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Ukraine: Zelenskyy rejects rumors he has fled country — as it happened

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to a camera outside his Kyiv office

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to a camera outside his Kyiv office

  • Russian 'spies and saboteurs' entered the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko
  • The EU, UK and US imposed massive sanctions on Russia, with Brussels targeting Putin and Lavrov
  • The UN says hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled their homes
  • Vladimir Putin's spokesman has indicated a willingness for bilateral talks with Ukraine
  • The Council of Europe has suspended Russia's membership in response to the conflict

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NATO leaders to bolster eastern forces

NATO leaders agreed Friday to send thousands of troops, backed by air and naval support, to protect allies near Russia and Ukraine in response to Moscow's invasion of its neighbor.

Speaking after chairing an emergency NATO summit in Brussels, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said parts of the NATO Response Force would be sent to the alliance's eastern flank, along with elements of a quickly deployable spearhead unit.

Stoltenberg did not say how many troops would be sent or where they might go, but he did confirm that the move would involve land, sea and air power.

DPA news agency reported that ground troops could be sent to Romania.

The announcement came after NATO members, ranging from Estonia to Bulgaria triggered urgent consultations Thursday about their security.

NATO previously had around 5,000 troops stationed in the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with Poland, but has significantly beefed up its defenses over the past three months.

Some of NATO's 30 member countries are supplying arms, ammunition and other equipment to Ukraine, but NATO as an organization isn't.

It won't launch any military action in support of Ukraine, which is a close partner but has no prospect of joining.

Germany said Friday that it plans to deploy troops and a Patriot anti-missile system to Slovakia.

US, UK join EU in freezing Putin's assets

The United States and Britain followed the EU in announcing sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that a travel ban would be part of the US sanctions. The Treasury Department is expected to release more details later Friday.

Psaki also said that any moves by Russia "going after" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who alongside key aides has vowed to stay and defend Kyiv, would be a "horrific act."

The UK Treasury issued a financial sanctions notice against the two Russian politicans, adding them to a list of Russian oligarchs who have already had their property and bank accounts in the UK frozen.

The move suggests that Western powers are acting in concert to try to force Putin to stop the invasion of Ukraine.

In comments to NATO leaders, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called again for Russia's exclusion from the SWIFT system of financial transactions. European nations have faced criticism for failing to cut Russia off from the global bank payments network.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would impose sanctions on Putin and "his fellow architects of this barbaric war." Trudeau also expressed support for barring Russia from SWIFT.

Also Friday, Switzerland told banks to freeze the assets of people and entities on an EU sanctions blacklist that the neutral country has adopted.

The financial regulator did not specify how much money would be frozen, but Russians held nearly 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($11.21 billion, €9.95 billion) in Switzerland in 2020, Swiss National Bank data show.

Meanwhile, Serbia defied EU and US calls to join sanctions against Russia, although its autocratic president said that Moscow's assault against Ukraine broke international law.

Despite formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been strengthening ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: Belarus does not want to fight Ukraine

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Friday that the citizens of her country do not want to fight Ukraine.

"We didn't expect this war would happen. We didn't believe in this… Putin partnered with [Alexander Lukashenko] and attacked Ukraine. And this is the price Lukashenko is paying for the Kremlin's support in 2020, which allowed Lukashenko to stay in power," Tsikhanouskaya told DW.

"I really want to express solidarity with all Ukrainians because some people don't want to fight, especially they don't want to fight against Ukraine, our neighbor, people we love. And we want to be friends, of course, with them," she added.

She said the vast majority of Belarusians are against Russia's actions: "Only 12% believe that Belarus must send its soldiers and only 13% are in support of the Russian campaign."

Zelenskyy video rejects rumors he had fled Ukraine

After rumors spread that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had either fled the country or was hiding in a bunker, the Ukrainian leader posted a video to Facebook showing him and his political colleagues outside the president's office in Kyiv.

"We are all here," Zelenskyy said, referring to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as well as the heads of the presidential office and the Ukrainian parliament.

The video was published as Russian troops bore down on Ukraine's capital, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter.

"Our troops are here, citizens are here,'' Zelenskyy continued, adding that "all of us are here protecting our independence of our country. And it will continue to be this way. Glory to our defenders, Glory to Ukraine, Glory to Heroes."

Zelenskyy's whereabouts had been kept secret after he told European leaders in a call Thursday night that he was Russia's No. 1 target and that they might not see him again alive.

Anti-Russia protests in Turkey

Across Turkey, Ukrainian citizens have gathered to protest Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. A video published on DW's Turkish Twitter account shows footage of the protests.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the Russian attack as a "heavy blow to regional peace and stability." At the same time, he has refused to close off the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to Russian warships.

Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer says Ukraine unlikely to fend off Russia

Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group political risk consultancy, told DW Friday that Ukraine is unlikely to fend off Russia's attack, as it is not a member of NATO.

"I mean, fundamentally the issue is Ukraine matters a lot more to Putin than it does to Germany, the United States or any of the rest of the alliance," Bremmer said. "And President Zelenskyy, as courageous as he is and I saw him speak live at Munich last week, is facing the ultimate sacrifice right now."

