Live updates: Italy seizes Russian billionaire’s $578M yacht

The latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine war:

MILAN — Italian financial police has seized a Russian-owned superyacht valued at 530 million euros ($578 million) in the port of Trieste as part of seizures of oligarch wealth to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt the war on Ukraine.

The “Sy A” yacht was identified by Italian police as belonging to belonging to billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko, who made a fortune in fertilizer production and coal energy. It was seized Friday evening.

Video shows police in cars with flashing lights approaching the triple-mast yacht and officers boarding it.

Italian authorities last week seized some 143 million euros ($156 million) in luxury yachts and villas belonging to Russian billionaires in such picturesque retreats as Sardinia, the Ligurian coast and Lake Como.

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LONDON — Britain’s Defense Ministry says fighting northwest of Kyiv has continued with the bulk of Russian ground forces now around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the center of the city.

A daily intelligence update says elements of the large Russian military column north of Kyiv have dispersed. It says this is likely to support a Russian attempt to encircle the Ukrainian capital. According to the brief, it could also be an attempt by Russia to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counterattacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.

The update says that beyond Kyiv, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling.

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BERLIN — Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says Germany is working with allies to airlift people who have fled Ukraine to countries farther away as neighboring nations struggle to cope with all new arrivals.

Baerbock said Saturday that Moldova, a nation of 2.5 million on the border with Ukraine, has taken in 100,000 people — almost as many as Germany, which has a population over 30 times bigger.

Speaking in Chisinau alongside her Moldovan counterpart, she said Germany had “only taken over a small share of the responsibility” so far and praised the poor Eastern European nation for its efforts to help refugees.

Baerbock said the European Union is setting up a “green corridor” to bring people by bus through Romania to other EU nations, but also working with partners to help fly their citizens who have fled Ukraine back home and “in particular also to fly Ukrainians for example across the Atlantic.”

She urged allies to show solidarity toward those affected by the war and accused Russia of spreading “ever more crazy propaganda that now doesn’t even shrink from threats to use weapons of mass destruction.”

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The International Maritime Organization, a U.N. oversight body for international seafaring and the law of the sea, is calling for a safe corridor in the Black and Azov seas to let commercial ships evacuate.

Many of the waters are mined, and Russian navy vessels are off the shores of Ukraine. Explosions have hit at least two cargo ships in the area and dozens of others have been stranded.

The IMO Council held an emergency session and said it deplored the attacks of the Russian Federation aimed at commercial vessels, their seizures, including search and rescue vessels, threatening the safety and welfare of seafarers and the marine environment.

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Russia’s space agency has sent NASA and other international partners a letter demanding an end to sanctions, saying they could threaten the International Space Station.

In a tweet Saturday, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said the letter appealed to the space agencies of the United States, Canada and Europe to keep the space station operational.

He illustrated the appeal with a map showing the flight path of the ISS — and a potential fall zone that straddles much of the world but barely touches upon Russia.

Four NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and one European astronaut are currently on the space station.

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ISTANBUL – The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey says a group of 86 Turkish nationals, including 34 children, are among those sheltering in a mosque in the besieged city of Mariupol.

An embassy spokeswoman, citing information from the city mayor, said they had taken shelter in the mosque along with others seeking refuge from the Russian attack on the encircled port on the Sea of Azov.

She says, “There are really big communication problems in Mariupol and there’s no opportunity to reach them.”

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been trapped in Mariupol for more than a week with no food, water, heat or power amid freezing temperatures. Efforts to establish a cease-fire to let them leave have repeatedly broken down.

Turkish officials did not respond to requests for comment. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey has evacuated nearly 14,000 of its citizens from Ukraine.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials accused Russia damaging a cancer hospital and several residential buildings in the southern city of Mykolaiv with shelling from heavy artillery.

The hospital’s head doctor, Maksim Beznosenko, said several hundred patients were in the hospital during the attack but that no one was killed. The assault damaged the building and blew out windows.

Russian forces have stepped up their attacks on Mykolaiv, located 470 kilometers (292 miles) south of Kyiv, in an attempt to encircle the city.

