UN watchdog loses touch with Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine

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Un Watchdog Loses Touch With Europe's Largest Nuclear Power Plant In Ukraine Un Watchdog Loses Touch With Europe's Largest Nuclear Power Plant In Ukraine
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), attends an extraordinary meeting last week. Photo: Getty Images
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What you need to know right now

  • Ukrainian officials accused Russia of carrying out an air strike on Wednesday that severely damaged a children's hospital in the city of Mariupol, with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy saying children were "under the wreckage".
  • Any attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to install a Ukrainian puppet regime will result in a "long, bloody, drawn-out mess," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
  • Local officials said some civilians had left Sumy in the east and Enerhodar in the south through "humanitarian corridors" promised by Russia, but Russian forces were preventing buses from evacuating civilians from the town of Bucha outside the capital.
  • Ukraine appealed for a temporary ceasefire to allow repairs to be made to a power line to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, warning of a potential radiation leak if an electricity outage continued.
  • The European Union agreed more sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine that will hit Russian lawmakers and oligarchs, the maritime sector and three Belarusian banks.
  • A US ban on imports of Russia's oil sparked a further increase in oil prices, which have surged more than 30 per cent since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24th.
  • Moscow said on Wednesday it was working on a broad response to sanctions that would be swift and felt in the West's most sensitive areas.
  • The United Nations human rights office said it had verified 474 civilian deaths and 861 injuries, but the true toll was likely to be higher.
  • Ukraine says its forces have killed more than 11,000 Russian troops. Russia has confirmed about 500 losses. Neither side has disclosed Ukrainian casualties.
  • About 2.1 to 2.2 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion begun, the head of the UN's refugee agency said on Wednesday. EU officials say up to 5 million could leave if the conflict continues.


10pm: The United Nations nuclear watchdog has lost touch with its remote systems that monitor nuclear material at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest nuclear power plant, has been in Russian hands since last week, when a blaze broke out in a building at the site after clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announcement came a day after it said the same thing had happened at the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl, near the defunct power plant that was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

Both sites are under Russian forces' control but are being operated by Ukrainian staff in conditions that the IAEA says endanger the safety of the facilities.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is "concerned about the sudden interruption of such data flows to the IAEA's Vienna headquarters from the two sites, where large amounts of nuclear material are present in the form of spent or fresh nuclear fuel and other types of nuclear material."


9.45pm: Around 48,000 Ukrainians have been evacuated through humanitarian corridors, Interfax Ukraine news agency said on Wednesday, citing a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president's office, said 43,000 people had left the city of Sumy, 3,500 from the Kiev region and 1,000 from Energodar.

Separately, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said more than one million children have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in the less than two weeks since Russia started its invasion of Ukraine, with at least 37 killed and 50 injured.


9.40pm: Russia's rouble tumbled to record lows in onshore trading on Wednesday, despite measures by Moscow to shore up its battered economy and safeguard hard currency availability amid fresh economic sanctions triggered by its invasion of Ukraine.

Catching up after two days of market closure, the rouble jumped to 120.83 to the dollar on the Moscow Exchange before clawing back some losses to close at 120, or 12.5 per cent softer than its Friday close. It closed 6.3 per cent weaker against the euro at 127 after hitting a record 131 per euro in early trade.


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9.27pm: The United States condemned the bombing of a children's hospital in Ukraine, where officials said a Russian air strike buried patients under rubble despite a ceasefire agreement to allow people out of the besieged city of Mariupol.

"It is horrifying to see the type of the barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians in a sovereign country," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The UN Human Rights body said its monitoring mission was verifying the number of casualties.

"The incident adds to our deep concerns about indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas and civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas," said spokesperson Liz Throssell.

The Donetsk region's governor said 17 people were wounded in the incident. The city council said the hospital had been hit several times by an air strike, causing "colossal" destruction with injured women in labour and children in the wreckage.


9.10pm: Russia's delegation at peace talks with Ukraine "will not concede a single negotiating point," RIA news agency cited negotiator Leonid Slutsky as telling a television station.

The two sides have carried out three rounds of talks since the start of the Russian invasion. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to have talks in Turkey on Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.


9pm: The United States on Wednesday closed the door on supplying combat aircraft to Ukraine, saying that the intelligence community assessed it would be a "high risk" move that could be mistaken by Russia as an escalatory step.

The Pentagon, which suggested other weapons transfers should take priority, announced the US position after a call between US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Polish counterpart, a day after Poland offered to transfer Russian-made fighter jets to US custody for further transfer to Ukraine.


8.45pm: The Ukrainian government is preparing for the potential need to move its data and servers abroad if Russia's invading forces push deeper into the country, a senior cybersecurity official told Reuters.

Victor Zhora, the deputy chief of Ukraine's State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, emphasised his department was planning for a contingency. That it is being considered at all suggests Ukrainians want to be ready for any Russian threat to seize sensitive government documents.


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8.10pm: Satellite imagery captured by Nasa shows one of the impacts Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had, with much of the country now in darkness as the amount of light emitted at night has fallen.

Multiple cities have suffered from loss of power since the invasion began. The Ministry of Defence said on Monday that Irpin, outside Kyiv, has “reportedly been without heat, water or electricity for several days.”


7.50pm: The Vatican's Secretary of State called the reported bombing of a children's hospital in the besieged port of Mariupol in Ukraine "unacceptable".

"I say bombing a hospital is unacceptable. There are no reasons, there are no motivations, to do this," Cardinal Pietro Parolin told journalists who asked him, at a conference in Rome, about the reported bombing.


7.30pm: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrived after a flight to Turkey's southern city of Antalya on Wednesday, according to a Reuters witness, ahead of planned talks Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

The meeting would be the first between the nations' top diplomats since Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks ago.


7.10pm: Ukraine evacuated more than 40,000 people in one day on Wednesday but struggled to get civilians away from conflict zones around the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol, one of the negotiators in the Russia talks David Arakhamia said.

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"Over 40,000 women and children were evacuated from all over Ukraine in one day. Tried 100,000, but failed," he said in a post on social media. Ukraine has accused Russia of shelling civilian areas and preventing the evacuations. Russia in turn blamed Ukraine.


7pm: Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected every off-ramp offered by the United States to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine and has, on the contrary, stepped up his military campaign, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

"We've sought to provide possible off-ramps to President Putin. He's the only one who can decide whether or not to take them. So far, every time there's been an opportunity to do just that, he's pressed the accelerator and continued down this horrific road that he's been pursuing," Blinken said at a joint news conference with his British counterpart Liz Truss.

"He has a clear plan right now to brutalize Ukraine but to what end?" Blinken said, adding that Ukrainians have shown that they would not accept any "puppet regime" that Putin might try to install to replace the elected Ukrainian government.

"If he tries to enforce such a puppet regime by keeping Russian forces in Ukraine, it will be a long, bloody, drawn-out mess," Blinken said.


6.45pm: Britain said the Russian Ministry of Defence had confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine, which uses thermobaric rockets.

"The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine," it said on Twitter. "The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects."


6.30pm: The Taoiseach has condemned an alleged Russian attack on a hospital in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Micheál Martin said: “With multiple reports of a missile strike destroying maternity & children’s hospital in Mariupol, despite ceasefire agreement, the indiscriminate cruelty of (Vladimir) Putin’s invasion is crystal clear. This war on civilians must end.”


6.10pm: Ukraine's top security official Oleksiy Danilov said that 67 children had been killed since the Russian invasion began, and he urged Kyiv's allies to enforce a no-fly zone over the country.

Separately, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had talked to European Council President Charles Michel about pressuring Russia to keep civilians safe and increasing sanctions against Russia.


6pm: The United States has seen indications that Russia's military is using so-called dumb bombs that are unguided and greatly increase the risk of missing targets, a senior US defence official said.

The comment came shortly after Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a children's hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol. At least 1,170 civilians have been killed in Mariupol since the start of the Russian invasion, according to Ukrainian authorities.


5.40pm: Russia's defence ministry acknowledged that some conscripts were taking part in the conflict with Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin denied this on various occasions, saying only professional soldiers and officers had been sent in.

