Russia invades Ukraine updates: Hopes wane for Easter truce

Russia invades Ukraine updates: Hopes wane for Easter truce
The New Arab is providing live updates of what's been happening on the ground and additional analysis on the conflict's significance.
10 min read

Hopes for a weekend truce in Ukraine to celebrate the Orthodox Easter faded with talks between Moscow and Kyiv stalled as Russia said it aimed to take full control over the east and south of its neighbour.

The war enters its third month on Sunday but a senior Russian military officer said "the second phase of the special operation" - as Moscow terms its invasion of Ukraine - had just begun.

"One of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine," Major General Rustam Minnekaev said on Friday.

Russian forces, which withdrew from around Kyiv and the north of Ukraine after being frustrated in their attempts to take over the capital, already occupy much of the eastern Donbas region and the south.

Minnekaev said their focus was now to "provide a land corridor to Crimea," which Russia annexed in 2014, and towards a breakaway pro-Russian region of Moldova, Transnistria, where the general claimed Russian-speaking people were "being oppressed".

Ukrainian authorities have vowed to fight on and drive the Russian troops from their land, but they also sought an Easter pause.

The New Arab is providing live updates of what's been happening on the ground and additional analysis on the conflict's significance. 

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Main story: The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Featured image credit: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

6:00 PM
The New Arab Staff

The New Arab's live coverage of the latest from the Russian invasion of Ukraine concludes for today.

Here were the key developments from Saturday:

Five dead in Odessa strike

A Russian strike kills at least five people, including a baby, and wounds 18 others in Ukraine's Black Sea city of Odessa, Kyiv says.

"Those are only the ones that we were able to find. It is likely that the death toll will be heavy," the head of Ukraine's presidential office Andriy Yermak says on Telegram.

Fighting in the east

Authorities in two eastern Ukrainian regions report "fierce" fighting with Russian forces as hope fades for a truce over Orthodox Easter weekend.

The governor of the eastern Kharkiv region, Oleg Sinegubov, says on Telegram that Kyiv retook three villages near the Russian border after "fierce battles".

Mariupol evacuation

Ukraine will make a new attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, the devastated port city now largely controlled by Russian forces, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says.

"Today we will again try to evacuate women, children and the elderly," she says on Telegram.

UN chief to meet Putin, Zelensky

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine next week after a stop in Moscow to confer with President Vladimir Putin, the United Nations says.

Guterres will see Zelensky and Ukraine's foreign minister on Thursday, two days after visiting Moscow.

Nearly 5.2 million flee

The number of Ukrainians fleeing the country since Russia's invasion is now 5,163,686, the UN refugee agency says.

Join us tomorrow for the latest updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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5:19 PM
The New Arab Staff

Three killed in Russian shelling in Kharkiv region, Ukraine says

Three people were killed and seven were wounded by Russian shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv on Saturday, the region's governor said.

Ukrainian authorities said earlier on Saturday that shelling had killed two civilians in a frontline town in the Luhansk region, and that a missile strike killed six people in the southern port city of Odesa.

Moscow denies its forces target civilians.

4:48 PM
The New Arab Staff

Russia investigates media report on presence of British SAS special forces in Ukraine

Russia's top state investigative body said on Saturday it was looking into a Russian media report alleging that sabotage experts from Britain's SAS special forces have been deployed to western Ukraine.

The Special Air Service is an elite military force trained to conduct special operations, surveillance and counter-terrorism. Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on Saturday quoted a Russian security source as saying about 20 SAS members had been sent to the Lviv region.

In a statement, the Investigative Committee said it would follow up on the report that they had been sent in "to assist the Ukrainian special services in organizing sabotage on the territory of Ukraine".

A spokesperson for the British Ministry of Defence said: "We do not comment on Special Forces."

Britain said it sent military trainers to Ukraine earlier this year to instruct local forces in using anti-tank weapons but the British government said on February 17 - a week before Russia's invasion - that it had pulled out all troops except those needed to protect its ambassador.

It was not clear what steps the Investigative Committee planned to take in response to any SAS involvement in Ukraine.

But the fact of the investigation into the possible presence of forces from a NATO country is significant, given that Russia has issued warnings to the West not to get in the way of its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

4:07 PM
The New Arab Staff

Mariupol evacuation 'thwarted' by Russian forces: city official

An attempted Ukrainian evacuation of civilians from the shattered city of Mariupol, where many remain trapped, was "thwarted" by Russian forces on Saturday, a city official said.

"The evacuation was thwarted," Mariupol city official Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding that around 200 residents had gathered at the evacuation meeting point announced by Kyiv, but Russian forces "dispersed" them.

He claimed others were told to board buses headed to Dukuchayevsk, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north, which is controlled by Russia.

"The people did not have the right to leave the bus," he said. Russian forces blamed "firing by (Ukrainian) nationalists at the evacuation point" for changing the destination, he added.

"Once again the Russians have disrupted an evacuation," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk had earlier announced that Ukraine would make a new attempt on Saturday to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and warned that Russian forces could try to organise a parallel evacuation route to Russia.

