Live: Russia has launched new offensive in Ukraine's east, says Zelensky

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Russia's anticipated new offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region has begun, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday. Ukraine's top security official said earlier that Russia had launched the "second phase" of the war with Russian forces attempting to break through defences in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions but had been held back. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2)

10:18pm: 'Battle for Donbas' has begun: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has confirmed that Russia's large-scale offensive in the eastern Donbas region had begun.

"We can now confirm that Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, which they have been preparing for a long time. A large part of the Russian army is now dedicated to this offensive," he said on Telegram.

"No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day,” vowed Zelensky.

Earlier Monday, Zelensky's chief of staff said the "second phase of the war” had begun. "Believe in our army, it is very strong," chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukraine's Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said Russia had attempted to break through defences "along almost the entire front line of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv" regions.

"They began their attempt to start the active phase this morning," he said. "Fortunately, our military is holding on," he added

Russian forces had managed to capture the town of Kreminna, said Danilov. "But the fighting continues. We do not surrender our territories."

9:35pm: Russian troops capture Kreminna, Luhansk regional governor says

Russian troops on Monday captured the eastern Ukraine town of Kreminna, local authorities said, as Kyiv's armed forces launched salvoes on Russian forces in the nearby settlement of Rubizhne.

"There was a major attack in the night" from Sunday to Monday in Kreminna, said Luhansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday in a statement on social media.

"The Russian army has already entered there, with a huge amount of military hardware ... Our defenders have retreated to new positions," he added.

Four civilians had died as they tried to flee Kreminna, said Gaiday.

9:23pm: Russian strikes kill eight in eastern Ukraine

Russian strikes killed at least eight civilians on Monday in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, local authorities said.

Four died as they tried to flee the city of Kreminna in Luhansk, where Russian forces have gathered, Regional Governor Sergiy Gaiday said on the Telegram app. Four other civilians died in Russian bombing in Donetsk, according to Regional Governor Pavlo Kirilenko.

8:35pm: Macron says dialogue with Putin stalled after massacres in Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron said that his dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has stalled after mass killings were discovered in Ukraine.

"Since the massacres we have discovered in Bucha and in other towns, the war has taken a different turn, so I have not spoken to him again directly since. But I don't rule out doing so in the future," Macron told France 5 TV, just days before the April 24 second round of the French presidential election.

Macron was asked if he was ready to visit Kyiv – as some leaders such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland have done since the February 24 start of the Russian invasion. The French president replied that he was ready to visit to Kyiv, but only if he could “bring something useful, not just to show support", he said.

7:25pm: Around 40,000 deported from Mariupol to Russian regions, mayor says

The mayor of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol said that about 40,000 civilians had been forcibly moved to Russia or Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.

"Unfortunately I have to declare that as of today they are forcibly deporting" residents, Vadym Boichenko told Ukrainian television. "We have verified through the municipal register that they have already deported over 40,000 people."

It was not possible to independently confirm the allegation. Russia has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

7:20pm: Russia says foreign-made weapons destroyed in Lviv

Russian air forces carried out air strikes at a logistics centre of the Ukrainian army near Lviv and destroyed a large number of foreign-made weapons stored there, TASS news agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.

The Russian forces have also destroyed a repair centre for Tochka U ballistic missiles in the city of Dnipro, the ministry said.

7:14pm: Russia has started new offensive in east, Ukraine security council says

Russia appears to have started its anticipated new offensive in the east of Ukraine, according to Ukraine's top security official.

"This morning, along almost the entire front line of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, the occupiers attempted to break through our defences," Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in televised comments.

"They began their attempt to start the active phase this morning," he said.

6:25pm: Ukraine ‘sees signs’ of Russia starting new eastern offensive

Ukraine's armed forces command has observed signs that Russia is starting its anticipated new offensive in the east of the country, increasing the intensity of attacks in parts of the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions.

In a post on Facebook, the armed forces command also said that Russia's main military force was concentrating on taking control of the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

It said battles were ongoing in Mariupol, where it said Russia was attempting to storm the city's seaport.

5:57pm: Ukraine needs 'much heavier weapons' and 'in a sustained way'

As the war in Ukraine enters a dangerous new phase, with Russia focused on an offensive in the eastern region, FRANCE 24’s international affairs commentator Douglas Herbert says Kyiv will need a “sustained pipeline of weapons” for its forces.

Despite President Joe Biden’s recent announcement of an additional $800 million US military aid, Herbert explains that in a conflict such as the war in Ukraine, “weapons go through very quickly” and the arms coming in from the US and its allies will not be enough.

Ukraine needs heavy weapons, Douglas explains, but there are logistical challenges for nations supplying these arms.

