Live Updates: Putin Praises Troops at Huge Rally in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally at a Moscow stadium and praised his country’s troops Friday as they pressed their lethal attacks on Ukrainian cities with shelling and missiles.
“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” Putin said in a rare public appearance since the invasion three weeks ago that made Russia an outcast among nations. “We have not had unity like this for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.
Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki Stadium for the celebration marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine.
The event included well-known singer Oleg Gazmanov singing “Made in the U.S.S.R.,” with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”
Seeking to portray the war as a just one and commend Russia’s troops, Putin paraphrased the Bible to say, “There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends.” And he continued to insist his actions were necessary to prevent “genocide,” a claim flatly denied by leaders around the globe.
Standing on stage in a white turtleneck and a blue down jacket, Putin spoke for about five minutes. Some people, including presenters at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with a “Z” — a symbol seen on Russian tanks and military vehicles in Ukraine and embraced by supporters of the war.
His quoting of the Bible and a Russian admiral of the 18th century reflected his increasing focus in recent years on history and religion as binding forces in Russia’s post-Soviet society.
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Russians Press Their Offensive
Russian troops continued to pound the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and launched a barrage of missiles on the outskirts of the western city of Lviv.
The early morning attack on Lviv’s edge was the closest strike yet to the center of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight. The war has swelled Lviv’s population by some 200,000.
In city after city around Ukraine, hospitals, schools, and buildings where people sought safety have been attacked. Rescue workers continued to search for survivors in the ruins of a theater that was being used a shelter when it was blasted by a Russian airstrike Wednesday in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.
Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner, said at least 130 people had survived the theater bombing.
“But according to our data, there are still more than 1,300 people in these basements, in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they will all be alive, but so far there is no information about them.”
Refugee Count Rises to 3.3 Million
The fighting has led nearly 3.3 million people to flee Ukraine, the U.N. estimates. The death toll remains unknown, though thousands of civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed.
In addition, the World Health Organization said it had confirmed 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, with 12 people killed.
Poland’s border agency says that the 2 million mark for the number of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland was reached Friday morning.
A European Union nation of some 38 million people, Poland has become the main destination for people fleeing war in neighboring, non-EU Ukraine, with which Poland shares almost 335 miles of border. Ukraine’s population is 44 million.
Baltic Nations Expel Russian Diplomatic Staff
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Three Baltic countries have ordered the expulsion of Russian embassy staff members in a coordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.
Lithuania’s foreign ministry said on Friday that four Russian embassy staff are no longer welcome in the country, while in neighboring Latvia, three Russian staff were declared persona non grata.
Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, Aleksei Isakov, was informed that their activities were incompatible with the status of a diplomat, according to the official statement of the Lithuanian foreign ministry.
“Lithuania has made such a decision in solidarity with Ukraine, which is experiencing unprecedented Russian military aggression” the statement reads.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that the expulsion of the embassy staff was a coordinated action of the Baltic States, which include former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
Estonia also announced on Friday that it was ordering three staff of the Russian Embassy in the capital Tallinn to leave the country.
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Bulgaria Declares Russian Diplomats ‘Persona non Grata’
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria says it has declared 10 Russian diplomats “persona non grata” and demanded their expulsion.
In a statement on Friday, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said that Bulgaria’s prime minister Kiril Petkov had been consulted on the expulsions.
An official note was handed to Russia’s ambassador in the capital Sofia requiring that the diplomats leave Bulgaria within 72 hours over their alleged involvement in “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status,” the statement said.
European Union and NATO member Bulgaria, which was one of Moscow’s closest allies in the Soviet bloc, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has expelled 10 other Russian diplomats suspected of espionage since October 2019.
India Buys Russian Oil
NEW DELHI — An Indian official says the state-run Indian Oil Corp. bought 3 million barrels of crude oil from Russia earlier this week to secure its energy needs, resisting Western pressure to avoid such purchases.
The official said India will be looking to purchase more oil from Russia despite calls not to from the U.S. and other countries due to the invasion of Ukraine. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with a reporter, said India has no such sanctions.
Imports make up nearly 85% of India’s oil needs. Its demand is projected to jump 8.2% this year to 5.15 million barrels per day as the economy recovers from the devastation caused by the pandemic.
Greece Offers to Rebuild Mariupol Maternity Hospital
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s prime minister is offering to rebuild the maternity hospital in Mariupol that was bombed by Russian forces last week.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted Friday that “Greece is ready to rebuild the maternity hospital in Mariupol, the center of the Greek minority in Ukraine.”
Some 100,000 people of Greek origin were living in the besieged city before the Russian invasion.
Mitsotakis called Mariupol “a city dear to our hearts and symbol of the barbarity of the war.”
Associated Press journalists documented the attack and saw the victims and damage firsthand. They shot video and photos of several bloodstained, pregnant mothers fleeing the blown-out maternity ward as medical workers shouted and children cried.
Finland Post War Info for Russians
HELSINKI — The Finnish government has begun posting information in Russian about the invasion of Ukraine.
“We … want to provide Russian speakers with fact-based information from the authorities,” the Finnish government tweeted Friday.
The move comes in the face of a Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign that aims to strengthen domestic support for the invasion and undermine the resolve of Ukrainians.
The website of the Finnish government is available in Finnish and Swedish — the Nordic country’s two official languages — and in English.