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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a video address to the US Congress. Alamy

As it happened: Mariupol theatre sheltering civilians bombed, Taoiseach speaks with Zelenskyy

Ukraine says it sees possible room for compromise in talks with Russia.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Mar 2022

HERE ARE THE major developments on the 21st day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • Russian forces bombed a theatre in Mariupol where civilians were sheltering, Ukrainian officials said.
  • Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
  • The UN’s International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop its invasion.
  • Zelenskyy called for a no-fly zone and more sanctions in an address to the US congress.
  • France opened a war crimes probe into the killing of Franco-Irish journalist Pierre Zakrzewski.
  • Russian forces killed 10 people standing in line for bread in the city of Chernihiv, US and Ukrainian officials said.
  • Ukraine says it sees possible room for compromise in talks with Russia.
  • Kyiv officials say Russian forces shelled an apartment block this morning.
  • NATO’s secretary general said the countries in the organisation are united on not implementing a no-fly zone.
  • A curfew has been imposed in Ukraine’s capital as it faces a “dangerous moment”.

Good morning, Hayley Halpin here. To kick things off here’s a quick update on the latest from the situation in Ukraine:

  • Ukraine says it seespossible room for compromise in talks with Russia.
  • After delegations from Ukraine and Russia met again yesterday via video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic”. Talks are to continue today.
  • Zelenskyy also said his country should accept that it will not become a member of NATO.
  • The leaders of three EU countries — Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia — visited Kyiv yesterday
  • Two journalists working for Fox News were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by fire on Monday on the outskirts of Kyiv, the network said. One of these journalists was an Irish citizen, Pierre Zakrzewski.
  • Around 20,000 people have left the besieged port city of Mariupol by driving along a humanitarian corridor agreed with Russian forces. 
  • More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, the UN migration agency IOM has said. 
  • 97 Ukrainian children have died since the invasion began, Zelenskyy told Canadian lawmakers.
  • A 35-hour curfew has begun in the Ukrainian capital.
  • US President Joe Biden will announce $800 million in new security assistance to Ukraine on Wednesday, a White House official said.
  • Russia’s foreign ministry said it is launching a procedure to exit the Council of Europe.

In its latest update, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) says Russia’s advance in Ukraine has been stymied by a lack of manoeuvrability, which has been “adeptly exploited” by the Ukrainian forces.

It tweeted: “Russian forces are struggling to overcome the challenges posed by Ukraine’s terrain.

“Russian forces have remained largely tied to Ukraine’s road network and have demonstrated a reluctance to conduct off-road manoeuvre. The destruction of bridges by Ukrainian forces has also played a key role in stalling Russia’s advance.

“Russia’s continued failure to gain control of the air has drastically limited their ability to effectively use air manoeuvre, further limiting their options.

“The tactics of the Ukrainian armed forces have adeptly exploited Russia’s lack of manoeuvre, frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces.”

Explosions in Kyiv

Several explosions rocked Kyiv early this morning, according to AFP journalists in the city, with emergency services saying two residential buildings were damaged and two people wounded.

At least three loud explosions were heard just after dawn in the western part of the city, and thick clouds of smoke billowed into the sky.

“Two residential buildings were damaged in an overnight bombardment in the central part of Kyiv, Shevchenkivskyi district. Two people reported wounded, 35 evacuated,” the Ukrainian state emergency service said on Telegram.

Images released by the emergency services showed the top corner of one building had been partially destroyed, while the other had damage and scorch marks to its roof and upper part.

AFP said it was not possible to immediately visit the scene as journalists are restricted from moving around the city during the curfew, which lasts until Thursday morning.

netherlands-peace-palacethe-hague The Peace Palace in The Hague. It houses the International Court of Justice. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

The UN’s top court is set to rule today on Ukraine’s urgent request for Russia to immediately halt its invasion, with Kyiv claiming that Moscow falsely accused its pro-Western neighbour of genocide to justify the war.

The International Court of Justice will hand down its judgement at 3pm in The Hague after Ukraine filed an urgent application shortly after Russia’s attack on 24 February.

