War in Ukraine live updates: Heavy losses force Russian troops to regroup in Belarus and Russia, the U.K. says

Published March 30, 2022 at 7:54 AM EDT
A tank on a road with houses in the background.
Fadel Senna
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AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian tank steers its way on a road in the northeastern city of Trostianets on Tuesday. Ukraine said this week that its forces had recaptured the town, near the Russian border.

Russian military units that have incurred heavy losses in the war in Ukraine are being forced to return to Russia and Belarus “to reorganize and resupply,” the British defense ministry said. It’s the latest sign of the trouble Russia is facing in Ukraine more than a month after its forces invaded.

Here's what else we're following today:

Forced deportations to Russia: The Mariupol city council said thousands of residents — including more than 70 staff members and patients at a maternity hospital — are being taken to Russia against their will, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

Refugee crisis: More than4 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the five weeks since Russia invaded.

New warnings on travel to Russia: The State Department cited the risk of Russian government security officials harassing, singling out and detaining U.S. citizens abroad.

Support for Ukraine

Fortnite maker says it has raised $100 million for humanitarian relief from Ukraine war

Posted March 30, 2022 at 1:44 PM EDT

It only took about 10 days: Epic, the maker of the video game Fortnite, says it has already raised $100 million to fund humanitarian aid for people affected by the war in Ukraine. The money is going to groups such as the World Central Kitchen, Direct Relief and UNICEF.

Epic Games announced the fundraising effort earlier this month, saying that from March 20 through April 3 it would donate its proceeds from the popular game, minus expenses such as billing costs and taxes. In the first two days alone, it raised $50 million.

Microsoft’s Xbox is also part of the effort, donating net proceeds from Fortnite sales in the Microsoft Store.

Epic’s fundraising push came as it released a new season of Fortnite, an event that reliably drives new sales, as NPR reported last week. The donations are driven by “real-money purchases” related to the game — everything from special cosmetic packs to Fortnite Crew subscriptions that are processed in the two-week period, according to Epic.

On the ground

Ukraine opens three humanitarian corridors and asks for dozens more

Posted March 30, 2022 at 1:27 PM EDT
A convoy of volunteers carrying supplies for civilians stuck in Mariupol leaves Zaporizhzhya on Tuesday.
Emre Caylak
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AFP via Getty Images
A convoy of volunteers carrying supplies for civilians stuck in Mariupol leaves Zaporizhzhya on Tuesday.

Negotiators made the first signs of headway Tuesday in the now five-week-old conflict, with Ukraine discussing possible concessions and Russia claiming that they’d move troops away from the capital, Kyiv — where they’ve been stalled and repulsed by Ukrainian forces for weeks.

Ukrainian officials say they’re hopeful the negotiations will allow them to agree on more humanitarian corridors. Three corridors were set up today, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, including:

  • Evacuation of Mariupol residents and delivery of humanitarian aid to the city of Berdyansk.
  • Delivery of humanitarian aid and evacuation of people from the city of Melitopol.
  • Passage of a column of people on their own transport from the city of Energodar to Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine's delegation presented proposals to organize humanitarian corridors to a total of the 97 most-affected settlements. Vereshchuk said efforts to win agreement on those corridors will continue today.
Roughly 10 million people have had to flee their homes. Heavy fighting continues in a number of cities and explosions were heard from the capital overnight.

Vereschuk said Ukraine is asking for corridors from larger cities including Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kherson.

Energy

Germany triggers first stage of its natural gas emergency plan, over Russia's ruble stance

Posted March 30, 2022 at 1:17 PM EDT
An aerial view shows a compressor station of the Jagal natural gas pipeline as wind turbines spin behind it near Mallnow, Germany, on March 24. The Jagal is the German extension of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that transports Russian natural gas to Germany. The German government recently announced it has agreed with Qatar on gas delivery contracts as it seeks to wean itself off Russian natural gas supplies due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Sean Gallup
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Getty Images
An aerial view shows a compressor station of the Jagal natural gas pipeline, the Germaan extension of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that transports Russian natural gas to Germany.

