EU chief Ursula von der Leyen announced Thursday she would help organise a conference on securing the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the ongoing conflict. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
10:02pm: EU chief von der Leyen plans conference on children 'deported' to Russia
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen announced Thursday she would help organise a conference on securing the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the ongoing conflict. "It is a horrible reminder of the darkest times of our history, what's happening there to deport children. This is a war crime," she said, after a summit of EU leaders.
Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant accusing Russia's President Vladimir Putin of war crimes for overseeing the deportation of Ukrainian children.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia since Moscow's February 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.
Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said she would work with Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to mobilise international support for their return.
>>> In Ukraine's Kherson, dozens of children deported to Russia
7:20pm: Ukraine recognises 'incorrect' information about Russian withdrawal from town in Kherson region, 'occupiers still' present
Ukraine's army said Thursday that it had mistakenly announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from the southern city of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.
"The occupiers are still temporarily in Nova Kakhovka. Information about the alleged withdrawal of the enemy from this settlement was made public as a result of incorrect use of available data," Ukraine's general staff said on the Telegram messaging app.
6:58pm: Moscow-installed regional official denies Russian withdrawal from town in Kherson
A Moscow-installed official in the Kherson region in Ukraine's south on Thursday denied the withdrawal of Russian forces from the city of Nova Kakhovka, announced earlier by Ukraine's defence ministry.
"I officially declare that all Russian military personnel in Nova Kakhovka, as well as in other places of deployment on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro (river), remain in their place," Vladimir Saldo said on Telegram.
Russian forces redeployed to the east bank of the Dnipro River last November after abandoning positions on the west bank in the face of a counter-offensive by Ukrainian troops.
6:10pm: Ukraine claims Russian forces withdrew from town in Kherson region
Ukraine's defence ministry said Thursday that Russian troops had withdrawn from the southern city of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region, despite no reports of a surge in fighting there.
"As of March 22, 2023, all units of the occupying army that were stationed in the settlement of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region left the town," said a defence ministry statement. It added that the Russians had looted valuable belongings from residents prior to their pullout.
AFP was unable to verify the various claims put forward by the defence ministry and it did not say Ukrainian soldiers had entered the settlement.
Most of the Kherson region fell to Russian forces early in the invasion launched last February but Kyiv's army wrested back control of the regional capital last November.
5:57pm: World Athletics lifts doping ban on Russia, but country's athletes still suspended over invasion of Ukraine
World Athletics on Thursday lifted the ban on the Russian track and field federation for state-sponsored doping. But its athletes remain barred from competition while Moscow's invasion of Ukraine continues.
The Russian federation was banned in 2015 after a damning World Anti-Doping Agency report identified "a deeply-rooted culture of doping". For the athletics superpower to return to the fold, it had to meet a series of strict conditions including establishing a culture of zero tolerance and an effective anti-doping structure.
Just a handful of Russian athletes took part in track and field at the Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and they did so under a neutral flag.
A lifting of sanctions over the doping issue will have little immediate effect, however, as all Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from competition "for the foreseeable future" since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. That includes the option of competing as a neutral.
5:15pm: Ukraine's Zelensky exhorts EU to send jets, missiles, warns 'delays' could extend the war
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday told European leaders that "delays" sending fighter jets and long-range missiles could extend the war, an EU official said.
Zelenksy addressed a summit of his EU counterparts via video link from a Ukrainian train after visiting war-ravaged areas along the front line with Russian forces.
The official said the Ukrainian leader welcomed an EU plan agreed this week aimed at sending Kyiv one million artillery shells over the next 12 months. But Zelensky insisted that delays in supplying modern jets and long-range missiles could drag out the conflict, the official said.
3:06pm Slovakia hands over first four MiG-29 jets to Ukraine
Slovakia on Thursday said it had transferred the first four of the MiG-29 fighter jets it had promised Ukraine, with nine others to follow in the coming weeks.
"The first four MiG-29 fighter jets have been safely handed over to the Ukrainian armed forces," Slovak defence ministry spokeswoman Martina Kakascikova said. "In the coming weeks, the rest of the planes will be handed over," she added.
Slovakia announced on Friday that it would donate the Soviet-made MiG warplanes to Ukraine, making it the second NATO member - following Poland - to pledge the aircraft. All-in-all it promised 10 operational MiG-29 fighter jets and an additional three to be used as spare parts. It also said it would send part of a KUB air defence system to Ukraine.
Slovakia plans to replace the jets with American F-16s, and the changeover should take place no later than January 2024. Bratislava opted to stop using its MiGs last year since they were dependent on Russian technicians and companies. The Czech Republic and Poland have since been protecting its airspace.
1:19pm: German foreign minister voices support for ICC after Putin arrest warrant
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday expressed support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) following its decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges.
Speaking during a news conference in North Macedonia, Baerbock said with reference to the Russian leader that "nobody is above the law".
12:31pm: Russia does not expect transparent Nord Stream probe, says Russian FM
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow did not expect an investigation into last year's blasts on the Nord Stream gas pipelines to be transparent.
The pipelines, which connect Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea, were hit by unexplained explosions last September in what Moscow called an act of "international terrorism".
Denmark, Germany and Sweden have conducted their own investigations into the blasts. Moscow has repeatedly complained that it has not been kept informed about their findings.
