Ukraine War Enters Day 23: U.S. Ambassador Slams Russia's 'Bizarre Conspiracy Theories'

Live Updates
  • British intelligence suggests the progress of Russian forces into Ukraine remains slow. "The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts," it said.
  • President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping will hold talks on the Ukraine War Friday, the White House said.
  • The U.S. State Department confirmed an American citizen was killed during an artillery attack in Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin said President Biden labeling Russian leader Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" is "unforgivable." U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed with Biden, saying he believes war crimes have been committed in Ukraine as "intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime."
  • Disturbing pictures show a theater destroyed in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Local officials say about 1,000 people, including children, were sheltering inside.
  • Biden announced an additional $800 million in security aid for Ukraine.

Italy Offers to Rebuild Mariupol Theater

Italy offered to rebuild the Drama Theater that was bombed in Mariupol.

The Italian Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal from MP Dario Franceschini to offer Ukraine the resources and means to rebuild the theater as soon as possible.

"Italy is ready to rebuild the Theater of Mariupol," Franceschini said in a tweet.. "Theaters of all countries belong to the whole humanity."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Franceschini on Twitter.

"You set a good example to follow," he said. "Together we will rebuild the country to the last brick."

Ireland Waives Visa Requirements for Ukrainian Citizens

Ireland has waived visa requirements for Ukraine citizens traveling to the country.

"Ireland has activated the Temporary Protection Directive to allow all Ukrainian citizens and third-country nationals affected by the conflict to access work, housing and social service benefits for one year without making an application for international protection," the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.

A new reception facility for Ukrainian refugees at the Dublin Airport has also just opened, as more refugees arrive to the country.

More than 5,500 Ukrainians have entered Ireland since Russia's invasion began, IOM estimates. The United Nations agency is supporting the registration process at the new reception center.

"IOM will provide technical assistance to register and process temporary protection residence cards for all Ukrainian applicants arriving at the airport," the organization said in a statement. The center will also help refugees find accommodations.

"We are honored to be supporting the Government of Ireland in its rapid and comprehensive response to the Ukrainian crisis," IOM's Chief of Mission in Ireland Lalini Veerassamy said.

President Joe Biden thanked Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin for taking in Ukrainian refugees during a virtual meeting Thursday.

"What Ireland is doing now, what you are doing, taking in Ukrainian refugees, speaks so loudly about your principles," Biden said.

During remarks at the Friends of Ireland event Thursday, Biden also acknowledged Ireland for its support amid the war.

"Now you have Ireland and Great Britain... the republic standing together against a murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine," Biden said.

"The republic is paying a big price for this, a big number, for supporting the strategy, for supporting the sanctions. It's not a minor contribution you're making in this effort -- it's significant."

Blinken Details Russia's Possible Next Steps

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes Russia may be planning to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

"We have a strong sense of what Russia could do next," Blinken said Thursday, as he laid out possible scenarios.

"We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people," he said.

"We believe Russia will bring its mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries to Ukraine. President Putin acknowledged as much over the weekend when he authorized the recruitment of additional forces from the Middle East and elsewhere. Another indication that his war effort is not going as he hoped it would."

Blinked also said Russian forces are likely to "systemically kidnap" local officials and replace them with "puppets," an action that has already begun.

"After devastating Ukrainian cities, Moscow may bring in officials from Russia to serve as local government officials and surge what they describe as 'economic support' in an attempt to make people dependent on Moscow for survival. Again, something that Russia did in Georgia," he said.

Blinken also called on all nations, especially those with direct influence on Russia, to use any leverage possible to compel an end to the war. Blinken added concerns surrounding China possibly supporting Russia with military equipment.

"Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter," he said. "And we're concerned that they're considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine."

President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak with China's Xi Jinping Friday.

"[Biden] will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia's aggression and we will not hesitate to impose costs," Blinken said.