Ukraine accuses Russia of illegally trying to justify its war by falsely alleging genocide in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Kyiv wants the court to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations.”

“Russia must be stopped, and the court has a role to play in stopping that,” Ukraine’s representative Anton Korynevych told the ICJ.

Russia snubbed hearings on 7 and 8 March, arguing in a written filing that the ICJ “did not have jurisdiction” because Kyiv’s request fell outside of the scope of the 1948 Genocide Convention on which it based its case.

“The government of the Russian Federation respectfully requests the Court to refrain from indicating provisional measures and to remove the case from its list,” Moscow said, arguing that it had not appeared because it did not have enough time to prepare.

But Moscow justified its use of force in Ukraine, saying “it was acting in self-defence”.

Russian forces have targeted the southern Ukraine city of Zaporizhzhia, where thousands of refugees are taking shelter after escaping the besieged port city of Mariupol, regional officials said.

“Civilian objects have been bombed for the first time in Zaporizhzhia,” the regional governor Alexander Starukh wrote on the Telegram social media platform.

“The rockets landed in the area of the Zaporozhye-2 railway station,” he added, specifying that there were no casualties.

The city of Zaporizhzhia is the first safe port of call for those fleeing Mariupol.

Many then head to the country’s west, to Poland or other bordering countries.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said there was no guarantee sanctioned oligarchs like Roman Abramovich would be free to return to the UK after the Russian war with Ukraine ends.

Truss also said she did not think the conflict was “near the end”, in comments made on Sky News.

Put to her that Abramovich could return once Russian troops had withdrawn, Truss said: “No, I haven’t said that.

“Because I’m saying even if the war was to end – and I fear we are not near the end, at this stage – huge devastation has been caused, lives have been lost as a result of this war.

“And there will need to be a reckoning with all the people who supported Putin, including Abramovich.”

She said the UK was working with allies “in the G7 and beyond” to ensure oligarchs have “nowhere where it is legitimate for them to live their lifestyles, have their yachts or have their planes”.

France has called for the protection of journalists covering Russia’s war in Ukraine, following the deaths of a Fox News cameraman and a Ukrainian producer near Kyiv.

“I recall the obligation incumbent on armed forces to protect journalists in line with international humanitarian law,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

“I condemn any action targeting them with the greatest firmness,” he said, adding that “these events illustrate the extreme danger in the Ukrainian theatre today”.

Fox News said yesterday that French-Irish cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova died and correspondent Benjamin Hall was wounded when their vehicle was struck Monday by incoming fire in Horenka, outside the Ukrainian capital.

Le Drian singled out Zakrzewski as someone “who covered a great number of theatres of war as a passionate fighter for the right to inform”.

“I address my sincerest condolences to his and to Oleksandra Kuvshynova’s families,” he added.

The minister also recalled the names of other journalists killed in the three weeks of conflict so far, including US documentary maker Brent Renaud and Ukrainian journalist Evgeny Sakun.

The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights chief Lyudmyla Denisova said Tuesday that another Ukrainian journalist, Viktor Dudar, was killed in fighting around the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

Stephen O’Dea was a classmate of Pierre Zakrsewski, the Irish journalist killed in Ukraine. They both attended St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge. He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today that Pierre was “a great guy to be with and instinctively trustworthy”.

He said: 

“He’s the kind of guy who if you hadn’t seen him for ten years you’d still give him your life savings to deposit in the bank. He just had that rare quality that not many people have.” 

He said one of their friends was talking to Pierre on Sunday and “it was very clear things were getting very grim and tricky”.

Delegations from the Polish, Slovenian and Czech governments have returned safely to Poland, a Polish government spokesperson has said. 

The leaders Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia visited Kyiv yesterday

Chernobyl update

Belarus is supplying electricity to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power station, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, local Belarusian authorities have said.

Power at the facility was knocked out on Monday according to Ukrainian authorities after Russian forces damaged a power line, but the International Atomic Energy Agency said later that day it had been informed external power had been restored. It said work was underway to reconnect the facility to the power grid.

