The Russia-Ukraine conflict is now in its 401st day.

IMF says the new Extended Fund Facility would allow the immediate disbursement of around $2.7 billion to Ukraine.
IMF says the new Extended Fund Facility would allow the immediate disbursement of around $2.7 billion to Ukraine. (AA)

Friday,  March 31, 2023

The International Monetary Fund has announced that the board has approved a $15.6 billion support package for Ukraine to assist with the conflict-hit country's economic recovery.

The new four-year Extended Fund Facility "aims to anchor policies that sustain fiscal, external, price and financial stability and support economic recovery, while enhancing governance and strengthening institutions to promote long-term growth in the context of post-war reconstruction and Ukraine’s path to EU accession," the Fund said in a statement.

Follow more updates👇

1829 GMT — Bucha must become 'symbol of justice': Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Bucha to become a "symbol of justice" on the first anniversary of Russia's withdrawal from the town now synonymous with war crimes allegations.

"We must do everything to make Bucha a symbol of justice... We want every Russian murderer, executioner, terrorist to be held responsible for every crime," Zelenskyy said at a Kiev summit on the Bucha crimes.

Earlier, the Ukrainian president visited Bucha with leaders of Croatia, Moldova, Slovakia and Slovenia for a commemoration ceremony.

"What happened in Bucha, the Russian army does it wherever it goes," Zelenskyy said back in Kiev.

Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President

1745 GMT — UN Security Council concerned over Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus

The UN Security Council was divided as Western nations expressed concern about Moscow's announcement it will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus, but permanent Council member Russia remained defiant.

China and Brazil, for their part, condemned nuclear proliferation in general as the Council met to discuss the March 25 announcement from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This is a further blow to the arms control architecture, to strategic stability in Europe, and to international peace and security," French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said at the meeting requested by Ukraine, which has been fighting off a Russian offensive for more than a year.

"Let us be clear: No other country has raised the prospect of nuclear use in this conflict," said Deputy British Ambassador James Kariuki, referring to the Ukraine war.

"No one is threatening Russia’s sovereignty," he added, condemning Putin's statement as "his latest attempt to intimidate and coerce."

1537 GMT — Wimbledon lifts ban on Russian, Belarusian tennis players

Wimbledon will the Russian and Belarusian tennis players play as neutrals at this year's Grand Slam.

"Our current intention is to accept entries from Russian and Belarusian playerssubject to them competing as 'neutral' athletes and complying with appropriate conditions," Wimbledon said in a statement.

"This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted," Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, said.

1352 GMT — Ukraine rules out any ceasefire letting Russian forces stay in occupied land

The remarks by Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made his comments after a call for an immediate ceasefire by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

"Any ceasefire will mean (Russia's) right to stay in the occupied territories. This is totally inadmissible," Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

1248 GMT — Ukrainian war zone children are in temporary Russian care, not adopted or abducted - envoy

Moscow's envoy to the United Nations in New York has denied that Russia has deliberately taken children out of Ukraine or allowed them to be adopted in Russia, rejecting charges brought against President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court.

The ICC two weeks ago accused Putin and his children's commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova of the war crime of unlawful deportation of people, in particular children, and their transfer from areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

Ukraine says it is investigating the deportation of over 19,000 children, many of them taken from parents at "filtration points" as they tried to leave newly captured territory, removed from care institutions, or taken from people who were caring for them after their parents were killed in the war.

1235 GMT — Premiers of Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia arrive in Ukrainian capital

The prime ministers of Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia arrived in Kiev for a meeting with Ukrainian authorities.

According to Ukrainian media outlet, the heads of government traveled to Ukraine’s capital by train.

The Ukrainian media reported that traffic in the central part of Kiev is blocked, reportedly due to the visit of the foreign leaders.

Meanwhile, Moldovan President Maya Sandu also announced on Twitter that she is visiting Ukraine.

1115 GMT — Spain PM urges Xi to hold talks with Ukraine's Zelenskyy

Speaking at a press conference at the Spanish embassy in Beijing, Pedro Sanchez said he had discussed "China's position" on Russia's war in Ukraine in meetings with Xi and other top Chinese officials.

He also accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of seeking to "weaken" the EU's "multilateral project for peace and welfare".

"I encouraged President Xi to have a conversation with (Ukrainian) President Zelenskyy to learn first-hand about this peace plan of the Ukrainian government," Sanchez said.

Zelenskyy has said repeatedly he would be open to talks with Xi - an overture the Chinese leader has yet to respond to, despite multiple rounds of talks with Putin.

1002 GMT — Over 1.2M tonnes of grain exported from Ukraine in last 2 weeks

More than 25 million tonnes of grain have been carried via the Black Sea grain initiative that Türkiye helped broker last year in a bid to avert a potential food crisis amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

As a result of Türkiye's negotiations with both parties, the grain deal was extended on March 19 for another 120 days.

Since March 19, more than 1.2 million tonnes of grain have been carried out from Ukraine.

Last July, Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports which were paused after the Russia-Ukraine war began in February 2022.

0940 GMT — Severe violations 'shockingly routine' in Ukraine war: UN rights chief 

The United Nations Human Rights chief Volker Turk has deplored how grave human rights violations were "shockingly routine" in Russia's war in Ukraine and said the number of civilian casualties was far higher than official figures.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk said Ukraine was a nation "struggling to survive" in the face of Russia's attacks.