Blinken presser
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 17, 2022, at the State Department in Washington. Saul Loeb/AP Photo

'Ukraine Will Never Be a Victory for Putin,' Thomas-Greenfield Says

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield vowed that Russia will be held "accountable for its atrocities."

"Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin," Thomas-Greenfield said during a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday. "No matter what advances he makes, no matter whom he kills or what cities he destroys."

Thomas-Greenfield said data from the World Health Organization shows 43 Ukrainian hospitals and health facilities have been attacked by Russia. She condemned recent civilian attacks including Wednesday's bombing at a Mariupol theater.

"Yesterday, Russian forces dropped a powerful bomb that hit a Mariupol theater where hundreds of civilians were hiding," she said. "The Russian word for 'children' was written outside the theater. Yet, Putin's forces bombed it anyway."

More than three million people have fled Ukraine amid the invasion, mostly women and children. Thomas-Greenfield said the best way to address the humanitarian crisis is through a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly.

"The resolution will reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of U.N. members states and Ukraine itself," she said.

"The United States stands with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people – and we will do everything in our power to end this tragic, unnecessary war."

Psaki Says China's Lack of Denunciation on Russia 'Speaks Volumes'

The White House said President Biden's call tomorrow with Chinese President Xi Jinping is an opportunity asses where China stands with its relationship with Russia.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the "absence of denunciation by China" on Russia actions in Ukraine "flies in the face of everything China stands for," including the U.N principle of respect for national sovereignty.

"The fact that China has not denounced what Russia in doing speaks volumes, not only in Russia and Ukraine, but around the world," Psaki said.

The call between Biden and Xi will be a direct follow-up to the conversation U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had with his Chinese counterparts days ago.

The White House has expressed its concern with China's close relationship with Russia amid the war in Ukraine and Psaki said the call tomorrow with address that relationship and its "possible implications."

China's position on this conflict is unclear, as Psaki said leaders defended Ukraine's sovereignty while also abstaining from key U.N. Security Council votes and echoing conspiracy theories about chemical weapons and the intension of the U.S. and Ukraine.

Zelensky Visits Wounded Family in Vorzel Hospital

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited a family wounded during shelling attack while evacuating the town of Vorzel, near Kyiv.

The Vlasenko family is expected to survive after suffering significant shrapnel wounds.

According to the Ukraine Presidential Office, "the eldest 16-year-old daughter Katya covered her younger 8-year-old brother Ihor with her body and received significant wounds. Seeing his sister bleeding, Ihor got out of the car and started shouting at the occupiers for what they had done. Mother Tetiana also suffered shrapnel wounds. Father Roman carried the wounded daughter in his arms to help her."

During the meeting with the Vlasenko family, President Zelensky "noted their solidarity, care and willingness to protect each other to the end," wished them a speedy recovery and expressed confidence they would all celebrate a Ukrainian victory.

"It cannot be otherwise when there are such strong families in our country," Zelensky said.

Blinken Believes Russia Has Committed War Crimes

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he personally believes war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, as Russian forces continue to target civilians.

"Yesterday, President Biden said that in his opinion, war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," Blinken said in his remarks Thursday. "Personally, I agree. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise."

He listed several recent civilian attacks in Ukraine, including a theatre and maternity ward bombing in Mariupol and 10 people who were shot and killed while waiting in line for bread in Chernihiv.

The State Department continues to collect evidence as it investigates potential war crimes.

"There will be accountability for any war crimes that are determined to have occurred," Blinken said. He warned there would be consequences, but did not detail what that may look like.

American Killed During Attack in Ukraine, Family Says

An American citizen was reportedly killed during a shelling attack in Ukraine, his family said on Facebook.

Jimmy Hill, who was born in Minnesota, was apparently "gunned down" while waiting in line for bread.

Anton Gerashchenko, the adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, confirmed on Telegram that Hill, 67, was killed in Chernihiv. The city, about 80 miles from Kyiv, has been suffering "heavy artillery" attacks from Russian forces.