Germany is calling for its citizens and businesses to conserve as much natural gas as they can to prepare for a possible shortage due to the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The German government on Wednesday triggered the first of three stages in its gas emergency plan.

Germany is bracing for a gas shortage after Russia announced last week that it will demand payment for natural gas in rubles rather than euros or dollars — a bid to prop up Russia’s weakened currency by boosting demand.

Natural gas prices surged in Europe, where Russia has supplied about 45% of imports, as NPR reported.

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck — who is also the economic and climate minister — announced on Wednesday that he has activated the first step of the federal gas emergency plan, a move that is mainly aimed at vigilance, by creating a crisis team to monitor Germany’s current and projected gas supplies.

For now, German gas levels are assured, Habeck said. But he added that disruptions could emerge if Russia escalates its demands — which, he said, are in breach of existing private-sector supply contracts.

Europe’s reliance on Russia’s energy resources has been one of the biggest sources of uncertainty in its response to the war in Ukraine, even as the EU leveled harsh sanctions at Moscow. Germany and other countries are moving to reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

Poland says it will soon stop importing Russian coal and will halt oil and gas imports by the end of the year.

Germany and other G7 countries issued a joint declaration on Monday, rejecting Moscow’s call to pay for gas exclusively in rubles.

Detention

The parents of an American detained in Russia are protesting outside the White House

Posted March 30, 2022 at 11:51 AM EDT
A man and a woman stand outside of a fence covered in banners calling for the release of Trevor Reed, with the White House in the background.
Anna Moneymaker
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Joey and Paula Reed protest in Lafayette Park near the White House on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The parents of Trevor Reed, a U.S. Marine veteran imprisoned in Russia, are staging a protest outside of the White House on Wednesday to raise awareness about his case as he embarks on his second hunger strike in recent months.

Reed has been detained in Russia since August 2019, when he was arrested during a trip to visit his girlfriend and study the language. The Texas native was convicted in 2020 on charges of assaulting a police officer, and sentenced to nine years in jail — a sentence that was upheld after he lost an appeal last June.

Reed has said he was drunk the night of the event and doesn't remember it, while his family has accused Russian officials of fabricating the charges to use him as a bargaining chip with the U.S.

He is one of several U.S. citizens currently being held in Russia, including Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Reed's family said they spoke with him earlier this month for the first time in over 200 days, the Fort Worth Star-Telegramreports, adding that he sounded sick, tired and hopeless and spoke of feeling forgotten.

His parents, Joey and Paula Reed, said in a statement on Tuesday that he was sick with possible tuberculosis, and had begun another hunger strike to protest his treatment by Russian authorities. (He refused food for six days back in November, to protest his incarceration and alleged violations of his human rights.)

Reed spent 10 days in what his parents called a prison "hospital," reportedly without receiving any tests or medical care beyond an X-ray that they said was performed incorrectly. After returning to the prison, he asked to return to the hospital but was placed in solitary confinement instead.

"While we are in awe of our son's integrity and strength of character, as his parents, there aren't words to express how concerned we are about our son's health," they wrote.

Joey Reed told CNN that his son has all the symptoms of active tuberculosis, including coughing up blood, as well as "some sort of injury where he thinks he might have broken a rib" — but is only being given aspirin.

While Reed is protesting in Russia, his parents are planning to campaign outside the White House to raise awareness about his situation and press for an in-person meeting with President Biden.

They have long pleaded publicly for help from the U.S. government, and spoke with the president by phone during his trip to their hometown of Fort Worth earlier this month.

The Reeds say that Biden told them on the call he was sorry he couldn't visit them in person, and that his staff would schedule a meeting with the family at the White House soon. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on March 8 that "we are working on a time for the President to meet with his family over the short term," without specifying a timeline.

After exactly three weeks of waiting, the Reeds have evidently decided to pay a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. themselves. They told CNN that they are scheduled to stay until Friday, but are willing to extend their visit if needed.

"I'm going to see if I can get to see them," Biden told reporters when asked about the Reeds on Wednesday. "They're good people. We're trying to work that out."

