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Russia ‘massing forces for breakthrough attempt’

A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar
A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar - AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Russia is massing its forces around Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine as it seeks to make a breakthrough in the Donetsk region, according to Kyiv.

Russian forces appear to be making a push on the strategic city, which lies several miles to the west of Bakhmut, which fell to Moscow last May, said Illia Yevlash, a Ukrainian spokesperson for the operational group overseeing the eastern frontline.

Mr Yevlash added that the Kremlin is hoping to advance towards Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

It comes as Russia has seized the momentum in the two-year war and is slowly pushing Ukraine back as Kyiv struggles with supplying arms and soldiers. In recent weeks, the towns of Avdiivka and Petrovske have been captured, along with the villages of Stepove and Sieverne.

Follow the latest updates below


05:02 PM GMT

That’s all for today

Thank you for following our coverage. The key developments from today were:

  • Seven people were killed in a Russian drone attack in Odesa, the State Emergency Service reported.

  • The German defence ministry said it was checking whether a confidential videoconference on the Ukraine war had been wiretapped after a recording was posted on Russian social media.

  • The Netherlands will donate patrol boats as part of a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine.

  • The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny visited his grave on Saturday, a day after thousands of Russians had risked arrest to pay tribute to the anti-corruption campaigner at his funeral.

  • A Ukrainian drone hit an apartment building in St Petersburg, Russia’s state news agency has reported.

  • A senior member of Slovakia’s government met his Russian counterpart in a rare high-level encounter between a European Union member state and a country the EU has sought to isolate.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine needs “more air defence capabilities from our partners” after an attack overnight on Odesa.

  • Hungarian parliament speaker Sandor Lezsak has signed off on the ratification of Sweden’s Nato accession and forwarded the legislation to the president’s office for promulgation.


04:44 PM GMT

Defence firms seeking to arm Ukraine hamstrung by ‘nightmare’ MoD

Will Hazell and Edward Malnick report:

British defence firms say they are being prevented from sending weapons and kit to help Ukraine by of a lack of engagement from the Ministry of Defence.

Companies have complained that trying to get hold of officials to discuss how they can help the war effort is a “nightmare”, with the MoD lacking the resources to look at proposals from smaller firms.

Ukraine’s war with Russia is at a delicate stage and president Volodymyr Zelensky has suggested that a shortage of weapons played a part in his forces having to withdraw from the town of Avdiivka last month.

Rishi Sunak has committed to providing £2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine in 2024-25, to help push back Russia’s invasion.

However, British companies who want to help arm the country say they are being held back from doing so because the MoD is unable to respond to their offers.

Read more here


04:17 PM GMT

Slovak foreign minister meets with Russia’s Lavrov

A senior member of Slovakia’s government met his Russian counterpart in a rare high-level encounter between a European Union member state and a country the EU has sought to isolate.

Slovakia’s foreign minister Juraj Blanar held talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in Turkey, the countries said.

The meeting, one of the few involving senior European and Russian officials since Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, was immediately criticised by Slovak opposition parties.

Slovak prime minister Robert Fico said the encounter “was an example of our balanced and sovereign” foreign policy. Slovakia’s defence minister Robert Kalinak met his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on Friday.

Mr Fico also said Mr Blanar and Mr Lavrov spoke about the possibilities a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland can bring.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement the two sides discussed international issues, including Ukraine.

“The Russian side confirmed its readiness to restore relations with Slovakia — at the interparliamentary level, in the cultural, humanitarian and military memorial fields,” the statement said.


03:43 PM GMT

Death toll of Russian attack against Odesa rises to 5

The death toll of a Russian drone attack in Odesa has risen to five as another body was found in the rubble, the State Emergency Service reported.

The overnight strike hit a multi-story building in the southern city, destroying 18 apartments.

Search operations are ongoing as 12 more people may be trapped under the rubble, prosecutor general Andrii Kostin said.

The four other victims found dead earlier included a boy aged two to three years, a woman in her early 70s, and a man in his mid-30s, according to governor Oleh Kiper.


01:53 PM GMT

Hundreds of Russians visit Navalny’s grave

Hundreds of Russians have visited the grave of dead Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny today, risking arrest to pay tribute to the anti-corruption campaigner for a second day running.

AFP said mourners queued outside the Borisovo cemetery in southern Moscow, carrying flowers and placards in honour of Mr Navalny.