Hill's sister, Cheryl Hill Gordon, posted about her brother's death on Facebook, writing that he was killed on Wednesday.

"He was waiting in a bread line with several other people when they were gunned down by Russian military snipers," Gordon wrote. "His body was found in the street by the local police."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed an American was killed in Ukraine.

"I can confirm that an American citizen was killed," he said during a press briefing Thursday. He could not provide any further details at this time.

Local Ukrainian police reported that several United States citizens have died in recent attacks.

"Today, the occupiers once again carried out a heavy artillery attack on unarmed civilian residents of the city," Chernihiv regional police said in a Facebook post. "There are dead and wounded people. Among the dead - US citizens."

Chernihiv police are working to evacuate injured survivors to medical facilities as law enforcement investigators are "documenting all the circumstances and consequences of Russian war crimes."

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

Lack of Services Hinder Rescue Efforts in Mariupol

A breakdown of social services and a continuation of shelling attacks in Mariupol are impacting efforts to rescue survivors from the bombing at a theater.

"There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them, these services no longer exist," Sergiy Taruta, the former head of the Donetsk regional administration, told Ukrainian television.

"People are doing everything themselves," he said. "My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling, it was not safe. People are clearing away the rubble themselves."

Deputy Mayor of Mariupol Sergei Orlov said between 1,000 and 1,200 people had sought refuge in the theater.

Casualty and injuries reports were unknown after the attack, but there were reports that rescue efforts were underway to help those who survived in the theater basement.

Iuliia Mendel, believed to be an ex-spokesperson to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, said the bomb shelter in Mariupol Drama Theatre survived the "brutal Russian missile."

"At least, majority stayed alive after bombing," she tweeted. "People are getting out from the rubble."

WATCH: White House Press Briefing

The White House daily press briefing will begin soon.

The briefing from Press Secretary Jen Psaki is set to start at 2 p.m. ET and will stream live on the White House website and YouTube channel.

Nearly Half of Ukrainian Refugees Are Children

The United Nations estimates more than 3.1 million people have fled Ukraine into neighboring countries during the first three weeks of Russia's invasion. About 1.5 million refugees are children, according to UNICEF spokesperson James Elder.

Nearly two million refugees have flooded into Poland. Medyka is the largest crossing point for refugees, according to U.N. Refugee Agency's, UNHCR.

"Clearly we weren't expecting this, it's a learning curve for us," Medyka Mayor Marek Iwasieczko told UNHCR. "These refugees have lost almost everything. We need to help them. Even if that means we'll have to learn to live with less."

Medyka Mayor
Mayor of Medyka, Marek Iwasieczko (center), visits the town’s reception center for refugees from Ukraine with UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi (right). Valerio Muscella/UNHCR

The town quickly worked to make accommodations. A large gym in Medyka has been transformed into a refugee center, where pop-up beds now cover playing courts.

Medyka refugee center
People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium being used as a refugee center, in the village of Medyka, a border crossing between Poland and Ukraine on March 15. Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo

Where refugees are going, by country:

  • Poland: 1.9 million
  • Romania: 491,400
  • Moldova: 350,880
  • Hungary: 282,610
  • Slovakia: 228,840
  • Russia: 168,850
  • Belarus: 2,130

*Estimates above provided by UNHCR as of 3/16

Refugee map
UNHCR

WATCH: Secretary Blinken Delivers Remarks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will deliver remarks soon.

Blinken met with the foreign ministers of G7 nations Thursday morning.

The remarks are set to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET and will stream live on the State Department website and YouTube channel.

Ukrainian Adviser Calls Out Russia Propaganda

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called out Russia for "false propaganda" after repeated claims that Russian forces are not destroying Ukrainian cities.

"RF [Russian Federation] is convincing the world that they are not destroying civilian areas, not shelling the cities, and there are no victims among citizens," Podolyak said. "This all - false propaganda. The truth is - thousands destroyed cities, houses and people. The truth is - humanitarian disaster made by the RF."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova again denied that forces have targeted Ukrainian civilians Thursday, according to Reuters.

