Russian-Ukrainian crisis: Putin says retail demand in Russia and the ruble have normalized

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russia seeks to destroy the eastern Donbass region and promises to defend it, starting with the beleaguered port city of Mariupol.

“Russian troops are preparing for an offensive operation in the east of our country in the near future. They literally want to finish it off and destroy Donbass,” Zelenskyy said in an evening statement.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC’s “This Week” that Mariupol “did not fall” — adding that the encircled forces defending the city from Russian attacks “will fight to the end”.

Ukraine said it was halting the evacuation of civilians from the east of the country for a day due to a failure to agree terms with Russian forces.

“Since this morning, April 17, we have not been able to agree with the occupiers on a ceasefire on the escape routes. That is why, unfortunately, we are not opening humanitarian corridors today,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it struck a military factory outside kyiv, as Moscow steps up its attacks on the Ukrainian capital.

“Overnight, high-precision air-launched missiles destroyed an ammunition factory near the Brovary settlement in the Kyiv region,” the ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

Zelenskyy says he invited his French counterpart to visit Ukraine to see for himself evidence that Russian forces committed “genocide” – a term President Emmanuel Macron has avoided.

“I spoke to him yesterday,” Zelenskyy told CNN.

“I just told him that I wanted him to understand that this is not war, but nothing but genocide. I invited him to come when he has the chance. He will come and see , and I’m sure he’ll understand.”

A series of strikes in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast of the country, left at least five people dead and 13 injured, a regional health official told AFP.

Pope Francis is calling for peace in Ukraine this ‘Easter of War’ as he delivers the traditional Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi speech in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

“May peace reign in war-torn Ukraine, so hard-hit by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it has been dragged,” the pontiff said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi complains in a newspaper interview that Western diplomatic efforts to persuade Vladimir Putin to stop the war in Ukraine have so far come to nothing.

“I’m starting to think these people are right when they say ‘There’s no point talking to him, it’s just a waste of time,'” Draghi told daily Il Corriere della Sera, adding that Putin’s goal seems to be “to annihilate the Ukrainian resistance, occupy the country and hand it over to a friendly government”.

As tit-for-tat sanctions escalate, Russia is barring entry to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several of his top ministers.

The Kremlin is also stepping up a crackdown on dissent at home, adding nine prominent Kremlin critics and journalists to its growing list of “foreign agents”.

Many of the nearly five million people who have fled Ukraine will have no homes to return to, the United Nations warns.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says 4,836,445 Ukrainians have left the country since the Russian invasion on February 24.

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