KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office says Russian troops have changed their tactics in the battle for Sievierodonetsk.
Oleksiy Arestovych said Wednesday that Russian soldiers have retreated from the city and are now pounding it with artillery and airstrikes.
As a result, he says, the city center is deserted.
In his daily online interview, Arestovych says: “They retreated, our troops retreated, so the artillery hits an empty place. They are hitting hard without any particular success."
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— AP Exclusive: Ukraine recovers bodies from steel-plant siege
— Ukraine's leader says Russia is trying to capture a key southeastern city
— US general says US, allies will keep sending ‘significant’ aid to Ukraine
— UN: Climate shocks and Ukraine war fuel multiple global food crises
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
NEW YORK — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia is unwilling to negotiate an end to the war because it still feels strong.
Zelenskyy told U.S. corporate leaders Wednesday that for Russia to join in negotiations “is simply not possible now because Russia can still feel its power.”
Speaking via a video link through a translator, he added: “We need to weaken Russia and the world is supposed to do it.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine is doing its part on the battlefield and called for even tougher sanctions to weaken Russia economically. He told the business leaders: “We need to switch Russia off the global financial system completely.”
He also said Ukraine is willing to negotiate with Russia to end the war — but “not at the expense of our independence.”
UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. report says the war in Ukraine is increasing the suffering of millions of people by escalating food and energy prices, coming on top of ills from a growing financial crisis, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
The report by the U.N. Global Crisis Response Group released Wednesday says the war “has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation” and is undermining the U.N. goal of ending extreme poverty around the world by 2030.
The group was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to assess the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Guterres says the report makes clear that “the war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and speeding up.”
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations is pursuing a deal that would allow grain exports from Ukraine through the Black Sea and unimpeded access to world markets for Russian food and fertilizers.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told U.N. correspondents on Wednesday that without the deal hundreds of millions of people in developing countries face the threat of an unprecedented wave of hunger, three months after Russia invaded its smaller neighbor.
Guterres said, “Ukraine’s food production and the food and fertilizer produced by Russia must be brought into world markets, despite the war.”
Senior officials have been working closely with contacts in Moscow, Kyiv, Ankara, Brussels and Washington for the past 10 days, Guterres said. He said he didn’t want to jeopardize the chances of success by revealing details.
“This is one of those moments when silent diplomacy is necessary, and the welfare of millions of people around the world could depend on it,” he said.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, said the “discussions have been constructive.”
KYIV, Ukraine — American businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett says he wants to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, remove landmines and improve nutrition at schools.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Buffett in Kyiv on Wednesday. Zelenskyy said on social media that one project discussed would restore the water distribution system in the Black Sea city of Odesa. Another would support Ukrainians who have been displaced from their homes.
Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, serves on several corporate boards and is active in many foundations and charities. In 2017, he was also sworn in as interim sheriff of Macon County, Illinois. Buffett recalled that role as he gave the president a gift Wednesday.
“You are the top law man here in Ukraine, so I’m giving you my old sheriff badge from when I was sheriff,” Buffett said. “That’s for you. So, no one can question, you’re number one, you’re always number one.”
KYIV, Ukraine – Workers are removing bodies from the ruins of high-rise buildings in the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and transporting them in an “endless caravan of death,” a mayoral aide said Wednesday.
Petro Andryushchenko said on the Telegram app that in a search of about two-fifths of the buildings they have found from 50 to 100 bodies in each. They are taking the bodies to morgues and landfills.
Ukrainian authorities estimate at least 21,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of buildings destroyed during a weekslong Russian siege of Mariupol. Reports have surfaced of mass graves holding thousands of bodies.
Russia claimed full control of Mariupol last month.
The city has endured some of the war’s worst suffering and became a worldwide symbol of defiance after hundreds of Ukrainian fighters held out for months at a steel plant despite relentless bombardment.
WASHINGTON — Hard hit by sanctions since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy will shrink by 15% this year and another 3% in 2023, wiping out 15 years of economic gains, according to the Institute of International Finance, a global banking trade group.
The resilience of the ruble — Russia’s currency — has partially shielded its economy from the full impact of sanctions. Propping up the ruble are strong oil and natural gas sales and the Russian central bank, which has raised interest rates and imposed capital controls to keep money from fleeing the country.