"Russia's armed forces don't bomb towns and cities," Zakharova said, according to the outlet. She also said claims of Russia bombing a theatre was a "lie."

Podolyak called out Zakharova on Twitter.

"RF Foreign Ministry Speaker Zakharova openly states that the shelling of Ukrainian cities with heavy artillery, aircraft, cruise missiles is staged NATO fakes," he said. "Multimillion lawsuits, compensations to the families of the dead, criminal sentences for war crimes will make her see the truth."

Peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations have continued by video conference in recent days after earlier in-person talks in Belarus. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said the talks were becoming "more realistic."

"I would like to softly recommend the "active commentators of the negotiation process" who are NOT inside: Don't spread your lies in a country that is at war," Podolyak said. "Negotiations are complicated. The positions of the parties are different. For us, fundamental issues are inviolable."

More Civilians Killed in Shelling Attacks

More casualties reported Thursday as attacks continue in Ukraine.

In the city of Merefa, near Kharkiv, officials said 21 people have been killed and 25 are wounded after an artillery shelling destroyed a school and a community center, according to the Associated Press.

The Kharkiv Oblast Prosecutor's Office reported that 10 of those injured are in critical condition.

Merefa Mayor Veniamin Sitov said the attack occurred just before dawn on Thursday and blamed the bombing on the Russian military.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, local officials report "colossal losses and destruction" amid bombardment from Russian artillery and air strikes.

Governor Viacheslav Chaus told Ukrainian TV Thursday that 53 people were "killed by the Russian aggressor from the ground or from the air."

"The city has never known such nightmarish, colossal losses and destruction," he said.

An entire family was reportedly killed in an attack on a dormitory, as rescuers recovered the bodies of two parents and their children; three-year-old twins and a 12-year-old daughter.

Austin Says No-Fly Zone Means 'You're in a Fight With Russia'

The U.S. has not changed its stance on enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

"Enforcing a no-fly zone actually means that you're in combat, you're in a fight with Russia," Austin said during a joint press conference with Slovak Defense Minister Jaro Nad.

"And that's one of the things that we have said, that our President has said that we weren't going to do, get in a fight with Russia," he continued. "So what this really means is that in order to control the skies, you have to shut down the air defenses there on the ground. And some of those air defense systems are in Russia and so, again, there's no easy or simple way to do this."

Austin says targeting civilians is a "crime":

When asked about increasing attacks by Russian forces on Ukrainian population centers, Austin said recent attacks "appear to be focused directly on civilians," but stopped short of calling the actions war crimes.

"If you attack civilians purposely, target civilians purposely.... that is a crime," Austin said, calling on Putin to stop. "We've all been shocked by the brutality that we continue to witness day in and day out."

The process to review the matter is ongoing at the U.S. State Department.

Slovakia willing to provide S-300s to Ukraine:

Nad said Slovakia is willing to give Ukraine S-300 systems "when we have proper replacements," as it would leave a gap in his country's defenses.

"The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is S-300 system," Nad said. "So what would happen immediately when we decide to give it to Ukrainians is that we actually create a security gap, in NATO."

He added discussions are ongoing about placement of such defensive weapons.

Austin, Nad presser
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (L) and Slovak Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad hold a joint press conference at the Slovak Ministry of Defence in Bratislava on March 17. VLADIMIR SIMICEK/Getty Images

Britain to Send Air Defense System to Poland

Britain will deploy air defense systems to Poland amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

At Poland's request, the U.K. Ministry of Defense will provide a Sky Sabre Air Defense System and 100 personnel to operate it to "held protect airspace from any further aggression from Russia."

"Britain stands by Poland as they carry much of the burden of this war and stand tall against Russian threats," U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Meets With Ukraine, Russia

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his counterpart in Ukraine Thursday to continue diplomatic discussions.