"After 13 months of the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine, severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine," he said.

Ukraine is marking one year since Russia withdrew from the Kiev suburb of Bucha, leaving the bodies of executed civilians strewn in the streets in what has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes.

Earlier, Zelenskyy said that his country would "never forgive" Russia for its occupation of Bucha.

0844 GMT — Ukraine ceasefire now would not achieve Moscow's goals: Russia

The Kremlin has said that it had noted a call by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and would discuss it with him, but that it could not at the moment achieve the goals of its "special military operation" in this way.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin would discuss Lukashenko's call for negotiations next week, but added that some elements of a peace plan proposed by China were unworkable because Ukraine was following Western orders not to negotiate with Moscow. 

0844 GMT — Russia 'should not be' permanent Security Council member: US envoy to UNAFP 

Russia "should not be" a permanent member of the UN Security Council, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has said in an interview with AFP news agency.

"Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council. It shouldn't be, because of what it is doing in Ukraine, but the (UN) charter does not allow for a change in its permanent membership," Thomas-Greenfield said from Costa Rica, where she was attending a democracy summit.

Russia is also set to assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council on Saturday for a month, to which the US ambassador said she hoped the country will behave "professionally".

0842 GMT — Belarus' Lukashenko: Need talks over Ukraine conflict immediately

Lukashenko has called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and for talks to start on a lasting peace settlement.

In a scheduled address to the nation, Lukashenko said there should be no preconditions for a ceasefire.

He warned Ukraine against launching an anticipated counter-offensive, saying it would make negotiations between Moscow and Kiev impossible.

0730 GMT — Ukraine says athletes not allowed to compete against Russians in Paris Olympics qualifiers

Ukrainian athletes will not be allowed to take part in qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics if they have to compete against Russians, government minister Oleh Nemchinov has said.

Nemchinov, secretary of Ukraine's cabinet ministers, said the government's decision was adopted following a proposal by sports minister Vadym Huttsait and that national federations ignoring the ruling could be sanctioned. Huttsait is also president of Ukraine's Olympic committee.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued recommendations on Tuesday for the gradual return to international competition for Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals.

0300 GMT — Zelenskyy hints at counteroffensive as battle for Bakhmut rages

Zelenskyy has spoken in his fresh video address of the "tremendous path" his country has taken in 400 days of resistance since Russia's offensive began on February 24, 2022.

"Ukraine will win at the front ... we will not leave a single trace of Russia on our land, and we will not leave any enemy unpunished either. We are preparing news about this," he said. 

He did not give details, but the Ukrainian military has been planning a counteroffensive.

Ukraine said Russian forces continued their assault on the eastern battlefield city of Bakhmut and nearby towns as well as on the contested city of Avdiivka and the surrounding area.

0230 GMT — Japan bans steel, aircraft exports to Russia in latest sanctions

Japan has banned Russia-bound exports of steel, aluminium and aircraft including drones in its latest sanction against Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, the Trade Ministry said.

The measure, which also prohibits Japanese entities from exporting a wide variety of industrial items such as construction machinery, ship engines, testing equipment and optical devices to Russia, will go into effect on April 7, the ministry said in a statement. 

One year on, Ukraine remembers Bucha victims

Ukraine is marking one year since Russia withdrew from the Kiev suburb of Bucha, leaving the bodies of executed civilians strewn in the streets in what has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes.

Russian forces withdrew from the commuter town northwest of the capital on March 31, 2022, just over a month after Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine.

In their wake, they left behind scenes of horror that shocked the world.

During a visit to Bucha two days later, Zelenskyy described the killings of civilians as "genocide".

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian troops of "war crimes" after the discoveries at Bucha, pointing to an abundance of footage and witness accounts. But Moscow denies the accusations, claiming the atrocities in Bucha were staged.

2000 GMT —  US says Russia seeking more N Korean arms, names broker

The White House has said that Russia is seeking more arms from North Korea for the Ukraine offensive, revealing the identity of a Slovakian man allegedly brokering deals between Moscow and Pyongyang.

"We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea," said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby.

He said the man, identified as Ashot Mkrtychev, 56, of Bratislava, was working on arms-related sales and barter deals between the two countries between late 2022 and the early part of this year.

"With the support of Russian officials, Mkrtychev has been attempting to broker a secret arms agreement between Russia and North Korea," he said.

Russia bid to 'weaponise energy' on Blinken agenda at NATO meet 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will push back on Russia's attempts to "weaponise energy" and rally support for a Ukrainian counteroffensive when he meets NATO foreign ministers in Brussels next week, an official said.

A meeting of the US-EU Energy Council will focus on joint efforts to "blunt Russia's attempts to weaponize energy ... (and) bolstering energy supplies for the coming winters," Dereck Hogan, the State Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters.

The European Commission on Monday proposed that EU countries extend for a year an emergency measure to curb gas demand for the next 12 months, to help prepare Europe to get through next winter with scarce Russian gas.

Russia cut off most gas supplies to Europe in the months following its February 2022 offensive in Ukraine — squeezing supply and triggering record-high prices.

For our live updates from Thursday (March 30), click here.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies