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Fri. 8:18 a.m.: Ukraine Updates: Russia claims it controls airport near Kyiv

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop armored personnel carriers driving on a road Thursday in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has taken control of an airport just outside Kyiv, as Kremlin forces bear down on the Ukrainian capital.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Taking possession of the airport in Hostomel, which has a long runway allowing the landing of heavy-lift transport planes, would mean Russia can airlift troops directly to Kyiv’s outskirts.

Hostomel is just 7 kilometers (4 miles) northwest of the city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said today that the Russian airborne forces used 200 helicopters to land in Hostomel and killed over 200 troops belonging to Ukraine’s special forces.

Konashenkov claimed that Russian troops suffered no casualties. That contradicts Ukrainian claims that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.

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BERLIN — Germany’s Defense Ministry has confirmed media reports that it is deploying additional military assets to NATO’s eastern flank.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the deployments included 150 soldiers and about a dozen Boxer armored fighting vehicles, two ships and anti-missile systems.

Ministry spokesman Christian Thiels declined to say today exactly how many soldiers were being deployed. But he confirmed that a navy corvette would leave Saturday for patrols in the Baltic while a frigate will be deployed in the Mediterranean, both under NATO command.

Germany is also assessing whether to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to an eastern European NATO country, Thiels said.

Decisions on deploying further troops could be expected soon, he added.

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BEIJING — Chinese state TV says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that Moscow is willing to negotiate with Ukraine, even as Moscow’s forces invade its neighbor.

The report today followed a Kremlin announcement that Putin’s government was considering an offer by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to negotiate non-aligned status for his country.

Putin said Moscow “is willing to conduct high-level negotiations with the Ukrainian side,” China Central Television reported on its website.

It gave no indication whether Putin said he was responding to Zelenskyy’s offer or gave any details of what the two sides might negotiate.

Russia complains that the United States and its allies ignored Moscow’s “legitimate security concerns” by expanding the NATO military alliance eastward, closer to Russia’s borders.

Xi said China “supports Russia and Ukraine resolving the problem through negotiations,” CCTV said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says officials are still assessing a request by Ukraine for Turkey to close to Russian shipping the straits at the entrance of the Black Sea.

Mevlut Cavusoglu warned, however, that under a 1936 convention Ankara may not be able to deny total access to the Russian vessels.

Ukraine on Thursday formally asked Turkey to close the Turkish Straits to Russian warships in line with the Montreux Convention which allows Turkey to restrict the passage of belligerent countries’ warships during times of war. The convention stipulates however, that warships belonging to Black Sea coastal countries can return to their bases.

“If there is a demand for the ships of the warring countries to return to their bases, then (passage) must be allowed,” Cavusoglu was quoted as telling Hurriyet newspaper in an interview.

The minister said Turkish experts were assessing if the current situation amounted to “a state of war.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s president is appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop the madness of this war now.”

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin today said that “we don’t want enmity with the Russian people, quite the contrary, but this wrongdoing cannot go without a clear answer.”

Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial but holds moral authority, said that Germany will do its part in deterring Putin from using force against its NATO allies.

The president, who served twice as Germany’s foreign minister, said that Putin “should not underestimate the strength of democracies” and Germans shouldn’t either.

He said it’s good that people are going out to demonstrate, adding: “The Russian president should not believe for a second that people in Germany and Europe simply accept this brutal violence.”

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy in Rome today to personally express his concern about the war in Ukraine, in an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent.

Popes usually receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican. For Francis to travel a short distance to the Russian embassy outside the Vatican walls was a sign of his strength of feeling about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the pontiff wanted “clearly to express his concern about the war.” Pope Francis was there for just over a half-hour, Bruni said.

Francis has called for dialogue to end the conflict and has urged the faithful to set next Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine.

But he has refrained from publicly calling out Russia, presumably for fear of antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, with which he is trying to build stronger ties.

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GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it is receiving increasing reports of civilian casualties in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s military invasion.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says its staffers have so far verified at least 127 civilian casualties. They include 25 people killed and 102 injured, mostly from shelling and airstrikes.

She cautioned today that the numbers are “very likely to be an underestimate.”

Shamdasani also said the rights office was “disturbed by the multiple arbitrary arrests” of demonstrators in Russia who on Thursday protested against the conflict.

