Radiation detectors around Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant are back online for the first time since Russia’s invasion and radiation levels are normal, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began a two-day visit to Turkey for talks on unblocking grain exports from Ukraine, which have been stalled by Moscow’s offensive. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded.
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1:30am Russia returns 210 dead Mariupol defenders
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency says Russia has so far turned over the bodies of 210 Ukrainian fighters killed in the battle for Mariupol. It says most of them were among the last holdouts in the Azovstal steelworks.
The agency did not specify Tuesday how many more bodies are believed to remain in the rubble of the plant.
Russia now controls the destroyed port city. It started turning over bodies last week. Ukraine said Saturday that the two sides had exchanged 320 bodies, with each getting back 160. It is unclear whether any more bodies have been given to Russia.
The Ukrainian fighters defended the steelworks for nearly three months before surrendering in May under relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air.
9:25pm: IAEA says Chernobyl radiation detectors back online, levels normal
Radiation detectors in the Exclusion Zone around Ukraine’s defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant are back online for the first time since Russia seized the area on February 24, and radiation levels are normal, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
“Most of the 39 detectors sending data from the Exclusion Zone … are now visible on the IRMIS (International Radiation Monitoring Information System) map,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement. “The measurements received so far indicated radiation levels in line with those measured before the conflict.”
6:51pm: ‘On the frontlines, you see dozens of black shell holes in these vast green fields’
From Kyiv, FRANCE 24’s Gwendoline Debono, just back from the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, brings us the latest on the state of play in the Donbas amid the ongoing battle for Severodonetsk.
6:04pm: Lavrov in Turkey for talks on Ukraine grain exports
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began a two-day visit to Turkey on Tuesday for talks on unblocking grain exports from Ukraine, which have been stalled by Moscow’s offensive.
The plane carrying Lavrov landed at the airport in the Turkish capital Ankara, an AFP photographer saw.
This is Lavrov’s second trip to Turkey after meeting his Turkish and Ukrainian counterparts Mevlut Cavusoglu and Dmytro Kuleba in Antalya on March 10.
At the request of the United Nations, Turkey has offered its services to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines – some of which have been detected near the Turkish coast.
Lavrov is accompanied by a military delegation.
At the heart of the negotiations is the opening of a security corridor to ship Ukrainian grain – cereals and wheat in particular – blocked in the war-torn country’s ports.
3:41pm: Kyiv says Russia is holding 600 Ukrainians in Kherson region
Ukraine on Tuesday accused Russian forces of detaining some 600 people, mainly journalists and pro-Kyiv elements in the southern region of Kherson, which Moscow’s military now holds in its grip.
“According to our information, some 600 people are … being held in specially converted basements in the region of Kherson,” said Tamila Tacheva, the Ukrainian presidency’s permanent representative in the Crimea, the peninsula to the south of Kherson which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Tacheva said the bulk of those being held were “journalists and militants” who organized “pro-Ukrainian gatherings” in Kherson (city) and the region around it after it was occupied by Russian forces in the wake of the invasion launched in late February.
“According to our information, they are being held in inhuman conditions and are victims of torture,” Tacheva added without giving further details. Some Ukrainians held in the Kherson region – civilians but also detained combatants – have been sent to jails in Crimea, she added.
Straddling the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the Kherson region was home to around a million people before the invasion. However, thousands have fled the key port on the Dnipro River since the Russians targeted the city, which became the first major urban center to fall in the first week of March.
1:23pm: Russian parliament votes to exit European Court of Human Rights
The Russian Duma has passed a pair of bills ending the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisdiction in Russia.
The bills include one removing Russia from the court’s jurisdiction and a second setting March 16 as the cut-off point, with rulings against Russia made after that date not to be implemented.
Appeals to the ECHR had become a last resort for plaintiffs in several high-profile cases that had been rejected by Russian courts.
On March 15, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to expel Russia from the organisation, of which the ECHR is part, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has said that it independently decided to leave the Council of Europe.
1:18pm: Russia controls Severodonetsk residential areas: defense minister
Russian troops are in full control of the residential areas of Severodonetsk and are trying to establish control over the city’s “industrial zone and the nearest settlements”, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In televised remarks during a defense ministry meeting, Shoigu said Russian forces had “liberated” 97 percent of the Luhansk region.
Shoigu added that 6,489 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered to Russian troops since the start of Moscow’s offensive.
His comments could not be independently verified.
1:01pm: Russian general killed in Ukraine: pro-Kremlin separatists
Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine on Tuesday confirmed the death of another Russian general during Moscow’s invasion of the country.