Despite warnings from the Kremlin that they faced arrest, thousands had come out for the official funeral service on Friday.

A woman lays flowers at the grave of Alexei Navalny a day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye Cemetery
A woman lays flowers at the grave of Alexei Navalny a day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye Cemetery - AP Photo

Authorities have erected airport-style security scanners at the entrance to the cemetery, and police on Saturday were filmed frisking and searching those who had come to pay homage to the Kremlin critic.

Officers ordered mourners to “keep moving” as they laid stacks of red and white roses and carnations on Mr Navalny’s grave.


01:14 PM GMT

Number of dead from Odesa attack increases to four

The number of people killed in a Russian drone attack in Odesa has increased to four, authorities said.

At the scene, reporters said smoke poured from rubble strewn across the ground where the drone had ripped a several-storey sized chunk out of the building.

Clothes and furniture could be seen among the ruined mass of concrete and steel hanging off the side of the ruined apartment block.


01:05 PM GMT

St Petersburg hit by rare drone attack

A Ukrainian drone hit an apartment building in St Petersburg, Russia’s state news agency has reported.

RIA Novosti said six people received medical help after the explosion early on Saturday morning and published a video reportedly showing the moment the apartment building was struck. In the footage a strong flash of light is seen engulfing one side of the building, sending fragments of debris flying into the air.

Russian emergency servicemen work near a damaged residential building following an alleged drone attack in St Petersburg
Russian emergency servicemen work near a damaged residential building following an alleged drone attack in St Petersburg - ANATOLY MALTSEV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Alexander Beglov, St Petersburg’s Governor, said “an incident” had taken place in the city’s north-eastern district of Krasnogvardeyskiy. There were no casualties, but residents were evacuated from their apartments, he said.

Lying about 620 miles from the Ukrainian border, attacks on St Petersburg have been rare. In January, Ukrainian drones struck a major gas export terminal on the outskirts of the city.

The claims could not be immediately verified, and neither Ukraine or Russia’s Defence Ministry have yet commented on the incident.


12:52 PM GMT

Ministry of Defence statement

The Ministry of Defence has released its latest intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine.


11:15 AM GMT

Biden hails Italian PM’s Ukraine stance

US president Joe Biden hailed Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine on Friday.

Despite their political differences, the far-right Italian leader and the veteran Democrat have had warm relations, particularly because of Ms Meloni’s strong stance on Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

“I want to thank you for Italy’s unwavering support for Ukraine,” Mr Biden, 81, said as he sat with Meloni, 47, in the Oval Office.

“We have each other’s backs – we also have Ukraine’s back,” added Mr Biden.

Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and US president Joe Biden during their meeting at the White House in Washington
Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and US president Joe Biden during their meeting at the White House in Washington - FILIPPO ATTILI/CHIGI PALACE PRESS OFFICE HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“We intend first and foremost to reaffirm the rules-based international order defending freedom and giving peace for Ukraine,” Ms Meloni said alongside Biden.

Ms Meloni also “emphasised the significance of sustained US support for Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.


10:52 AM GMT

Navalny’s mother visits grave after funeral draws thousands

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny visited his grave on Saturday, a day after thousands of Russians had risked arrest to pay tribute to the anti-corruption campaigner at his funeral.

Mr Navalny, president Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic for more than a decade, died in an Arctic prison colony last month, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on “extremism” charges largely seen as political retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, visited his grave, which was covered in flowers and wreaths, at the Borisovo cemetery in southern Moscow early on Saturday morning.

She was accompanied by Alla Abrosimova, the mother of Mr Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya.

Lyudmila Navalnaya (L), mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Lyudmila Navalnaya (L), mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accompanied by Alla, mother of Yulia
The two mothers stand in front the grave of Alexei Navalny
The two mothers stand in front the grave of Alexei Navalny - REUTERS

Yulia Navalnaya, the couple’s two children and Navalny’s brother all live abroad and did not attend the funeral, where they could have been arrested for their own opposition to Mr Putin.

Yulia Navalnaya has pledged to continue her husband’s work and said Mr Putin “murdered” Navalny.

The two women leave the grave
The two women leave the grave - Olga MALTSEVA / AFP

10:26 AM GMT

Russian drone strike on Odesa kills 3

Three people including a three-year-old child were killed and eight others wounded when a Russian drone crashed into an apartment block in Ukraine’s southern port city of Odesa on Saturday, authorities said.

