Russia-Ukraine war latest: Russians trying to destroy Donbas, says Zelenskiy, as fighting intensifies – live

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The ?4.25bn takeover of Chelsea football club has been completed after Roman Abramovich agreed to the UK government’s terms for the sale, ending a tumultuous period that raised fears over the club’s existence in the wake of the Ukraine war.

A new era at Stamford Bridge can officially begin after a bid led by Todd Boehly, a part-owner of baseball’s LA Dodgers, was given permission to go through. The government issued the licence after it said it was “now satisfied that the full proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or any other sanctioned individual”. Abramovich was hit with sanctions after the Russian invasion.

The sale will follow a two-step process under which ?2.5bn will go into an escrow account until the government is satisfied the funds will go to a charity for victims of the war in Ukraine. Boehly’s group has committed to invest a further ?1.75bn in the club. Crucially, Abramovich has agreed to legally binding guarantees allowing his ?1.6bn loan to Chelsea to go into a frozen account under government control.

The government has sought assurances that the charity will be independent of Abramovich. Mike Penrose, a former Unicef UK executive director, has been asked to run the foundation.

“Late last night the UK government reached a position where we could issue a licence that permits the sale of Chelsea Football Club,” a government statement said. “Following the sanctioning of Roman Abramovich, the government has worked hard to ensure Chelsea Football Club has been able to continue to play football. But we have always been clear that the long-term future of the club could only be secured under a new owner.”

Igor Volobuyev spent two decades working in the heart of the Russian business establishment, first for Gazprom and then for its affiliate Gazprombank, where until February this year he was vice-president.

Then Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine in late February, and Volobuyev decided he could no longer stand living in Russia. He packed a small rucksack of possessions and a stack of cash, and flew out of the country on 2 March, pretending he was going on holiday.

A few days later, he crossed from Poland into Ukraine, where he spent his childhood years. Now, he spends his days trying to convince officials to provide him with Ukrainian documents and allow him to sign up for military service.

“I want to go to the place where I can defend my homeland with a weapon, I’m trying every day,” he said, in an interview in the suburbs of the capital, Kyiv. “I am never going back to Russia.”

Hundreds of thousands of Russians are believed to have fled the country since Putin launched the war, and many intellectuals, journalists and activists have voiced their opposition to the conflict. However, among the political and business elites, defections have been extremely rare. Despite reports of widespread dismay over the invasion of Ukraine, only a tiny handful of people have spoken publicly to condemn the war.

Maksym Kozytskyi, governor of Lviv in western Ukraine, has posted his latest update for the region. He reports that overnight there were two air raid warnings, including one sparked “as the enemy launched missiles from the Black Sea”, but he says “the threats did not materialise. Everything is calm in Lviv region.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has spoken again at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning. Reuters reports he told an audience that he was only willing to talk directly to Vladimir Putin and not via intermediators.

He added that if the Russian president “understands reality” there was the possibility of finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict.

The Ukrainian president said Moscow should withdraw its troops back to the lines in place before Russia began its invasion on 24 February.

“That might be a first step towards talks,” he said, adding that Russia has been playing for time in its talks with Ukraine.

Yesterday a close ally of Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, said any peace would have to recognise that “final” decisions had already been made about the future of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and that any peace deal that suggested Russia should pull out of Crimea would be treated as a threat of war.

Russia’s RIA Novosti is carrying some quotes from Rodion Miroshnik, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic’s ambassador to Russia. He said their forces, alongside the Russian army and fighters from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, have broken through Ukrainian defences in the Luhansk region. He posted on Telegram:

Ukrainian defence is crumbling. An active assault on Zolote is underway. The peacekeeping forces are advancing towards Maloryazantsevo, Volcheyarovka. What part of the Ukrainian military formations left these settlements, and what part remained, is not yet known exactly, but the trend is clearly visible.

I’ll hand over now to my colleague Martin Belam in London.

Nike has reportedly decided not to renew a franchising agreement with Inventive Retail Group, a company that operates 37 Nike-branded retail stores in Russia.

The company temporarily closed all of its own stores in Russia in March, and has halted web sales in the country.

More from AFP:

In the village of Yakovlivka, 55-year-old Ukrainian soldier Andriy hid in a ditch as shells fired by encroaching Russians whistled past.

“Our guys have stopped firing back,” he whispered after glancing up and down the road.

“We do not want to provoke them, because then the Russians will start shooting at us even harder.”

Russian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine and attacking key cities, particularly the industrial city of Severodonetsk, the AFP has reported.

Sergiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern region of Lugansk, said Sievierodonetsk was being hammered by air strikes, rockets, artillery and mortars in a bid to solidify control over the province and move further into Ukraine.

“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse,” Gaidai said, describing what he termed a “full-scale offensive in all directions” in a video on Telegram.

“The Russian army has decided to completely destroy Sievierodonetsk. They are simply erasing Sievierodonetsk from the face of the earth,” he said.

Thousands of troops were sent to capture Lugansk region, Gaidai said, adding that the bombardment of Sievierodonetsk was so intense it was too late for its 15,000 civilians to leave.

In Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made it clear Russia was settling in for a long war.

In an age of social media and satellite television, the singular wartime news bulletin evokes images of families tuning in to the radio during the second world war. But in Ukraine, the state-backed broadcast has remerged, albeit with a 21st-century spin.

Shortly after Russia invaded, the country’s main TV channels started broadcasting the same content 24 hours a day, nicknamed the United News telemarathon. Each channel has a daily slot on the broadcast, which is shown simultaneously on all the channels.

United News was initially aired by five channels owned by various Ukrainian oligarchs as well as the publicly owned channels. It has since been signed into law and now includes all Ukrainian channels that used to show news.

The head of Ukraine’s parliamentary broadcasting committee said he believed the arrangement should continue until the war ends.

While some say there are critical strategic justifications for the telemarathon, others argue that it amounts to a monopoly of the information space by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s team and could be exploited for political purposes.

“The telemarathon is the information war equivalent of our anti-aircraft systems and I think it’s the most optimal option for Ukraine right now,” said Svitlana Ostapa, the deputy head of Detector Media, a media monitoring organisation that tracks propaganda, disinformation and political interference in Ukraine. “It helps protect Ukrainians from Russian fakes and prevents panic among the population.

In 2014, Russian propagandists and their allies released a barrage of disinformation about the Maidan revolution, Crimea and events in eastern Ukraine that experts said worked to destabilise the country.

There are also more practical reasons for the channels working together. “Most of the journalists left Kyiv and the channels simply could not cope individually,” Ostapa said. “The top ministers and officials do not have the time to comment to more than half a dozen channels, and this format means they are communicating with the population once a day and not being seen to favour one channel.”

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Brazil has turned to natural fertilisers over concerns that the war in Ukraine will disrupt crucial fertiliser imports, AFP has reported.

The agricultural superpower is the world’s fourth-biggest consumer of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium based fertilisers and imports 80% of its supply, 25% of which comes from Russia.

From AFP:

That is causing farmers in the South American giant to turn to alternatives, including remineralizers, or “agrominerals” – pulverized, nutrient-rich rocks that are spread on fields before planting.

Brazil, which authorized remineralizers for agricultural use in 2013, is the world leader in the technique, which is also used in the United States, Canada, India and France, among others.

“Brazil is a tropical country, and the rains tend to wash away soil nutrients. Rock powder rebuilds the soil and renews it,” says Marcio Remedio, mineral resources director at the Brazilian Geological Service.

The technique also “allows plants’ roots to develop better and capture the nutrients they need to grow,” says Suzi Huff Theodoro, a geologist at the University of Brasilia.

“We have rocks with the right profile in various parts of the country, and the cost is significantly cheaper” than chemical fertilisers, she told AFP.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered a video address on Tuesday to mark the three month anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, and said the country’s ability to resist Russia had been a surprise and a source of inspiration to the rest of the world.

We must always remember that we have survived these three months thanks to tens and thousands of feats of those who have defended the state. And at the cost of tens of thousands of lives of Ukrainian men and women killed by the occupiers.

Zelenskiy then mocked the claim by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia was deliberately slowing down its offensive in Ukraine to allow civilians time to evacuate. He said:

Well after three months of searching for an explanation why they failed to break Ukraine in three days, they came up with nothing better than to say they had allegedly planned to do so.

He then spoke of the worsening situation in the Donbas region, and called for foreign governments to continue to provide military support in the form of weapons and equipment, saying that was “the best investment in maintaining stability in the world.”

Our reporter Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv has some more information on the Ukrainian soldiers who were captured by Russian forces after the three-month siege of the Azovstal steel plant.

The last group of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the steel works surrendered on Friday.

Koshiw writes:

Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion, was able to briefly call his wife, Kateryna, who said she had also been told that the prisoners had not been subjected to violence. It was not immediately clear if Prokopenko had been able to speak freely during the conversation.