“The electrical supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power station is completely restored,” the Belarusian energy ministry said in a statement published on the Telegram page of the Gomel region.

“At the current time the electricity supply is being provided from the Belarusian power grid,” it added.

The website of the Belarusian energy ministry was unavailable.

Radiation around the power plant, which exploded in 1986 killing hundreds and spreading a radioactive cloud across Europe, remain at normal levels, the statement said citing local monitors.

The station is located close to the Belarusian border.

The retired Chernobyl nuclear reactors are enclosed in a giant steel and concrete sarcophagus but electricity is needed to power security systems including the cooling systems for the spent nuclear fuel storage facility.

But the IAEA said earlier this month that given the time that has passed since the accident in 1986, the heat load and the volume of the cooling pools are together “sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply”.

More from the peace talks now. 

Russia has said tht Ukrainian neutrality was taking centre stage at ongoing talks between Moscow and Kyiv.

Separately, Moscow’s lead negotiator said his delegation was pushing for Ukraine to assume a status comparable Sweden or Austria, two neutral countries in western Europe.

The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations aimed at finding common ground and bringing the hostilities to a halt.

Ukraine’s “neutral status is now being discussed seriously, of course, alongside security guarantees,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told the RBK business news outlet in an interview.

Details here on Irish aid being delivered to Ukraine. 

Nine fully equipped ambulances, which have been stocked with extra medical supplies, will be leaving Rosslare Europort this evening. 

The ambulances, which have been donated by the HSE will be leaving Lifelife Ambulance Services, where the ambulances will be loaded with the equipment on site.

The ambulances will then be driven to Rosslare Port, where they are scheduled to leave Ireland on the 9.30pm ferry this evening. They will arrive in Ukraine later this week.

Ukraine has rejected proposals pushed by Russia for it to adopt a neutral status comparable to Austria or Sweden, saying talks with Moscow to end fighting should focus on “security guarantees”.

“Ukraine is now in a direct state of war with Russia. Consequently, the model can only be ‘Ukrainian’ and only on legally verified security guarantees,” its top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said in comments published by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office.

In its latest clampdown, Russia has banned the website Bellingcat. 

The website had been documenting and debunking certain aspects of the Russian invasion. 

Bellingcat is an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation to probe a variety of subjects.

Economic experts have warned that Russia could start defaulting on its international debt within the coming hours due to sanctions imposed on the nation. 

Moscow would face its first default in decades if it fails to make €107 million in interest payments on two dollar-denominated bonds.

Sanctions over Russia’s operation in Ukraine have targeted $300 billion of its foreign currency reserves held abroad.

An update from Ukraine’s foreign minister. 

Immigrant Council visiting Ukrainian border

Teresa Buczkowska, the integration manager of the Immigrant Council of Ireland is currently on a fact-finding mission to the Ukrainian border to identify how Ireland can best support refugees fleeing from the war.

The mission will primarily focus on assessing the needs of unaccompanied minors fleeing from Ukraine and whether the Immigrant Council of ireland need to play a further role supporting organisations on the ground financially.

Buczkowska said:

It is important that we travel to the Ukrainian border to assess the situation on the ground, so that we can ensure that our efforts in Ireland in supporting refugees are sufficient, and that we are providing relief in the right areas.

Some more info on the peace talks here.

Mikhailo Podolyak, the top Ukrainian negotiator called for a legally binding security agreement that would also be signed by international countries so they would “not stand aside in the event of an attack on Ukraine, as they do today.”

The UK’s Ministry of Defence have put out a new map of the war in Ukraine, detailing Russian attacks on cities around the country.

According to the MoD, the map is based on the latest intelligence coming from Ukraine.

FN-FAyUWUAADGoT UK Ministry of Defence UK Ministry of Defence

Alongside Bellingcat, the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has blocked at least a dozen media outlets today.

AFP have said this afternoon that they were unable to access at least dozen Russian and foreign-based media platforms within Russia.

These include Bellingcat, a Russian-language Israeli news site and other regional news sites, like

Head of “Russian Google” stands down due to sanctions

The CEO of Russian tech company Yandex, Tigran Khudaverdyan, has stepped down due to sanctions which were placed on him by the West.