“We understand more than 1,800 protesters were arrested,” she said, before adding that it was unclear how many might have been released already.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said its latest update had that more than 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes in Ukraine. She said the agency’s planning figures anticipated that “up to 4 million people may flee to other countries if the situation escalates.”

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LONDON — Latvia’s defense minister is criticizing European nations for failing to cut Russia off from the global bank payments network and refusing to provide weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

Artis Pabriks’ comments came after the U.S. and European Union stopped short of blocking Russia’s access to the SWIFT payments system when they announced a new round of sanctions late Thursday.

Pabriks also chided fellow EU nations that have refused to provide “lethal aid” to Ukraine, saying only the U.K., Greece, Poland and the Baltic states had done so.

In an interview with the BBC today, Pabriks suggested that many European leaders don’t want to take these steps because they would cause economic hardship for their own countries.

“If you are really not ready yourself to spill blood, at least spill money now,” he said. “Do it now, because if you lose Ukraine all European geopolitics will change. … There will be much more pressure on Poland, much more pressure on the Baltics.”

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia fear they could be the Kremlin’s next target.

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad is praising Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine and denouncing what he calls western “hysteria” surrounding it.

Assad spoke by phone today with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“What is happening today is a correction of history and a restoration of balance which was lost in the world after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” Assad said, according to state-run news agency SANA.

He said confronting NATO expansionism is Russia’s right.

Russia is a main backer of Assad’s government and its military intervention in 2015 in the country’s civil war helped tip the balance of power in his favor.

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says it will analyze the Ukrainian president’s offer to discuss a non-aligned status for his country, as a Russian military invasion pushes closer to Kyiv.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was ready to hold talks on the issue.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today described it as “a move in a positive direction.”

He said in a conference call with reporters that “we paid attention to that, and now we need to analyze it.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Zelenskyy “is simply lying” when he offers to discuss non-aligned status for Ukraine.

Lavrov said at a briefing that Zelenskyy “missed the opportunity” to discuss a neutral status for Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed it.

Putin says the West left him no option but to invade when it rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO.

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BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official says the 27-nation bloc intends to slap further sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted today: “Second wave of sanctions with massive and severe consequences politically agreed last night. Further package under urgent preparation.”

Michel announced the move after a call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Michel said Kyiv “is under continued attack by Russian forces” and called on Russia to immediately stop the violence.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary has extended temporary legal protection to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, as countries in eastern Europe prepare for the arrival of refugees at their borders.

Hungary, which borders Ukraine to the west, has in the past taken a firm stance against all forms of immigration. It has controversially refused to accept refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

But in a decree published late Thursday, Hungary’s government announced that all Ukrainian citizens arriving from Ukraine, and all third-country nationals legally residing there, would be entitled to protection.

The section applying to third-country nationals makes it possible for non-Ukrainians — for example, Belarussian refugees living in Ukraine — to receive protection in the European Union.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that Hungary will play no part in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but that it would accept refugees arriving at its borders.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his solidarity with Ukraine in telephone call with the country’s leader.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said today that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered an update on Russian military advances, including missile and artillery strikes.

“The prime minister assured President Zelenskyy that the world is united in its horror at what Putin his doing,” Johnson’s office said in a statement. “He paid tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people in standing up to Russia’s campaign of violence and expressed his deep condolences for those who have been killed.”

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BERLIN — The German government says it has suspended the granting of export credit and investment guarantees for business with Russia.

The Economy Ministry said today that the granting of new export credit guarantees and investment guarantees for Russia was suspended on Thursday.

The so-called Hermes credit export guarantees protect German companies from losses when exports aren’t paid for. Investment guarantees are granted by the German government to protect direct investments by German companies from political risk in the countries where they are made.

The Economy Ministry said that new export credit guarantees to the tune of 1.49 billion euros ($1.67 billion) were granted last year for business with Russia. New investment guarantees came in at a fraction of that amount, at 3.75 million euros ($4.2 million).

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Border Guard says that some 29,000 people were cleared to enter through the country’s land border with neighboring Ukraine on Thursday, the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

Before that, there were some 12,000 average daily entries from Ukraine into European Union and NATO member Poland, through land, sea and airport checkpoints, according to Border Guard statistics.

Poland has lifted the requirement of COVID-19 quarantine or vaccination certificates for refugees from Ukraine. A number of reception centers with camp beds, soup kitchens and medical care have been organized in locations close to the border with Ukraine.