Ukrainian and Western officials earlier accused Russia of shelling a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol on Wednesday. Three people died in that attack.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia on Friday of kidnapping the mayor of the city of Melitopol, equating it to the actions of “ISIS terrorists.”

“They have transitioned into a new stage of terror, in which they try to physically liquidate representatives of Ukraine’s lawful local authorities,” Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday evening.

Kirill Timoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, posted a video on the social media site Telegram which he said showed a group of armed men carrying the mayor, Ivan Fedorov, across a square.

Russian forces captured the southern port city of Melitopol, with a population of 150,000, on Feb. 26.

The prosecutor’s office of the Luhansk People’s Republic, a Moscow-backed rebel region in eastern Ukraine, said on its website that there was a criminal case against Fedorov. The prosecutor’s office accused Fedorov of “terrorist activities” and of financing the nationalist militia Right Sector to “commit terrorist crimes against Donbass civilians.”

The office said it was looking for Fedorov and called for anyone with information about his whereabouts to contact them.

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — U.S. soldiers are continuing to deploy to Europe, joining thousands already sent overseas to support NATO allies amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

About 130 soldiers from the 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade gathered Friday at Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Georgia and departed on a chartered flight.

The soldiers are in addition to the estimated 3,800 soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division who deployed recently from nearby Fort Stewart.

A division commander said that soldiers are being told to prepare for about six months overseas. The Pentagon has ordered roughly 12,000 total service members from various U.S. bases to Europe.

The soldiers’ mission is to train alongside military units of NATO allies in a display of force aimed at deterring further aggression by Russia. The Pentagon has stressed U.S. forces are not being deployed to fight in Ukraine.

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LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the port city of Mariupol, which has been encircled by Russian forces and cut off from deliveries of food and medicine.

Mariupol officials said Friday that 1,582 people had been killed in the 12 days since the siege began.

“There is a humanitarian catastrophe in the city and the dead aren’t even being buried,” Mariupol’s mayor’s office said in a statement Friday, calling for Russian forces to lift the siege.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of shelling evacuation routes and preventing civilians from escaping the city of 430,000 people.

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BERLIN — Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday that technicians have started repairing damaged power lines at the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant in an effort to restore power supplies, the U.N. nuclear agency said.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said that Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, was knocked off the power grid, with emergency generators supplying backup power.

The Ukrainian nuclear regulator said Friday that workers repaired one section of the lines, but there still appears to be damage in other places, the IAEA said. Repair efforts would continue despite “the difficult situation” outside the plant, which was taken by Russian forces early in the invasion, it said.

The Ukrainian regulator said additional fuel was delivered for generators, but it remains important to fix the power lines as soon as possible. The IAEA reiterated that the disconnection “will not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site.”

The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog said that it still isn’t receiving data from monitoring systems installed to monitor nuclear material and activities at Chernobyl, but transmission from the Zaporizhzhia plant — Ukraine’s biggest, which Russian forces seized last week — has been restored after being lost earlier this week.

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PARIS — Interpol is restricting Russia’s ability to input information directly into the global police organization’s vast network, deciding that communications must first be checked by the general secretariat in Lyon, France.

The French Foreign Ministry said Friday that the beefed-up surveillance measures follow “multiple suspicions of attempted fraudulent use” of the Interpol system in recent days, but it did not elaborate.

Interpol stressed in a statement Thursday that it is maintaining its pledge of neutrality amid war between two of its members, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it said that “heightened supervision and monitoring measures” of Moscow’s National Central Bureau were needed “to prevent any potential misuse of Interpol’s channels” like targeting individuals in or outside Ukraine.

The ministry noted that Interpol’s decision has multiple impacts from communications, to putting out so-called “red notices” for criminals on the loose or even feeding data on lost or stolen documents — all of which must now get compliance checks from Interpol headquarters.

Interpol, which has 195 members, said it had received calls to suspend Russia from the network, along with calls by law enforcement leaders looking for continued cooperation to better fight crime.

“In addition to the tragic loss of life, conflicts invariably lead to an increase in crime,” as organized crime groups try to exploit desperation, Interpol said. Risks include human trafficking, weapons smuggling and trafficking in illicit goods and medicines.

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