Bremmer said Russia's intention is "regime change" and removing Zelenskyy from office.

"And the only reason they're being attacked, the only sin that the Ukrainians have committed is the audacity to want to elect their own leaders and determine their own future," Bremmer said. "And that is unacceptable to the vastly more powerful Russian Federation and particularly to President Putin."

Russia to 'partially restrict' Facebook, citing censorship

Russia's media regulator said it was limiting access to Facebook, accusing the US tech giant of censorship.

The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said Facebook had restricted access to the official accounts of RIA news agency, the defense ministry's Zvezda TV and news websites gazeta.ru and lenta.ru.

The regulator said it had asked Facebook parent Meta to lift the curbs and explain why they were imposed.

In the statement, the regulator also accused the social media firm of 23 similar instances of "censorship" since October 2020.

Roskomnadzor did not specify what the Russian measures would be. Last year, Moscow slowed down the speed of Twitter in a punitive move.

In December, Facebook was fined 2 billion roubles ($24.27 million, €21.58 million) for what the regulator described as a repeated failure to delete illegal content.

DW's Moscow Correspondent Emily Sherwin, who is now in Berlin after Russia revoked media accreditation for DW employees in January, said the restrictions could also affect the WhatsApp messenger platform and Instagram.

Russia has also increased pressure on domestic media, threatening to block reports that contain what it describes as "false information" regarding its military operation in Ukraine.

Latvia: EU imposes asset freeze on Putin, Lavrov

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc has adopted new sanctions on Russia, specifically targeting President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Putin and his foreign minister will be subject to an asset freeze as part of a massive package agreed on at an emergency EU summit in Brussels.

The new sanctions come on top of asset freezes and travel bans already imposed on senior Kremlin officials involved in Russia's decision to recognize Ukraine's breakaway provinces as independent states.

The latest curbs also target Russia's energy, finance and transport sectors as well as banning the export of critical technologies and software from Europe to Russia.

Visa restrictions are also to be introduced.

Reuters news agency cited an EU official as saying that a third round of sanctions may target "many more" Russian oligarchs and would be discussed next week.

Latvia's foreign ministry quoted Foreign Minister Edgard Rinkevics as saying he believed a third round "which also includes the exclusion of Russia from SWIFT" was necessary.

However, Borrell said a third round was unlikely to come soon:

"Don't expect a third package in the next days or hours because this is not the idea. The idea is, if it's necessary to do more and we identify actions on the Russian side, if we have identified consensus around more measures, they will be taken."

Germany stepping up military support to NATO

Germany is to provide NATO with more soldiers and weapons systems to protect its allies, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Friday.

"We have a fleet service boat deployed in the Baltic Sea. We will also provide a frigate and a corvette and we are preparing more," the politician from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) told the German dpa news agency. "We will provide more troops. We will also get involved with air surveillance and air defense."

Germany has been criticized for refusing to send weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russia. Berlin received further negative press when it approved the sending of 5,000 helmets to the Ukrainian army following criticism of its refusal to send defensive weapons.

Germany does not to send weaponry to active conflict zones on principle in most cases. The current coalition government, which took office in December, had pledged a more restrictive arms export policy in light of deliveries to countries involved in conflicts in Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.

Lambrecht stressed that Germany was a reliable partner in the military alliance, adding that the country was the "largest troop contributor in NATO after the US," with 13,000 soldiers in the NATO Response Force alone.

The defense minister also warned Russian President Vladimir Putin after he appeared to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in his invasion speech. She said that NATO was not intimidated and would show its resolve through unity and deterrence.

"An attack on one ally would be an attack on all of us, with terrible consequences for Russia," Lambrecht said, adding: "Putin knows that too."

NATO's Stoltenberg says Russia 'bears sole responsibility'

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has told an emergency summit of the military alliance that Russia has "shattered peace on the European continent" by invading Ukraine.

Speaking in Brussels, he said Moscow "bears sole responsibility for the deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion,” adding that NATO members “call on Russia to immediately cease its military action."

"We stand with the brave people of Ukraine. We fully support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, its right to self-defense and its right to choose its own path," Stoltenberg added.

The talks took place virtually with US President Joe Biden joining from the Situation Room at the White House.

Ukraine's desire to join NATO and the European Union is partly what prompted Moscow's decision to attack; with Russia seeking Western assurances before invading that Ukraine would never be allowed into NATO.

Biden has repeatedly said that Kyiv is nowhere near being able to join the military alliance and is also firm that US troops will not go there to help push back Russia. However, the US and NATO also refused to categorically rule out ever accepting Ukraine, saying Russia should not be able influence such a decision.

Ahead of the summit, DW's NATO correspondent Teri Schulz said NATO leaders were likely to agree to send reinforcements to the eastern flank.

"Any expectations that these troops would be able to leave the Baltic States and Poland anytime soon has certainly been thrown out of the window," she said.

Russia barred from taking part in Eurovision

Russia will be prohibited from taking part in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said.

The EBU said the appearance of a Russian act in the contest would "bring the competition into disrepute."