The company, dubbed the “Russian Google”, is registered in the Netherlands and has subsidiaries in the EU, UK and US but a majority of its business is done in Russian speaking countries.

Only Khudaverdyan was targeted by Western sanctions and the company was not directly targeted.

In a statement, Yandex said:

Tigran Khudaverdyan has stepped down with immediate effect from his positions as Executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Yandex.

Over the past 15 years Tigran has worked tirelessly to help to transform Yandex into a world-class information technology business while serving the interests of the company’s stakeholders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to address the US Congress at 1pm Irish time.

Zelenskyy has previously addressed other parliaments, including the European Parliament as well as the House of Commons in the UK.

russian-invasion-of-ukraine Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy PA PA

Just in: The US Embassy in Ukraine have said that Russian soldiers killed 10 civilians standing in line for bread in the city of Chernihiv.

‘This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years’: Zelenskyy

Speaking to the US Congress this afternoon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has compared the Russian invasion of Ukraine to both Pearl Harbour and the 9/11 attacks.

He further called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying that “Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death”.

“This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years,” said Zelenskyy.

president-zelensky-address-to-the-nation-ukraine Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ABACA / PA Images ABACA / PA Images / PA Images

Zelenskyy said that he was grateful for the help provided by the US but said that additional sanctions were needed on a weekly basis to stop the Russian invasion.

He said that these new sanctions were needed “until the Russian military machine stops”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on US President Joe Biden to be the “leader of peace” as he concluded his speech to the US Congress this afternoon.

He received a standing ovation for his speech.

US lawmakers watched a moving video of the destruction caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Zelenskyy addressed the US Congress this afternoon. 

As somber music played in the background, the short video showed ruined buildings and injured civilians including children, with the final frame showing the words “close the sky” in an appeal for a no-fly zone.

The brothers of Fox cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski have said he was “so proud” of being Irish and that he would want to be remembered as a truth teller. 

Greg and Nick Zakrzewski told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that the family is “on autopilot” and that they “haven’t processed anything” since they heard the news of his death. 

Pierre was killed alongside Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire in Horenka, outside of Kyiv, on Monday. Their colleague Benjamin Hall was wounded and remains in hospital.

Nick said the days since Pierre’s death have been a rollercoaster. 

“Just the messages coming in, the memories of everyone coming in and the condolences coming in from everyone, it’s been a real rollercoaster,” he said.

Russia expelled from Council of Europe

The Council of Europe has officially expelled Russia from the continent’s foremost human rights body in an unprecedented move over its invasion and war in Ukraine.

The 47-nation organisation’s committee of ministers said today that “the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from today, after 26 years of membership.”

The expulsion comes after Russia’s foreign ministry said yesterday that it was launching a procedure to exit the council.

In an interview on Russian TV foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO and EU countries of “abusing their majority in the council, eventually transforming it into a tool for anti-Russian policy.”

Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, immediately welcomed the decision, posting on Twitter that there was “no place for Russia in European bodies as it wages a barbaric war of aggression against Ukraine and commits multiple war crimes.”

Putin says 'economic blitzkrieg' against Moscow has failed

Vladimir Putin has said that the West’s “economic blitzkrieg” against Moscow has failed, while telling his government to increase social payments amid what he called a “not easy” period.

“Yes, it is not easy for us now,” Putin said at a government meeting, announcing an “increase of all social payments in the near future”. He added that the West had “one aim: the destruction of Russia” but that its “economic blitzkrieg against Russia has failed”.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan has visited Ukraine and held a video call with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The pair met virtually, the Hague-based court tweeted. “We agreed all efforts are needed to ensure international humanitarian law is respected and to protect the civilian population,” Khan said.

Khan last week urged parties to Ukraine’s conflict not to use heavy, high-explosive weapons in populated areas as the Russian military continued its bombardments of homes and civilian infrastructure.

The prosecutor opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 3, after getting the green light from more than 40 ICC states parties.