President Vladimir Putin said this week that unemployment and inflation are decreasing, backing up his frequent claims that Russia is succeeding despite Western sanctions.
Still, the finance institute argued that the sanctions, partly by encouraging foreign companies to abandon Russia, “are unraveling its economy, wiping out more than a decade of economic growth, and some of the most meaningful consequences have yet to be felt.’’
KYIV, Ukraine — The head of the Ukrainian grain traders group has dismissed Turkey’s effort to negotiate a deal with Russia to allow Ukrainian grain exports to resume, saying Ankara lacks the power to act as a guarantor.
Ukrainian Grain Union head Serhiy Ivashchenko said Wednesday that “Turkey doesn’t have enough power in the Black Sea to guarantee security of cargo and Ukrainian ports.”
The blunt comment followed talks between Turkey and Russia at which they discussed creating a safe maritime corridor in the Black Sea for Ukraine to export grain amid an escalating world food crisis. Russia says the Ukrainian ports must be demined to allow safe shipping and insists on its right to check incoming ships to make sure they don’t bring weapons into Ukraine.
Ivashchenko said Ukraine would prefer if NATO ships entered the Black Sea and served as guarantors. He also said it was the Russians who have planted sea mines in the area, and it would take three to four months to remove them.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has approved a long-term Defense Ministry plan to modernize and significantly increase the number of troops in its armed forces following Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
According to the plan announced Wednesday, the NATO member with a population of 5.5 million people should have 22,000 service members by 2035, up from 14,100 this year.
Slovakia also plans to acquire 228 various armed vehicles and will modernize its air force bases to be ready for the U.S. F-16 fighter jets whose delivery should start in 2024, with other deals to purchase new arms to follow.
The government has also confirmed Slovakia’s commitment to spend 2% of its gross domestic product on the military by 2024.
ISTANBUL – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a plan by the United Nations for a grain corridor to carry Ukrainian agricultural products was “feasible.”
Speaking alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a news conference Wednesday in Ankara following talks, Cavusoglu said the plan required negotiation between Moscow and Kyiv.
There was no Ukrainian representative at the Ankara meeting. But Kyiv has expressed concerns that if it removes mines from its Black Sea ports, Russia would be more able to attack its southern coast.
Cavusoglu also said Moscow’s request that its involvement in implementing the U.N. plan result in the easing of international sanctions against it was “quite legitimate.”
“If the whole world is in need of the products to be exported by Ukraine and the Russian Federation, then a method needs to be established,” he said, adding that he hoped “technical preparations” could be made “as soon as possible.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have halted much of that flow, endangering global food supplies.
An estimated 22 million tons of grains are sitting in silos in Ukraine. Russia is also a major exporter of food and fertilizer.
ROME — Italy is demanding that Russia release grain from Ukrainian silos to ease the global food crisis, saying the continued blockade of Ukraine’s ports “is sentencing to death millions of children, women and men, far from the battleground.”
Speaking at a conference in Rome on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio also warned that increased food insecurity in the developing world will trigger political instability and migratory flows.
Many countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, import much of their grain from Ukraine. Drought and high fuel prices even before the war in Ukraine already had threatened food availability for many developing countries.
Di Maio described the following weeks as crucial. “I want to say clearly that we expect a sign from Russia because blocking exports of wheat means holding hostage and sentencing to death millions of children, women and men far from the battleground.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have halted most of that flow. Complicating export is the heavy mining of Ukrainian ports.
An estimated 22 million tons of grains are sitting in silos in Ukraine.
Di Maio was hosting a conference of Mediterranean governments and international organizations on the world food crisis. He spoke alongside the head of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Norway said Wednesday it has donated heavy artillery with equipment, spare parts and munition to Ukraine, enabling the country to “withstand the Russian attacks,” said Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram, who called that “a substantial contribution.”
The Scandinavian country’s Armed Forces recently has replaced M109 artillery guns with new artillery from South Korea, the defense ministry said, and 22 of them had been sent to Ukraine. Norway added that it trained Ukrainian forces to operate the guns in Germany.