The Reeds wrote in their statement that they believe Biden — who they said they voted for — is the only person who can save their son's life, and urged his administration to "stop deliberating and start acting."

They fear that he will become the next Otto Warmbier, referencing the American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 and died a year later after being released in a vegetative state.

"The time is now to bring home Trevor, Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner," they wrote. "As we have said for more than a year, we continue to worry escalating tensions, or rhetoric, could lead to Russian authorities inventing additional false charges against Trevor."

A sign of stability

City of Kyiv says it's time to resume renting scooters and bikes

Posted March 30, 2022 at 11:29 AM EDT
A man walks his bicycle in Kyiv on March 28, near a tram that was destroyed by a rocket strike weeks earlier. Russia said on Tuesday that it will reduce its military activity around Kyiv and other parts of northern Ukraine.
Anastasia Vlasova
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Getty Images
A man walks his bicycle in Kyiv on Monday near a tram that was destroyed by a rocket strike weeks earlier. Russia said on Tuesday that it will reduce its military activity around Kyiv and other parts of northern Ukraine.

The Kyiv city government is urging private companies to resume renting electric scooters and bicycles, one day after Russia confirmed its military is shifting forces away from Ukraine’s capital. Scooters and bikes can help people travel short distances, the city administration noted on its Telegram channel.

As for where Kyiv residents might want to go after enduring weeks of Russian shelling and airstrikes, the city has created a Google Map of businesses that are currently open. The list includes coffee shops, bakeries, dentist’s offices — and dozens of repair businesses for everything from plumbing to windows and doors.

It's the latest hint that Kyiv could be heading toward more stability and away from catastrophic human suffering. On Monday, Kyiv's schools resumed offering online classes for distance learning — a decision the city council said was aimed at giving children psychological support and a distraction from a traumatic time, along with their school lessons.

Russia said on Tuesday that it will reduce its military activity around Kyiv, in what it calls a “de-escalation” move.

But First Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin is also warning that Kyiv remains a very dangerous place, citing large numbers of unexploded Russian munitions in the city, as Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne (Public) reported.

Yenin warned people to stay away from anything resembling an explosive device and to be particularly vigilant in keeping children away from items that could be part of military ordnance.

Anyone who fled their home in Kyiv and now wants to return should contact the national police and emergency services before doing so, to ensure it's safe, Yenin added.

More than 4 million refugees have left Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, and about 6.5 million more are displaced within the country, the U.N. refugee agency said on Wednesday.

Interview

A Ukrainian lawmaker on business in the U.S. worries about her 2-year-old back home

Posted March 30, 2022 at 11:13 AM EDT

A delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers is visiting Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about the situation at home and advocate for more support from the U.S. Its members are all women because Ukrainian men are required to stay in the country and serve in the military under martial law.

Morning Edition'sSteve Inskeep spoke with Anastasia Radina, a member of parliament in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's governing party, as she made her way into the Capitol building.

She says what Ukraine needs most is more military support, adding that the country is winning so far but urgently needs more weapons to ensure a victory.

"When I say urgently, I basically mean yesterday, without any delay," she adds.

The U.S. is already supplying Ukraine with equipment like anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, but Radina says the country is in need of fighter jets and air defense systems to save the lives of civilians.

She says the general public is suffering more than servicemen because Russian troops are deliberately targeting civilians. She points to the besieged city of Mariupol, where people have been sheltering in basements without food and electricity for weeks while Russian troops prohibit humanitarian corridors. Dead bodies are piling up in the streets, she adds, and constant shelling makes dignified burials impossible.

Before Radina left Ukraine, she said there were air raid alarms going off in Kyiv at least twice a day, maybe more. About half of the city's population is gone, but those who remain can't feel safe anywhere in the city or suburbs, she says, with missiles hitting residential areas and continuous fighting taking place just some 12 miles outside of the city center.

While Radina is working to raise awareness and support abroad, her family — including her 2-year-old son — is still at home in Ukraine. She has an app on her phone that alerts her to air raid alarms in their area.

"This is the most terrifying experience I have ever had, being a mother hearing [of] an air raid alarm in the community where my son is staying, while I'm advocating on behalf of all Ukrainian mothers and their kids," she says.

