President Joe Biden is traveling to Poland on Friday for a briefing on the humanitarian crisis sparked by the month-old war in Ukraine and to meet with Ukrainian refugees displaced by the conflict.
More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland since the start of Russia’s invasion of their country, and Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees and American humanitarian workers Saturday in Warsaw, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Biden on Thursday pledged $1 billion in U.S. humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing the invasion. Before departing Brussels Friday, Biden held a bilateral meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after which the United States and European Union announced a new task force aiming to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.
Biden said the task force will focus on two initiatives: helping Europe reduce its dependency on Russian gas as quickly as possible and reducing Europe’s demand for gas overall.
Later in Rzeszów, Poland, Biden will receive a briefing on the humanitarian response to the suffering of civilians inside Ukraine and the response to the flow of refugees fleeing the country. Afterward, he will meet with U.S. service members in the 82nd Airborne Division who have been deployed to Poland in recent weeks to help bolster NATO’s eastern flank.
In Warsaw, Biden also will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and deliver remarks on the united efforts to support the people of Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for the war.
Meanwhile, the outskirts of Kharkiv faced near-constant shelling throughout the morning Friday, and in Kyiv, a large fireball explosion was seen before Russia’s military claimed it destroyed a Ukrainian fuel base. In Chernihiv, city official Olexander Lomako warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” after a Russian strike destroyed a bridge and its forces had begun targeting food supplies.
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►The U.N. human rights office said it has been challenging to confirm fatalities in Mariupol given the organization’s strict methodology for counting the number of civilian deaths in conflict. The office says at least 1,035 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 1,650 injured, but acknowledges that is an undercount.
►Finland’s national rail company on Friday said it would suspend its service between Helsinki and the Russian city of St. Petersburg, closing one of the last public transit routes between the EU and Russia.
►The Council of the European Union concluded Russia’s war in Ukraine “grossly violates international law” after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday.
►Russia’s military said it would offer safe passage to foreign ships that have been stranded in Ukrainian ports.
►Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up. Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, have been taken against their will.
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NATO chief: Chemical or nuclear weapons ‘totally change’ nature of war
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday the use of nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine would “totally change the nature of the war in Ukraine. It will be absolutely unacceptable.”
Stoltenberg made the comments during a visit to a Cold Response drill, which occurs every two years and brings together NATO members and non-NATO members including Finland and Sweden.
Russia declined to participate, but Stoltenberg said NATO “always invite other countries to observe.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a meeting Friday that Russia was facing a “total war declared on us” as the West seeks to “to destroy, break, annihilate, strangle the Russian economy, and Russia on the whole.”
300 dead in Mariupol theater airstrike, city says
After a Russian airstrike targeted a theater in the southeastern city Mariupol where civilians were seeking shelter, about 300 people are dead, the city’s government said Friday.
Mariupol’s government made the announcement on its Telegram channel, citing eyewitnesses. It wasn’t immediately clear if excavation efforts at the theater were complete.
The site was hit on March 16 and the word “CHILDREN” was posted outside in Russian to deter an attack on the civilian shelter. Mariupol has faced some of the harshest conditions among Ukrainian cities as Russian forces laid siege to the city.
‘Need to look for peace’: Zelenskyy reassures Ukraine in address
In an evening address to Ukraine late Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of hope and determination as the war headed into its second month.
“It is already night. But we are working,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “The country must move toward peace, move forward. With every day of our defense, we are getting closer to the peace that we need so much. We are getting closer to victory. … We can’t stop even for a minute.
Earlier in the week, Zelenskyy called on people worldwide to gather in public to show support for his embattled country. “Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,” he said.
‘Catastrophe’ unfolding in Ukrainian city, government official says
Russian troops are purposefully targeting food stores in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, a local government official said.
In an audio message to The Associated Press, city council secretary Olexander Lomako said a “catastrophe” is unfolding in the northern city. Lomako added that a Russian airstrike destroyed a bridge over the Desna River this week, a key route for bringing in food and other supplies from Ukraine-controlled territory further south.
“Humanitarian help, medicines and food used to be delivered into the city via this bridge,” he told The Associated Press.
Less than half of the residents, around 130,000, are left in the city from the pre-war population of 285,000, Lomako said.
— Celina Tebor
Poll shows Americans support Russian sanctions, think Biden should be tougher
A majority of Americans are supportive of the harsh sanctions on Russia but believe Biden needs to be tougher on the Kremlin after its invasion of Ukraine, according to a poll commissioned by the Associated Press and NORC released Thursday.
The poll, which surveyed 1,082 U.S. adults from Thursday to Monday, found 56% of Americans believe Biden’s response to Russia hasn’t been tough enough, including a majority of 53% of Democrats. A very small percent, about 6%, said they thought Biden had been “too tough,” the poll shows.
Across the board, Americans of both political parties were supportive of the harsh economic blows to Russia. The poll showed 68% were supportive of economic sanctions in general with 70% saying they supported the recent banning oil imported from Russia, which in turn caused gas prices to rise.
— Christal Hayes
Contributing: The Associated Press