US official says Russian shelling has made humanitarian efforts ‘difficult’

Russian shelling of critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways in Ukraine is making it “difficult” for humanitarian workers to reach people in need, a senior US official said.

“The situation on the ground in Ukraine is rapidly getting worse,” the official said. “In the absence of a ceasefire, humanitarian safe passage must be ensured so that aid workers can reach those in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The US said 4.7 million people were displaced as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. About 3 million Ukrainians are now refugees, the official said, including 1 million children.

The US government has provided about $293 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the past two weeks, the official said.

Eastern European leaders arrive in Kiev as Russian shelling continues

Leaders of three EU countries met in Kiev on Tuesday evening with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev in a show of European solidarity, even as Russian shelling continued on residential areas in the Ukrainian capital.

The trip by the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia is the most high-profile visit to Kiev since Russia invaded the country on February 24. In a video that Ukrainian officials posted online, Zelensky was shown briefing visiting leaders. on the military and humanitarian situation in the country.

“Your visit to Kiev at this difficult time for Ukraine is a powerful testimony of support,” Zelensky wrote in a note accompanying the video. “We really appreciate this.”

The trip came as NATO said it would hold an emergency summit of the alliance’s 30 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, next week in Brussels.

“We will address the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our strong support to Ukraine, and further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense in response to a new reality for our security,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General .

Despite the symbolism of the war visit to Kiev, officials in Brussels expressed reservations about the trip, claiming it was not an official mission on behalf of the EU. The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission were briefed on the travel plans last week and pointed to the security risks involved, their spokespersons said.

Read more about the meeting of the Eastern European leaders with Zelensky here

War in Ukraine: Leaders of Poland, Slovenia and Czech Republic arrive in Kiev

The leaders of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic arrived in Kiev late Tuesday in a show of European solidarity. The EU distanced itself from the trip, saying it was not an official EU mission.

NATO leaders will meet next week for a summit in Brussels to discuss Ukraine.

The US imposed sanctions on 11 Russian military officials.

Russia outlined an $8 billion bailout plan to counter international sanctions and imposed sanctions on US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top US officials.

The head of NATO urged China to “clearly condemn” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and not provide any form of aid to Moscow, after the US told allies that China was willing to provide Russia with military assistance.

A Moscow court fined state television editor Marina Ovsyannikova on Tuesday for a video condemning the war in Ukraine.

Nearly 7 percent of the Ukrainian population has fled the war-torn country, while the number seeking refuge in neighboring countries stands at 3 million.

Economical developments:

US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly stops exporting non-essential drugs to Russia and donates all profits generated from the sale of essential treatments to humanitarian relief efforts

Tobacco group Imperial Brands withdraws from Russia

Volkswagen is struggling to secure critical supplies from parts manufacturers in Ukraine and has announced it will consider moving more of its production from Europe to the US and abroad if the conflict in Ukraine continues

Russian vodka imports will be subject to a 35 percent tariff in the UK, as part of new economic sanctions

In stock markets, the US benchmark S&P 500 rose 2.14 percent and the Nasdaq Composite closed 2.92 percent higher. European Stoxx 600 closed 0.3 percent lower

Brent oil, the international oil benchmark, traded below $100 for the first time in a fortnight. It closed 6.5 percent lower at $99.91, the lowest closing price since Feb. 25

Military developments:

Russian troops shelled residential areas in Kiev on Monday evening, killing at least two people

Ukrainian authorities in the western city of Rivne said 19 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a TV tower

A Russian cruise missile landed in front of a ten-storey residential building in the Podil district of Kiev. The explosion shattered windows and damaged balconies, but police said no one was killed or seriously injured

Ukrainian and Russian military claims cannot be independently verified.

Russian state TV editor fined for video condemning war in Ukraine

A Moscow court on Tuesday fined a state television editor for a video condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine after she crashed a live newscast to protest the invasion.

Marina Ovsyannikova was fined Rbs 30,000 ($270) for violating public order in the video, in which she urged Russians to protest the war, saying: “What is happening in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor. The responsibility for this aggression rests with one man: [Russian president] Vladimir Putin.”

Ovsyannikova is still facing investigation into the protest itself in which she appeared live on the air for a few seconds during Russia’s main state evening news, carrying a sign that read “Stop the war – don’t believe the propaganda – they lie to you” and singing “Stop the war! No to war!”

Her supporters are concerned she could face up to 15 years in prison under a draconian new law that criminalises acts such as “discrediting the Russian armed forces” and spreading “fake news” about the conflict.

Police arrested Ovsyannikova immediately after her protest and kept her incommunicado all night while her lawyers searched for her fruitlessly.

In a brief statement to reporters after her hearing, Ovsyannikova said police interrogated her for 14 hours and did not let her sleep, contact relatives or seek legal assistance.

Ovsyannikova’s extraordinary protest is the most striking expression of discontent in Russia, almost three weeks after the war.

Read more about the fine here

NATO to convene summit in Brussels next week to discuss Ukraine

NATO state leaders will meet next week for an extraordinary summit in Brussels as the US-led alliance continued to build its eastern defense position in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The summit is scheduled for March 24, when US President Joe Biden will personally meet the leaders of the other 29 NATO members, and was announced Tuesday.

“We will address the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, further strengthen our strong support to Ukraine and NATO’s deterrence and defense in response to a new reality for our security,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“At this critical time, North America and Europe must stand together in NATO,” he added.

Biden will also attend the European Council of EU leaders meeting on March 24-25, an EU official said.

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