The ministry said that some of them, serving in supply units, had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian army since the fighting began.

Citing Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the RIA news agency said Putin had ordered military prosecutors to investigate and punish the officials responsible for disobeying his instructions to exclude conscripts from the operation.


5.20pm: Russia's defence ministry accused Ukrainian forces of attacking power lines and a substation feeding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what it said was a "dangerous provocation", the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Ukraine said earlier there was a danger of a radiation leak after electricity was cut off to the plant during fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian forces who are occupying the defunct power station, but the UN nuclear watchdog saw "no critical impact on security".


5pm: Russia carried out an air strike on a children's hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday during an agreed ceasefire period that was meant to allow the evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern city, said regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

17 people were wounded in the attack, including women in labour, he said. Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a "special operation" in Ukraine.


4.50pm: Russia's defence ministry said on Wednesday that nearly 180,000 people had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the start of the conflict, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The ministry added that the operation to open up humanitarian corridors to remove Ukrainian civilians and foreigners from combat zones "did not bring the desired results, through Kyiv's fault".


4.37pm: At least 1,170 civilians have been killed in Ukraine's besieged city of Mariupol since the start of the Russian invasion, a Ukrainian state information agency said on Wednesday, citing figures from Mariupol's deputy mayor.

"At least 1,170 people have been killed and 47 were buried in a mass grave today," deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov was quoted as saying. "People are without water, heat, electricity, gas, residents are melting snow to drink."


4.30pm: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy accused Russia of carrying out an air strike that severely damaged a children's hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol. Children were among people "under the wreckage," he said.

Mariupol's city council said the hospital had been destroyed. It said it did not know casualty figures but added: "The destruction is colossal." The reports could not immediately be verified by Reuters. Russia has denied targeting civilians.

Ukraine had earlier on Wednesday accused Russia of breaking a ceasefire to prevent the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Mariupol, where the Red Cross has described conditions as "apocalyptic".


4.20pm: Nestle, Philip Morris and Imperial Brands joined the list of multinationals stepping back from Russia on Wednesday as pressure mounts from consumers in the West to take a stand against the invasion of Ukraine.

The world's biggest packaged food group fell into line with rivals Procter & Gamble and Unilever in halting investment in Russia, while cigarette maker Philip Morris said it would scale down manufacturing and Imperial went further and suspended it.

The moves came after Coca-Cola and McDonald's halted sales in Russia, where a senior member of the ruling party has warned that foreign firms which close down could see their operations nationalised.


4.10pm: The European Union said it doubted the credibility of Russian government claims it had uncovered a military biological programme in Ukraine, saying that Moscow had a history of spreading disinformation about biological weapons.

"The credibility of information provided by Kremlin is in general very doubtful and low," EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said. "Russian disinformation has a track record of promoting manipulative narratives about biological weapons and alleged 'secret labs'."

In recent days, Russia has accused Ukraine of having tried to develop biological or nuclear weapons. A Ukrainian presidential spokesperson said: "Ukraine strictly denies any such allegation."


3.58pm: Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said Russia had largely failed on Wednesday to respect agreements to allow civilians to be evacuated from towns and cities through humanitarian corridors.

Evacuations took place from the cities of Sumy and Enerhodar, but not from the regional capital of Kharkiv and only partially in areas in the Kyiv region, he said on television.


3.51pm: Russian forces appear to be regrouping near the eastern city of Kharkiv, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said, describing the situation as very tense. Speaking on live television, Terekhov said Russian shelling on the city was ongoing.


3.20pm: US industrial conglomerate Honeywell International Inc said it has suspended business in Russia and Belarus, following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The company said late on Tuesday it had substantially suspended all its sales, distribution and service activities in both countries, joining the group of Western firms halting operations in Russia.


2.40pm: Ukraine appealed to Russia for a temporary ceasefire to allow repairs to be made to a power line to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, warning that there could be a radiation leak if the electricity outage continued.

Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces made it impossible to immediately repair the high-voltage power line to the plant, which has been captured by Russian forces.

Energoatom said radioactive substances could be released if the plant cannot cool spent nuclear fuel, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said reserve diesel generators can power the plant for only 48 hours.