The death of Major General Roman Kutuzov was reported earlier by a war correspondent for Russian state TV but has not been confirmed by officials in Moscow.
The leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Denis Pushilin, expressed his “sincere condolences to the family and friends” of Kutuzov.
The announcement comes as Russian forces and their Moscow-backed allies are carrying out a major assault on Donbas, with fierce fighting taking place for the city of Severodonetsk.
Hundreds gathered in Russia-annexed Crimea in late March for the funeral of Andrei Paliy, the deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet who died in combat near Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol.
A funeral for Major General Vladimir Frolov was held in April in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg, with local authorities confirming that he died in Ukraine.
10:34am: Ukraine slams planned IAEA mission to Russian-occupied nuclear plant
Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom has criticized a plan by the UN atomic watchdog IAEA to send a delegation to a Russian-occupied nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, saying it “did not invite” such a visit.
“We consider this message from the head of the IAEA as another attempt to get to the (power plant) by any means in order to legitimise the presence of occupiers there and essentially condone all their actions,” Energoatom wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
IAEA head Raphael Grossi said on Monday that the organization was working on sending an international mission of experts to the Russian-held nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, which is Europe’s largest.
10:05am: Russian superyacht in Fiji handed to US authorities
Fiji’s top court has handed a Russian superyacht to US authorities, ending a contested eight-week stay.
The $300 million Amadea, linked by the US to billionaire Russian politician Suleiman Kerimov, a target of sanctions, was impounded on arrival in Fiji in April at Washington’s request.
Fiji’s Supreme Court President and Chief Justice Kamal Kumar on Tuesday dismissed an application to delay execution of the court order that was lodged last week by the vessel’s registered owners, Millemarin Investments.
The ruling meant a US justice department warrant to seize the boat had been accepted, said Fiji’s director of public prosecutions. “The decision acknowledges Fiji’s commitment to respecting international mutual assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
7:56am: Russia’s progress on Popasna axis has stalled, says UK
Ukrainian forces recaptured parts of Severodonetsk over the weekend, but Russian forces are likely to continue to occupy the city’s eastern districts, according to a daily British defense intelligence update.
Russia’s progress made through May on the southern Popasna axis stalled over the last week amid reports of heavy shelling near Izium, which suggests that Moscow is preparing to make a renewed effort on the northern axis, said the defense ministry in a tweet.
“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” the ministry said.
7:14am: Ukrainian troops ‘outnumbered’ in Severodonetsk, says Zelensky
Ukrainian troops are outnumbered by “stronger” Russian forces in the flashpoint eastern city Severodonetsk, said President Volodymyr Zelensky in his latest nightly video address.
“We’re holding out” in the key city but “there are more of them and they are stronger,” Zelensky said. “Fierce street fighting continues” in Severodonetsk and other towns and cities in the Donbas region, Zelensky added. Despite the pressures, the Ukrainian president said “the Ukrainian Donbas stands. It stands firmly.”
Street fighting continued to rage for control of Severodonetsk on Tuesday, with one official saying the situation was changing “every hour”.
Severodonetsk – the largest city still in Ukrainian hands in the Luhansk region of the Donbas – has been the focal point of fighting in recent weeks, with officials describing a fast-changing situation on the ground.
“The situation is changing every hour, but at the same time there are enough forces and resources to repel attacks,” Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Monday.
“We have hope, we have faith in our armed forces, no one’s going to abandon [Severodonetsk],” he added.
6:45am: Ukraine recovers bodies from Mariupol steel plant
Russia has begun handing over over the bodies of Ukrainian fighters killed at the Azovstal steelworks, the fortress-like plant in the destroyed city of Mariupol where the fighters’ last-ditch stand became a symbol of resistance against Moscow’s invasion, according to an AP exclusive report.
The dead taken from the ruins of the bombed-out mill were transferred to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where DNA testing is under way to identify the remains, according to both a military leader and a spokeswoman for the Azov Regiment.
The Azov Regiment was among the Ukrainian units that defended the steelworks for nearly three months before surrendering in May under relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air.
It was unclear how many bodies might remain at the plant.
5:50am: Russia imposes sanctions on 61 US citizens
Russia’s foreign ministry announced Monday that is levying sanctions on 61 US nationals. It said the move was being taken “in response to the ever-expanding US sanctions against Russian political and public figures, as well as representatives of domestic business”.
The list includes US officials and former and current top managers of large American companies, such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
3:45am: Japan to freeze assets of two Russian banks
Japan will freeze the assets of two more Russian banks and one more Belarusian bank as part of additional sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, Japan’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
(FRANCE24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)