WARSAW, Poland — In a forceful speech in Warsaw denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin and voicing strong support for Ukraine, President Joe Biden also appeared to have a message for his Polish hosts.
Speaking of a “perennial struggle for democracy,” Biden mentioned the rule of law and freedom of the press among the principles that are essential in a free society.
He spoke in a speech attended by President Andrzej Duda and his political allies in the conservative ruling Law and Justice party. Since they won power in 2015, the European Union has accused them of undermining the rule of law in Poland by eroding the independence of the judicial branch of government.
The Polish authorities were also in conflict with Washington last year over legal attempts to silence TVN, a broadcast network owned by U.S. company Discovery. The aim was to strip Discovery of its control of TVN, which produces independent news programs that are critical of the nationalist government.
Duda late last year vetoed the legislation, but concerns about press freedom in Poland remain due to the government’s use of public media as a party mouthpiece.
Biden also paid homage to Poland’s long struggle for democracy in his speech at the Royal Castle, which like most of Warsaw was destroyed by occupying Nazi German forces during World War II and later rebuilt.
He said Warsaw “holds a sacred place in the history of not only of Europe but humankind’s unending search for freedom. For generations, Warsaw has stood where liberty has been challenged and liberty has prevailed.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
– The Associated Press has independently documented at least 34 assaults on Ukrainian medical facilities by Russian forces
– Ukrainian fashion brand in bombarded city picks up and flees
– Is cryptocurrency aid for Ukraine a significant innovation or just a sideshow?
Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage
LVIV, Ukraine – Several rockets struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday in what officials say were two separate attacks that occurred the same day President Joe Biden was visiting the capital of Poland, whose border is just 45 miles away.
The powerful explosions frightened a city that had been a haven for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Russian assault on other parts of Ukraine.
The regional governor, Maxym Kozytsky, said on Facebook that preliminary indications were five people were injured in the first attack but did not specify what the two rockets hit. Hours later, he reported three more explosions outside the city, again with no details.
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi called the second round of explosions a rocket attack, saying it did significant damage to an unspecified “infrastructure object.”
The back-to-back attacks on Saturday brought a chill to residents and displaced Ukrainians who had seen Lviv as a relatively safe place to rebuild their lives. Home to about 700,000 people before the invasion, the city has absorbed many more.
LONDON – Britain has seized two jet aircraft belonging to Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler as Western governments seeking to end the war in Ukraine put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by targeting the luxury lifestyles of his closest supporters.
Treasury Secretary Grant Shapps said Saturday that the two aircraft would be detained “indefinitely” after three-week investigation that had already grounded the planes. The Times of London described the aircraft as a $45 million Bombardier Global 6500 and a $13 million Cessna Citation Latitude.
The U.K. froze Shvidler’s U.K. assets last week as it announced a new round of sanctions on Russian companies and wealthy individuals. Shvidler was sanctioned because of his links to those who have backed the war in Ukraine and because he has profited from his support for the Putin regime, the U.K. said.
LVIV, Ukraine — Air raid sirens sounded Saturday afternoon in the western city of Lviv, and governor of the region Maxym Kozytsky reported “three powerful explosions near Lviv.” Footage shot by The Associated Press showed thick plumes of smoke rising above the city.
Lviv, a city of over 700,000 roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Ukraine’s border with Poland, has been largely spared from major Russian attacks in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, the Russian forces fired missiles on a military training center near Lviv, which at the time was the most westward target, and killed 35 people.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Lviv has become a safe harbor for some 200,000 displaced Ukrainians.
WARSAW—President Joe Biden on Saturday spent time with Ukrainian refugees in Poland as he wrapped up his four-day visit to Europe, marveling at the spirit of their resolve in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of their homeland.
The president listened intently to young Ukrainian children tell them about their parents. He picked up a young Ukrainian girl in a pink coat, smiling broadly and telling her she reminded him of his own granddaughters.
