UN says over 4 million have fled Ukraine

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GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says more than 4 million people have now fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, a new milestone in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees posted Wednesday on a website that tracks refugee flows around the world that 4.01 million people have now fled Ukraine. Of those, 2.3 million have entered Poland.

Aid workers say the flow has eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russian pledge to scale back in Ukraine draws skepticism

Germany triggers warning over gas amid Russian ruble demand

— UN food chief: Ukraine war’s food crisis is worst since WWII

Sanctioned oligarch Abramovich seen at Russia-Ukraine talks

— Go to https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine for more coverage

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says his country will take steps to end Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that Poland has already largely reduced its dependence on Russian oil.

Morawiecki told a news conference that Poland was launching the most radical plan among European nations to wean off Russian energy sources.

Poland said Tuesday it was banning imports of Russian coal. Morawiecki said he expects gas imports will be cut in May and called on other European countries to follow suit.

Poland is arguing that money from oil and gas exports are fueling Russia’s war machine and that that should stop.

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BERLIN — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is visiting a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on a trip meant to help bolster the security of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Rafael Mariano Grossi arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he tweeted that he was at the South Ukraine power plant to meet Ukrainian government officials and staff, and start IAEA technical assistance.

He said it is “vital to be on the ground to provide effective support to (Ukraine) in these extremely difficult times” and that the IAEA’s presence “will help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident that could have severe public health and environmental consequences in Ukraine and beyond.”

The nearest major city to the plant is Mykolaiv.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four plants — one of which, at Zaporizhzhia, is under the Russian military’s control. It also is home to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, the site of the 1986, which the Russian military seized early in the war.

As of Tuesday, eight reactors were operating, including two at South Ukraine, while the rest were shut down for regular maintenance.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey says Ukrainian and Russian delegations have decided to return home for consultations after making progress in negotiations.

The talks on Tuesday hosted by Turkey sketched out what could end up being a framework for ending the war. The talks had been expected to resume on Wednesday, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two sides were bringing the proposals back to their capitals.

At the conference in Istanbul, Ukraine’s delegation laid a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would in the meantime cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”

Russian delegation head Vladimir Medinsky said negotiators would take Ukraine’s proposals to Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Moscow would provide a response, but he did not say when.

Cavusoglu said he expected a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers at an unspecified time. He said another meeting between the presidents of the two countries is also on the agenda.

Russian state news agency Tass reported that Moscow’s delegates arrived back in Russia late Tuesday.

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LONDON — Britain says Russia’s increasing reliance on mercenaries to fight in Ukraine is a sign of the war’s heavy toll on Moscow’s forces.

Western officials say up to 1,000 combatants from the private Wagner Group have been sent to eastern Ukraine. Moscow is also trying to recruit Syrians to fight in the country.

British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said “it is a worrying sign but it also probably shows you how dependent they have become on other fighters because of the weakness and fragility of the professional forces.”

He told Sky News that “the Russian war machine, which had a pretty fearsome reputation, has been found to stutter and stumble, in at least the early stages of this campaign.”

The U.K. Defense Ministry says some Russian units have withdrawn from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus after suffering heavy losses.

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The governor of Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region says Russian attacks continued overnight despite Moscow saying it would reduce military activity in the area.

Viacheslav Chaus said in a video message on social media that houses and infrastructure including libraries and shopping centers had been damaged in the cities of Chernihiv and Nizhyn.

Chaus didn’t say if anyone had been killed or injured.

Of Russia’s statement that it would cut back its military activity, he said: “Do we believe that? Of course not.”

During talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”

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BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says he is triggering the early warning level for gas supplies amid Russia’s continued demand to be paid in rubles.

Robert Habeck told reporters Wednesday that this was the first of three warning levels and entails the establishment of a crisis team in his ministry that will heighten monitoring of the gas supply situation.

Habeck said he took the measure after Moscow indicated it would require payment in rubles despite the Group of Seven countries rejecting such demands on Monday.

He says Germany’s gas storages are currently filled to about 25% capacity.

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LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense says Russia’s stated focus on the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine “is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.”

In a daily war assessment, the ministry said Wednesday that Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganize and supply. It says such activity is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics and demonstrates the difficulties Russia is having reorganizing its units in forward areas within Ukraine.

It noted, however, that the shift is unlikely to mean relief for civilians in cities that have been subjected to relentless Russian bombardments. It expects Moscow will continue to compensate for reduced ground maneuvers through mass artillery and missile strikes.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed skepticism Tuesday night about Russia’s announcement that it would significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city.

“Yes, we can call those signals that we hear at the negotiations positive. But those signals don’t silence the explosions of Russian shells,” Zelenskyy said. “Of course we see the risks. Of course we don’t see any basis for trusting the words voiced by those or other representatives of the state that is continuing to fight for our destruction.”

Negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday, five weeks into what has devolved into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and almost 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

“Ukrainians are not naïve people,” Zelenskyy said. “Ukrainians have already learned during the 34 days of the invasion and during the past eight years of war in the Donbas that you can trust only concrete results.”

Ukraine’s delegation at the conference, held in Istanbul, has laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.

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