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Live blog: Civilians flee embattled Bakhmut as Ukrainian pullout looms

Saturday, March 4, 2023

1500 GMT

Pressure has mounted on Ukrainian troops and civilians hunkering down in Bakhmut, as Kiev’s forces tried to help residents flee the beleaguered eastern city amid what Western analysts say may be preparations for a Ukrainian withdrawal. 

A woman was killed and two men were badly wounded by shelling while trying to cross a makeshift bridge out of Bakhmut on Saturday, according to Ukrainian troops who were assisting them. 

A Ukrainian army representative who asked not to be named for operational reasons said it was now too dangerous for civilians to leave the city by vehicle, and that people had to flee on foot instead. 

Bakhmut has for months been a key target of Moscow’s grinding eastern offensive, with Russian troops, including large forces from the private Wagner Group, inching ever closer to Kiev’s key eastern stronghold.

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1440 GMT – EU announces centrE for prosecution of Russia’s ‘crime of aggression against Ukraine’

The EU has announced an agreement on the formation of a centre for prosecution of Russia’s “crime of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Russia’s invasion has brought unspeakable suffering to Ukraine … [it] must be held accountable for these horrific crimes,” Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the European Commission said in a statement, referring to Russia’s war on Ukraine it launched on February 24 last year.

Claiming that Russian forces in Ukraine have committed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians and energy and other infrastructure, the EU commission chief said every effort should be put forward to bring the perpetrators to justice.

1420 GMT — Tank factory in Ukraine to be marked with ‘firework’ missiles: Medvedev 

Deputy head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has said if the German Rheinmetall company decides to build a tank factory in Ukraine, the event will be met with “firework of Kalibr” missiles. 

“If Fritzs (pejorative term used for Germans) decide to build in earnest — although they are pragmatic kind of people — we will be looking forward to it. This event will duly be marked with firework of Kalibr and other pyrotechnic devices,” said the ex-president on Telegram.

1515 GMT — German firm in talks to build tank plant in Ukraine 

Arms manufacturer Rheinmetall is holding “promising” talks to build a tank factory in Ukraine following the Russian attack, the head of the Germany company said in an interview. 

“A Rheinmetall factory could be built in Ukraine at a cost of about 200 million euros,” ($213 million) to turn out up to 400 Panther tanks a year, the firm’s president Armin Papperger told the Rheinische Post newspaper. 

He added that he expected a decision on the plan in two months, saying such a site could be protected from Russian attack by an air defence system. 

Ukraine wants between 600 and 800 tanks to drive Russian troops out of the country, and it wants them quickly.

1510 GMT — EU parliament chief urges Ukraine membership talks this year 

The president of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola has called, during a visit to Ukraine, for the country to be allowed to begin EU membership negotiations this year. 

“I am hopeful that accession negotiations can begin already this year,” Metsola said in the western city of Lviv. “Ukraine’s future is in the European Union.” 

Brussels granted Kiev formal candidate status in June last year, four months after Russia launched an all-out “special military operation”, but the process of joining the European Union usually takes several years. 

1505 GMT — Russian defence minister holds inspection of Ukraine front line 

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has carried out an inspection of the front line in eastern Ukraine, the ministry said, as fighting rages around the eastern city of Bakhmut. 

The defence ministry said Shoigu had “inspected a command post on the front” in the direction of the southern Donetsk region, without specifying the exact place or time. 

The ministry released a video that showed Shoigu travelling in a helicopter, then talking to a soldier in front of damaged buildings. 

He is also shown presenting medals to Russian soldiers.

0911 GMT — UK says Ukraine forces under pressure defending Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut are facing increasingly strong pressure from Russian forces, British military intelligence said.

Ukraine is reinforcing the area with elite units, while regular Russian army and forces of the Russian private military Wagner group have made further advances into Bakhmut’s northern suburbs, the British Defence Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter.

Two key bridges in Bakhmut have been destroyed within the last 36 hours, it said, adding that Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the city are increasingly limited.

Russian artillery pounded the last routes out of Bakhmut on Friday, aiming to complete the encirclement of the besieged city and bring Moscow closer to its first major victory in the war half a year.

0501 GMT — US attorney general in surprise visit to Ukraine

US Attorney General Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine and vowed to hold “Russian war criminals accountable” for their actions.

“We are here today in Ukraine to speak clearly, and with one voice: the perpetrators of those crimes will not get away with them,” Garland said.

He went to Lviv in western Ukraine at the invitation of his Ukrainian counterpart to take part in the “United for Justice Conference.” 

2300 GMT — US to keep arming Ukraine despite Russia’s warning

The United States has responded to a Russian warning against arming Ukraine by offering a further $400 million in security assistance, as President Joe Biden hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a show of unity against Moscow.

Arms deliveries “place a significant burden on the economies of these countries and negatively affect the well-being of citizens of these countries, including Germany,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Washington ignored that warning, announcing the new security package for Kiev that featured ammunition, including for the Himars precision rocket system that Ukrainian forces have used to devastating effect against Russian troops and supply dumps.

2100 GMT — Zelenskyy tells US, EU Russia must face court

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has met with US Attorney General Merrick Garland and top European legal officials, and called for Russia to face international prosecution for war crimes.

Zelenskyy announced the meetings in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, hundreds of kilometres from the war’s front lines, during his evening video address to the nation.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the International Criminal Court is successful in punishing Russian war criminals,” Zelenskyy said.

“The main issue of all these meetings and the Lviv conference is accountability,” he added. “The accountability of Russia and its leadership is personal, for aggression and terror against our state and people.”

Zelenskyy said over 70,000 Russian war crimes have been recorded so far.

2000 GMT — Russia border town on edge after Ukraine ‘incursion’

Russians in the border region of Bryansk were on edge after Moscow accused Ukrainian combatants of killing two civilians in a rare cross-border incursion.

While some wondered how what Moscow called “Ukrainian nationalists” had even made it across the border, others said the region had been a tinderbox ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last year.

“We are afraid of everything,” Olga Ulyanova, a 62-year-old pensioner, told the AFP news agency near a market in Klimovo, a town not far from the villages of Lyubechane and Sushany, the scene of the reported attacks.

For our live updates from Friday (March 3), click here.

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