Ukraine and other countries have previously called for Russia to be expelled from the contest. Finland said it would not send an act if Russia were allowed to participate.

The competition will take place in May in Turin, Italy.

Council of Europe suspends Russia

The Council of Europe has suspended Russia's membership due to the Kremlin-backed invasion of Ukraine, the committee of ministers decided.

The 47-member body is the continent's foremost human rights organization.

Permanent representatives of the member states "agreed to suspend the Russian federation from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe" by invoking Article 8 of its statute, according to a statement.

Although the Council of Europe suspended Russia's right to representation, the Eastern European country will still remain a member of the body. The Council has only invoked Article 8 one other time in its history, against Greece's military junta in 1969.

The Council was founded in 1949, and is based in Strasbourg, France.

Kremlin 'ready' for peace talks with Ukraine, venue one sticking point?

Russia is willing to send a delegation to the Belarusian capital Minsk for peace talks with Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

"In response to Zelenskyy's proposal, Vladimir Putin is ready to send a delegation at the level of representatives of Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and presidential administration to Minsk for negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation," Peskov said.

Russian President Putin has reportedly spoken with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko about the option of setting up a secure location for the talks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has twice offered to meet with Putin for talks.

Peskov later said Ukraine proposed Warsaw, the capital of NATO member Poland, as a venue for talks instead of Moscow ally Minsk. He added that Kyiv then halted further communication.

Protest outside German chancellery for tougher sanctions

Dozens of people gathered outside the German chancellery to demand tougher sanctions on Russia, including cutting Moscow off from the SWIFT banking system. DW correspondent Thomas Sparrow was there.

The German government has so far opposed excluding Russia from the SWIFT system altogether, citing possible consequences for Germany, which uses the system to pay for Russian gas.

The protesters gathered on Friday waved Ukrainian flags and called for further support for Ukraine.

On Thursday, several demonstrators protested in Berlin against the Russian war on Ukraine, and more protests are planned for the weekend.

Police expect 20,000 people to join a protest at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Sunday under the motto, "Stop the war. Peace for Ukraine and all of Europe."

Putin calls on Ukraine army to overthrow leadership

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the Ukrainian military to seize power in their country from the current leadership, which he described as "terrorists."

"It seems like it will be easier for us to agree with you than this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis," he said in a televised address, referring to leadership in Kyiv led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russia has repeatedly sought to label the Ukrainian government as "neo-Nazi," based on what the Kremlin says is persecution against the country's Russian-speaking population.

In announcing the military operation in Ukraine, Putin claimed that its aim was the "denazification" and "demilitarization" of Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is both a Russian-speaker and Jewish.

Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has alleged Russian air strikes hit a Kindergarten and an orphanage, calling the attacks "war crimes" in a post on Twitter.

Kuleba said that Ukrainian prosecutors were collecting evidence of the incidents to send to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Thursday that they had been observing developments in Ukraine "with concern" adding that people who commit order, incite or contribute to any war crimes "may be liable to prosecution before the Court."

Russia never ratified its membership of the Rome Statute which underpins most prosecutions at the ICC, and it even withdrew its unratified signature to the agreement in 2016, when the court deemed that Russia's annexation of Crimea qualified as an armed conflict.

Pope Francis visits Russian embassy

Pope Francis decided to visit Russia's embassy at the Holy See as tensions continue to escalate, according to the Vatican press office. The 85-year-old Catholic leader visited the embassy "to express his concern for the war."

He reportedly spent over half an hour at the embassy. A Vatican spokesperson said the pope spoke to Russia's ambassador, but no readout of the meeting has been released so far.

Francis previously said on Wednesday, ahead of the invasion, that the idea of war in Ukraine causes "great pain in my heart." He also criticized actions "destabilizing coexistence among nations and discrediting international law."

Kremlin ready for peace talks with Ukraine in Minsk

Russia is willing to send a delegation to the Belarusian capital Minsk for peace talks with Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

"In response to Zelenskyy's proposal, Vladimir Putin is ready to send a delegation at the level of representatives of Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and presidential administration to Minsk for negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation," Peskov said.

Russian President Putin has reportedly spoken with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko about the option of setting up a secure location for the talks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has twice offered to meet with Putin for talks.

Kyiv enters 'defensive phase'

Kyiv "has entered into a defensive phase," said the capital's mayor, Vitaly Klitschko.

"Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods saboteurs have already entered Kyiv. The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us," the former boxer told a news briefing.

Earlier reports said that Russian saboteurs had entered the city as Russian forces, including tanks, approached on the city from various directions. Gunfire was heard near the government district earlier in the day.

Zelenskyy urges Europeans with 'combat experience' to defend Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday called on Europeans with "combat experience" to join the fight of defending Ukraine against Russian forces.

"If you have combat experience in Europe and do not want to look at the indecision of politicians, you can come to our country and join us in defending Europe, where it is very necessary now," Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian leader also demanded that the West act quickly and "without delay."

"State institutions in Europe are not in a hurry with really strong decisions," he said.

