The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:
Ukraine president warns Russians against violating cease-fire
6:57 a.m. EST March 9
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says efforts are under way to evacuate some 18,000 people from the capital Kyiv and embattled towns near it.
He said Wednesday the efforts are part of broader evacuation attempts by multiple humanitarian corridors within Ukraine, and warned Russian forces against violating cease-fire promises.
He appealed again for foreign air support, saying “send us planes.” Western powers have sent military equipment and beefed up forces on Ukraine’s eastern flank, but have been wary of providing air support and getting drawn into a direct war with Russia.
He also issued an appeal, unusually in Russian, to urge Russian soldiers to leave.
“Our resistance for almost two weeks has shown you that we will not surrender, because this is our home. It is our families and children. We will fight until we can win back our land,” he said. “You can still save yourselves if you just go home.”
Ukraine and Russia agree on new daylong cease-fire
6: 30 a.m. EST March 9
Air raid sirens blared over Ukraine’s capital on Wednesday and officials said they bolstered defenses in key cities threatened by Russian forces, as authorities renewed efforts to evacuate civilians from besieged urban areas.
Ukrainian officials announced Russia has agreed to a new daylong cease-fire along several evacuation routes for people fleeing cities, including Mariupol, scene of some of the worst desperation of the war. Russian shelling there has shattered buildings, leaving the port without water, heat, working sewage systems or phone service. Local officials said they planned to start digging mass graves for the dead.
Thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in two weeks of fighting since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. The U.N. estimates that more than 2 million people have fled the country. Many more have become trapped inside cities bombarded and encircled by Russian forces, who have seen their advance slowed by fiercer than expected Ukrainian resistance.
Back-to-back alerts Wednesday morning urged residents of the capital, Kyiv, to go to bomb shelters quickly amid fears of incoming missiles. The all-clear was given each time, but the intermittent alerts have kept people on edge. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, though Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts of the city.
A new effort is planned Wednesday to create safe corridors for people to flee Mariupol, Sumy in the northeast, Enerhodar in the south, Volnovakha in the southeast, Izyum in the east, and several towns in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The crisis is growing in the capital for civilians, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs, Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba.
“Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,” he said.
On the outskirts of the city, police officers and soldiers helped elderly residents from their homes Tuesday and people threaded their way along a destroyed bridge as they tried to escape Irpin, a town of 60,000 that has been targeted by Russian shelling.
Meanwhile, Russian forces placed military equipment on farms and amid residential buildings in the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said in a statement. In the south, Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea shipbuilding center of a half-million people, it said.
The Ukrainian military is building up defenses in cities in the north, south and east, and forces around Kyiv are “holding the line” against the Russian offensive, the general staff said.
The fighting has largely thwarted earlier attempts to create corridors to safely evacuate civilians.
One evacuation did appear successful on Tuesday, with Ukrainian authorities saying 5,000 civilians, including 1,700 foreign students, managed to escape from Sumy, a city of a quarter-million people that has seen intense shelling.
That corridor will reopen for 12 hours on Wednesday, with the buses that took people southwest to the city of Poltava the day before returning to pick up more residents, regional administration chief Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said.
Priority was being given to pregnant women, women with children, older people and those with disabilities.
In the south, Russian troops have advanced deep along Ukraine’s coastline in an attempt to establish a land bridge to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014. As part of those efforts, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol has been surrounded by Russian soldiers for days and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding for the 430,000 residents.
Corpses lie in the streets, and hungry people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.
“Why shouldn’t I cry?” Goma Janna demanded as she wept by the light of an oil lamp below ground, surrounded by women and children. “I want my home, I want my job. I’m so sad about people and about the city, the children.”
Tuesday brought no relief: An attempt to evacuate civilians and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine through a designated safe corridor failed, with Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces had fired on the convoy before it reached the city.
Mariupol, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, is in a “catastrophic situation.”
Natalia Mudrenko, a senior member of Ukraine’s U.N. Mission, told the Security Council that the people of Mariupol have “been effectively taken hostage” by the siege. Her voice shook with emotion as she described how a 6-year-old died shortly after her mother was killed by Russian shelling. “She was alone in the last moments of her life,” she said.
Theft has become widespread for food, clothes, even furniture, with locals referring to the practice as “getting a discount.” Some residents are reduced to scooping water from streams.
With the electricity out, many people are relying on their car radios for information, picking up news from stations broadcast from areas controlled by Russian forces or Russian-backed separatists.
Ludmila Amelkina, who was walking along an alley strewn with rubble and walls pocked by gunfire, said the destruction had been devastating.
“We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything to eat, we don’t have medicine. We’ve got nothing,” she said, looking skyward.
Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.