1.40pm: European Union countries are divided over how quickly the bloc should wean itself off Russian fossil fuel imports, an EU official said on Wednesday ahead of a meeting where country leaders will discuss the issue.

"Some are asking 2030, some are asking 2027, some are saying now... I think some member states might reach this target earlier," the official said.

A draft statement for a summit of EU leaders this week said they will agree to phase out the EU's dependency on imports of Russian gas, oil and coal, without setting a fixed date.


1.20pm: The question of whether Nato should provide Ukraine with Polish MIG-29 jets is not currently on the table, said a German government spokesperson on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry added that any decisions needed to be made with the goal of preventing the war in Ukraine from spilling over into Nato.


1pm: Britain is exploring donating anti-aircraft missiles made by Thales to Ukraine to help it defend its skies from the Russian invasion, defence minister Ben Wallace said, adding the technology fell within the definition of defensive weapons.


12.50pm: Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday Russia must urgently observe a temporary ceasefire to allow repairs on a power line to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, saying radiation could be leaked if an electricity outage continues.

"Reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power the Chornobyl NPP. After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent," he said on Twitter.


12.30pm: The European Union led a walkout of delegates from a meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog's Board of Governors on Wednesday in protest at "unacceptable" remarks by Russia, the EU ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

"EU initiates a broad walk-out ... in response to unacceptable remarks by #Russia. We strongly condemn Russian military aggression against #Ukraine & resulting nuclear threats to safety of Ukrainian facilities," Stephan Klement.

The EU also chairs the separate Iran nuclear talks.


12.15pm: The Czech government approved on Wednesday the dispatch of up to 650 soldiers to Slovakia to bolster Nato's eastern flank, the defence ministry said.

The deployment, which is planned until June 30th, 2023, has to be approved by both chambers of the Czech parliament.


12.05pm: Radioactive substances could be released from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant because it cannot cool spent nuclear fuel after its power connection was severed, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company Energoatom said on Wednesday.


11.50am: Members of Russia's National Guard have detained more than 400 people in Ukraine's Kherson oblast who protested against the occupation of their hometowns by Russian forces, Ukraine’s military high command said on Wednesday.

"Due to the furious resistance of the residents of Kherson, the occupiers are attempting to introduce an administrative-police regime," it said in a statement.


11.35am: Russia did not attend a World Court hearing in a lawsuit brought by Ukraine seeking to halt hostilities on its territory because of the "absurdity" of the suit, Russia's foreign ministry said on Twitter on Wednesday, its first public statement on the matter.

Russia did not attend hearings on Monday at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is the UN court for resolving disputes between nations.

Ukraine argued that Russia had wrongly tried to justify its invasion on false assertions that it was attacking in self defence to prevent genocide.

Russia's tweet said it had not attended "in light of the apparent absurdity of the lawsuit".


11.15am: The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States had declared economic war on Russia and that Moscow would think seriously about what to do after US president Joe Biden imposed a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had been, is and would be a reliable energy supplier and pointed out that energy flows continued.

"But you see the bacchanalia, the hostile bacchanalia, which the West has sown - and that of course makes the situation very difficult and forces us to think seriously," Peskov said.

"The United States definitely has declared economic war against Russia and is waging this war," he said.


11am: Ukraine will repatriate troops and equipment, including helicopters, involved in UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and Europe to bolster defences at home in the face of Russia's invasion, a UN official said.


10.45am: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved $1.4 billion (€1.2 billion) in emergency support for Ukraine to finance expenditures and shore up the balance of payments, Central Bank Governor Kyrylo Shevchenko said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ukraine has turned to financing from allies and international institutions to support its economy after the Russian invasion began.

"We are immensely grateful to the IMF for its prompt response to our request. We look forward to completing all required procedures as soon as possible," Shevchenko said.

"It is vital for Ukraine now that it has been going through such a horrible time.”


10.30am: European Union governments are preparing a new round of travel bans and asset freezes on some 100 Russians over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and a decision could come later on Wednesday, the EU's top diplomat said.