As Western countries held off excluding Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, Zelenskyy urged that all options be considered.

"Europe has enough strength to stop this aggression," he said.

"Cancellation of visas for Russians? Disconnect from SWIFT? Complete isolation of Russia? Recall of ambassadors? Oil embargo? Closing the sky? Today, all this must be on the table."

EU prepares sanctions against Putin, Lavrov

The European Union could impose another round of sanctions against Russia following the most recent measures that were agreed on Thursday night, news agencies Reuters and dpa both reported on Friday, citing insiders.

The new sanctions would target assets belonging to President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The sanctions would also hit Russia's financial and energy sectors that were already targeted in the previous round.

Further sanctions that have not yet been enacted are still on the table, such as targeting other Russian oligarchs, ending coal imports from the Russia-occupied Donbas region and cutting Russia off from the SWIFT banking system.

German president appeals to Putin: Stop the war now

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Russia's president to "stop the madness of this war. Now!"

"For many in Russia, there will be bitter consequences of the actions taken by their president," he said, referring to the effects of sanctions on Russia's economy. "We do not want to make the Russian people our enemy. But this injustice cannot remain without a clear response."

Steinmeier also praised people who took to the street in solidarity with Ukraine. "It is good that the people in our countries are expressing this on the streets in their demonstrations. Let us show the people in Ukraine that we feel their situation," he said.

"The Russian president should not believe for a single second that the people in Germany and in Europe are simply going to accept this brutal violence," Steinmeier added.

Formula 1 cancels Russian Grand Prix

The Formula One racing organization has called off its planned Russian Grand Prix, set to take place in Sochi in September.

"We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation," F1 said in a statement Friday.

"Formula 1, [governing body] the FIA, and the teams discussed the position of our sport, and the conclusion is, including the view of all relevant stakeholders, that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances," the statement said.

The cancellation follows a similar move to cancel the men's soccer Champion's League final in Saint Petersburg and hold it instead in Paris.

Are negotiations possible?

In a call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Moscow was open to "high level negotiations" with Ukraine after China said that it supported a negotiated solution between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia has also defended its invasion of Ukraine against widespread international condemnation.

At the same time, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that an offer for talks from Kyiv over a possible neutral status of Ukraine was a "move in the right direction."

Peskov told Russian news agencies Russia was willing to send a delegation including officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries.

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the offer of neutrality was a lie.

Peskov went on to say that it recognizes Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the president of Ukraine, but he did not go into whether or how the two sides would open communication.

Tusk slams Germany, Hungary, Italy over weak sanctions

Former European Council President Donald Tusk has berated Germany, Hungary and Italy for opposing tougher sanctions against Russia at an emergency EU summit this week.

"In this war everything is real: Putin's madness and cruelty, Ukrainian victims, bombs falling on Kyiv. Only your sanctions are pretended. Those EU [governments that] blocked tough decisions ([among others] Germany, Hungary, Italy) have disgraced themselves," he wrote in a tweet.

Tusk, who presided over the European Council from 2014 to 2019, is a former Polish prime minister who is now president of the European People's Party, the largest party in the European Parliament.

'No chance' that Russia invades NATO member

Andras Racz, an associate fellow with the German Council on Foreign Relations, told DW, "There is no chance right now that the Russian Federation would launch any kind of attack against any of Ukraine's neighboring NATO countries."

Asked whether Moscow will stop at Ukraine's borders, for Racz "the answer is a definite 'yes.'"

According to the foreign relations expert, there is a pattern to what he called Russian "imperialism." First, they take control of a region "then they sit on it, they wait for a few years, stabilize their power, stabilize their position."

He said he doubted sanctions would be able to stop the invasion.

"It's highly unlikely that any economic sanctions or other non-military costs would be able to stop this military logic from functioning," Racz told DW. "Unless Ukraine can be defeated or surrenders, Russia will keep pushing.

"Ukrainian forces are resisting, but gradually losing ground on the southern front line," he said.

As for Moscow's intentions, according to the foreign policy expert they to: "defeat Ukraine militarily, occupy Kyiv and change the government."

But "it still remains to be seen if they are up for the large-scale, slow and bloody urban combat that the siege and conquest of Kyiv would mean," Racz said.

Russia's Lavrov meets separatist officials

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with senior officials of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "republics."

Lavrov reiterated that Moscow saw the attack on Ukraine as "necessary" to free the Russian-backed separatists of what he called Ukrainian "oppression."

The Russian top diplomat refused to recognize Kyiv's democratic government, claiming it "oppresses and uses genocidal methods against its own people."

There is no evidence of Ukraine's democratically elected government committing genocide against its people.

According to the Interfax news agency, Lavrov said that the population in rebel areas in eastern Ukraine were subjected to "shelling by the Kyiv regime."

Fighting has happened on both sides of the line of contact in eastern Ukraine since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.

Lavrov was speaking in Moscow alongside Sergey Peresada, a deputy foreign minister of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic," and Vladislav Deinego, so-called foreign minister of the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic."