He also held hands and gave hugs to their parents, as he heard their stories during a visit to a stadium in Warsaw where Ukrainian refugees go to obtain a Polish identification number that gives them access to social services such as health care and schools.
Some of the women and children told Biden that they fled for Poland without their husbands and fathers, men of fighting age that were required to remain behind to assist in the fight against Russian forces.
“What I am always surprised by is the depth and strength of the human spirit,” Biden told reporters after his conversations. “Each one of those children said something to the effect of ‘Say a prayer for my dad or grandfather or my brother.’”
“I think that for us Poles, in the situation we have today, in our part of Europe, in the era of Russian aggression against Ukraine, this is a very important element,” Duda said.
Duda noted that under contracts already concluded with the U.S., Poland is set to receive Patriot missile sets, artillery rocket launchers, F-35 fighter jets and 250 Abrams tanks.
“I asked the U.S. president, Joe Biden, to accelerate, as much as possible, those purchasing programs that are already being implemented in order to strengthen our security,” the Polish leader said.
A Winona, Minnesota man taken into custody by Russian forces in Ukraine has been released, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.
Tyler Jacob had been detained earlier this month while trying to cross from Ukraine into Turkey. Klobuchar said she reached out to the U.S. State Department and connected with John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, who discussed the situation with the Russian government.
The 28-year-old Jacob went to Ukraine in November, where he took a job teaching English to be with his longtime girlfriend, a Ukrainian, the Star Tribune reported. The couple married in January and lived in Kherson, a southern port on the Black Sea. Jacob stayed even after Russia invaded last month, but finally decided he should try to get out.
Along with some friends from Turkey, he got on a bus headed for the Turkish border but was taken into custody at a checkpoint in Armiansk.
Jacob is now safe with his wife and daughter and they are all planning to travel to Minnesota. The family declined to elaborate on the circumstances of Jacob’s detainment. Klobuchar said they “want to be really careful” and “at some point … the whole story will be told.”
The organizers from Prague’s Russian anti-war committee said the rally is an opportunity for the Russian nationals to say loud and clear “No to the war,” “No to Putin,” “We are with Ukraine,” and “We are with the Czech Republic and the whole world against the Russian aggression.”
The participants were marching through the Czech capital Saturday, waving white and blue flags, a common feature for the anti-war protests by the Russians. They replaced the Russian national flag with the tricolour of the red, blue and white horizontal fields with another one where the red field, which symbolizes blood, was replaced by one more white one.
Besides their condemnation of the war, the Russians also said they want to make it clear they are part of the local society and not secret supporters of Putin.
The march was organized by London Mayor Sadiq Khan after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on people everywhere to show their backing for Ukraine. Demonstrators were marching from Hyde Park to Trafalagar Square, which has been decorated in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag.
“These innocent people have been through unimaginable pain and suffering over the last month, and by joining together today we are showing that we stand with them,” Khan said.
WARSAW, Poland – U.S. President Joe Biden has told Poland’s President Andrzej Duda that “your freedom is ours,” echoing of one of Poland’s unofficial mottos. He assured Duda that the U.S. and other NATO allies would come to their aid if Russia should attack.
Biden called the “collective defense” agreement of the Western military alliance a “sacred commitment,” and said that the unity of NATO was of the utmost importance. He also acknowledged that Poland was bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis, with more than 2 million of the 3.5 million people fleeing Ukraine entering the country. He said the other NATO allies must do more. The U.S. has pledged to accept up to 100,000 refugees.
Duda said that the relations between the two nations are flourishing, despite the difficult times.
Mircea Geoana said in an interview with The Associated Press that NATO would be “forced to take appropriate measures” in the event of a chemical or nuclear attack, which follows a string of ominous comments from Moscow officials who refuse to rule out their use. He declined to say what those measures would be.
“NATO is a defensive alliance, but also it’s a nuclear alliance,” he said. “If they will be using chemical weapons or other kinds of higher-end systems against Ukraine, this will be changing fundamentally the nature of the war that Mr. Putin has waged against Ukraine.”
