the banned symbols are the flags of the Soviet Union and Russia, USSR military uniforms and the black-orange Ribbon of Saint George worn in Russia to mark the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in WWII.
The ban is valid until May 10 and applies to the capital, Tallinn, and its surrounding areas.
Ethnic Russians make up about 25% of Estonia’s 1.3 million population and they traditionally gather to lay flowers on May 9 at Tallinn’s Bronze Soldier statue commemorating the fallen Red Army troops in WWII battles in Estonia.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Russia hits Ukrainian cities, pours more troops into war
— More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UN says
— Japan formally revokes Russia’s ‘most favored nation’ status
— Russia’s Chernobyl seizure seen as nuclear risk ‘nightmare’
— China looks to learn from Russian failures in Ukraine
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
MOSCOW — Russia will “act consistently” to make sure that life in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland “normalizes,” President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Speaking at a meeting with members of a state-funded non-profit group, Putin pledged that “we will act consistently and make sure (that) life in Donbas normalizes.”
Putin said that hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014, prompted Russia to launch a military operation.
“All these eight years, bombing, artillery strikes and hostilities continued there. And of course, it was very, very hard for people,” Putin said. “The goal of the operation is to help our people living in Donbas.”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of peace talks and is now awaiting a response from Kyiv.
Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Russia has passed on a draft document containing “absolutely clear, elaborate wording” to Ukraine and now “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.”
Peskov didn’t give further details. He blamed Ukraine for the slow progress in negotiations, and claimed that Kyiv constantly deviates from previously confirmed agreements. “The dynamic of work on the Ukrainian side leaves much to be desired, the Ukrainians do not show a great inclination to intensify the negotiation process,” he said.
Ukraine presented Russia with its own draft last month in Istanbul, where the two sides held talks aimed at ending the conflict. It has been unclear how regularly the two sides have spoken to each other since then.
BERLIN — The German government and military are rejecting an assertion by Ukraine’s ambassador that the country could spare armored fighting vehicles and deliver them to Kyiv.
Ambassador Andriy Melnyk, who has frequently criticized perceived German slowness on weapons deliveries and other issues, argued that Germany’s Bundeswehr uses about 100 Marder vehicles for training and they could be handed over to Ukraine immediately.
But Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said Wednesday that Germany needs the vehicles for deployments on NATO’s eastern flank and for training. He said that “a delivery from Bundeswehr stock of ‘heavy material’ … is not foreseen.”
He spoke after the German military’s deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, told ZDF television that the military has “wide commitments” and needs the weapons systems it has.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday that Germany is reaching the limits of possible weapons deliveries from its own stocks and will finance Ukrainian purchases of equipment from a list drawn up by the German defense industry. That didn’t satisfy critics who have called for direct German deliveries of heavy weapons such as tanks.
BERLIN — The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million.
More than half of the total, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. Although many have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled onward. There are few border checks within the European Union.
UNHCR said on March 30 that 4 million people had fled Ukraine. The exodus was somewhat slower in recent weeks than at the beginning of the war.
In addition to the refugees, the U.N. says that more than 7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million.
KYIV, Ukraine — Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko is urging residents to leave the city.
Boychenko appealed Wednesday to people who had already left Mariupol to contact relatives still in the city and urge them to evacuate. He said 200,000 people had already left the city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000.
“Do not be frightened and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” he wrote in a statement issued by the city council.
Boychenko said buses would be used for the evacuation and there will be three pickup points, one of them near the Azovstal steel mill which has become Ukrainian forces’ last stronghold in the city. Many previous evacuation efforts relied on civilians being able to leave in private cars after efforts to bring buses from Ukraine-held territory into the city failed.
Mariupol, Ukraine’s tenth-largest city, came under attack from Russian forces almost immediately after the invasion began in late February. The port city has strategic value as a link between territories in the south and east of Ukraine which are held by Russian forces or Russia-backed separatists.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is donating about 100 air defense systems to Ukraine with the Scandinavian country’s defense minister saying that “the country is depending on international support to resist Russian aggression.”
Bjørn Arild Gram said Norway had donated French-made Mistral short-range missile systems which currently are being phased out by the Norwegian Armed Forces, “but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” Arild Gram said.
The weapons have already left Norway which previously has donated 4,000 anti-tank missiles, protective equipment and other military equipment to Ukraine, he added.
LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says the Russian military is expanding its presence on Ukraine’s eastern border as fighting in the Donbas region intensifies.
In an intelligence update released Wednesday morning, the ministry says Russian attacks on cities across Ukraine are an attempt to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weapons to the east.
While Russian air operations in northern Ukraine are likely to remain at a low level following the withdrawal of forces from the Kyiv region, there is still a risk of “precision strikes against priority targets throughout Ukraine,” the ministry says.
In a briefing released late Tuesday, the ministry said Ukrainian forces had repelled “numerous attempted advances” by Russian troops as shelling and attacks increased along the line of control that has separated Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces in the Donbas region for the past eight years.
“Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have beset them so far, combined with the resilience of the highly motivated Ukrainian armed forces,” the ministry said.
BERLIN — Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany is criticizing Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s reluctance to commit to direct deliveries of heavy weapons such as tanks.
Scholz faces pressure from parts of his own coalition and Germany’s main opposition party to deliver such weapons. But he avoided a direct response Tuesday, pledging further weapons deliveries but not specifying any system and saying one possibility is for eastern NATO allies to supply Soviet-era equipment that could be delivered and used quickly.
Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk told German news agency dpa in comments published Wednesday that Scholz’s comments were greeted in Kyiv “with great disappointment and bitterness.”
Scholz said Germany is reaching the limits of its ability to supply Ukraine from its own stock and will finance Ukrainian purchases of equipment from a list drawn up by the German defense industry.
Melnyk, a frequent critic of German politicians in recent weeks, welcomed that readiness but said many questions remained and questioned the assertion that Germany’s military can’t deliver more.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine says its evacuation efforts to bring some civilians out of the war-torn port city of Mariupol will resume Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday there is a “preliminary” agreement to operate a so-called humanitarian corridor route westward to the Ukraine-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia. It will apply to women, children and older people from Wednesday afternoon local time, she said in a statement on the messaging app Telegram.
She added that Mariupol was the focus of Ukrainian efforts to help civilians because of the “catastrophic humanitarian situation” in the city, which has seen intense fighting for weeks as Russian troops have pushed Ukrainian forces back and now have them encircled in a steel mill complex.
Vereshchuk previously said there would not be an agreed evacuation route out of Mariupol on each of the past three days, saying at the time that an agreement had not been reached with Russia. There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian side. Ukraine and Russia have frequently blamed each other for obstructing evacuations from Mariupol or firing along the agreed route, which has typically only been open to people traveling using private vehicles.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian General Staff said Wednesday in a statement on Facebook that Russia is continuing to mount offensives at various locations in the east as its forces probe for weak points in the Ukrainian lines. The General Staff adds that defeating the last resistance in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol remains Russia’s top priority.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for a four-day halt in fighting in Ukraine, starting Thursday to coincide with Orthodox Christians’ Holy Week observances.
Noting that Orthodox Easter is coming amid an intensifying Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the U.N. chief said Tuesday that the need for a “humanitarian pause” is all the more urgent.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya called on Russia to heed Guterres’ call. But Russian deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said Tuesday he was “a bit skeptical” about the idea.
Guterres said the goal is to allow for evacuating civilians from “current or expected areas of confrontation” and getting more humanitarian aid into desperately needy places such as Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. More than four million people in those areas need assistance, Guterres said.
The proposal comes after the U.N. recently helped to foster a two-month truce in Yemen’s civil war, halting fighting as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new security assistance package in the coming days that will include additional artillery and ammunition, according to a U.S. official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said details of the latest package are being finalized.
Last week, in anticipation of Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine, Biden approved an $800 million package including additional helicopters and the first provision of American artillery. The U.S. has sent about $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded.
Asked by reporters whether he’d be sending more artillery, Biden said, “Yes.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “providing more ammunition and security assistance to Ukraine” was discussed by Biden and other allied leaders during a video call on Tuesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italy Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took part in the more than 80-minute call.
Aamer Madhani contributed to this report from Washington.
OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine.
Trudeau says he’s been in close contact with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Canada is very responsive to what Ukraine needs. He says there will be more details on the pledge in the days to come, and that Ukrainians have “fought like heroes.”
Canada’s government has also hit 14 more Russians with sanctions for their close ties with President Vladimir Putin, including his two adult daughters.
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