UN says millions of Ukrainians might flee abroad

At least 100,000 people in Ukraine are internally displaced and thousands have already crossed into neighboring countries amid Russia's invasion, a number that could reach 4 million, the UNHCR has said.

UN aid agencies said in Geneva that shortages of fuel, cash and medical supplies were helping drive the exodus to countries such as Moldova, Romania and Poland.

UN human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that there were reports of at least 127 civilian casualties in Ukraine from the current fighting, including 25 killed and 102 injured.

She said the true figures were likely very much higher.

Dima Khilchenko, a consultant for DW Academy, shared his experience of leaving Kyiv but being forced to stay in Ukraine due to a general mobilization.

"We woke up at 5:30 a.m. because we heard the explosion and it's very hard to confuse this sound with something else and we understood straight away that the war has started," he said.

"Yesterday night my daughter, who is 6-years-old, asked me if I'm going to war, and I said if I have to, I will, and of course, she asked me not to do that. But you see, like when your country is invaded, who, if not us, will do it."

Loud blasts heard in Kharkiv

Explosions were heard in Ukraine's second-largest city Kharkiv, which lies close to Ukraine's eastern border with Russia, on Friday with the mayor telling residents to seek shelter from Russian missiles in subway stations, basements and bomb shelters, Reuters news agency reported.

Air raid sirens were set off in cities across the country as reports emerged of rockets landing in residential areas.

Russia claims aim is to demilitarize Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia wanted to "liberate Ukrainians from oppression," adding that the invading force is not planning to occupy Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The aim of the invasion, according to Lavrov, is to demilitarize Ukraine. He went on to say that Russia wants the Ukrainian people to be independent and determine their own destiny.

Lavrov added that Moscow would engage in talks with Kyiv, but only after the Ukrainian military laid down its weapons.

The Kremlin on Friday also pledged to retaliate to Western sanctions. It acknowledged that sanctions would be damaging, but that the problems they may cause would be solvable.

"It goes without saying that retaliatory measures will follow," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"Just how symmetrical or asymmetrical they will be depends on the analysis, the restrictions have yet to be analysed," he added.

The comments from the Kremlin came as the EU announced that it was preparing further emergency sanctions against Russia.

UN condemns Russia's 'arbitrary arrests' of anti-war protesters

The United Nations has condemned the reported arrests of hundreds of people in Russia who were protesting against their country's invasion of Ukraine.

"Arresting individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or a peaceful assembly constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty," UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters. She also called for "the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained."

On Thursday, many thousands of Russians defied tough anti-protest laws to hold anti-war rallies across the country.

OVD-Info, which monitors arrests at opposition protests, said that more than 1,800 people in 59 cities had been detained.

UEFA moves Champions League final out of Russia

In the wake of the war in Ukraine, European soccer's governing body, UEFA, has stripped Russia of hosting the Champions League final. Instead, the French capital, Paris, has been chosen to hold the match in its Stade de France on May 28.

The final had originally been scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg.

UEFA also announced that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in international competitions must play home matches at neutral venues "until further notice."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was "a shame" that the match would not be held in St. Petersburg.

Angela Merkel condemns Russian invasion

Germany's former Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what she called a "blatant breach of international law" and a "war of aggression [that] marks a profound turning point in the history of Europe after the end of the Cold War."

"My thoughts and my solidarity are with the Ukrainian people and the government led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in these frightful hours and days," she said.

Merkel was chancellor when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014. At the time she called for lines of communication with Moscow to remain open but highlighted that the situation is different now due to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

EU foreign ministers, NATO to meet on Ukraine

European Union foreign ministers are set to hold an urgent meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss further response options to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Diplomats said the ministers would debate ways of giving Ukraine more support and plan strategies for the bloc's future dealings with Russia.

The meeting comes after EU leaders on Thursday night agreed on a massive new set of sanctions targeting Russia's energy, finance and transport sectors.

NATO heads of state and government are also to discuss the Ukraine crisis on Friday afternoon at an extraordinary virtual summit chaired by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg is due to give a press briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels after the conference.

Fighting reported in Kyiv

Gunfire has been heard close to the government quarter in Kyiv after explosions hit the Ukrainian capital earlier in the morning, the Associated Press has reported.

The Ukrainian military also said that Russian spies and saboteurs had been spotted within the city, some 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the city center.

Russian tanks and troops have already reached the outskirts of the city after entering the country from Belarus to the north.

Social media videos showed what appeared to be Russian tanks in an area just north of Kyiv's city center.

Ukraine's military called on residents of Kyiv to track the movements of Russian forces in the city. It also told people to stay home and to make Molotov cocktails — a makeshift weapon that can be constructed from household items.

For its part, Russia has denied firing missile strikes on Kyiv and blamed explosions there on Ukrainian defense forces shooting down their own aircraft.

Radiation warnings at Chernobyl

Ukraine's nuclear agency warned of increased radiation levels coming out of Chernobyl on Friday, a day after Russian forces took control of the facility.

The infamous power plant has been decommissioned since 1986 when one of its nuclear reactors exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe.