The situation in Ukraine means “that it is now necessary to donate heavier materiel and weapons systems as well,” Arild Gram said in a statement.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top two officials on Wednesday stepped up warnings about global food shortages as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The war has left Ukraine unable to export millions of tons of grain via the Black Sea to destinations such as Africa.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of preventing Ukraine from fulfilling its traditional role as a major supplier of agricultural commodities, including wheat, to world markets.
“This is a cold, callous and calculated siege by Putin on some of the most vulnerable countries and people in the world,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “Food has become now part of the Kremlin’s arsenal of terror and we cannot tolerate this.
Said Michel to the 27-nation EU assembly: "Russia is using food as a weapon of war, stealing grain, blockading ports and turning farmlands into battlefields.”
Von der Leyen said that the EU must work to persuade trading partners to keep their markets open, offer aid to countries at risk and support an expansion of food production in Africa. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine reverberates around the world,” she said. “It is about the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.”
LVIV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian official says fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk and that Ukrainian forces will not cede the city, even if they have to retreat.
“Fighting is still ongoing there, no one will cede Sievierodonetsk,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press in written comments. “Everything the Russian army has -- artillery, mortars, tanks, aviation -- all of that they’re using in Sievierodonetsk in order to wipe the city off the face of the earth and capture it completely.”
Ukrainian troops have moved back to the industrial outskirts of the city, and Haidai said the Russian assault might push the Ukrainians to retreat even further. But, he insisted, “even if our military have to retreat, it won’t mean that we lost the city.” “Yes, maybe (they) will have to retreat, but right now battles are ongoing in the city.”
Haidai said that Sievierodonetsk is being shelled round the clock.
According to the governor, the Russian troops plan to capture Sievierodonetsk and seize control of the key road between Bakhmut and Lysychansk by Friday.
The road, Haidai said, is under constant shelling, and it is no longer possible to use it, but “the Russians don’t control it just yet.”
In Lysychansk, the barrage of shelling and bombardment has intensified. “Even in the central areas it is dangerous, but the city on a hill is a tough target for the Russians,” Haidai said.
The most recent round of shelling killed one Lysychansk resident and wounded another one.
KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian shelling of the northern Kharkiv region killed five people and wounded 12 more over the past 24 hours, the Kharkiv governor Oleh Syniehubov said Wednesday.
In the city of Kharkiv, the shelling damaged houses, administrative buildings, a supermarket and other facilities, the official said. Six other settlements in the region came under fire, and the shelling damaged multiple houses there.
“These are grave war crimes against the civilians of the Kharkiv region!” Syniehubov said in a Telegram post.
The Russian military said Wednesday that Moscow used “air-launched, high-precision missiles” to hit an armor repair plant near Kharkiv. There was no confirmation from Ukrainian officials of such a plant being hit.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military intelligence agency says Russia has so far turned over the bodies of 210 Ukrainian fighters killed in the battle for Mariupol. It says most of them were among the last holdouts in the Azovstal steelworks.
The agency did not specify Tuesday how many more bodies are believed to remain in the rubble of the plant.
Russia now controls the destroyed port city. It began turning over bodies last week. Ukraine said Saturday that the two sides had exchanged 320 bodies, with each getting back 160. It is unclear whether any more bodies have been given to Russia.
The Ukrainian fighters defended the steelworks for nearly three months before surrendering in May under relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his government is working to raise money to fund the army and rebuild cities and towns destroyed in the fighting.
He said in his nightly address Tuesday that work is already underway to restore electricity, gas, running water and phone service in places from which Russian forces have been pushed out. He says much also needs to be done to re-equip hospitals and remove landmines.
Zelenskyy says one of the ways money is being gathered is through the government fundraising platform UNITED24, which in its first month brought in more than $50 million.
He says Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina on Tuesday joined former Ukrainian soccer player Andriy Shevchenko in becoming an ambassador for the fundraising platform.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces have made no significant advances in the eastern Donbas region over the past day.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that “the absolutely heroic defense of the Donbas continues.”
Zelenskyy says the Russians clearly did not expect to meet so much resistance and are now trying to bring in additional troops and equipment. He says the same is true in the southern Kherson region, which Russian troops occupied early in the war.
Zelenskyy slso says that Ukraine plans to release a special “Book of Executioners” next week with confirmed information about war crimes committed by the Russian army. He says those named will include not only those who carried out war crimes but their commanders.