What to know about the conflict

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What to know about the conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country’s troops at a huge flag-waving rally in Moscow as Russian forces strike Ukrainian cities from a distance again, pounding the capital of Kyiv and the country’s west.

The war is now in its fourth week. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again appealed to Putin to hold talks with him directly.

Zelenskyy also said in his Friday nighttime video address to the nation that more than 9,000 people were able to leave besieged Mariupol in the past day, and in all more than 180,000 people have been able to flee through humanitarian corridors.

The U.N. migration agency says the fighting has displaced nearly 6.5 million people inside Ukraine, on top of the 3.2 million refugees who have already fled the country. Ukraine says thousands have been killed.

Here are some key things to know about the conflict:

WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE GROUND?

On Friday, missiles and shelling struck the edges of Kyiv, and a barrage of missiles were launched against an aircraft repair installation at an airport outside the western city of Lviv, close to the border with Poland. One person was reported killed in the Lviv attack.

Ukraine said it had shot down two of six missiles launched in the attack from the Black Sea. The early morning strike was the closest one yet to the center of Lviv, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or join the fight.

Ukrainian officials said late Friday that the besieged southern port city of Mariupol lost its access to the Azov Sea, which is connected to the much larger Black Sea.

Sumy, Ukraine, warehouse bursts into flamrd
A warehouse with household goods is seen on fire after shelling, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Sumy, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 18.
via REUTERS

In city after city around Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought safety have been attacked.

Ukrainian officials said a fireman was killed when Russian forces shelled an area where firefighters were trying to put out a blaze in the village of Nataevka.

Early morning barrages hit a residential building in the Podil neighborhood of Kyiv, killing at least one person, according to emergency services. Kyiv’s mayor said 19 were wounded in the shelling, just north of downtown Kyiv.

Two other people were killed when strikes hit residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to the regional governor.

Britain’s defense intelligence chief says Russia is shifting to a ”strategy of attrition” after failing to take major cities. Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull warned that the strategy will entail “reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower” that will worsen the humanitarian crisis.

MEANWHILE, IN OUTER SPACE

Three Russian cosmonauts arrived Friday at the International Space Station, and as they floated into it in zero gravity, they were wearing bright yellow flight suits with blue accents. Those are the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Later, the cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth, and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev was asked about the flight suits. He said every crew chooses its own flight suits and “in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow.”

Since the war started, many people have used the Ukrainian flag and its colors to show solidarity with the country. It was unclear what message, if any, the yellow uniforms were intended to send.

HOW BIG WAS THE MOSCOW RALLY?

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people attended the rally and a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine. But several Telegram channels critical of the Kremlin reported that students and employees of state institutions were ordered to attend rallies and concerts marking the anniversary. Those reports could not be independently verified.

Earlier this week, Putin likened domestic opponents of the war to “gnats” who try to weaken Russia at the behest of the West. Hundreds of protesters have been detained across Russia. Russian authorities have also continued to block independent news outlets. In a video message to the Russian people, film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger called all the Russians who have been in the streets protesting the invasion of Ukraine “my new heroes.” He said the Kremlin is lying to Russians about the war.

 Ukrainian policemen carry a body down the street in Kyiv.
Ukrainian policemen carry a body away from a five-story residential building that partially collapsed after a shelling in Kyiv on March 18.
AFP via Getty Images

WHAT ARE WORLD LEADERS DOING?

President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke Friday for nearly two hours via video as the U.S. looks to deter Beijing from providing military or economic aid for Russia’s invasion. Biden described the consequences the Chinese would face from the U.S. if they provide military or economic assistance for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to detail possible consequences but a senior administration official said Biden pointed to the economic isolation that Russia has faced.

For his part, Xi urged the U.S. and Russia to negotiate and blamed the U.S. for the crisis

French President Emmanuel Macron pressed for an immediate cease-fire in a phone call Friday with Putin. Macron’s office said Putin laid the blame on Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also pressed Putin for a cease-fire in a Friday conversation.

Biden plans to travel to Europe next week for talks with European leaders about the Russian invasion, and will attend an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels.

WHERE DO RUSSIAN-UKRAINE TALKS STAND?

The head of the Russian delegation in talks with Ukrainian officials says the parties have come closer to an agreement on a neutral status for Ukraine — one of the key Russian demands as its offensive continues. Vladimir Medinsky said Friday that the sides also have narrowed their differences on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO.

But Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted: “Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”

WHAT IS THE CIVILIAN TOLL IN THE WAR SO FAR?

The U.N. human rights office says that it has recorded a total of 816 civilians killed and 1,333 injured since the fighting began on Feb. 24, though it only reports counts that it can verify. It believes the figures vastly understate the actual toll. Ukrainian officials say thousands have been killed.

injured Ukrainian woman with blood on her face
An injured woman is evacuated from a building damaged by shelling in Kyiv on March 18.
via REUTERS

WHAT HAS THE AP DIRECTLY WITNESSED OR CONFIRMED?

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, AP journalists are relaying images of destruction, distress, and defiance from across the country.

A soldier standing guard near the site of the strike in Lviv said he heard three blasts in quick succession around 6 a.m. A nearby resident described his building vibrating from the explosions and people panicking. Smoke continued to rise from the site hours later.

HOW IS THE WORLD RESPONDING TO THE WAR?

The United States and its allies have put a slew of sanctions in place aimed at crippling the Russian economy. Hundreds of international companies have announced that they are curtailing operations in Russia, and those who remain are under pressure to pull out.

Pope Francis on Friday denounced what he called the “perverse abuse of power” in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for aid for Ukrainians whose identity, history and tradition are under attack. Francis’ comments were some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state.

Aid agencies are ramping up their efforts to deliver relief supplies to civilians affected by the fighting and refugees who have fled Ukraine. The Polish city of Rzeszow, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border, has become a humanitarian hub for the region.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine here.

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