Ukraine war: Convoy of evacuee buses reaches Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv confirms

A child is helped off a bus at the registration center in Zaporizhzhia, where the International Committee of the Red Cross has a team waiting to head to Mariupol. 1/4/2022.
A child is helped off a bus at the registration center in Zaporizhzhia, where the International Committee of the Red Cross has a team waiting to head to Mariupol. 1/4/2022.   -  Copyright  EMRE CAYLAK / AFP
By Euronews  with AFP, AP

The buses, carrying residents of Mariupol who had managed to reach the city of Berdyansk, arrived in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Friday evening.

With Russia's war in Ukraine into its second month, Putin's forces have continued to pound towns and cities from afar as Moscow's military offensive stalls in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance.

Millions have fled their homes, creating Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II. Thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed, and the Russian bombardments have left widespread devastation.

The Russian invasion has caused political and shockwaves around the world, deepening the rupture between Moscow and the West.

See a summary of Friday's events in our blog below, and watch the report in the video player above.


Friday's key points to know: 

  • A 30-bus convoy taking evacuees to safety, including residents of Mariupol, arrived in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Friday evening, AFP reports.
  • Earlier the Red Cross said its team intending to help people leave the besieged port city was unable to reach its destinationy and had to turn back. It will try again on Saturday.
  • Ukraine denied reponsibility for an attack on a fuel depot inside Russian territory. Russia had accused Kyiv of sending helicopter gunships across the border to attack the site at Belgorod. 
  • Russia and Ukraine resumed peace talks via video link on Friday.
  • Moscow says its demand that natural gas be paid for in roubles doesn’t mean supplies will be immediately interrupted. The Kremlin says payments on current supplies must be made in a month's time.
  • It follows Vladimir Putin's threat on Thursday to terminate contracts unless "unfriendly" foreign buyers paid in roubles for Russian gas from Friday. Germany and France have reiterated that European countries will continue to pay in euros or dollars.
  • The war in Ukraine has pushed the eurozone's inflation to a record 7.5%, new figures show.
  • President Zelenskyy said Russians are withdrawing from key northern and central areas but building up for a new offensive in the southeast.
  • Australia announced on Friday it would send more armoured vehicles to Ukraine to help the war effort.
  • Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early Friday after returning control to the Ukrainians.

Convoy of evacuee buses reaches Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine confirms

A column of buses carrying displaced people, including residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, arrived in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia on Friday evening, AFP reports.

The buses were carrying residents of Mariupol who had managed to reach the city of Berdyansk, occupied by Russian forces, where they had been picked up by the convoy, those who arrived told AFP and officials.

The information was confirmed by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, in a video on Telegram.

"As of today, as we are recording this video, the buses are already on their way, bringing residents of Mariupol, 42 buses, to safety," she said.

AFP was able to observe about 30 buses.

“We know how much you hope to be saved. Every day we will try and try again to get through until you have a chance to leave the city, and most importantly, to live peacefully,” Vereshchouk added.

She said on Thursday that the Ukrainian government was sending 45 buses to evacuate civilians from Mariupol after Moscow announced a truce to allow them to leave.

The ICRC, which was to take part in the evacuation, announced on Friday that its team sent to Mariupol had to turn back, as the planned evacuation of thousands of civilians from the port city besieged by Russian forces was "impossible" on Friday.



Red Cross evacuation attempt from Mariupol fails

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said a team intending to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol was unable to reach the port city on Friday.

The Red Cross said in a statement that the team hopes to try again Saturday.

“Arrangements and conditions made it impossible" for the convoy of three vehicles to get safely to Mariupol and they returned to Zaporizhzhia, it said.

“For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the organisation said.

The team had to turn back because "conditions made it impossible to continue" the mission, and they returned toZaporizhzhia, 250 km to the northwest, according to the Red Cross.

"They will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol", a port city devastated by Russian bombing and fighting, added the Red Cross.

(AFP and AP)


Russian Chernobyl withdrawal a 'step in right direction' — IAEA

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Russian forces’ departure from the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant is “a step in the right direction” and the U.N. nuclear watchdog plans to be there “very, very soon.”

IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi says he will head a support mission to Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, and that further nuclear safety missions to Ukraine will follow.