"Turkey's solidarity remains unwavering," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet. "Grateful for political and humanitarian support, as well as Turkey's ongoing diplomatic efforts to put an end to Russia's devastating war against Ukraine."

During a press briefing with Kuleba, Cavusoglu reaffirmed Turkey's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for an end to war and bloodshed.

"Our efforts to end this war and achieve a lasting ceasefire will continue," he said.

Cavusoglu reiterated his desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, noting that over 100 Turkish citizens remain in the heavily-shelled city of Mariupol.

On Wednesday, Cavusoglu met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in hopes of continuing peace talks.

Turkey has been a key partner in mediating ceasefire negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Kuleba said he and his Turkish counterpart of working to set up a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Secretary Austin in Slovakia to Talk Security Concerns

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Slovakia Thursday to discuss strengthening the "bilateral defense relationship" between the countries with his Slovak counterparts.

Austin is meeting with Slovak Defense Minister Jaro Nad. Austin and Nad are set to hold a joint press conference at 10:30 a.m. EST.

"Thank you [Nad] for the warm welcome," Austin said. "I'm honored to be in Slovakia for this crucial moment in European security. I wanted to be here in person as a sign of our unity and the strength of America's relationship with Slovakia."

Ukrainian Fight Back Leaves Russian Forces on Defensive—Official

Ukraine's military is on the offensive against Russian troops who will not attempt to take capital city Kyiv, a Ukrainian presidential adviser has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych told Radio Svoboda—part of U.S.-run Radio Free Europe—that significant battles were underway and that Russian troops were on the defensive near Kyiv and other cities such as Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.

Russian forces he said, according to a translation, were focused on "maintaining the areas they have occupied" and would concentrate their efforts on where they have had success such as Mariupol, "and, probably, Nikolaev, but not Kyiv."

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry and Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Oleksiy Arestovych
An image of Arestovych from video on his Youtube channel. Russian forces on the defensive as Ukraine fights back according to Oleksiy Arestovych. Oleksiy Arestovych

'Suicide' to Criticize Putin's War: Sanctioned Russian Billionaire

"To say anything to Putin against the war, for anybody, would be kind of suicide."

Those are the words of a sanctioned Russian billionaire, who argues that speaking out against the war to Vladimir Putin is not an option.

Oligarch Mikhail Fridman, the founder of the largest private bank in Russia, Alfa Bank, and now runs private equity firm LetterOne, was sanctioned by the European Union alongside longtime business partner, Pyotr Aven, on March 1.

Mikhail Fridman putin
Mikhail Fridman says Russian oligarchs have no influence on Vladimir Putin and it would be "suicide" to oppose him over the Ukraine invasion. Mikhail Svetlov/asha Mordovets/Getty Images

The EU referred to Aven as one of Putin's "closest oligarchs" who regularly attended meetings with the Russian president in the Kremlin.

But Fridman, born in Ukraine, said he's never talked to Putin face to face.

"The power distance between Mr. Putin and anybody else is like the distance between the Earth and the cosmos," Fridman told Bloomberg. "Mr. Aven was just approaching this like, 'Thank you very much for taking the time.' To say anything to Putin against the war, for anybody, would be kind of suicide."

The West has sanctioned many Russian business owners and politicians in a bid to put pressure on Putin.

Syria's Assad 'Promised Putin' 40,000 Soldiers—Ukraine Says

As many as 40,000 Syrian combatants could be sent to Ukraine to fight on Russia's side, according to information allegedly obtained by Ukraine's military intelligence agencies.

The assessment, which has not been independently corroborated, was published on the agency's official Telegram channel.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly offered Syrian military personnel monthly salaries up to $300 for six month deployment in the conflict zone, including other "privileges" to join Russia's fight against Ukraine.

The 40,000 figure was also mentioned by a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)—a Syrian non-governmental group.Western intelligence agencies believe the move is largely driven by significant Russian casualties in the three weeks of the war.