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BEIJING — China is holding back from labeling Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion.

At the same time, it is upholding the sanctity of territorial sovereignty, in a nod to its own insistence that Taiwan is part of China.

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and maintained,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said today.

“At the same time, we also see that the issue of Ukraine has its own complex and special historical merits, and we understand Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues,” he added.

Wang did not answer questions about whether China would recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Ukrainian territory claimed by Russia, as independent states.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s civil aviation authority has banned U.K. flights to and over Russia in retaliation against the British government’s ban on Aeroflot flights.

Rosaviatsiya said that all flights by the U.K. carriers to Russia as well as transit flights are banned starting today.

It said the measure was taken in response to the “unfriendly decisions” by the British authorities who banned flights to the U.K. by the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot as part of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military claims it has destroyed 118 Ukrainian military assets since the beginning of its assault on its neighbor and as it pushes into the outskirts of Kyiv.

The claim could not be independently verified and was not confirmed by Ukraine amid a flurry of claims and counterclaims by each side.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said today that among the targets were 11 Ukrainian air bases, 13 command facilities, 36 air defense radars, 14 air defense missile systems, 5 warplanes, 18 tanks and warships.

However, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace rejected Russian claims of success on the first day of its invasion of Ukraine, saying it had “failed to deliver” on its day one objectives.

Wallace told Sky News that the Western assessment is that Russia had failed to take its major objectives and is behind on its timetable for advance.

“They’ve lost over 450 personnel,” he said.

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BERLIN — Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling it “a deep cut in European history after the end of the Cold War.”

Germany’s dpa news agency quoted Merkel saying today that there was “no justification for this blatant attack of international law. I condemn it in the sharpest possible manner.”

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and speaks Russian, was heavily engaged in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout her 16 years in office, which ended in December.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s nuclear energy regulatory agency says that higher than usual gamma radiation levels have been detected in the area near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, after it was seized by the Russian military.

The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said today that higher gamma radiation levels have been detected in the Chernobyl zone, but didn’t provide details of the increase.

It attributed the rise to a “disturbance of the topsoil due to the movement of a large amount of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air.”

Ukrainian authorities said that Russia took the plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle Thursday.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian airborne troops were protecting the plant to prevent any possible “provocations.” He insisted that radiation levels in the area have remained normal.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”

The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan warned “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards, Khan said in a statement today.

Khan adds that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko said at least three people were injured when a rocket hit a multi-story apartment building in Ukraine’s capital today, starting a fire.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Russian military’s claim it is not targeting civilian areas is “a lie.” He said that military and civilian areas in Ukraine are both being hit by Russian attacks.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said today that France and its European allies have decided to “inflict very severe blows on Moscow,” further sanctioning individuals and targeting finance, energy and other sectors. The legal texts for the sanctions will be finalized and submitted for approval to EU foreign ministers later today.

Macron also said the EU has decided on economic aid for Ukraine in the amount of 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion).

The French president also called the Belorussian government “an accomplice” in Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and said it will also be targeted.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russian troops continued pressing their offensive today, intense fighting also raged in the country’s east.

Russian troops entered the city of Sumy near the border with Russia that sits on a highway leading to Kyiv from the east. The regional governor, Dmytro Zhivitsky, said Ukrainian forces fought Russian troops in the city overnight, but other Russian convoys kept rolling west toward the Ukrainian capital.

“Military vehicles from Sumy are moving toward Kyiv,” Zhivitsky said. “Much equipment has passed through and is heading directly to the west.”

Zhivitsky added that another northeastern city, Konotop, was also sieged. He urged residents of the region to fight the Russian forces.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is “closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern.”

Karim Khan issued a statement today on Twitter while on a visit to Bangladesh, where he is investigating crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Khan said he alerted “all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine” that Ukraine has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

That means “my office may exercise its jurisdiction over and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014 onwards,” Khan added.

He said that “any person who commits such crimes, including by ordering, inciting or contributing in another manner to the commission of these crimes may be liable to prosecution before the Court.”

Khan added that because neither Russia nor Ukraine are member states of the court, his office does not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in the conflict.

The International Criminal Court is the world’s permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 2002 to prosecute atrocities in countries where local authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct trials.

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