12:19pm: Ukraine's Zelensky visits Kherson region, vows to 'restore everything'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted footage on Thursday of him visiting the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, where he promised to "restore everything" following Russia's invasion.
A Ukrainian counter offensive late last year pushed Russian troops out of the regional capital Kherson after months of occupation.
"Working trip to Kherson region. The village of Posad Pokrovske, where houses and civilian infrastructural facilities were damaged as a result of Russia's full-scale invasion. I talked to the locals about their problems and needs," Zelensky said in a post on social media.
12:00pm: Poland wants more EU funds for Ukraine arms purchases, PM says
Poland will seek an additional 240 million euros ($261 million) in European Union funding to refinance military purchases for Ukraine, the Polish prime minister said on Thursday.
"Poland has already received about 200 million zlotys to refinance arms purchases for Ukraine," Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Brussels ahead of the EU summit there. "We want to ... obtain 240 million euros, another billion zlotys, for Poland."
11:45am: Spain's Sanchez, China's Xi to discuss Ukraine next week
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday he would discuss a peace plan for Ukraine with Chinese President Xi Jinping during an official visit to China next week.
"We will also talk about Ukraine where the most important thing is to be able to guarantee a stable and lasting peace," Sanchez told reporters in Brussels, where he attended the EU Summit there.
11:02am: Estonia PM speaks against easing Russia sanctions, calls for tighter G7 oil cap
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Thursday spoke against any weakening of sanctions against Russia under a deal to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, and called for the G7 to tighten its oil cap to squeeze Russia's revenue more.
"We know that Russia is earning less from the oil... We see the economic sanctions, including the oil price cap, are having an effect on the Russian economy and their ability to fuel the war machine," she said on arriving to talks among the EU's 27 national leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
"We should continue with that," she said, adding that Estonia would agree to raise the cap again should oil prices rise. She spoke against any weakening of sanctions against Russia as sought by Moscow in the grain deal talks.
"We shouldn't weaken the sanctions," she said, adding Russia could still use 18 ports for its agri-food exports to third countries and that only about a dozen Russian banks were targeted by Western sanctions.
9:47am: Ukraine says 'will take advantage' of Russian fatigue in Bakhmut 'very soon'
A senior Ukrainian military commander vowed a counter-attack against Russian forces near the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the stage for the longest battle of Moscow's invasion, on Thursday.
"Sparing nothing, they are losing significant strength and becoming exhausted. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, like we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk," said the commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, referring to successful Ukrainian counter-offensives.
Read more; Battle for Bakhmut highlights divide between Wagner mercenary chief and the Kremlin
8:43am: Russia's ex-leader says arrest of Putin abroad would be 'declaration of war'
Russia's ex-president Dmitry Medvedev has warned that attempts to arrest Vladimir Putin abroad after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant against him would be seen by Moscow as a "declaration of war".
"Let's imagine - it's clear that this is a situation that will never happen - but nevertheless let's imagine it does," the Putin ally said.
"The current head of a nuclear state arrives on the territory of, say, Germany, and is arrested. What is this? A declaration of war against the Russian Federation."
Medvedev said that if this happened "all of our means, rockets and others, will fly on the Bundestag, in the Chancellor's Office and so on."
8:23am: Russia has regained partial control of access to Ukrainian town of Kreminna, UK says
British military intelligence said on Thursday that Russia had partially regained control over the approaches to the eastern Ukrainian town of Kreminna, after its troops were pushed back from the region earlier this year.
"In places, Russia has made gains of up to several kilometres," the military intelligence said in an update, adding that Russian commanders are likely trying to expand a security zone and are also seeking to recapture the logistic hub of Kupiansk in Kharkiv.
Russian forces earlier on Thursday unleashed a wave of air strikes in the north and south of Ukraine a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin bid farewell to Chinese leader Xi Jinping following a two-day visit to Moscow.
7:27am: At least eight dead, seven injured following drone attack in town south of Kyiv
Russian drones attacked Ukrainian cities and missiles blasted an apartment block. In Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of Kyiv, at least eight people were killed and seven injured after a drone struck two dormitories and a college, regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said.
"This must not become 'just another day' in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted, along with a video of security camera footage showing a building exploding.
6:00am: Russia's Medvedev says West won't leave Russia, China alone
The West dislikes Russia and China's independence and the coming decades will not be quiet as it will try to break Russia up into smaller and weaker states, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday.
In an interview with state news agency TASS, Medvedev said Ukraine was part of "Greater Russia", and added that he saw no prospects for reviving Russia's ties with the West in the near future.
3:55am: UN nuclear chief says Ukraine plant situation 'remains perilous'
The UN nuclear agency's chief said Wednesday that the situation at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia power plant "remains perilous" following a Russian missile strike this month that disconnected the plant from the grid.
Europe's largest nuclear power plant needs a reliable electricity supply to operate pumps that circulate water to cool reactors and pools holding nuclear fuel.
Since a Russian strike on March 9, the plant has relied on a single backup power line that remains "disconnected and under repair", according to Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Nuclear safety at the ZNPP [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant] remains in a precarious state," Grossi said in a statement on Wednesday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)
Originally published on France24