3:49 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Almost 5.2 million refugees flee Ukraine sine Russia invaded : UN

The number of Ukrainians who have escaped the country since Russia's invasion is nearing 5.2 million, the UN refugee agency said Saturday.

UNHCR’S figures show that an additional 29,939 refugees have left the eastern European country since Thursday, bringing the total figure to 5,163,686.

Some 1,128,000 Ukrainians have left during April so far, compared with 3.4 million for the whole of March.

Women and children account for 90 percent of those who fled overseas, while men aged between 18-60 are unable to leave due to being eligible for military call-ups.

The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) said an additional 218,000 citizens of third countries- namely students and migrant workers- have also escaped to neighbouring countries since the February 24 invasion.

A large number of those citizens are students from several Arab, African and south Asian countries, namely Morocco, India and Zimbabwe.

The IOM also estimates more than 7.7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.

Before the invasion, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under government control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist-controlled regions in the east.

3:27 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia's Orthodox Church Patriarch prays for 'quick end' to Ukraine conflict, but refrains from denouncing it in Easter speech

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose support for Moscow's made a statement on Saturday hoping that Moscow’s "special military operation" would end quickly but failed to condemn it.

At an outdoor service at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Patriarch Kirill splashed holy water onto loaves of colourfully decorated Easter bread, and said many of them would be sent to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

"May the Lord first of all reconcile our people in Ukraine, in Donbas, where blood is still being shed," said Kirill, who like Putin believes Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people.

The eastern and southern parts of the Donbas region are currently more or less entirely occupied by Russian forces.

Patriarch Kirill’s, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has been vocal in his backing of Russia’s military aggression on Ukraine, which has dismayed many fellow Christians and fractured the worldwide Orthodox Church.

His support has angered some within the Russian Orthodox Church as well as in churches abroad linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

11:07 AM
The New Arab Staff

Russia resumes offensive against Ukrainian forces in Mariupol's Azovstal

Russian forces have resumed air strikes on and are trying to storm the Azovstal steel works where Ukraine's remaining forces in Mariupol are holding out, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said today.

"The enemy is trying to strangle the final resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the Azovstal area," Arestovych said on national television.

10:36 AM
The New Arab Staff

Russia to deploy Sarmat missiles by autumn in 'historic' nuclear upgrade

Russia said today it plans to deploy its newly tested Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of mounting nuclear strikes against the United States, by autumn.

The target stated by Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Roscosmos space agency, is an ambitious one as Russia reported its first test-launch only on Wednesday and Western military experts say more will be needed before the missile can be deployed.

The Sarmat is capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads and decoys and of striking targets thousands of miles away in the United States or Europe.

This week's test, after years of delays due to funding and technical issues, marks a show of strength by Russia at a time when the war in Ukraine has sent tensions with the United States and its allies soaring to their highest levels since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Rogozin said in an interview with Russian state TV that the missiles would be deployed with a unit in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, about 3,000 km (1,860 miles) east of Moscow.

He said they would be placed at the same sites and in the same silos as the Soviet-era Voyevoda missiles they are replacing, something that would save "colossal resources and time".

The launch of the "super-weapon" was an historic event that would guarantee the security of Russia's children and grandchildren for the next 30-40 years, Rogozin added.

Western concern at the risk of nuclear war has increased since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 with a speech in which he pointedly referred to Moscow's nuclear forces and warned that any attempt to get in Russia's way "will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history."

"The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month.

9:18 AM
The New Arab Staff

UK says Russian forces made no major gains in the last 24 hours

Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours despite increased activity, as Ukrainian counterattacks continue to hinder their efforts, British military intelligence said on Saturday.

Despite Russia's claimed conquest of the port city of Mariupol, heavy fighting continues to frustrate Moscow's attempts to capture the city, impeding their progress in the Donbas region, the Ministry of Defence tweeted in a regular bulletin.

Russia's air and maritime forces have not established control in either domain owing to the effectiveness of Ukraine’s air and sea defences, it said.

9:06 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia says it shot down Ukrainian fighter jet in Kharkiv region

Russia's defence ministry said on Saturday that its forces had shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet and destroyed three MI-8 helicopters at an airfield in Ukraine's Kharkiv region.

There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine regarding the Russian claims.

8:59 AM
The New Arab Staff

Ukraine says shelling of eastern Luhansk's cities intensifying

All the Ukrainian-controlled cities in the eastern region of Luhansk were constantly being shelled by Russian forces today and the barrage was intensifying, the region's governor Serhiy Haidai said on television.

He said Ukrainian forces were leaving some settlements there in order to regroup, but that the move did not amount to a critical setback. Russia denies targeting civilian areas

8:57 AM
The New Arab Staff

Ukraine says will try to evacuate Mariupol civilians from noon

Ukraine will make a new attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, the heavily destroyed city largely controlled by Russian forces, at noon on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

"Today we will again try to evacuate women, children and the elderly," Vereshchuk said on Telegram, calling for people to gather on the motorway close to the Port City shopping centre in the city.

"If everything happens as planned, we will start the evacuation around noon."

Ukrainian refugees [Getty]