Grossi spoke Friday after visits to Ukraine and Russia. He said Russian nuclear and foreign ministry officials didn’t discuss with him why Russian forces left Chernobyl.

Of the overall situation in the area, he said: “The general radiation situation around the plant is quite normal. There was a relatively higher level of localized radiation because of the movement of heavy vehicles at the time of the occupation of the plant, and apparently this might have been the case again on the way out.”

Ukraine’s state power company said Russian troops received “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the exclusion zone around the plant. But Grossi said “we don’t have any confirmation” that soldiers were contaminated.



Macron vows to persevere with Mariupol evacuation plan after Zelenskyy call

French President Emmanuel Macron promised to keep working to establish a sustainable humanitarian corridor in and out of Mariupol in talks Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy appealed to Macron to continue diplomatic efforts to get Russia to agree to conditions for evacuation and aid, according to Macron’s office. That includes a durable cease-fire announced far enough in advance to be able to organize help.

The French leader has been trying for a week to arrange help for Mariupol, so far without evident success.

Macron’s office said France is working to ensure that people fleeing Mariupol can go “in the direction of their choosing,” and that France is available to help civilians displaced by the war to settle elsewhere in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy tweeted after the call: “Told about countering Russian aggression. Discussed the negotiation process - the course and prospects, the importance of security guarantees. The initiative of (France) on humanitarian corridors from Mariupol must be implemented!”



Ukraine denies it was behind Russian fuel depot attack

The secretary of Ukraine’s national security council has denied the country was responsible for a reported attack on a Russian fuel depot.

Moscow had earlier placed the blame on Ukraine. There was no independent confirmation of details about the incident.

“For some reason they say that we did it, but in fact this does not correspond with reality,” Oleksiy Danilov said on Ukrainian television on Friday.

Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said earlier that two Ukrainian helicopter gunships had flown at low altitude and struck the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border.

Two workers at the depot were injured, he said. But Russian media cited a statement from state oil company Rosneft that denied anyone was hurt.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy’s office said 86 Ukrainian service members were freed in the Zaporizhzhia region as part of a prisoner swap with Russia. The number of Russians released was not disclosed.



International Energy Agency member states agree to release oil from emergency reserves

The 31 member states of the International Energy Agency (IEA) agreed on Friday to a new release of oil from emergency reserves in response to the market turmoil driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the agency said in a statement following an extraordinary meeting of the governing board.

The member countries had pledged just last month to release a total of 62.7 million barrels; the details of the new oil release will be made public next week.

"The Ministers noted that Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to put significant strains on global oil markets, resulting in heightened price volatility," the statement said.

Russia is the world's third-largest oil producer and its largest exporter. Its exports of about 5 million barrels a day of crude oil represent roughly 12% of global trade, the IEA said. Around 60% of those exports go to Europe.

IEA members hold 1.5 billion barrels in emergency stockpiles, the agency added.


At least 53 cultural sites in Ukraine damaged by Russian invasion, UNESCO says

At least 53 cultural sites have been damaged in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reported on Friday.

Among the sites are 29 religious sites, 16 historic buildings, four museums and four monuments, the damage of which UNESCO was able to verify by satellite imagery and people on the spot, a spokesperson for the organisation said, adding that the list "is not exhaustive".

"Our experts continue to verify each report and it is feared that other sites will be added to this list,” the spokesperson said.

(with AFP)


EU urges China to stay neutral but without securing any guarantees

EU leaders warned China not to support Russia's invasion of Ukraine but failed to secure a pledge of non-interference in the war.

Ensuring that China maintains a hands-off, equidistant approach to the conflict was the main goal of a virtual EU-China summit that took place on Friday.

The EU front was represented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and High Representative Josep Borrell. They first held talks with China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang and later exchanged views with President Xi Jinping.

Read our full story here.

Friday's EU-China summit was entirely virtual and had a marked focus on the Ukraine war. - Copyright Olivier Matthys/AP Photo


Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners, Ukrainian officials say

Two Ukrainian officials said on Friday that there the second prisoner swap with Russia took place.

"The second prisoner swap just took place, bringing home 86 of our soldiers! 15 of them are women," Iryna Vereshchuk, deputy prime minister, wrote on her social media accounts.

The information was also confirmed by presidential advisor Kirill Tymoshenko on Telegram.

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