The agency reported detecting higher levels of gamma radiation which it attributed to a "disturbance of the topsoil due to the movement of a large amount of heavy military equipment through the exclusion zone and the release of contaminated radioactive dust into the air.''

Russia has denied the reports of an increase in radiation. It said troops had taken control of the area to protect it and prevent "provocations" from Kyiv.

Russian gas still transiting Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has not stopped Russian gas exports to Europe through pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory, Russian gas firm Gazprom has said.

"Gazprom is delivering Russian gas for transit through the region of Ukraine in regular mode and in line with the demands of European consumers," said Sergey Kupriyanov, the company's official representative, in comments reported by the Russian Interfax news agency.

That will have amounted to 103.8 million cubic meters (366.6 million cubic feet) of gas on Friday, he added.

European dependence on Russian gas has been one factor complicating the Western response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Russia bans UK airlines

Russia has banned airplanes registered in the UK from landing or crossing its airspace, its state civil aviation regulator said on Friday.

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said that the restrictions were a "retaliation" for the British move Thursday to ban Russian airline Aeroflot from flying into the UK. "That's their tit-for-tat response," he said on ITV's Good Morning Britain.

Lavrov to hold talks with Donbas officials

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to hold talks in Moscow with officials from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics later on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said.

President Putin had on Monday recognized the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine before ordering the military invasion in the country.

Germany, France haven't ruled out Russian SWIFT exclusion

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said that "all options are on the table" when it comes to imposing sanctions against Moscow, including cutting Russia's access to the SWIFT international banking system.

"The first sanctions have been placed on Russia and they harm the Russian people and will block the Russian economy seriously," Lindner said before a meeting with other finance ministers from the euro group in Paris.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday Washington and the EU had decided against cutting Russia off from the SWIFT payments system.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany was opposed to cutting off Russia's access to SWIFT for the time being but said the step could be taken at a later stage.

Lindner said he was "open" to the measure if it was "desired" by Germany's allies. But he warned of a possible end to Russian gas supplies to Germany. "Further steps are possible, but their impact must be considered," he said.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also said that cutting off Russia from the SWIFT global interbank payments system was still a possibility, but said he viewed the measure as a "last resort."

Chinese Foreign Ministry says sanctions harm more than help

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has responded to new Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its war against Ukraine by saying that such measures had never been an effective way of solving problems but instead created problems for involved countries and regions.

The ministry said China opposed all illegal, unilateral sanctions and hoped relevant parties would deal with issues related to China in a way that would not harm China.

The ministry also hit back at a comment by US President Joe Biden that seemed to be aimed at China after Beijing failed to call Russia's attack on Ukraine an invasion and instead urged restraint.

Biden said countries that supported Russia's invasion would be "stained by association."

China responded to the veiled criticism by saying that it was countries who interfered in others' domestic affairs that would see their reputations stained.

France: Putin wants to 'take Ukraine off the map of nations'

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to destroy Ukraine's statehood.

"This is total war. Putin has decided ... to take Ukraine off the map of nations," Le Drian said in an interview to France Inter radio.

He also warned that the security of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy was at risk.

Le Drian said France is "worried" about a possible Russian military offensive against the two other post-Soviet nations of Moldova and Georgia.

UK says Russia wants 'whole of Ukraine'

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday that his country believes Russia wants to conquer Ukraine in its entirety but that the Russian army had not fulfilled its aims on the first day of its invasion.

"It's definitely our view that the Russians intend to invade the whole of Ukraine," Wallace told broadcaster Sky.

He went on to contradict claims by Russia's Defense Ministry that the Russian army had fulfilled all its objectives on the first day of the military operation.

"Contrary to great Russian claims, and indeed President Putin's sort of vision that somehow the Ukrainians would be liberated and would be flocking to his cause, he's got that completely wrong, and the Russian army has failed to deliver, on day one, its main objective," Wallace said.

Zelenskyy calls for eastern European defense assistance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had spoken with Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Friday to seek defense assistance from eastern European NATO members in the so-called Bucharest Nine organization.

"Together we have to put [Russia] at the negotiating table. We need (an) anti-war coalition," Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

The Bucharest Nine is an organization founded in 2015 by states that were either in the Soviet Union or within its sphere of influence in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and later intervention in eastern Ukraine.

Its members, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, are scheduled to meet later on Friday.

Ukraine fears imminent attack on Kyiv

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar has warned that Russian forces are poised to enter areas just outside the capital, Kyiv, on Friday

A government adviser, Anton Herashchenko, said the Russian troops planned to break through into the capital using tanks but that Ukrainian forces were ready to counter the attack with anti-tank missiles supplied by foreign allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had earlier said the government had information that "subversive groups" were moving on the city.

This comes after a night of reported air raids in the city that were said by a DW correspondent to have set some residential buildings on fire. Many Kyiv residents have taken shelter in underground metro stations.

'The hardest day will be today'

The Ukrainian general staff of the armed forces said Ukrainian troops were firmly resisting what he called "Russian occupiers" in the Kyiv area.

Ukrainian airborne assault troops were reported in a statement to have stopped "overwhelming enemy forces" at the Teteriv River near the settlements of Dymer and Ivankiv.

