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Biden: Zelenskyy didn’t want to hear U.S. info

LOS ANGELES — President Joe Biden, speaking to donors at a Democratic fundraiser here, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “didn’t want to hear it” when U.S. intelligence gathered information that Russia was preparing to invade.

The remarks came as Biden was talking about his work to rally and solidify support for Ukraine as the war continues into its fourth month.

“Nothing like this has happened since World War II. I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating. But I knew we had data to sustain he” — meaning Russian President Vladimir Putin — “was going to go in, off the border.”

“There was no doubt,” Biden said. “And Zelenskyy didn’t want to hear it.”

Although Zelenskyy has inspired people with his leadership during the war, his preparation for the invasion — or lack thereof — has remained a controversial issue.

In the weeks before the war began on Feb. 24, Zelenskyy publicly bristled as Biden administration officials repeatedly warned that a Russian invasion was highly likely.

At the time, Zelenskyy was also concerned on the time that the drumbeat of war was unsettling Ukraine’s fragile economy.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Ukraine fears a long war might cause West to lose interest

— Ukraine: Drivers risk all to bring aid, help civilians flee

— Ukraine: 100-200 soldiers die daily, new plea for heavy guns

— Ukraine soccer club Shakhtar survives into 9th year of exile

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

MOSCOW — The head of Russia’s central bank says it’s impossible to draw conclusions on the impact of Western sanctions at this stage.

“So far, the effects of the sanctions are less acute than we feared. This also shows the ability of companies to adapt. But it is premature to say that the full effect of the sanctions has manifested itself,” Elvira Nabiullina, chair of the Central Bank of Russia, said at a briefing, at which she also announced the lowering of interest rates to their prewar levels.

“The situation is uncertain, the situation is developing and the situation of the structural restructuring of our economy, of its capacity to rebuild, is also a process, so it’s premature to draw any conclusions here,” Nabiullina said.

She also said Moscow was preparing a possible legal challenge against E.U. sanctions against Russia’s central securities depository and measures freezing the settlement of ruble transactions by its E.U.-based counterparts. She did not provide details, but admitted such a challenge “would not be easy.”

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DONETSK, Ukraine — Hundreds of people continue to flee intense fighting in eastern Ukraine as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle for control of key cities and villages in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Dozens of Ukrainians left the city of Pokrovks Friday on a special evacuation train heading for Dnipro and other cities further west.

The train carried about 300 people — mostly women, children, and the elderly — who were forced to leave as the fighting neared their homes.

Svitlana Kaplun said her entire family decided to leave when the shelling reached their neighborhood in the city of Krasnohorivka, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city of Donetsk under the control of pro-Russian separatist forces.

“We live on the frontline now. The kids are worried all the time, they are afraid to sleep at night, so we decided to take them out,” she told AP.

Most of the evacuees are from areas where Russian forces are concentrating their offensive to capture the whole Donbas: The cities of Sievierodonetsk, Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and Popasna.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian foreign minister says he and Britain’s defense secretary have discussed the plight of the three foreign fighters sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists.

Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter that he and Liz Truss “strongly condemned the sham trial against prisoners of war in Russian-occupied Donetsk” during a telephone conversation Friday.

Kuleba says “As combatants, they are protected by international humanitarian law and must be treated accordingly. We keep working together to ensure their release.”

His remarks referenced separatist claims that the two British and one Moroccan man were mercenaries rather than combatants protected by international conventions. Ukrainian officials, as well as the fighters’ families, have repeatedly stressed that all three were regular members of the Ukrainian army.

Kuleba said he and Truss discussed ways to ratchet up pressure on Moscow and hinted that the UK is planning to impose a fresh round of sanctions on Russia.

“I look forward to the next round of UK sanctions. We both agreed that no one in the world has a right to get weary of this war until Ukraine prevails,” he said.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked the U.K. for its “effective support” of Kyiv, following an in-person meeting with Britain’s defense chief.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace met Zelenskyy, as well as his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, during an unannounced two-day visit to Kyiv.

“The head of state thanked the minister for the effective support of Ukraine by the British government in our fight against Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy’s press service said in a statement Friday.