"Member states are working on a package of sanctions, around 100 people responsible at different levels of government," Borrell told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

He said he hoped for agreement "by the end of this session today", without giving more details.


10.15am: The Ukrainian authorities do not know what the radiation levels are at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as they have not heard about what is happening there since it was seized by Russian troops, energy minister Herman Halushchenko said on Wednesday.

He said Ukraine also had no control over what was happening at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where it said 400 Russian troops were stationed.


10am: Heat, water and power supplies, and phone connections are working normally in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, deputy mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said on television on Wednesday.

He said the authorities hoped to evacuate many more people from the bombarded communities of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel in the Kyiv region.

"We have places to house (refugees), we have trains to send people west," he said, adding that it was not clear how many people the authorities would be able to help flee.


9.45am: The Russian foreign ministry has said that it would be better if Russia's goals in Ukraine were achieved through talks.


9.30am: Russia's president Vladimir Putin has signed a law on using the country's rainy-day National Wealth Fund to buy OFZ government bonds and stocks, the RIA news agency reported on Wednesday.

Putin also signed a series of laws enabling a new "capital amnesty" designed to encourage people to return money or financial instruments to Russia without facing tax or other penalties, RIA reported.


9.15am: Oil rose towards $130 (€118) a barrel on Wednesday, supported by concern of a potential supply shock as the United States banned Russian oil imports and amid signs that some buyers are already steering clear.

The United States on Tuesday imposed a ban on Russian oil imports, Britain said it would phase them out and Shell said it would stop buying Russian crude.

JP Morgan estimated around 70 per cent of Russian seaborne oil was struggling to find buyers.


9am: Any supply of fighter jets to Ukraine must be done through Nato, top Polish officials said on Wednesday, after Washington rejected Poland's offer to fly all its MIG-29 jets to a US airbase with a view to them being supplied to Kyiv.


8.45am: Civilians in private cars started leaving the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy on Wednesday after a "humanitarian corridor" was established for a second successive day, Sumy mayor Oleksandr Lysenko said in televised comments.


8.30am: Britain unveiled new aviation sanctions on Wednesday which give the power to detain any Russian aircraft and banning exports of aviation or space-related goods to Russia, saying it had already impounded one plane.

The measures to strengthen action against Russian aircraft mean it is a criminal offence for any to fly or land in the United Kingdom.


8.15am: On Wednesday, Ukraine will try to evacuate civilians through six "humanitarian corridors", including from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

She said in a video statement that Ukrainian armed forces had agreed to stop firing in those areas from 9 am until 9 pm(7am-7pm GMT)and urged Russian forces to fulfil their commitment to local ceasefires.


8am: Russia warned the West on Wednesday that it was working on a broad response to sanctions that would be swift and felt in the West's most sensitive areas.


7.45am: Russia's foreign ministry said that sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union on aviation threatened the safety of Russian passenger flights, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Wednesday.


7.30am: The Ukrainian city of Enerhodar says a temporary ceasefire is in place, meaning the evacuation of civilians can take place.


7.20am: European commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that the bloc has bought enough liquefied natural gas that it should be independent of Russian imports up until the end of the winter.

Von der Leyen also told Germany's ARD television that sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine were designed to cause maximum impact on Moscow, while causing the least damage possible to Western economies.


7am: British baby products retailer Mothercare MTC.L said on Wednesday all its business in Russia, including shipment of all products, has been suspended following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The company said its local partner in Russia will be pausing operations in about 120 stores and online.


6:40am: Russia's defence ministry said on Wednesday it had obtained secret documents which proved that Ukraine planned a March attack on Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The ministry published six pages of documents it said showed Kyiv planned a military assault on the Russian-backed rebel regions in Donbass.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the documents - written in Ukrainian - which appear to outline combat preparations for tactical military units.


Ukraine must hold off Russia's attack for the next seven to 10 days to deny Moscow claiming any sort of victory, said a senior government official, as more than 2 million refugees fled the biggest assault on a European country since World War II.

Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said Russia was desperate for at least some kind of victory, citing the cities of Mariupol or the capital Kyiv as the most likely targets.

"They need at least some victory before they are forced into the final negotiations," Denysenko wrote on Facebook.