Top lawmakers reach deal on Ukraine aid, $1.5T spending
6:20 a.m. EST March 9
Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal early Wednesday providing $13.6 billion to help Ukraine and European allies plus billions more to battle the pandemic as part of an overdue $1.5 trillion measure financing federal agencies for the rest of this year.
Though a tiny fraction of the massive bill, the money countering a Russian blitzkrieg that’s devastated parts of Ukraine and prompted Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II ensured the measure would pass with robust bipartisan support. President Joe Biden requested $10 billion for military, humanitarian and economic aid last week, and Democratic and Republican backing was so staunch that the figure grew to $12 billion Monday and $13.6 billion just a day later.
“We’re going to support them against tyranny, oppression, violent acts of subjugation,” Biden said at the White House.
Party leaders planned to whip the 2,741-page measure through the House on Wednesday and the Senate by week’s end, though that chamber’s exact timing was unclear. Lawmakers were spurred by the urgency of helping Ukraine before Russia’s military might makes it too late.
They also faced a Friday deadline to approve the government-wide spending measure or face a weekend election-year federal shutdown. As a backstop against delays, the House planned to pass a bill Wednesday keeping agencies afloat through March 15.
Over $4 billion of the Ukraine aid was to help the country and Eastern European nations cope with the 2 million refugees who’ve already fled the fighting. Another $6.7 billion was for the deployment of U.S. troops and equipment to the region and to transfer American military items to Ukraine and U.S. allies, and there was economic aid and money to enforce economic sanctions against Russia as well.
“War in Europe has focused the energies of Congress to getting something done and getting it done fast,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the measure would provide loan guarantees to Poland to help it replace aircraft it is sending Ukraine. “It’s been like pulling teeth” to get Democrats to agree to some of the defense spending, he said. But he added, “It’s an important step. It needs to be passed. It needs to be passed quickly.”
The bipartisan rallying behind the Ukraine aid was just one manifestation of Congress’ eagerness to help the beleaguered country, though not all of it has been harmonious.
Republicans accused Biden of moving too slowly to help Ukraine and NATO allies and to impose sanctions against Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Democrats countered that time was needed to bring along European allies that rely heavily on Russian energy sources. And a bipartisan push to ban Russian oil imports had become nearly unstoppable before Biden announced Tuesday that he would do that on his own.
The huge overall bill was stocked with victories for both parties.
For Democrats, it provides $730 billion for domestic programs, 6.7% more than last year, the biggest boost in four years. Republicans won $782 billion for defense, 5.6% over last year’s levels.
In contrast, Biden’s 2022 budget last spring proposed a 16% increase for domestic programs and less than 2% more for defense — numbers that were doomed from the start thanks to Democrats’ slender congressional majorities.
The bill was also fueled by large numbers of hometown projects for both parties’ lawmakers, which Congress had banned since 2011 but were revived this year. The spending — once called earmarks, now dubbed community projects — includes money for courthouses in Connecticut and Tennessee and repairs to a post office in West Virginia. And it names a federal building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after Sen. Richard Shelby, the state’s senior GOP senator, a chief author of the bill who’s retiring after six terms.
Democrats won $15.6 billion for a fresh round of spending for vaccines, testing and treatments for COVID-19, including $5 billion for fighting the pandemic around the world. That was below Biden’s $22.5 billion request.
Republicans said they’d forced Democrats to pay for the entire amount by pulling back money from COVID-19 relief bills enacted previously. Much of the money was to go to help states and businesses cope with the toll of the pandemic.
There’s added money for child care, job training, economic development in poorer communities and more generous Pell grants for low-income undergraduates. Public health and biomedical research would get increases, including $194 million for Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” effort to cure the disease.
Citizenship and Immigration Services would get funds to reduce huge backlogs of people trying to enter the U.S. There would be fresh efforts to bolster renewable energy and curb pollution, with some of that aimed specifically at communities of color.
There is added funding to build affordable housing. And the measure distributes billions of dollars initially provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last year for road, rail and airport projects.
The bill “delivers transformative federal investments to help lower the cost of living for working families, create American jobs, and provide a lifeline for the vulnerable,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
The bill renews programs protecting women against domestic violence and requires many infrastructure operators to report significant cyber attacks and ransomware demands to federal authorities. The Defense Department would have to report on extremist ideologies within the ranks.
The measure retains strict decades-old curbs against using federal money for nearly all abortions. It has $300 million in military assistance for Ukraine and $300 million to help nearby countries like the Baltic nations and Poland. Service members would get 2.7% pay raises, and Navy shipbuilding would get a boost in a counter to China.
It “rejects liberal policies and effectively addresses Republican priorities,” said Shelby, top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Since the government’s fiscal year began last Oct. 1, agencies have been running on spending levels approved during Donald Trump’s final weeks in the White House. Congress has approved three short-term bills since then keeping agency doors open.
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