“The war showed who our real friends and partners are, not only strategic, but effectively acting today. Great Britain is one of such friends,” the statement said.

Zelenskyy has renewed a plea for heavy weapons to “restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” his office said in the statement.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The CEO of a Ukrainian regional power company has accused Russian troops of deliberately destroying energy infrastructure in the southern Mykolayiv region.

“Electricity for the population, industry and agriculture is a basic good, without which normal life is impossible. Therefore, energy facilities become a target for enemy troops,” Vadym Danylkiv, CEO of regional monopoly Nikolaevoblenergo, said in a statement Friday.

Since the start of June, Russian shelling has destroyed 14 overhead power lines and 377 transformer substations, and damaged a key 40 MVA transformer, the company said. Danylkiv said the Mykolayiv region has “an acute need for transformer oil.”

“Just as a result of the latest damage, as a result of the shelling of a powerful transformer, we lost 26 tons of oil. Its purchase means (spending) about UAH 2.6 million for such a volume, plus complex logistics,” Danylkiv was cited as saying.

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KYIV, Ukraine — At least two civilians have been hospitalized following Russian shelling on the outskirts of Ukraine’s second largest city, according to regional emergency services.

Emergency teams on Friday were searching for more casualties in Derhachi, a town 12 kilometers northwest of Kharkiv, which has been targeted in a series of strikes in recent weeks.

Following the shelling, fires broke out in residential buildings, the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service in the Kharkiv region said in a statement.

Kharkiv’s mayor said the city, which was a key military objective in the early stages of Russia’s invasion, continues to suffer regular strikes.

“The intensity of shelling … has become a little less, but bombs and rockets of higher power are being used in the city of Kharkiv. The destruction that we see today is very, very serious,” Ihor Terekhov said in a televised briefing.

He said Moscow was sabotaging what he called Kharkiv’s ongoing return to normality.

“The process of restoring everyday life in Kharkiv is underway. The subway is working, public transport is working … Many enterprises have begun to open, many Kharkiv residents have begun to return. The enemy sees all this, it makes him furious. It is clear that he wants to destabilize the situation,” Terekhov said.

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LONDON — British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a previously unannounced visit to Kyiv.

The U.K. defense ministry says Wallace also held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, during the two-day visit this week.

It said Friday Wallace told Zelenskyy that “U.K. support will continue to meet Ukraine’s needs as the conflict enters a different phase.”

Britain has been one of the biggest donors of military equipment to Ukraine and recently agreed to send rocket launch systems that can target Russian artillery positions in eastern Ukraine.

Western officials say the conflict is becoming a grinding slow-motion war as Russian forces inch forward in their offensive to capture Ukaine’s eastern industrial heartland.

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Russia’s central bank has cut interest rates back to their prewar levels, saying inflation and economic activity are developing better than expected despite sweeping Western sanctions imposed in response to the war in Ukraine.

The bank lowered its key rate Friday by 1.5 percentage points to 9.5%. It had been as high as 20% in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions that restrict dealings with Russian banks, individuals and companies.

Economists say that over time the sanctions will corrode growth and productivity, but the central bank has managed to stabilize Russia’s currency and financial system through drastic measures such as high interest rates, restrictions on flows of money out of the country and a requirement that importers sell their foreign currency earnings for rubles.

Those measures have helped push the Russian currency’s exchange rate to 58.12 against the dollar Friday, compared with 78.8 rubles to the dollar on Feb. 23, the day before the invasion.

The central bank says inflation was an annual 17% in May but appeared to have passed its post-invasion peak of 17.8% and to be headed down amid lower price increases in May and June.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging the European Union strongly to put his country on track to membership.

In a video address on Friday to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Zelenskyy said the EU should act quickly to offer Ukraine the status of a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc.

He said that the “gray zone” Ukraine has been left in has encouraged Russian aggression. He urged the EU to show “that its words about the Ukrainian people being part of the European family aren’t a hollow sound.”

Zelenskyy deplored that “there are still some political skeptics who doubt whether we should be allowed to move to join the EU.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland plans to send more defense equipment to Ukraine but isn’t specifying what it is or when it will be delivered.