“I can guarantee that NATO is ready to respond proportionately,” he added.
HELSINKI – Finland’s president says his country would likely be targeted by Russian cyber warfare and could face border violations if it decides to apply for membership in NATO.
Several polls in recent weeks have shown a majority of Finns now supporting NATO membership, up from 25% at most before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview Saturday with public broadcaster YLE that the biggest benefit would be “gaining a preventive effect.”
But he pointed to a risk of disruptive behavior by Russia during an accession process, which would take at least months.
He said an application would lead to tensions at Finland’s 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, including the possibility of “robust” border and territorial violations – not just by Russian aircraft, as Finland has experienced in the past.
Niinisto said: “We don’t even know all the possiblities for hybid influencing that someone may invent. The entire world of information technology is vulnerable. Even some important society functions can be disrupted.”
Moscow has said it would consider European Union members Finland and neighboring Sweden joining NATO a hostile move that would have serious military and political repercussions.
The U.S. has been sending money and supplies to aid the refugee effort. This week, Biden announced $1 billion in additional aid and said the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 refugees.
Maria Shevchenka, a 43-year-old from Mykolaiv, said that “we are waiting for them (the Americans) to help us end this crisis, so that finally we can return back to our country and our homes.”
Slavutych is located north of Kyiv and west of Chernihiv, outside the exclusion zone that was established around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the 1986 disaster. It is home to workers at the Chernobyl site.
Governor Oleksandr Pavlyuk said Saturday that the Russians also kidnapped the city’s mayor, but some media reported later in the day that the mayor was released swiftly. Neither claim could be verified independently.
The governor said that residents of Slavutych took to the streets with Ukrainian flags to protest the Russian invasion.
“The Russians opened fire into the air. They threw flash-bang grenades into the crowd. But the residents did not disperse, on the contrary, more of them showed up,” Pavlyuk said.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the curfew will run from 8 p.m. local time on Saturday to 7 a.m. on Monday, with local residents allowed to leave their homes only to get to a bomb shelter.
Klitschko said that shops, pharmacies, gas stations and public transport will not be operating during the curfew.
ISTANBUL – Turkey’s defense ministry says a “mine-like” object has been “neutralized” at the northern entrance to the Bosporus Strait.
The sighting on Saturday of a possible naval mine followed warnings that mines laid at the entrances to Ukrainian ports could break free in bad weather and cross the Black Sea.
Broadcaster NTV showed images of an object bobbing in the waves off Istanbul’s Sariyer district, on the Bosporus’ European coast. A Coast Guard vessel was stationed nearby.
A Defense Ministry statement said divers were dispatched to deal with the object. According to Demiroren News Agency, it was noticed by fishermen.
On March 18, Turkey advised ships to keep a “sharp lookout” and report any possible mines that had drifted from Ukrainian ports.
Last year some 38,500 ships passed through the Bosporus, which links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ankara closed the strait to military vessels.
A daily update says Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralize defending forces.
The assessment says it is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties.
DOHA, Qatar – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a surprise video appearance at Qatar’s Doha Forum.
Zelenskyy in his video address Saturday criticized Russia’s ongoing war on his nation. He called on the United Nations and world powers to come to his aid. He compared Russia’s destruction of the port city of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction wrought on the city of Aleppo in the Syrian war.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskyy said. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”
He added: “The future of Europe rests with your efforts.” He called on countries to increase their exports of energy – something particularly important as Qatar is a world leader in the export of natural gas.
He criticized Russia for what he described as threatening the world with its nuclear weapons.
“Russia is deliberating bragging they can destroy with nuclear weapons, not only a certain country but the entire planet,” Zelenskyy said.
He also noted Muslims in Ukraine would have to fight during the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan.
“We have to ensure this sacred month of Ramadan is not overshadowed by the misery of people in Ukraine,” he said.
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