Dymer is around 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Kyiv, while Ivankiv is around 60 kilometers northwest of the capital.

The military's statement said a bridge over the river was destroyed.

"The hardest day will be today. The enemy's plan is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv,'' Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

After meeting Putin, Pakistan PM concerned over economic fallout

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan raised worries over the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, the foreign office in Islamabad said.

"The Prime Minister stressed that conflict was not in anyone's interest, and that the developing countries were always hit the hardest economically in case of conflict," the office said in a statement.

Khan was the first world leader to meet Putin since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

The Pakistani leader had arrived in Moscow just hours before the attack began for a previously planned visit.

International Criminal Court prosecutor warns of war crime inquiry

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan has expressed his concern over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that the court may probe possible war crimes in the country.

"I remind all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine that my office may exercise its jurisdiction and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within Ukraine," Khan said.

Zelenskyy: Western sanctions 'not enough' to convince Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday it was clear that new Western sanctions imposed on Moscow were not enough to curb Russian aggression against his country.

Speaking after reported Russian missile attacks on the capital, Kyiv, he said the world was still just observing the events in Ukraine from a distance.

At the end of a televised speech, Zelenskyy switched to Russian and directed his words to Russian citizens, some of whom protested on Thursday against the war.

"To all the citizens of the Russian Federation who went out to protest, I want to say: We see you. This means you heard us. This means you are starting to believe us," Zelenskyy said.

"Fight for us, fight against the war," he added.

Hundreds of people were detained in Russia during the anti-war protests on Thursday.

DW correspondent: 'Kyiv is definitely the main target'

DW correspondent Mathias Bölinger, who is in Kyiv, spoke of "several air raids" in the night, with missiles landing on the city and planes flying over.

"We have seen burning parts of missiles or planes ... falling down on residential buildings; residential buildings have been on fire," he said, adding that there had been some civilian victims.

He said that although Ukraine had been "holding its defense quite well until now," Russian troops had made incursions into Ukrainian territory in many places.

"They are advancing from several directions, and Kyiv is definitely the main target," he said.

Ukraine's central bank bans payments to Russia, Belarus

The National Bank of Ukraine has banned payments to entities located in Russia and Belarus, the regulator said on Friday.

It has also banned operations involving Russian and Belarusian rubles.

Ukraine foreign minister: 'Horrific' airstrikes on Kyiv

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv had suffered "horrific" Russian airstrikes. He went on to compare the attacks by Russian forces with World War II.

"Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany. Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one," Kuleba said in a tweet.

Kuleba urged countries to adopt tough sanctions against Russia and to "sever all ties" and "kick Russia out of everywhere."

"Stop Putin. Isolate Russia," he wrote.

Attack on Zaporizhzhia border post

Authorities said intense fighting was underway on Friday morning in the city of Sumy in the country's northeast.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's border guard service said that a border post in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region had been hit by a missile strike at 4.25 am local time (0225 GMT). Zaporizhzhia borders the Donetsk region to the east.

The service said that the attack had caused casualties.

Explosions heard in Kyiv

The sound of explosions echoed through central Kyiv as Russian missiles fell on the Ukrainian capital early on Friday, news agencies have reported.

"Attacks on Kyiv with cruise and ballistic missiles have just resumed. I heard two powerful explosions," Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko said on Telegram.

Herashchenko added that Ukrainian forces had downed an enemy aircraft over the capital in the early hours of Friday, which then crashed into a residential building and set it on fire.

Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko said three people were injured, one being in critical condition after missile debris hit a residential building.

He tweeted a photo showing a building with part of its wall torn down and firefighters present at the scene.

China to evacuate citizens

The Chinese Embassy in Ukraine said on Friday that it is arranging flights to evacuate its citizens.

The embassy released a statement saying the situation in Ukraine has "deteriorated sharply'' but did not make any mention of the Russian invasion.

The statement did not provide any further details on the time and location for the departure of these flights.

The embassy urged people to be packed and ready to leave quickly once flight schedules were announced.

Macron speaks after phone call with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking a return to the age of empires and confrontations, French President Emmanuel Macron said after speaking to Putin on the phone.

Macron said he had called his Russian counterpart on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's request. Zelenskyy said he tried to call Putin but failed to reach him.

Macron added that EU sanctions will be followed by French sanctions against Russia. He said that Europe is not just a "market of consumers," but must be a power with "energy and defense sovereignty."

The French president announced €300 million ($336 million) of aid to Ukraine, as well as military equipment.

Macron accused Putin of "duplicity" in earlier talks between the two leaders.

"Yes, there was duplicity, yes there was a deliberate, conscious choice to launch war when we could still negotiate peace," Macron said.

Nonetheless, Macron said that it is useful to "leave a path open" for dialogue with Putin.

Von der Leyen announces details of Russia sanctions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said sanctions agreed at an emergency EU summit would target 70% of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies, including in defense.

An export ban would "hit the oil sector by making it impossible for Russia to upgrade its refineries," von der Leyen said. The EU was also banning the sale of aircraft and equipment to Russian airlines, she added.