The government said Friday that President Sauli Niinistö agreed to its request to send more military aid. It said it wasn’t giving more information in order “to ensure that the help arrives.”

The Nordic nation already has sent rifles and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, among other things.

Finland, a European Union member that has a long border with Russia, sought NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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VATICAN CITY — The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has met with Pope Francis to discuss efforts to end the war in Ukraine and relieve the global food crisis it has exacerbated.

In a tweet after the 20-minute audience Friday, von der Leyen wrote: “We stand with those suffering from the destruction in Ukraine. This war must end, bringing peace back to Europe.”

Von der Leyen also met with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who recently returned from Ukraine. The Vatican said their talks focused on the “common commitment to work to bring the war in Ukraine to an end, dedicating particular attention to the humanitarian aspects and the food consequences of the continuation of the conflict.”

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GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office has voiced concern about the death sentences imposed by pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine on three captured foreigners who were fighting on the Ukrainian side.

A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found two Britons and one Moroccan guilty of seeking the violent overthrow of power. The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.

U.N. rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani noted Friday that, according to the Ukrainian military, all three were part of Ukraine’s armed forces. She said if that is the case they “should not be considered as mercenaries”

Shamdasani said that, since 2015, the office has observed that the judiciary in rebel-run separatist areas “has not complied with essential fair trial guarantees, such as public hearing, independence and impartiality of the court and the right not to be compelled to testify.”

She added that “such trials against prisoners of war amount to a war crime.”

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s HRT state television says a Croatian citizen who has been wounded while fighting in Ukraine has been transferred home and hospitalized in the capital, Zagreb.

HRT reported Friday that the man is in stable condition after suffering serious injuries to an arm and leg. Doctors say they are assessing his condition to determine whether and when to perform surgery.

The man fought alongside Ukrainian forces against Russia. Another Croatian citizen was detained by Russian troops last month after fighting in the port city of Mariupol.

HRT identified the injured fighter as Jozinović Vuković.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor says Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for every house in street battles in a key city in eastern Ukraine.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press on Friday that the Ukrainian forces have retained control of the industrial area on the edge of the city of Sievierodonetsk and also control some other sections.

He said that “battles are going on for every house and every street.”

Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of Luhansk province in the Donbas industrial region, has been the focus of the Russian offensive in recent weeks.

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LONDON — The British government says Russia must take responsibility for the “sham trial” of two Britons who have been sentenced to death for fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted along with a Moroccan man by a court run by Russia-backed rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, which is not recognized internationally.

The two Britons were members of a Ukrainian military unit and were captured in the southern port of Mariupol.

Government minister Robin Walker said it was “an illegal court in a sham government” but that the U.K. would use “all diplomatic channels to make the case that these are prisoners of war who should be treated accordingly.”

He said “Russia needs to take responsibility, its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention, for the treatment of prisoners of war.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to speak to her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba later Friday about the case. The U.K. has not announced any plans to speak to Russian officials.

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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds into its fourth month, officials in Kyiv have expressed fears that the specter of “war fatigue” could erode the West’s resolve to help the country push back Moscow’s aggression.

The U.S. and its allies have given billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine. Europe has taken in millions of people displaced by the war. And there has been unprecedent unity in post-World War II Europe in imposing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and his country.

But as the shock of the Feb. 24 invasion subsides, analysts say the Kremlin could exploit a dragged-out, entrenched conflict and possible waning interest by the West that might lead to pressuring Ukraine into a settlement.

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Volunteer drivers are risking everything to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukrainians behind the front lines of the war — and to help many of them escape.

The routes are dangerous and long and the drivers risk detention, injury or death. Ukrainian activists say more than two dozen drivers have been detained and held for more than two months by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.

In Donetsk and the Luhansk region, vans and minibuses of volunteers zip through towns and down country roads, racing to evacuate civilians as artillery shells whistle through the air. Russian forces are doubling down on their offensive in the regions.

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Post expires at 6:22am on Wednesday June 22nd, 2022