By The Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the war in Ukraine has testified that he shot a Ukrainian civilian on an officer’s orders.
Vadim Shishimarin could get a life prison sentence prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.
The 21-year-old soldier told a court in Kyiv on Thursday that the officer insisted the man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to Ukrainian forces.
Looking subdued, Shishimarin said he had to obey the orders of the officer. He asked the victim’s widow, who also was in court, to forgive him for what he did.
The woman, Kateryna Shelipova, said she saw her husband, Oleksandr Shelipov, shot dead just outside their home.
Shelipova told the court that Shishimarin deserves a life sentence for killing her husband but added that she wouldn’t mind if he’s exchanged as part of a possible swap for the Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Red Cross registers hundreds of Ukrainian POWs from Mariupol
— Captive medic’s bodycam shows firsthand horror of Mariupol
— UN chief ‘hopeful’ of Ukraine grain deal to help food crisis
— Russia-Ukraine war impact draws focus of G7 finance leaders
— US intel shows Russians fear Mariupol abuse will backfire
— Court considers whether US can seize a Russian yacht in Fiji
— Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
LISBON, Portugal — The Portuguese government says Russia is expelling five diplomats from its Moscow embassy, a day after the Kremlin also expelled diplomats from Spain, France and Italy.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Russia’s decision was “unjustified” and merely a tit-for-tat step after Portugal last month expelled Russian diplomats at the Lisbon embassy.
“Unlike the Russian staff expelled from Portugal, these Portuguese staff members were involved in strictly diplomatic tasks,” a Portuguese Foreign Ministry statement said.
Multiple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces in Ukraine of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv. The Kremlin denied the accusations.
BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers have voted to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports for a year to support the war-torn country’s economy.
The European Parliament on Thursday said the temporary move passed on a 515-32 vote, with 11 abstentions.
The measure covers industrial products, fruits, vegetables and steel. The EU is Ukraine’s most important trading partner, accounting for more than 40% of its total trade in goods last year.
Before the war, Ukraine was the EU’s 15th-largest trading partner, representing around 1.2% of overall EU trade.
“We must support Ukraine at all levels with every tool at our disposal: not only with weapons and sanctions but with our trading power, too,” said lawmaker Sandra Kalniete. “Giving Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself does not end on the battlefield; it includes ensuring that Ukraine’s economy remains resilient and competitive.”
In 2016, the EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement that was aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and deepening the country’s connection to Europe.
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president emphasized his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, stating Ankara would say “no” to their bid.
Speaking to a group of Turkish youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two countries — and especially Sweden — of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” The video of their conversation was released Thursday.
Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stems from Turkey’s grievances with Stockholm’s — and to a lesser degree with Helsinki’s — perceived support to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses them of harboring the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey’s approval is crucial because the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus. Each of its 30 member countries can veto who can join.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his country’s decision to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia, saying this “does not constitute an escalation.”
In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Scholz dismissed concerns raised by some in Germany that arming Ukraine could result in a wider conflict. Arming Ukraine was “a contribution to fending off the attack and thereby ending the violence as quickly as possible,” he said.
Scholz added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “mistaken” in thinking peace can be imposed on Ukraine by force.
“There will be no peace diktat, because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and neither will we,” he said. “Only when Putin understand this, only when he understand that he can’t break Ukraine’s defense, will he be prepared to negotiate the peace in earnest.”
GENEVA — The international Red Cross says it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who left the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said Thursday the registrations of Ukrainian prisoners of war, which included wounded fighters, began Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
It said a team from the Geneva-based humanitarian agency, which has experience in dealing with prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges, did not transport them to “the places where they are held” — which was not specified.
The registration process, which was ongoing Thursday, involves noting down personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative — partly as a way to help the Red Cross keep in touch with relatives of the prisoners of war.
The Red Cross cited rules under the Geneva Conventions that should allow the organization to interview prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted.”
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the country won’t accept any cease-fire until all the Russian troops pull back.
Thursday’s statement from Mykhailo Podolyak, who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, reflects an increasingly confident stand taken by Ukraine as it has fought the Russian offensive to an effective standstill.
“Do not offer us a ceasefire — this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. In a reference to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Podolyak wrote: “Ukraine is not interested in new ‘Minsk’ and the war renewal in a few years.”