Radina says that many other Ukrainian parents have horror stories of their own: She recently learned that a dead newborn was recovered from a shelter in Mariupol, where there reportedly was just no way to feed him.

"There are mothers who are blocked in shelters under rubble with no opportunity to feed their babies, there are mothers who have to explain to their kids why they are witnessing their parents dying," Radina adds. "There are terrifying experiences all over Ukraine, and these are just a few that get highlighted, so we're sure to hear more of [those] terrifying stories."

Listen to the full interview here, and keep reading for what Radina makes of the current negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

Russian officials say their troops are backing away from Kyiv, and that they see that as a constructive step to make room for negotiations. But Radina points out that Ukraine has been at war with Russia since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.

"We trust Russia when we see their troops actually withdrawing," she says. "Not before."

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy has spoken about the possibility of neutral status for Ukraine, in which it would abandon its mission of joining NATO if its populace agrees. Could that pass a public referendum?

Radina says officials can only talk about that once Russian troops are fully withdrawn, because "any negotiations while they are bombing our cities, when they are killing our civilians, that's just not a way to go."

Shortly before her conversation with Inskeep, she says, Russian forces had again shelled the city of Mykolai and hit a government building, killing at least 10 civilians and leaving others under the rubble.

Radina adds: "Is this a situation when one can negotiate a compromise?"

Interview

Ex-Treasury official: Sanctions matter, but they alone can't turn back the tanks

Posted March 30, 2022 at 10:17 AM EDT
A Russian coin on top of several credit cards.
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AFP via Getty Images
Juan Zarate, a former assistant secretary of the Treasury, says sanctions have had a dramatic impact on the Russian economy when it comes to things like the value of the ruble.

The U.S. and other western allies have unleashed a barrage of economic penalties on Russia in the weeks since it first invaded Ukraine. As the violence continues — and the two countries return to the negotiating table — how much are sanctions actually helping push Russia to end the war?

Morning Edition's A Martínez posed that question to Juan Zarate, a former assistant secretary of the Treasury who is now global co-managing partner at K2 Integrity.

Zarate says the sanctions have had a dramatic impact on the Russian economy when it comes to things like the value of the ruble and the selloff of bonds and assets, but are not enough on their own to turn back the tanks, especially when there's "a committed actor like [Russian President Vladimir Putin] with a design on invading a country and potentially destroying its cities.

"Sanctions have a tail to them — they take time to take effect, the effects on the economy in Russia are still just being felt, and so I think it's asking sanctions to do too much to actually stop the war. But it certainly can be part of a tableau of pressure that's put on Putin to try to change his behavior, change his calculus," Zarate explains, pointing to other factors like the Ukrainian resistance, diplomatic isolation and companies pulling out of Russia.

Sanctions can, however, play an important role in the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. And Zarate says we may also see more action taken against sanctions evaders, and countries that are continuing to do business with Russia.

Listen to their conversation here or keep reading for details.

How sanctions factor into negotiations

Zarate says sanctions could play two important roles in the ongoing peace talks. For one, they help shape how Russia feels the costs of its actions, something he says should play into the calculus of negotiators at the bargaining table. In other words, he says, they should understand that things are only going to get worse for Russia as its economy continues to feel the effects of sanctions.

The conversation could also come to include the lifting of certain sanctions, such as restrictions on trade or investment.

"Every sanction that is used as a stick can also be used as a carrot," Zarate says, adding that he has seen this in the case of Iran and other countries that are seeking to get out from under the pressure of economic sanctions.
How Putin experiences the sanctions, compared to the Russian public

Zarate says a "classic dilemma" with the application of sanction is that if you're putting maximum pressure on an economy, you're ultimately harming ordinary people and their ability to operate commercially.

"Whether or not the regime leadership feels it directly, or whether or not they even care about the effects on their population is a different question," he said, pointing to examples like Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the Castros in Cuba.

Zarate says the sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs have been a way to try to get at Putin's assets. He sees them as an attempt to (at least psychologically ) impact Putin's level of comfort and warn him that the international community won't let him rest — even if the Russian people are bearing that cost.