“He said he was ‘OK’ and asked how I was,” Kateryna Prokopenko told the Guardian on Tuesday. “I’ve heard from other sources that the conditions are more or less satisfactory.”

At least 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, including members of the Azov battalion, were transferred to Russian-held territory last week after the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol was taken by Russian forces.

The Azov battalion has played a central role in Russia’s justification for its invasion, which was originally launched with the supposed goal of “denazification”. Officials in Kyiv have suggested they could be swapped in a prisoner exchange, but some Russian officials have called for them to face trial or even execution on “terrorism” charges.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, has declared a state of emergency due to the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Orban, who was returned to power for a fourth consecutive term in April, announced in a Facebook video that his government would assume emergency powers in order to be able to respond more quickly to the challenges created by the war. It will allow the Hungarian government to approve measures by decree.

Orban said:

The world is on the brink of an economic crisis.

The first measures will be announced on Wednesday, he said.

Ukraine has already started using long-range cannons it received from France government officials have said.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, promised to send a shipment of the Ceaser cannons, which are described as “the trump card of the French artillery”, at the start of the month.

Ukrainian infrastructure minister Volodymyr Omelyan shared the update from the Ukrinian army’s commander-in-chief, Valery Zaluzhny, on Tuesday night.

He said the long-range weapons had been rolled out after artillerymen had received two or three hours of training.

As we’ve reported, Russian forces are currently attempting to seize Donbas’ two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region.

More from Reuters:

Russian forces took control of three towns in the Donetsk region including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. All the remaining strength of the Russian army is now concentrated on this region,” Zelenskiy said in a late Tuesday address. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment out-of-hours.

The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

“The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two cities are among the last territory held by Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.

Reuters could not immediately verify the information.

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine. I’m Calla Wahlquist and I’ll be taking you through developments for the next few hours.

This is how things currently stand:

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region amid intense fighting in the eastern region. The Ukrainian president said in his nightly address on Tuesday that “the situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. All the remaining strength of the Russian army is now concentrated on this region”.
Russian forces have taken control of three Donetsk towns including Svitlodarsk, according to the regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, with the key city of Sievierodonestsk surrounded on three sides.
The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region said the situation there “is only getting worse” as Russian troops advance. “It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour,” said governor Sergiy Gaidai. “They are simply eliminating Sievierodonestsk from the earth.”

The bodies of more than 200 people have been discovered in the rubble of a high-rise apartment building in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to a Ukrainian official. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko, said workers found the bodies while digging through a basement underneath the collapsed building.
Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces after the three-month siege of the Azovstal steel plantare being held in “satisfactory” conditions, according to the unit commander’s wife, amid uncertainty over the fate of the prisoners.At least 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, including members of the Azov battalion, were transferred to Russian-held territory last week after the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol was taken by Russian forces.
Ukraine is gathering the bodies of dead Russian soldiers found in formerly occupied towns in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war or for Ukrainian bodies. In Kharkiv, 60 bodies were retrieved and stacked in a refrigerated rail carriage, Reuters reports.
Ukrainian prosecutors have launched a war crimes investigation in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park which was hit by about 50 shells in three months of war. “Hitting civilian targets, civilian infrastructure, trying to kill civilians and destroy cultural heritage, are considered war crimes. An error can happen once or twice, but there are 56 hits recorded. It’s not an accident. They were targeting the park,” Ukrainian prosecutor Roman Petrenko said.
A new survey has found that 82% of Ukrainians believe that their country should not sign away any of its territories as part of a peace deal with Russia under any circumstances
Turkish officials will meet with Swedish and Finnish delegations in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss the Nato bids by the two Nordic countries. Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said his country and Sweden would send delegations to the Turkish capital to try to resolve its opposition to their applications for membership in the military alliance.
A Russian court has rejected an appeal from opposition leader Alexei Navalny against a nine-year prison sentence he is serving for large-scale fraud and contempt of court, charges which he denies. Navalny lambasted President Vladimir Putin during court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a “stupid war” in Ukraine based on lies.
Russia’s foreign ministry has announced a ban on 154 members of the British parliament’s House of Lords on entering the country, in a tit-for-tat move for sanctions against Russian officials over Ukraine. It accused them of having “used their authority to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in the UK”.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to be the “beginning of the third world war” that could spell the end of civilisation, the veteran philanthropist and former financier George Soros has warned from the World Economic Forum in Davos that autocratic regimes were in the ascendant and the global economy was heading for a depression.

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