Syria, Assad, Russia, Putin, meeting, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 13, 2021. Putin and his top officials have met with most of the world leaders on the U.S. Treasury Department's blacklist and the Kremlin has been vocal over its opposition to Washington's use of economic restrictions abroad. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine's Armed Forces reported that over 13,500 Russian troops have been killed since February 24. A recent assessment by U.S. intelligence put that number at around 7,000—greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Russia only published official casualty numbers once, claiming on March 2 that 498 Russian troops had died and 1,597 more had been injured. The Russian foreign ministry did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to Hold Talks on Ukraine War

Breaking news...

U.S. President Joe Biden will discuss the Ukraine war with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday, the White House has said.

The talks will be "part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The leaders will discuss "Russia's war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern," a statement read.

Xi's close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has put the focus on what role China can play to end hostilities. (More on that relationship here)

Anti-War Petitions Near 3M Supporters. But Face Kremlin Crackdown

Protester in Russia
Police officers detain a man holding a placard reading "No to war" during a protest against Russian military action in Ukraine, in Manezhnaya Square in central Moscow on March 13, 2022. A petition calling for Russians to oppose the war in Ukraine is gathering signatures. Getty Images

Petitions against Russia's invasion on Change.org are edging toward 3 million supporters. But signatories in Russia face a new Kremlin crackdown.

The site's Stand with Ukraine movement—a collection of related petitions—lists 46 petitions with 2,762,000 supporters as of Thursday morning.

"Stop the War," one of the biggest petitions, was set up by prominent Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomarev. It focused largely on Russians unhappy at the war waged by President Vladimir Putin.

"We appeal to all sane people in Russia, on whose actions and words something depends," said the petition, signed by more than 1.2 million.

The petition is a copy of Ponomarev's earlier effort, which attracted 1.5 million. That earlier version was due to be sent to the Russian president on March 6.

Since then, tough new laws have been introduced potentially criminalizing criticism within Russia of the war.

Change.org says it has been under increasing pressure from Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor, "with users beginning to get arrested."

A Change.org spokesperson told Newsweek on March 9: "We're taking measures to protect our users including limiting the ability for the public to see signature names and comments on Russian petitions."

Belarus Blasts Were Sonic Booms, Not Explosion: Air Force

More now on unconfirmed reports of explosions in Belarus...

Unexplained blasts heard in Belarus on Wednesday evening were not attacks, the country's air force has confirmed.

Earlier, a government official and local media reported that blasts had been heard in several cities in the south of the country.

In response, Belarus' 61st Fighter Air Base said: "There were no attacks on Belarus. The Su-30SM aircraft overcame supersonic speed, which created a sonic boom."

Hanna Liubakova, a journalist based in the capital Minsk, reported the statement on Twitter in the last hour.

Newsweek has contacted Belarusian and Ukrainian militaries for comment.

In Pictures: Superyachts of Sanctioned Russian Oligarchs

The hunt for properties and vehicles of sanctioned Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs is heating up.

The U.S. has announced the launch of a multilateral transatlantic task force that will be responsible for tracking and arresting assets linked to corrupt Russian government officials and oligarchs around the world,

Below, Newsweek collected together recent examples of superyachts linked to Russian officials and businessmen targeted by European authorities as part of the sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Amore Vero, Igor Sechin, $120 million

Amore Vero, Igor Sechin - France
Superyacht Amore Vero, allegedly owned by one of president Vladimir Putin's closest confidants, Igor Sechin, the CEO of state oil company Rosneft, was impounded at a shipyard at La Ciotat in France. The 86m vessel includes a swimming pool that turns into a helipad, and is reportedly worth £120 million. NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images

Valerie, Sergei Chemezov, $140 million

Valerie, Sergei Chemezov - Spain
Spain has temporarily seized the $140 million 85m-long yacht, owned by the head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec Sergei Chemezov, in Barcelona on March 15, according to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