What could happen to countries that help Russia financially

How much could other countries — like China, which Russia has reportedly turned to for financial and military assistance — help fill those gaps?

China is an important outlet for Russia, Zarate says, and could certainly trade with the country and buy its oil, gas, timber and minerals. He says it could also potentially create mechanisms to circumvent sanctions. The role of China and other countries could become more important as Russia is increasingly isolated from Europe and North America.

He adds that the U.S. could definitely go after individuals, entities and even countries that are evading sanctions already on the books, and anticipates seeing more enforcement in those areas (against entities like suppliers and shipping companies, for example) in the coming weeks and months.

Zarate notes that we've yet to see the application of "secondary sanctions," or the ability to go after those who continue to trade with Russia even if they themselves aren't subject to sanctions. That would allow the U.S., Europe and others to go after the Indian, Turkish, Chinese and other international companies still doing business with Russia — and Zarate says we could see more action in the future.

World reaction

Poland to ban all Russian oil and gas imports and urges Germany to do more

Posted March 30, 2022 at 9:49 AM EDT
Polands Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on March 11, 2022, for the EU leaders summit to discuss the fallout of Russia's invasion in Ukraine. - EU leaders are scrambling to find ways to urgently address the fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine that has imperilled the bloc's economy and exposed a dire need for a stronger defence. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Ludovic Marin
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AFP via Getty Images
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called his country's ban on imports of Russian gas, oil and coal the most radical in Europe.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says his country will ban all imports of Russian gas, oil and coal by the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters outside fuel storage warehouses near Warsaw, Morawiecki called the ban the most radical in Europe. He said other European countries “are not doing anything about the war” and continue to use Russian resources.

“While others in Europe looked at Russia as a business partner,” he said, “we saw that Russia uses gas and oil as a way to blackmail.”

Morawiecki singled out Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian fuel. He urged Germany and other EU countries to follow Poland’s lead.

Poland plans to stop importing coal from Russia in the next few weeks. It plans to cut off Russian oil and gas by December.

Poland has slowly worked for years to cut its reliance on Russian fuel. The U.S., Qatar and Norway export liquified natural gas to a newly-expanded terminal in Swinoujscie in northwestern Poland. The new pipeline bringing gas from Norway is set to open at the end of the year. Morawiecki says Poland will also use more renewable energy.

Dawid Krawczyk contributed to this report.

Support for Ukraine

A star-studded 'Concert for Ukraine' raised more than $14 million for humanitarian aid

Posted March 30, 2022 at 9:20 AM EDT

Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Nile Rodgers and Ukrainian Eurovision champion Jamala were among the artists who performed at last night's "Concert for Ukraine," a two-hour-long fundraiser for humanitarian relief.

U.K. companies ITV, STV and Livewire Pictures partnered with the media and entertainment group Global to organize the concert, which set out to raise money for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The live show — which took place in Birmingham, England — was broadcast across several networks, with organizers pledging to donate all sponsorship and advertising revenue to the cause as well.

The DEC announced on Tuesday that the event had raised the equivalent of roughly $14.8 million.

The program combined musical performances, short films about the situation in Ukraine and video appeals from celebrities, with viewers able to donate throughout the evening.

The full lineup included Nile Rodgers & Chic, Becky Hill, The Kingdom Choir, Manic Street Preachers, Tom Odell, Camila Cabello, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Gregory Porter and Snow Patrol.

"My heart is breaking for the people of Ukraine. As refugees from Ukraine join millions of other displaced people around the globe, we all have a responsibility," Cabello said in a release. "One of the biggest needs is to get funds to organizations who can serve these communities directly, so we’re focusing our efforts on doing that as quickly as we can.”

According to The Independent, Cabello performed a moving rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" before introducing Sheeran for their first-ever live performance of their 2022 duet, "Bam Bam." Other big moments included a video message from Billie Eilish and Finneas, a tribute to the media from U.K. broadcasting legend Trevor McDonald and a special report from TV personality Robert Rinder's recent visit to the Ukrainian border.