Some more information has emerged on the reported bread line killings in Chernigiv.

Ukrainian prosecutors have issued a statement saying that 10 people were killed by Russian forces while waiting in a line to collect bread in the northern city.

“At 10:00 am (8am irish time), servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces fired at people standing in line for bread near a grocery store. According to preliminary data, 10 civilians were killed,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement.

The Financial Times Moscow Bureau Chief Max Seddon has some potentially positive news to report on the ongoing talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives.

A task force is being set up to pursue Russian oligarchs and violators of the sanctions imposed on Russia.

Representatives from the US, the European Commission, Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan held a meeting today to discuss the matter.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the task force will co-ordinate efforts to “freeze and seize assets of these individuals in jurisdictions around the world and deny safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.”

Garland said the United States is “already working with our international partners to freeze and seize properties belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs worldwide.

International Court of Justice orders Russia to stop invasion

The UN’s top court has ordered Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine, saying it was “profoundly concerned” by Moscow’s use of force.

“The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend military operations that it commenced on 24 February on the territory of Ukraine,” pending the final decision in the case, judge Joan Donoghue told the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Zelenskyy has welcomed the news that the International Court of Justice has called on Russia to immediately stop its military actions in Ukraine. 

“Russia must comply immediately. Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further,” the Ukrainian leader tweeted.

bbc-sign-above-entrance-to-new-east-wing-extension-to-broadcasting-house Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Russia’s media watchdog has blocked access to the BBC’s main news website, with Moscow’s foreign ministry warning of more retaliatory measures against the media.

“I think this is only the beginning of retaliatory measures to the information war unleashed by the West against Russia,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram. 

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says Zelenskyy united the US Congress with his speech earlier today.

“Congress and the American people stand with the people of Ukraine,” Schumer tweeted.

Mariupol attack

Ukraine says Russian rocket attacks on a convoy fleeing the besieged port city of Mariupol has claimed the lives of civilians, including children, after earlier strikes targeted a nearby hub for displaced people.

“Today at around 3.30pm (13:30 Irish time), a column of civilians being evacuated from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia was fired on by inhuman Russian occupiers,” the Ukrainian military said, adding that “the number of victims is being clarified”.

The Associated Press has shared more video footage of Zelenskyy’s address to the US Congress.

A star dancer has quit Russia’s best known ballet.

Prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has quit the Bolshoi in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet, becoming the biggest star to leave Russia over the war in Ukraine.

The 30-year-old’s departure from Russia’s most prestigious cultural institution carries echoes of defections during the Cold War.

Smirnova, considered one of the greatest dancers of her generation, had already expressed her opposition to the war on messaging app Telegram earlier this month, saying she “cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe”.

moscow-russia-30th-nov-2021-principal-dancer-artemy-belyakov-as-woland-l-and-principal-dancer-olga-smirnova-as-margarita-perform-during-the-final-dress-rehearsal-of-the-ballet-adaptation-of-bulg Olga Smirnova (right) performing as Margarita perform during the ballet adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita late last year. Vladimir Gerdo / TASS/Alamy Live News Vladimir Gerdo / TASS/Alamy Live News / TASS/Alamy Live News

The Dutch National Ballet confirmed the departure in a statement, saying: “Smirnova was outspoken in her recent denouncement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is making it untenable for her to work in her native country.”

In her Telegram post, Smirnova had said: “I am against war with all the fibres of my soul.

“It is not only about every other Russian perhaps having relatives or friends living in Ukraine, or about my grandfather being Ukrainian…. It is that we continue to live as if this were the 20th century.”

Netflix in the US has made Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s ‘Servant of the People’ TV show available on the platform again.

The former actor and current Ukrainian President starred in the show on Ukrainian television from 2015 to 2019.

In the programme Zelenskyy played a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine after a video of him complaining about corruption goes viral.

The show ended production when Zelenskyy decided to run for president in 2019 as a member of the Servant of the People political party.

One of Ukraine’s negotiators in the ongoing diplomatic talks says a Financial Times report about a proposed peace plan between Moscow and Kyiv only shows the “requesting position of the Russian side.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukraine has its own requesting positions in the negotiations.