Lady M, Alexei Mordashov, $26 million

Lady M, Alexei Mordashov - Italy
The $27m Lady M was impounded after EU blacklisted its owner Alexei Mordashov, a steel magnate who is reported to be Russia's richest man. Italian police seized the yacht on March 5, 2022 after the European Union targeted Mordashov and other Kremlin-linked oligarchs following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. ANDREA BERNARDI/AFP via Getty Images

Dilbar, Alisher Usmanov, $600 million

Dilbar, Alisher Usmanov - Germany
Another superyacht, belonging to former Arsenal owner and Kremlin-friendly billionaire Alisher Usmanov, is now docked in Hamburg, Germany, after its owner was added to EU and U.S. sanctions list. With a gross tonnage of just under 16,000, Dilbar is the largest superyacht in the world and is worth nearly $600 million. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Russia Extends WNBA's Brittney Griner's Detention

Brittney Griner's detention in Russia extended
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during Game Three of the 2021 WNBA semi-finals at Desert Financial Arena on October 03, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona. The sportswoman's detention in Russia has been extended, after she was arrested for reportedly possessing cannabis oil. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

American basketball Brittney Griner's detention in Russia has been extended, weeks after she was initially held captive on drug charges.

The 31-year-old was detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service (FCS) on an undisclosed date back in February at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. It was reported that she was allegedly carrying cannabis oil.

On Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported that the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region has ruled to detain Griner for at least two more months.

"The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of detention of U.S. citizen Griner until May 19," the court said.

Citizen Brick Hopes Zelensky Figurine Sales Will Raise $100K

An independent LEGO retailer has relaunched Volodymyr Zelensky figurines to raise money for relief efforts in Ukraine.

U.S.-based Citizen Brick's first batch sold out quickly last week and raised $16,540, the company said.

The figurine depicts the Ukrainian president and the Molotov cocktails printed with Ukraine's flag.

⁠"Our hopes are to raise $100,000" for Direct Relief, a nonprofit that provides emergency medical assistance and disaster relief, ⁠Citizen Brick said on Insatgram on Wednesday.

What Vladimir Putin Said in His Speech Yesterday

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on March 10, 2022. He gave a fiery speech denouncing the west on March 16, 2022 as his war in Ukraine rages on. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday issued a warning to those in his own country who do not back his invasion of Ukraine.

Here are some of the key points he raised in an incendiary television address:

  • "The collective west is trying to split out society," he said, claiming that a "fifth column" of Russians is being used by the West to foment civil unrest whose goal is "the destruction of Russia."
  • He said Russians "will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths."
  • "I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country."
  • "The struggle we are waging is a struggle for our sovereignty, for the future of our country and our children."
  • "The new realities require deep structural changes in our economy," he said as he warned of a rise in inflation and unemployment. "Our task in this situation is to minimize such risks."

'Tear Down This Wall!'—Zelensky to German Lawmakers

Following his address to the U.S. Congress (more on that here), Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky this morning spoke to German lawmakers.

In an impassioned speech, the Ukrainian leader appealed to Germany's "historic responsibility" to help Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

"Why does 'never again' not apply? What is Germany's historic responsibility towards Ukraine today?" Zelensky asked, to a standing ovation.

Ukraine's president also questioned Berlin's business and economic ties with Moscow, which he says continue despite the fact that "we're in the middle of the cold war."

Repeating his calls for harsher sanctions, he added. "You're still protecting yourself behind a wall that does not make it possible for you to see what we are going through. Peace is more important than income."

And in an echo of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan's appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Zelensky concluded: "That's what I say to you dear Chancellor Scholz: Tear down this wall."

Exclusive: ICE Detains Ukrainians Seeking U.S. Asylum

More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the UN. But traveling to the U.S. is proving difficult for some trying to escape.

An exclusive report by Newsweek found that some Ukrainian refugees trying to flee to the U.S. are being detained and held on the border under a policy that bans asylum-seekers because of the pandemic.