Ukrainian singer-songwriter Jamala — who fled the country earlier this month — held up a Ukrainian flag throughout her performance of "1944," which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016. The haunting song is about the mass deportation of Crimean Tartars under Joseph Stalin during World War II (which became a renewed topic of interest after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014) and was inspired by the experience of Jamala's great-grandmother.

The chorus is made up of words from a Crimean Tatar folk song that Jamala heard from her great-grandmother, translating to “I couldn’t spend my youth there because you took my world." Watch her performance here:

Concert organizers had tried to stay out of political messaging in the leadup to the event and made headlines for rejecting a popular Ukrainian band's now-viral plea from the front lines to virtually accompany Sheeran during his performance.

Organizers thanked the band, Antytila, but said they wanted to maintain the event's humanitarian focus, according to a statement reported by the BBC.

"On a personal level, we do of course completely understand why they are bravely fighting for their country, but for this specific concert, it would not be possible for us to feature them, as we are only able to focus on the humanitarian situation, not the politics or the military conflict," they wrote, prompting the musicians to respond with another video:

On the ground

Heavy losses are forcing Russian units to regroup in Belarus and Russia, U.K. says

Posted March 30, 2022 at 9:00 AM EDT
A destroyed Russian military vehicle sits abandoned Tuesday in Trostyanets, a northeastern town that Ukrainian forces said this week they have retaken from Russian occupation.
Chris McGrath
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Getty Images
A destroyed Russian military vehicle sits abandoned Tuesday in Trostyanets, a northeastern town that Ukrainian forces said this week they have retaken from Russian occupation.

Russian military units that have incurred heavy losses in the war in Ukraine are being forced to return to Russia and Belarus “to reorganize and resupply,” the British defense ministry said on Wednesday.

The front-line troops’ need to regroup “is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics,” the ministry added.

It’s the latest sign of the difficulty Russia’s armed forces are facing in Ukraine more than a month after Russia invaded. The shortage of outright military victories has resulted in Russia deploying a strategy of pummeling soft targets — bombing civilian infrastructure and shelling cites.

Russia said on Tuesday that it will reduce its military activity near Kyiv and Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, calling it part of a “de-escalation” process.

But Russian forces have been hit by counterattacks in northern Ukraine, and in the British defense ministry’s evaluation, the Russian move to focus its forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region “is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.”

Travel

State Department warns Americans that they could be harassed or detained in Russia

Posted March 30, 2022 at 8:21 AM EDT
People stand in the snow in Moscow's Red Square.
Natalia Kolesnikova
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AFP via Getty Images
People visit Red Square during a snowfall in central Moscow on Monday. The U.S. State Department is warning Americans not to travel to Russia, and for any citizens currently there to leave immediately.

The State Department is urging Americans not to travel to Russia, and asking citizens who are currently living in or visiting the country to leave immediately.

In a new travel advisory issued Tuesday, it cited the risk of Russian government security officials harassing, singling out and even detaining U.S. citizens abroad. It also warned about the potential risks of terrorism, COVID-19, the "arbitrary enforcement" of local law, limited flights to and from Russia and the U.S. Embassy's limited ability to assist Americans there.

"Russian security services have arrested U.S. citizens on spurious charges, singled out U.S. citizens in Russia for detention and/or harassment, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and have convicted them in secret trials and/or without presenting credible evidence," the department said.

It added that U.S. citizens — including former and current government and military personnel, as well as private citizens — have already been interrogated without cause and threatened by Russian officials, and warned that they could face harassment, mistreatment and extortion.

Americans should also avoid traveling to Russia to work or volunteer with non-governmental organizations or religious groups, the department said, as Russian authorities "are increasing the arbitrary enforcement of local laws to target foreign and international organizations they consider 'undesirable.'"

If U.S. citizens do get detained in Russia, the state department warns that they likely won't be able to get the help they need from their home country. Russian officials might not notify the U.S. Embassy of the detention in the first place, and consular access to detainees may be "denied or severely delayed." The same might be true even for dual U.S.-Russian nationals, it adds.