“The only thing we confirm at this stage is a ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees from a number of countries,” he said.

an-post-sign-irish-post-ireland Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An Post has announced that it has recommenced postal services to Ukraine.

It’s also said that postage for letters and parcels to Ukraine for all Ukrainians in Ireland will also be free.

The postal service is waiving all fees for financial donations to charity appeals for Ukraine and for all money transfers by Western Union to and from Ukraine.

It’s also offering fee-free An Post Current Accounts and free An Post Mobile SIM cards to people arriving from Ukraine (with free calls and texts to Ukraine) and providing access to its secure personal Address Point service for those in temporary accommodation. 

Theatre sheltering civilians bombed

Russian forces bombed a theatre where civilians were sheltering in Mariupol, the city council said.

The council posted an image of the theatre showing it sustained heavy damage in attack today.

It said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.”

“The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding. It said casualty numbers were being confirmed.”

The number of casualties is not yet known.

Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba has shared photos showing the aftermath of the attack on the theatre in Mariupol alongside an image showing what the building looked like previously.

US President Joe Biden has announced that America is sending “longer range” anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine.

The Democrat also announced $1 billion in new security help, promising Ukraine America’s “unprecedented” support in its war with Russia.

The cash includes $200 million allocated over the weekend and $800 million in new funds from an aid package approved last week by Congress.

“These are direct transfers of equipment from our Department of Defense to the Ukrainian military to help them as they fight against this invasion,” Biden said.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said today that the alliance was looking to substantially bolster forces on its eastern flank, but would not send troops to Ukraine.

It comes after NATO member Poland yesterday suggested the alliance deploy an armed “peace mission” in Ukraine to provide humanitarian aid in the face of Moscow’s invasion.

“We support peace efforts, we call on Russia, on President (Vladimir) Putin to withdraw its forces, but we have no plans of deploying NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told journalists after a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

Mariupol’s deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov has told the BBC that between 1,000 and 1,200 people were in the theatre that was hit by Russian bombing.

The number of casualties is still unknown.

Spain has impounded a third yacht owned by a Russian oligarch as part of the package of sanctions against Russia by the EU.

The Spanish transport ministry said that they impounded the 135-foot long yacht, named the Crescent, and it can no longer leave the port of Tarragona until Spanish authorities determine whether or not it belongs or is under the control of someone on the sanctions list.

It reportedly belongs to Ivor Sechin, the head of Russian oil company Rosneft and an ally of Vladimir Putin.

Closer to home, Minister of State for Communities and Charities, Joe O’Brien, has met with local community groups to discuss how the Irish community can respond to the war in Ukraine, particularly on the humanitarian efforts.

O’Brien met with 150 organisations, including local government, to work out the community response to the humanitarian crisis arising from Ukraine.

He called for Irish people to show the same cooperation and spirit that was seen during the Covid-19 crisis.

European Court of Human Rights suspend all petitions against Russia

Following Russia exiting the Council of Europe earlier today, the European Court of Human Rights have suspended all petitions against Russia.

In a statement this afternoon, the court said:

The court has decided to suspend the examination of all applications against the Russian federation pending its consideration of the legal consequences of this resolution for the work of the court.

The first criminal cases under a new Russian law against spreading false information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have gotten underway today.

The law was first signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 4 March and people who break it can receive up to 15 years for publishing “knowingly false information” about the Russian military.

Taoiseach speaks with President Zelenskyy

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this evening.

Martin told Zelenskyy that the Irish people “stand fully behind Ukraine”.

Zelenskyy thanked the Irish people for their humanitarian aid and shelter as well as giving sympathies of journalist Pierre Zakrzewski.

More on the call between Zelenskyy and Martin here.

The Journal understands that it was a scheduled call and that it lasted approximately 20 minutes.

It’s understood that Martin told Zelenskyy that everyone in Ireland admired his great leadership in the face of an invasion by Russia.

He also added that Ireland was fully behind Ukraine’s EU membership hopes.