"Therefore our task is to stand for the next 7-10 days."

Russia said it would provide humanitarian corridors on Wednesday for people fleeing Kyiv and four other Ukrainian cities. The only operating corridor is that from the city of Sumy, which opened on Tuesday.

About 5,000 people rode buses out of the northeastern city on Tuesday after Moscow and Kyiv agreed on the corridor, said Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy.

About 1,000 cars were also able to leave, moving towards the city of Poltava, he said, adding the corridor would continue to function on Wednesday.

Zhyvytskyy said separately that Sumy's residential area had been bombed overnight, with one bomb killing 22 civilians. He called the incident "mass murder".

Moscow denies targeting civilians. Reuters could not verify the Sumy incident.

Zhyvytskyy said the Sumy corridor will continue to function on Wednesday.

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of shelling another evacuation route, from Mariupol in the south of the country.

Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia's National Defence Control Centre, was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency that Russian forces would "observe a regime of silence" from 10 am Moscow time (7am GMT) to ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

It was unclear if the proposed routes would pass through Russia or Belarus, conditions previously opposed by the Ukrainian government.

The Kremlin describes its actions as a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.

Oil ban spikes prices

The United States banned imports of Russian oil in a major new step in the Western-led effort to halt the war by crippling Russia's economy, sparking a further increase in the oil price.

Prices have surged more than 30 per cent since Russia - the world's second-largest exporter of crude - invaded its neighbour on February 24th Benchmark Brent crude futures were last at $130.6 per barrel.

Britain said it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022, while the European Union published plans to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two thirds this year.

China's refusal to condemn the invasion or join the international sanctions is also raising concerns in Western capitals about the potential for a wider attack on liberal democratic values globally.

US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo warned that Chinese companies that defied US restrictions against exporting to Russia could be cut off from American equipment and software they needed to make their products.

Washington could "essentially shut" down Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp or any Chinese companies that continued to supply chips and other advanced technology to Russia, Raimondo told the New York Times.

Australia's intelligence chief on Wednesday said there was a "troubling new strategic convergence" between Beijing and Moscow and the risk of "major-power conflict" had grown since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russia's attack on Ukraine, a democratic country of 44 million people, has caused particular alarm in self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own and has vowed to reclaim, by force if necessary.

Chinese president Xi Jinping described the situation in Ukraine as worrying and called for "maximum restraint," Chinese state media reported on Tuesday.

US intelligence chiefs told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that China appeared to have been unsettled by the difficulties Russia was facing in Ukraine and the strength of the Western reaction.

Corporate backlash

Adding to Russia's global isolation, McDonald's, a symbol of capitalism that opened in Russia as the Soviet Union fell, and coffeehouse chain Starbucks will temporarily close stores, while Pepsi will stop selling its soft drink brands and Coca-Cola is halting business in the country.

Yum Brands Inc, parent company of fried chicken chain KFC, said it was pausing investment in Russia, a key market that helped the brand achieve record development last year.

Western countries are walking a fine line between using harsh sanctions to stop the war as quickly as possible, while also protecting their fragile economies from rising inflation.

The conflict and ensuing sanctions have played havoc with global supply chains, sending prices soaring not only for food and energy but also key raw materials like aluminium and nickel.

Persistent high oil prices prompted by Russia's invasion could cut a full percentage point off the growth of large oil-importing developing economies like China, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, a World Bank official said.

The International Monetary Fund's executive board is poised to approve $1.4 billion in emergency funding on Wednesday for Ukraine to help it respond to Russia's invasion.

Polish planes

As Western military aid poured into Ukraine over the Polish and Romanian borders, the United States turned down a surprise Polish offer to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to a US base in Germany to help replenish Ukraine's air force.

The prospect of flying combat aircraft from Nato territory into the war zone "raises serious concerns for the entire Nato alliance," the Pentagon said.

In the seaside Ukrainian town of Mariupol, people were fast running out of electricity, heat, food, and drinking water after more than a week of bombardment, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"The situation in Mariupol is apocalyptic," Red Cross spokesperson Ewan Watson said. - Reuters

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