The department is also pointing out that U.S. credit and debit cards no longer work in Russia, and there are few options to electronically transfer funds from the U.S. due to the sanctions facing Russian banks.

It says that getting out will be possible, but challenging.

A number of airlines have canceled flights in and out of Russia, area airports have closed and many countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines altogether. The government says there are limited commercial flight options and overland routes by car and bus — but is discouraging Americans from traveling by land from Russia to Ukraine, given the ongoing conflict and potential for harassment of foreigners.

"If you wish to depart Russia, you should make arrangements on your own as soon as possible," it wrote. "The U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may suddenly become even more limited."

U.S. citizens looking to leave Russia can find more information here.

Humanitarian crisis

More than 4 million Ukrainians have now fled the country as refugees

Posted March 30, 2022 at 8:05 AM EDT
People walk on the platform next to a blue and yellow train.
Jeff J Mitchell
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Getty Images
People, mainly women and children, arrive at Przemysl, Poland, on a train from Odesa in war-torn Ukraine on Monday.

More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the five weeks since Russia first invaded, according to a tracker from the U.N. refugee agency.

That's the total number of refugees that the U.N. had originally estimated could cross into neighboring countries as the war unfolded.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, confirmed the dire milestone in a tweet on Wednesday, in which he said he had just arrived in Ukraine himself.

"In Lviv I will discuss with the authorities, the U.N. and other partners ways to increase our support to people affected and displaced by this senseless war," he wrote.

The vast majority of Ukrainian refugees — more than 2 million — have gone to neighboring Poland, with others fleeing to nearby countries including Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia. Some 350,000 have fled to Russia.

In addition, the U.N. says that roughly 6.5 million Ukrainians are displaced within the country, and some 13 million are stranded in affected areas or unable to leave.

The U.N. Human Rights Office said on Tuesday that 1,179 civilians — including 144 children — have been killed and another 1,860 injured in the war, mostly from "the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area." But it cautions that these numbers don't include casualties coming out of places with intense ongoing hostilities, like the besieged city of Mariupol, and are likely much higher.

On the ground

Mariupol says more than 20,000 civilians have been forcibly deported to Russia

Posted March 30, 2022 at 7:53 AM EDT
Olga and Oleksandr hug each other as they wait beside a vehicle with the hand-painted word 'volunteers' at an evacuation centre in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Olga's father has been stuck in Mariupol, and Oleksandr is hoping to get in a volunteer convoy going to the city that's under a Russian siege.
Emre Caylak
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AFP via Getty Images
Olga and Oleksandr hug each other as they wait beside a vehicle with the hand-painted word "volunteers" at an evacuation center in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Olga's father has been stuck in Mariupol, and Oleksandr is hoping to get in a volunteer convoy going to the city that's under a Russian siege.

Russian forces in Ukraine have forcibly deported the staff and patients of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, sending more than 70 people to Russia, the city council said. It’s at least the second hospital to undergo that fate, with more than 20,000 people now sent to Russia against their will, the officials said.

The Russians are confiscating identity documents from people who are taken out of their city, the Mariupol City Council said on its Telegram channel. It says the Ukrainians are being sent to filtration camps and then dispersed around Russia.

Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime for an occupying power to deport people to any other country or territory during an international conflict.

The city council’s version of events hasn’t been independently verified by NPR or other Western media. On Tuesday, Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged it has taken tens of thousands of people out of Mariupol and other parts of eastern Ukraine -- but it characterized that action as an evacuation of refugees from a dangerous area.

It’s a return to tactics last seen during World War II, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said. He added that the city and Donetsk Region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko are creating a database of deported Ukrainians to ensure they can return.

The Russian tactic has also caused indignation because some people would rather stay in Mariupol rather than be sent to Russia, despite the terrible conditions in the city that’s been under siege for weeks, Kyrylenko said in an interview with the independent Belarusian TV channel Belsat.

Thousands of Mariupol residents have fled the city, either in organized humanitarian convoys or in their own vehicles. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday that evacuation routes have been agreed upon for the day, to allow people to leave Mariupol and to bring humanitarian aid to the city.