Martin told him: 

From the people of Ireland, the admiration of you and your people is very high. We as a government reflect that. They are behind you.

Zelenskyy offered his sympathies to the family of Irish journalist, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed in Ukraine while covering the war.

Here’s President Zelenskyy’s readout on the call with the Taoiseach:

US President Joe Biden has called Russia’s Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” over his invasion of Ukraine.

“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden told reporters.

France opens war crime probe into death of Irish citizen

French prosecutors have opened a war crime probe into the death of Franco-Irish Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski who was shot near Kyiv.

The probe by France’s specialised anti-terror prosecutors will investigate possible charges of causing “deliberate harm to a person protected by international law” and a “deliberate attack against a civilian who was not taking part in hostilities.”

Further details on the Taoiseach’s phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy can be read here.

Five killed in Chernihiv 

Ukrainian emergency officials say five people, including three children, were killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.

Emergency workers recovered the five bodies from under the rubble of a multi-storeyed apartment building, Ukraine’s emergencies ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

The Kremlin has responded to Joe Biden branding Vladimir Putin a war criminal.

“We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the state news agencies TASS and Ria Novosti.

Biden’s assessment tallies with that of Human Rights expert Professor Ray Murphy who told The Journal he believes Putin is guilty of the crime of aggression, which involves large-scale and serious aggression using state military force. 

Sviatoslav Yurash, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, has paid tribute to Oleksandra Kuvshynova – who was killed near Kyiv while working for Fox News alongside Irish citizen Pierre Zakrzewski.

“Her I loved. Decade of happiness and sadness, joy and pain, meaning and loss. Only death could have parted us,” Yurash wrote about 24-year-old Oleksandra.

“Now I learn to hate. You shall never be forgotten. They shall never be forgiven.”

Melitopol mayor released after being abducted by Russians

Ukrainian authorities say the mayor of Melitopol has been released after he was abducted by invading Russian forces.

According to the Ukrainian president and parliament, mayor Ivan Fedorov was abducted on Friday by Russian soldiers occupying the southern city because he “refused to cooperate with the enemy”.

Today a video posted on Telegram showed President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to him on the phone and telling him he was “happy to hear the voice of a man alive”.

Fedorov replies he is “much better”.

“Thank you for not abandoning me. I will need one or two days to recover and then I will be at your disposal to contribute to our victory,” he says.

The parliament said the mayor was seized while at the city’s crisis centre dealing with supply issues.

Mariupol theatre bombing update

Authorities in Mariupol say “hundreds” of civilians were taking shelter in the theatre hit by Russian forces.

“Russia purposefully destroyed the Drama Theatre, where hundreds of people are hiding,” Mariupol city authorities said in a statement on Telegram.

Officials posted a photo of the theatre building, whose middle part was completely destroyed, with thick white smoke rising from the rubble. Officials said a bomb was dropped on the building from an airplane.

Satellite images of the theatre on 14 March, shared by private satellite company Maxar, showed the words “children” clearly etched out in the ground in Russian on either side of the building.

City authorities were trying to establish the number of casualties, but their efforts were hampered by the fact that residential neighborhoods were under shelling.

“It is impossible to find words to describe the level of cynicism and cruelty, with which Russian invaders are destroying peaceful residents of a Ukrainian city by the sea,” the official statement read.

Russia’s defence ministry denied that its forces bombed the city today and stated the building was destroyed in an explosion set off by Ukraine’s nationalist Azov battalion.

Moscow has already blamed the military unit for last week’s bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, which sparked an international outcry.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has issued a statement on Russia being excluded from the Council of Europe.

“The decision is unprecedented in the 73-year history of the Council of Europe, of which Ireland is proud to be a founding member,” Coveney said.

“It reflects the strongest possible condemnation of Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, another Council of Europe member, and its disavowal of the values, principles, and legal obligations which membership of the Council of Europe entails.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ international St Patrick’s Day video is a lot different this year as it focuses on Ukraine.

In case you missed it earlier, the only way we can wrap things up this evening is by sharing the devastating video Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy played for the US Congress today.

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