Documents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, obtained by Newsweek, found that Ukrainian refugees were being placed in detention as they tried to join their friends and families living in the U.S.

Federal immigration is acting under Title 42, a policy the Trump administration invoked at the start of the pandemic that effectively shut the border to asylum-seekers.

While it's not clear just how many asylum seekers have been held, we have confirmed at least five such cases, with sources mentioning several more that could not be immediately verified.

Russia Floods Ukrainian TV, Radio With Propaganda

Russia has begun broadcasting propaganda on radio and TV outlets in areas of Ukraine it controls.

Newsweek obtained and verified a video recording of a broadcast heard in Mariupol, urging people in the southern city under Russian bombardment to surrender and that "help won't come."

"In case of further resistance, you are destined to die," said the narrator speaking in Russian, "your only chance to survive is to give up your arms and leave Mariupol through the humanitarian corridor."

The speaker said the message was coming from the Donetsk People's Republic, a Moscow-backed part of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

Another recording—not independently verified—from a Ukrainian radio station in the Zaporizhzhia region said that the cost of gas and heating would be lowered an "all debts on credit and borrowing" would be canceled for local residents.

"Russia wants to control information and make fake news, which gets people scared." Volodymyr Omelyan, a former Ukrainian minister of infrastructure, told Newsweek. It is, he says "as a means to sow fear and confusion in the country."

Survivors Emerge From Destroyed Theater in Mariupol

A theater in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol was destroyed on Wednesday, images from the aftermath show.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 civilians, including children, were sheltering inside the Mariupol Drama Theatre at the time of the attack, local officials said.

There is no official confirmation on the death toll from what is feared to be one of the worst attacks on a civilian building since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But fresh reports on Thursday offer some hope.

On Thursday a Ukrainian MP claimed that the bomb shelter under the theater held up under the assault and most of the people hidden inside survived.

"After a terrible night of uncertainty, the morning of the 22nd day of the war finally brings good news from Mariupol! The bomb shelter held. People started emerging from under the rubble alive!" he wrote on his Facebook page.

Ukraine accused Russian forces of bombing the building despite the word "CHILDREN" being written in Russian in large letters outside.

Moscow fired back with unsubstantiated allegations that "a battalion of Ukrainian nationalists" was responsible for destroying the theater.

Russia faces multiple allegations of war crimes for allegedly targeting civilians.

Russian Invasion 'Stalled on All Fronts': Western Intelligence

Western intelligence suggests Russia's invasion of Ukraine has "largely " according to an update on Thursday morning.

British officials said "minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy losses."

"Ukrainian resistance remains staunch and well-coordinated," Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a tweeted graphic. "The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands."

A once 40-mile long convoy of military vehicles has been stuck in a quagmire north of Ukraine since the early days of the invasion.

British officials suspect Russian forces had been reluctant to go off-road and so have been thwarted by the destruction of bridges near Kyiv—a city surrounded by rivers and tributaries.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.

Explosions Heard in Belarus—Unconfirmed Reports

Good morning.

There are unconfirmed reports overnight of explosions having been heard in several cities in south Belarus, a key Kremlin ally in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The reports are unconfirmed; Newsweek is looking into the claims.

Belarusian government official Pavel Latushka, a former minister, made the claim on Twitter, writing at 5 p.m. Wednesday:

"Over the past 3 hours, about 30 fighter jets, transport planes & helicopters lifted into the sky from #Belarusian airfields in Baranovichi, Gomel, Lida, Luninets! 6 missiles launched near the city of Kalinkovichi. Explosions are heard in various cities of #Belarus."

He later shared a map, highlighting areas where he said "popping sounds (explosions) were reportedly heard.

Journalist Hanna Liubakova, who is based in Belarus' capital Minsk, later added that residents heard the sounds in cities including Baranavichy, Luninets, Stolin, Hantsavichy, Slutsk, and Kletsk.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been a key supporter of Russian leader Vladimir Putin before and during the invasion of Ukraine.