Live updates: Russian advance stalls outside Ukraine capital

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war,

LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that a Russian military column heading for Kyiv has made “little discernible progress” over the past three days and remains over 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the center of the city.

The column has been delayed by Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdowns and congestion, the ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing Thursday.

Despite heavy Russian shelling, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands, the department said. Some Russian forces have entered the city of Kherson, but the military situation remains unclear, it added.

The ministry also noted that Russia has been forced to admit that 498 of its soldiers have been killed in Ukraine and another 1,597 have been wounded. The actual number of those killed and wounded will almost certainly be considerably higher and will continue to rise, it said.

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STOCKHOLM — Low-cost fashion brand Hennes & Mauritz AB has become the latest company to suspend its activities in Russia, saying it had decided to temporarily pause all sales in its Russian stores and temporarily close its shops in Ukraine “due to the safety of customers and colleagues.”

The Stockholm-based group said Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned about the tragic developments in Ukraine and stand with all the people who are suffering.” It added that it was “in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders.”

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H&M said clothes “and other necessities” had been donated and the H&M Foundation, which is privately funded by the founders and main owners of the group, had made donations to Save the Children and to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

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BRUSSELS — With close to a million refugees already fleeing Ukraine for the eastern nations of the European Union, the bloc is bracing for the arrival of many more as the Russian invasion continues.

EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Thursday ahead of a special meeting of justice and home affairs ministers that “we have to be prepared for millions of refugees to come to the European Union.”

The bloc is already moving toward granting temporary protection to those fleeing war, seeking to give temporary residence permits to refugees and allow them rights to education and work in the 27-nation bloc.

The EU Commission has already promised at least 500 million euros ($560 million) in humanitarian aid for the refugees. Johansson said the bloc will need funding and equipment.

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LONDON — Fitch Ratings has downgraded Russia’s credit rating, citing a “severe shock” to fundamental conditions due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Fitch said the war has raised risks to financial stability and could undermine Russia’s ability to service its government debt. It said that, in turn, will weaken the country’s finances and slow its economy, further raising geopolitical risks and uncertainty.

Among other factors, the ratings agency noted sanctions imposed by Western countries that are limiting access to foreign currency needed to repay debt and purchase imports and increased uncertainty over Russia’s willingness to pay such debts.

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BEIJING — Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games for their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.

The about-face comes less than 24 hours after the IPC on Wednesday said it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete when the Games open on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed.

The IPC received immediate criticism for its initial decision. It was termed a betrayal that sent the wrong message to Russia’s leadership. The IPC also said it was evident that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos for the Paralympics.

The IPC now joins sports like soccer, track, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.

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SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean pharmaceutical company manufacturing Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine says it’s bracing for business complications as the US-led West escalates sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

Recently expanded US sanctions include targeted measures against the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund run by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin that globally markets the Sputnik vaccines.

Kim Gi-young, an official from Seoul-based GL Rapha, said the sanctions won’t directly impede its production of the shots as the measures aren’t aimed at essential medical supplies.

However, the company is concerned about potential problems rising from the financial side as South Korea joins the United States and many European countries in a move to cut off key Russian banks from global payment systems.

“Right now, we are watching how the situation develops,” Kim said.

GL Rapha has so far produced 5 million shots of the single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine, but none of them have been used so far as Russia continues to delay rollout plans, Kim said.

GL Rapha also has an agreement with RDIF to produce 150 million shots of the two-dose Sputnik V and is participating in a consortium of South Korean companies that has been contracted to produce another 500 million doses of Sputnik V, but these shots haven’t been produced yet.

RDIF has reportedly criticized the US sanctions and said the measures would slow its promotion of Sputnik V.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates says Ukrainian passport holders continue to be eligible for visas on arrival to the Gulf state.

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry statement on Thursday came in response to media coverage quoting Ukraine’s Embassy in the UAE saying that the Gulf country is reimposing visa requirements on Ukrainians and suspending an agreement for visa-free travel between the two countries.

The energy-rich UAE, which relies on Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports, is home to some 15,000 Ukrainian residents among its roughly 8 million foreign residents and 1 million Emirati citizens. Before the coronavirus pandemic, around a quarter-million Ukrainian tourists visited the UAE.

The UAE, like other Gulf Arab states, does not recognize individuals fleeing war and has not permitted refugees from Syria, Iraq and other wars to seek asylum or seek resettlement.

The UAE, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, abstained in a UN Security Council vote late last week condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It is also chair of the Security Council.

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MAZYR, Belarus — A string of seven bus-size Russian military ambulances — their windows blocked with gray shades — pulled up to the back entrance of the main hospital about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border with Ukraine on Tuesday evening, ferrying casualties from the front.

The convoy was part of what residents and doctors said has in recent days become a steady flow of Russian soldiers wounded in fierce fighting around Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where a Russian advance has stalled in the face of strong resistance.

A doctor at the hospital — which is in southern Belarus’s Gomel region, a main staging ground for Russia’s offensive — said injured Russian troops began arriving on Monday. “I hope they don’t jail me for sharing this,” she said.

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WARSAW, Poland — The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says one of its members died during shelling in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Maryna Fenina was killed while getting supplies for her family, the group said in a news release Wednesday. Fenina worked with the organization’s monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“In Kharkiv and other cities and towns in Ukraine, missiles, shells and rockets are hitting residential buildings and town centers, killing and injuring innocent civilians — women, men and children alike,” it said.

The organization’s chairperson, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, and Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid extended their condolences.

“Our deepest condolences and sympathies go to Maryna’s family. Maryna was a valued member of the SMM team, and our colleagues in Ukraine remain in close contact with her family to offer our support,” it said.

The organization launched its Ukraine monitoring mission in 2014 in response to a request from Ukraine’s government and the consent of the group’s 57 participating states. The mission observes and reports on the situation in Ukraine and aims to facilitate dialogue.

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GENEVA — The UN refugee agency says 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion less than a week ago, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.

The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population on the move in under a week. The World Bank counted the population at 44 million at the end of 2020.

The UN agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward.

In an email, UNHCR spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams wrote: “Our data indicates we passed the 1M mark” as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.

On Twitter, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, wrote: “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”

Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, currently remains the country with the largest refugee outflows – at more than 5.6 million people, according to UNHCR figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight by refugees out of Syria, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave that country.

UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an upbeat assessment of the war and called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance.

“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not a quiet moment.”

Zelenskyy didn’t comment on whether the Russians have seized several cities, including Kherson.

“If they went somewhere, then only temporarily. We’ll drive them out,” he said.

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”

“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”

He said the Russian death toll has reached about 9,000.

“Ukraine doesn’t want to be covered in bodies of soldiers,” he said. “Go home.”

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Follow Associated Press’s coverage of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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