5:11pm: Putin honours brigade accused by Ukraine of atrocities in Bucha

President Vladimir Putin has bestowed an honorary title on the Russian military brigade accused by Ukraine of committing atrocities in Bucha while the town north of Kyiv was under Russian control.

A decree signed by Putin gave the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade the title of "Guards" for defending the "Motherland and state interests" and praised the "mass heroism and valour, tenacity and courage" of its members.

Reports of atrocities emerged shortly after the April 1 Russian withdrawal from the Kyiv area, sparking international condemnation and war crimes accusations.

In early April, the Ukrainian defence ministry said the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade occupied Bucha and committed "war crimes".

The Ukrainian defence ministry's Intelligence Directorate published the names, ranks and passports details of members of the brigade, saying they will face justice.

3:49pm: Deadly Russian shelling in Kharkiv

Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least three people on Monday, officials said, a day after the bombardment claimed six lives.

Prosecutors said one shell fell on a children's playground and killed a man and a woman.

The head of a medical emergency centre, Viktor Zabashta, told Interfax-Ukraine news agency that another strike on a humanitarian aid distribution point killed one person and injured six more.

Six people were killed and 24 injured during shelling of the city on Sunday, according to the latest toll from the regional governor.

Kharkiv, which has a population of 1.5 million people, was the scene of fierce fighting for several days at the start of the Russian offensive but has always remained under the control of Ukrainian forces.

3:44pm: Ukrainian prosecutors investigate war crime claims in Chernihiv

Ukraine’s national prosecutor’s office says it has identified more than 6,000 potential war crimes cases committed in areas that were controlled by Russian forces before their withdrawal from northern and western parts of the country.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, a young prosecutor has been gathering evidence on the ground.

“Ever since the Russian soldiers left, we've discovered atrocities. Every time we find a new one, we think, that's it. But there's always another one. Every day we find a new resident who has died,” said Dmitrov Alistrov, prosecutor for Chernihiv’s southern region.

3:20pm: Situation ‘extremely difficult’ in Mariupol, but Russia still not in full control

The situation in Mariupol is "extremely difficult" but Russian forces still do not have full control of the southeastern port city, according to a Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman.

Speaking at a media briefing, spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk also said that bombing runs by Russian military aircraft had increased of late by over 50 percent and that Ukraine's infrastructure had been increasingly targeted.

Ukraine has called for Russia to facilitate a humanitarian corridor for evacuees, including from a steel plant that is the last significant area of Ukrainian resistance in the city.

"We demand an urgent humanitarian corridor from the territory of the Azovstal plant for women, children and other civilians," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a post on the Telegram messaging service.

Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine's unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded on February 24. Capturing the city would enable Russia to have a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and two Moscow-backed separatist areas in Ukraine's east.

2:33pm: ‘I heard four explosions … saw two of them’ in Lviv

Reporting from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, AP correspondent Philip Crowther explains that he heard four explosions and saw two of them this morning. Two of the explosions were clearly caused by Russian missiles hitting targets in a city that “is not used to being hit by Russian missiles. It’s a relatively peaceful place in a country at war,” said Crowther. One of the missile hit a tyre shop next to a railway line, he added. Seven people were killed, including a child, in the strikes.

12:34pm: Two captured Britons appear on Russian state TV, ask to be swapped

Two British fighters captured in Ukraine by Russian forces appeared on Russian state TV on Monday and asked to be exchanged for a pro-Russian politician who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities. It was unclear how freely the two men, Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, were able to talk. Both spoke after being prompted by an unidentified man. Both asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to help bring them home in exchange for Ukraine releasing pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

12:21pm: Ukraine releases video of pro-Russian politician Medvedchuk suggesting prisoner swap

Ukraine's security service on Monday released a video showing arrested pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk asking to be exchanged for Ukrainian troops and civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol. In the video, Medvedchuk addressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It was unclear how freely Medvedchuk was speaking in the video.

11:58am: Kremlin says there is still time to switch to payments for gas in roubles

The Kremlin said on Monday there was still time for "unfriendly" countries to switch to payments for gas in roubles. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to disclose information on how many countries have agreed to do so. At the end of March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree demanding foreign buyers pay for gas in the Russian currency or else have their supplies cut, a move European capitals rejected and which Germany said amounted to "blackmail". Peskov said payments for deliveries that took place after Putin's decree took effect were expected in May.

11:40am: Kremlin says Ukraine is not consistent when it comes to peace talks

The Kremlin on Monday accused Ukraine of constantly changing its stance when it comes to issues that have already been agreed at peace talks. "Contacts continue at an expert level within the framework of the negotiation process", Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

"Unfortunately the Ukrainian side is not consistent in terms of the points that have been agreed", he said. "It is often changing its position and the trend of the negotiating process leaves much to be desired."