“Russia continues to fight civilians... One of the enemy drones hit a residential building in Odessa. Eighteen apartments were destroyed,” Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported that the Odesa region was attacked by eight drones, of which seven were shot down by air defences.

Rescuers at an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike in Odesa
Rescuers at an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike in Odesa - UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES

Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service posted photos including of a dead toddler being placed in a body bag by rescuers.

“This is impossible to forget! This is impossible to forgive,” it wrote. It said five people including a child had been rescued alive.

Across the country more widely, air defences shot down 14 of 17 drones launched against Ukraine, according to the country’s Armed Forces.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov reported Saturday morning that over 20 settlements in the eastern Ukrainian province had sustained Russian artillery and mortar attacks, while high-rise buildings in the regional capital, also called Kharkiv, were damaged by a drone attack.

Ukraine's Armed Forces reported that the Odesa region was attacked by eight drones
Ukraine's Armed Forces reported that the Odesa region was attacked by eight drones - UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES

He said that there were no casualties, but that three people suffered an “acute stress reaction.”

In the partly occupied Kherson region, Russian artillery shelling killed a 53-year-old man on Saturday morning, the Kherson regional prosecutor’s office said.


10:15 AM GMT

Netherlands donating boats as part of Ukraine security pact

The Netherlands will donate patrol boats as part of a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine.

The pact inked on Friday is similar to the deals Ukraine has secured recently with the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Italy and Canada.

It will provide Ukraine with €2 billion in military aid from the Netherlands this year and further defence assistance over the next ten years, Mr Zelensky said in a statement.

The aid will include air defence, artillery and long-range weapons and assistance for Ukraine’s air force.

The Dutch ministry of defence said it will also provide Ukraine with 14 rigid-hull inflatable boats, eight paramilitary river patrol boats, and CB90-class fast assault craft.

Some of the watercraft will be supplied from the Dutch military’s own inventory while others will be sourced from industry.


10:05 AM GMT

German army probes possible wiretap of Ukraine war talks

The German defence ministry said it was checking whether a confidential videoconference on the Ukraine war had been wiretapped after a recording was posted on Russian social media.

The head of Russia’s state-backed RT channel, Margarita Simonyan, on Friday posted a 38-minute audio recording of what she claimed were German officers discussing striking Crimea.

“We are investigating whether communications in the air force sector were intercepted,” a spokeswoman for the defence ministry told AFP.

In the recording, discussions can be heard on the possible use by Ukrainian forces of German-made Taurus missiles and their potential impact.

Other topics include aiming the missiles at targets such as a key bridge linking Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland over the Kerch strait.

Kyiv has long been clamouring for Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometres away.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far refused to send the missiles, fearing that it would lead to an escalation of the conflict.

“If this story turns out to be true, it would be a highly problematic event,” Green party politician Konstantin von Notz told the RND broadcaster.


09:54 AM GMT

Photos from the alleged drone attack in St Petersburg

Aftermath of alleged drone attack
The governor of Saint Petersburg said residents of the affected apartments were evacuated - ANATOLY MALTSEV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Aftermath of alleged drone attack
Russian state media said six people received medical help after the explosion early on Saturday morning - REUTERS/Stringer

09:40 AM GMT

‘We need more air defence capabilities from our partners’, says Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine needs “more air defence capabilities from our partners” after an attack overnight on Odesa.

“The Ukrainian air shield must be strengthened in order to effectively protect our people from Russian terror. More air defence systems and air defence missiles are what saves lives,” the Ukrainian president said in a social media post.


09:33 AM GMT

Hungary’s parliament speaker signs off on Sweden’s Nato accession

Hungarian parliament speaker Sandor Lezsak has signed off on the ratification of Sweden’s Nato accession and forwarded the legislation to the president’s office for promulgation.

Lawmakers approved Sweden’s Nato accession on Feb 26, clearing the last hurdle before the historic step by the Nordic country whose neutrality lasted through two world wars and the Cold War.

The Hungarian vote ended months of delays to complete Sweden’s security policy shift and followed a visit by Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, during which the two countries signed an arms deal.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s government has faced pressure from Nato allies to fall in line and seal Sweden’s accession to the alliance. Hungary’s president now has up to five days to promulgate the legislation.

Stockholm abandoned its non-alignment policy for greater safety within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.