Several Ukrainian officials have recently issued similar statements. Podolyak didn’t specify what would constitute “total” withdrawal.
He added that “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”
LONDON — British military authorities say Russia’s centralized command and control structure is likely to come under increasing strain as senior officers seek to avoid responsibility for failures during the invasion of Ukraine.
The U.K Ministry of Defense, in a briefing posted Thursday morning, says a number of senior Russian commanders have already been fired for poor performance during the war.
The ministry says Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, who led the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, was suspended for failing to capture Kharkiv, and Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet, has probably been suspended following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva. The ministry also said it is unclear whether Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov retains the support of President Vladimir Putin.
The ministry says senior officials are likely to be increasingly distracted as they seek to avoid personal culpability amid this culture of “cover-ups and scapegoating.”
“This will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralized model of command and control as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors,” the ministry said. “It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions.”
MOSCOW — The head of the Russia-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine says that over half of Ukrainian troops holed up at a steel plant in the key port of Mariupol have come out.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Thursday that more than a half of Ukrainian servicemen who were holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant have surrendered.
Pushilin didn’t give specific numbers, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian troops had abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday. The Russian military has previously estimated the number of Ukrainian troops at Azovstal at over 2,000.
Pushilin said that those Ukrainian soldiers who needed medical assistance were hospitalized while others were put in a detention facility. He charged that the International Red Cross Committee representatives were allowed to inspect the facility, the claim that couldn’t be immediately verified.
He added that over 60% of residential buildings in Mariupol have been damaged beyond repair and will need to be razed after more than two months of fighting over the strategic port on the Sea of Azov.
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday his country will double its financial aid for Ukraine to $600 million in support of the country badly damaged by Russia’s aggression.
Japan will provide the additional $300 million through the World Bank to help Ukraine’s financial difficulties because of the Russian invasion, Kishida said.
The announcement comes just before Japan hosts U.S. President Joe Biden and two other leaders for a regional strategic framework known as the Quad summit and bilateral meetings next week when Kishida is expected to emphasize Japanese support for Ukraine.
Japan has quickly joined the United States and other Group of Seven countries and Europe in their sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine, due to fear that Russia’s move may embolden China in the region.
The new pledge, combined with the $300 million Japan promised last month, brings Tokyo’s total contribution to $600 million.
MOSCOW — A provincial governor in western Russia says a civilian has been killed by cross-border shelling from Ukraine.
Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said the Ukrainian shelling early Thursday hit a driver who drove his truck to a distillery in the village of Tetkino.
Starovoit said several others were wounded in Thursday’s shelling.
Russian authorities have repeatedly reported damage and casualties from the Ukrainian shelling of areas on the border.
KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in Ukraine says four civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said they died Wednesday when Russian troops bombarded the town of Sievierodonetsk. He said another three residents were wounded.
Haidai said the Russian shelling continued early Thursday. Sievierodonetsk is in the epicenter of the fighting in the east where the Russian forces have been trying to press their offensive amid staunch Ukrainian resistance.
Separatist authorities in the Donetsk region bordering Luhansk in eastern Ukraine said two civilians were killed and another five were wounded in the Ukrainian shelling over the last 24 hours.
WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Bridget Brink late Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, filling the post as officials plan to return American diplomats to Kyiv during the nation’s continuing battle against the Russian invasion.
The veteran foreign service officer, who has spent most of her career in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, was nominated to the position last month by President Joe Biden.
Brink was confirmed by the Senate unanimously without a formal roll call vote.
American diplomats evacuated Kyiv when the war began three months ago, but Brink told senators during her confirmation hearing earlier this month that she would work to reopen the embassy.
KYIV, Ukraine — The military administration for the region that includes Melitopol reported more actions of resistance on Wednesday against the Russian troops who have occupied the southern city since early in the war.
It said a grenade exploded near a Russian command post, followed by an exchange of fire. No casualties were reported.
On Tuesday, the regional administration said Ukrainian resistance fighters killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the occupied city. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Also on Wednesday, a Russian armored train carrying troops and ammunition overturned in Melitopol, causing the ammunition to detonate, the regional administration said on Telegram.
It said the Russian military does not maintain the tracks while overloading the trains, and as a result of the negligence and “with help” from resistance fighters, the armored train derailed.
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