10:58am: Moscow mayor says 200,000 jobs at risk as foreign firms leave

Around 200,000 people risk losing their jobs in the Russian capital because foreign companies have suspended operations or decided to leave the Russian market, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Monday.

10:55am: Russia says it plans legal action over frozen assets

Russia plans to take legal action over the blocking of gold, forex and assets belonging to Russian residents, Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Monday, adding that such a step would need to be painstakingly thought through and legally justified. Foreign sanctions have frozen about $300 billion of around $640 billion that Russia had in its gold and forex reserves when it launched its invasion of Ukraine.

10:45am: Kyiv halts evacuations for second day over Russian shelling

Ukraine said Monday it was halting for a second consecutive day the evacuation of civilians from frontline town and cities in the east of the country, accusing Russian forces of blocking and shelling escape routes.

"Unfortunately, today, April 18, there will be no humanitarian corridors," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media.

"In violation of international humanitarian law, the Russian occupiers have not stopped blocking and shelling humanitarian routes," she added.

10:35am: Governor: several civilians shot dead while fleeing town in Ukraine's Luhansk region

Four civilians were shot dead while trying to flee by car from the town of Kreminna in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region during a Russian attack, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in a post on messaging app Telegram on Monday. A fourth person was seriously injured, he said.

10:12am: Russia's Central Bank considers more flexible forex sale rules for exporters

Russia's Central Bank is considering making the sale of forex proceeds by exporters more flexible, Governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Monday.

She said Russia's economy was entering a difficult period of structural changes related to international sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine.

The Russian central bank earlier in April cut its key interest rate to 17% from 20%, flagging a challenging economic environment and a slowdown in inflation.

9:27am: Spain to reopen Kyiv embassy in coming days, PM says

Spain will reopen its embassy in Kyiv in the coming days, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in an interview with the Antena3 TV network on Monday. The Spanish embassy in Ukraine's capital was evacuated on Feb. 24 when Russian troops invaded the country. The move comes after several other European countries, including France, recently announced they would move back their embassies to Kyiv.

9:20am: Russia says it destroyed four arms depots in Ukraine overnight

Russia's defence ministry said on Monday it had destroyed four arms and military equipment depots in Ukraine overnight with Iskander missiles.

9:14am: Regional governor says several killed in missile strike on Ukraine's Lviv

Seven people were killed and eleven wounded in a missile strike on the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Monday morning, regional governor Maksym Kozystkiy said. Three missiles hit military infrastructure facilities, he said, while one struck a car tire replacement facility.

7:53am: Ukraine says five 'powerful' missile strikes hit western city of Lviv

Five "powerful" Russian missiles hit Lviv on Monday, according to its mayor. The city, located in the west of Ukraine, has so far been spared much of the fighting since Russia invaded nearly two months ago. A Lviv resident told AFP they could see thick clouds of grey smoke in the sky above some blocks of flats. The city's mayor, Andriy Sadovy, wrote on Telegram that rescue services were at the site.

12:15am: Zelensky: Russia will 'destroy' the eastern region of Donbas

Moscow is pushing for a major victory in the southern city as it works to wrest control of Donbas and forge a land corridor to already-annexed Crimea.

But Ukraine has pledged to fight on and defend the city, defying a Russian ultimatum Sunday that called on the remaining fighters inside the encircled Azovstal steel plant to lay down their arms and surrender.

Ukrainian authorities have urged people in Donbas to move west to escape a large-scale Russian offensive to capture its composite regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

"Russian troops are preparing for an offensive operation in the east of our country in the near future. They want to literally finish off and destroy Donbas," Zelensky said in an evening statement.

11:17pm: Zelensky discusses post-war reconstruction with IMF managing director

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday he spoke with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva about Ukraine's financial stability and the country's post-war reconstruction.

"Discussed with IMF Managing Director Georgieva the issue of ensuring Ukraine's financial stability & preparations for post-war reconstruction. We have clear plans for now, as well as a vision of prospects. I’m sure cooperation between the IMF & Ukraine will continue to be fruitful," Zelensky said in a tweet.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said earlier he will attend the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington this week and will seek more financial assistance for Ukraine.

6:37pm: Zelensky says invited Macron to see evidence of 'genocide'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he has invited his French counterpart to visit Ukraine to see for himself evidence that Russian forces have committed "genocide", a term President Emmanuel Macron has avoided.

“I talked to him yesterday,” Zelensky told CNN in an interview. “I just told him I want him to understand that this is not war, but nothing other than genocide. I invited him to come when he will have the opportunity. He'll come and see, and I'm sure he will understand.”

Zelensky said he also thought US President Joe Biden would come at some point, though White House officials have said there are no plans to do so. The Ukrainian leader said he believed Macron was shying away from using the term “genocide” – a term Biden has now used regarding the war in Ukraine – because he thinks it would hurt the chances for diplomatic engagement with Russia.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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