Live updates | Ukraine hopes for Mariupol fighter exchange

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Ukraine’s deputy defense minister expressed hope on Tuesday that the 264 Ukrainian fighters extracted from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol will be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war

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Ukraine’s deputy defense minister expressed hope on Tuesday that the 264 Ukrainian fighters extracted from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol will be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war, despite remarks by a top Russian official who called them “criminals” who have to be “brought to justice.”

Hanna Maliar said at a briefing Tuesday that the comment by Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin is a political statement, “conceived as internal propaganda, (with an eye to) internal political processes in the Russian Federation.”

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Maliar said that from Ukraine’s perspective both the negotiation process and rescue operation itself is ongoing.

Earlier Tuesday, the Russian news agency Interfax cited Volodin as calling the Azovstal fighters “Nazi criminals” who should be excluded from any future exchanges.

Volodin was cited calling the fighters “war criminals” and that Russia “must do everything to bring them to justice.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Targeting schools, Russia bombs the future

— Fall of Mariupol appears at hand; fighters leave steel plant

— Sweden, Finland push ahead with NATO bids as Turkey objects

— From civilian to soldier: Ukrainian army volunteer buried

— With echoes of Trump, GOP splinters over $40B for Ukraine

— Vatican minister visits Ukraine as pope toes delicate line

— Europe accused of `double-standard’ on Ukrainian refugees

— Follow all stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s Europe director said the agency has verified 226 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, which comprises two thirds of all attacks on health care globally this year.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, WHO’s Dr. Hans Kluge said the targeted strikes have left at least 75 people dead and 59 injured. He said there have been nearly three attacks on health facilities every day since Russian forces first crossed into Ukraine in late February.

“These attacks are not justifiable, they are never OK and they must be investigated,” he said, adding that the UN health agency would be sharing details of the attacks with Ukrainian authorities and other independent investigators.

Kluge also said he was “deeply troubled” by reports of increasing sexual violence in Ukraine and the potential for cholera outbreaks in occupied parts of the country. He said WHO was preparing cholera vaccines to combat water-borne disease.

Dr. Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe’s emergencies director, said the organization was worried about the situation in Mariupol, citing reports of numerous broken pipes.

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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited the Kherson region of southern Ukraine on Tuesday, according to the RIA Novosti state news agency.

It’s a sign of Russia’s increasing influence over areas held by its forces,

The Kherson region is in southern Ukraine outside of the areas claimed by Russia-backed separatists and has been under control of Russian forces since soon after the invasion began in February.

Khusnullin was quoted by RIA as saying Kherson could take “a worthy place in our Russian family.” He also said Russia was organizing road and bridge repairs and signaled produce from the largely agricultural region could be exported to Russia.

A Kremlin-installed politician in the Kherson region said last week that officials there planned to appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to incorporate the region into Russia.

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BRUSSELS — The International Criminal Court prosecutor says he’s sent a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine as part of a probe into suspected war crimes during Russia’s invasion.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said Tuesday that the team “will significantly enhance the impact of our forensic and investigative actions on the ground.”

Khan says the team will improve the gathering of witness testimony, the identification of forensic materials and help ensure that “evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings” at the Netherlands-based court.

Several thousand civilians are believed to have died since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. Exact figures are impossible to verify. Incidents of summary executions and the use of cluster bombs by Russian forces have regularly been reported.

To be classed as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”

Khan says that “now more than ever we need to show the law in action” in Ukraine.

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HELSINKI — A small Finnish brewery has launched a NATO-branded beer as Finland has sought membership in the 30-member Alliance along with neighboring Sweden.

The OTAN beer features a blue label, a beer-drinking cartoon character in a metal armor emblazoned with NATO’s compass symbol.

The words “OTAN olutta” means “I will have a beer” in Finnish.

According to a Twitter posting, the Olaf brewery in the eastern Finnish town of Savonlinna, the pun is intended. OTAN is French abbreviation for NATO — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization which has two official languages, English and French.

The town of Savonlinna which houses the Olavinlinna Castle from 1475, has been the site of numerous battles and lies close to the Russian border.

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HELSINKI, Finland — Finland’s Parliament has overwhelmingly endorsed a bid from the Nordic country’s government to join NATO.

Lawmakers at the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature voted 188-8 Tuesday to approve Finland seeking membership in the 30-member Western military alliance.

The vote was considered a formality as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the intention to join on Sunday.

Lawmakers’ approval was not necessarily required. However, both Niniisto and Marin stressed that it was important for the Parliament to weigh in on the NATO bid, described by the Finnish head of state as “historic.”

Finland is now expected to sign a formal application and file it to NATO headquarters in the coming days together with Nordic neighbor Sweden where the government announced a similar NATO bid on Monday.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Sweden and Finland “can always rely on our assistance” as they wait to join NATO, and is voicing confidence that Turkey will back their membership bid.

Scholz pledged Tuesday that Germany will push for quick accession by the Nordic nations. He noted that United Nations and European Union provisions call for mutual protection.

Asked whether that means Germany is giving the two countries a security guarantee for the period between their application and becoming members, Scholz replied: “Both countries can always rely on our assistance, particularly in this very special situation.”

Scholz signaled that he’s confident a skeptical Turkey can be won over to the Nordic membership bid, though he sidestepped a question on whether it’s time to rethink restrictions on arms exports to Ankara.

He said: “I am as confident as the NATO secretary general that this (accession) will succeed quickly with the support of all countries, including Turkey as a NATO member.” He said that Turkey has made “very many constructive contributions” in addressing the war.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden Biden will host Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House for a meeting Thursday amid their push to join NATO.

The White House said they would discuss the two countries’ applications to join the alliance, as well as European security broadly. The meeting is set to take place before Biden departs for a four-day trip to South Korea and Japan.

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MOSCOW — Russia says it is expelling two Finnish diplomats and will leave a multinational organization focused on the Baltic Sea, as tensions remain high over Finland and Sweden’s ambitions to join NATO.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday framed the expulsion of the two Finnish diplomats as a response to Finland expelling two Russians last month.

It also said the Finnish ambassador was read a protest against “Finland’s confrontational course in relation to Russia,” including its role in international sanctions against Russia and arms supplies to Ukraine. The statement made no mention of NATO.

Russia said it was leaving the Council of the Baltic Sea States, an 11-nation grouping where Finland and Sweden are prominent members, and the related Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, a grouping of national lawmakers.

Moscow says European Union and NATO member countries were seeking to use the CBSS as “an instrument of anti-Russian policy.” Russia was suspended from participating in the CBSS in March by the other members.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden has signed a formal request to join NATO, a day after the country announced it would seek membership in the alliance. In neighboring Finland, lawmakers are expected later Tuesday to formally endorse Finnish leaders’ decision also to join.

The moves by the two Nordic countries, ending Sweden’s more than 200 years of military nonalignment and Finland’s nonalignment after World War II, have provoked the ire of the Kremlin.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto arrived in Sweden for an official two-day visit and said: “we took peace for granted; on Feb. 24 the peace was broken,” in a reference to the date that Ukraine was invaded by Russia.

“Our old ways of handling things no longer correspond to the new…

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Credit: abcnews.go.com /

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