Visa restrictions will see diplomats and business people no longer having privileged access to the European Union.

The invasion of Ukraine marked the start of a "new era," she said. "Putin is trying to subjugate a friendly European country. He is trying to redraw the map of Europe. He must and he will fail."

UN Security Council to vote on condemning Russia

The UN Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution that would condemn Russia's military attack on Ukraine.

It would also demand an immediate halt to the aggression and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

Russia is a permanent member of the security council and thus will be able to veto the vote.

Although Russia is expected to veto the resolution, a senior US administration said that the council is a "critical venue in which Russia must be force to explain itself."

A similar resolution condemning Crimea's independence referendum was vetoed by Russia in 2014. 13 countries voted in favor, and China abstained.

Ukraine orders general mobilization

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a decree on the general mobilization of the population in the wake of Russia's invasion.

Conscripts and reservists will be called up over the next 90 days to "ensure the defense of the state, maintaining combat and mobilization readiness," an entry on the Ukrainian presidency's website said.

"We have been left alone to defend our state," Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation after midnight.

"Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don't see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid," he added.

The Ukrainian leader vowed to continue fighting, saying that "a new iron curtain" was falling between Russia and the West.

Ukraine's border guard said that males aged 18-60 are not allowed to leave the country in a statement posted on its Facebook account.

The restriction will last for the duration of the period of martial law in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy: Death toll over 100

Zelenskyy has announced that 137 citizens, including military personnel, had been killed and over 300 had been injured since Russia invaded

He called them "heroes" in the video address. Zelenskyy said that despite Russia's claim it is attacking only military targets, civilian sites also have been struck.

"They're killing people and turning peaceful cities into military targets. It's foul and will never be forgiven," he said.

Zelenskyy added that all the border guards on Zmiinyi island in Ukraine's southwestern Odesa region were killed on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Russia took control of Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear disaster in 1986 and where a decommissioned nuclear power plant and exclusion zone remain.

The White House said on Thursday that it was outraged at reports of hostages taken at the facilities at Chernobyl.

Opinion: Germany has to wake up to Russia

Germans are in shock at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Few people really thought that an invasion of Ukraine was possible, perhaps because of the historical relationship between Germany and Russia. There is a feeling that Russia is too close to Germany to mess with.

But DW's Jens Thurau says Germany has to change its approach and will now be forced to in a terrible way.

Biden: Russia to keep access to SWIFT

The United States and European Union have decided for the time being not to cut Russia off from the SWIFT global interbank payments system, US President Joe Biden said.

When asked about the reason for this decision, Biden said that sanctions imposed against Russian banks exceeded the impact of excluding Russia from SWIFT and there wasn't unanimity within the EU on taking the additional step.

"It is always an option," Biden said. "But right now, that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany is currently opposed to cutting off Russia's access to SWIFT, but added that this could step could be taken at a later stage.

"It is very important that we agree those measures that have been prepared - and keep everything else for a situation where it may be necessary to go beyond that," Scholz said when asked on cutting Russia off from SWIFT.

West ramps up sanctions on Russia

Western leaders have announced a package of sweeping sanctions against Russia.

After an emergency meeting in Brussels, EU leaders said they would impose "massive and severe" sanctions targeting Russia's energy, finance, and transport sectors and restrictions on exports and financing. The bloc also wants to draw up sanctions against Belarus because of its close links to Russia.

US sanctions will limit international trade with Moscow and penalize Putin's inner circle.

"(President Vladimir) Putin chose this war. And now, he and his country will bear the consequences," US President Joe Biden said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the "largest-ever" set of economic sanctions against Russia. Speaking to parliament, Johnson said the UK was sanctioning more than 100 individuals and entities and freezing assets of all major Russian banks. "Furthermore, we are also banning (Russian commercial airline) Aeroflot from the UK," Johnson said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would sanction members of Russia's elite and their families, the paramilitary Wagner Group, and major Russian banks. Canada also canceled existing export permits for Russia and would not issue new ones.

Australia imposed more sanctions against Russia on Friday.

The sanctions targeted several of its elite citizens and lawmakers.

Following a similar move by the United States, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan would strengthen sanctions against Russia to include financial institutions and military equipment exports.

Macron and Putin speak

French President Emmanuel Macron called Vladimir Putin on Thursday demanding Russia stop military operations in Ukraine.

The French president phoned his Russian counterpart after he spoke with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Macron undertook strenuous diplomacy in recent weeks to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine, including holding direct talks with Putin.

The Kremlin says there was a "serious and frank exchange of views."

Putin explained "in detail his reasons for the invasion, but Macron warned him of "massive sanctions."

Summary of events in Ukraine on Thursday

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. Its military attacked from the north, south and east.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenkskyy declared martial law as Russia attacked the country's military infrastructure.

Air-raid sirens went off in the capital Kyiv and explosions were heard across Ukraine. Thousands of Kyiv residents fled the city.

World leaders condemned the invasion. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said "Putin's war" was without justification.

The EU, as well as the UK and US, announced massive sanctions against Russia.

mm, fb, ab,sdi/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)