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Live: Pro-Russia separatists say in control of Mariupol port

A pro-Russia rebel leader said Monday separatist forces in eastern Ukraine have taken control of the port of the devastated, strategic city of Mariupol, Russian news agencies reported. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments in Ukraine. All times are in Paris time [GMT + 2].

The speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament demanded Monday that "traitors" opposed to Moscow's Ukraine offensive lose their citizenship, giving the example of the journalist who brandished an anti-intervention placard on TV.

"The vast majority of our citizens support the special military operation in Ukraine, they understand its need for the security of our country and our nation. But there are also those who behave with cowardice, with treachery," said Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. "Unfortunately, for such 'citizens of the Russian Federation', there is no procedure for revoking citizenship and preventing them from entering our country. But maybe that would be good," he said on his Telegram channel.

Russia's ambassador to Poland on Monday accused the Polish authorities of seizing Russian diplomatic property in Warsaw as the two countries' already fraught relations have soured further over Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.

Ambassador Sergey Andreev was referring to a decrepit Communist-era apartment building that Warsaw's mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, said would be used to house Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's military intervention in their country.

Russia's war in Ukraine could almost halve world trade growth this year and drag down global GDP growth, according to a economic simulation model issued Monday by the World Trade Organization.

"The crisis could lower global GDP growth by 0.7 to 1.3 percentage points, bringing growth to somewhere between 3.1 percent and 3.7 percent for 2022. The model also projects that global trade growth this year could be cut almost in half from the 4.7 percent the WTO forecasted last October to between 2.4 percent and three percent," the Geneva-based organisation said.

Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv came under heavy shelling on Monday, causing multiple casualties including one dead child, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a televised interview.

When asked about the risk of a new Russian assault on the city, which Ukraine's defence ministry recently warned of, Terekhov said that Ukrainian forces were focused and ready to defend the city. "There is no panic in the city," Terekhov said.

Lithuania's prime minister on Monday toured the war-shattered Ukrainian town of Borodianka near Kyiv where rescue crews are scouring rubble for the missing after the destruction wrought by Russian forces.

"Today, my visit in Ukraine started in Borodianka. No words could possibly describe what I saw and felt here," premier Ingrida Simonyte wrote on Twitter.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal posted pictures of him showing Simonyte the ruins of bombed out apartment buildings in the small town some 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of the Ukrainian capital. "Borodianka is one of the painful wounds on the body of Ukraine," he wrote on Telegram.

The United States believes that Russia has started reinforcing and resupplying its troops in Donbas in eastern Ukraine, a senior US defence official said on Monday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday thousands of Russian troops were massing for a new offensive in the east, and Russia said it would not halt its military operation in Ukraine for any further peace talks.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer had tough face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Nehammer said after the first meeting between Putin and a European Union leader since the invasion of Ukraine.

"This is not a friendly meeting," Nehammer was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office, reiterating that he had hoped to help bring an end to the war or improve conditions for civilians. "The conversation with President Putin was very direct, open and tough."

The mayor of Poland's capital on Monday took control of a former Russian diplomatic site, dubbed the "spy nest" and at the centre of a bilateral dispute, for Ukraine's use.

"I'm glad that in such a symbolic way we can show that Warsaw is helping our Ukrainian friends," mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told reporters. "We've taken back the so-called 'spy nest' and want to hand it over to our Ukrainian guests," he added using a local nickname for the building, or "Szpiegowo" in Polish.

Russia will take legal action if the West tries to force it to default on its sovereign debt, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper on Monday, sharpening Moscow's tone in its financial wrestle with the West.

Russia faces its first external sovereign default in more than a century after it made arrangements to make an international bond repayment in roubles last week, even though the payment was due in US dollars. It had been due on April 4 to make a payment of $649 million to holders of two of its sovereign bonds, but the US Treasury blocked the transfer, preventing Russia from using any of its frozen foreign currency reserves to service its debt.

"Of course we will sue, because we have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that investors receive their payments," Siluanov told the newspaper in an interview.

A pro-Russia rebel leader said Monday separatist forces in eastern Ukraine have taken control of the port of the strategic city of Mariupol, Russian news agencies reported.

US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a virtual summit Monday, clouded by US frustration over New Delhi's neutral stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

India has tried to walk a tightrope between maintaining relations with the West and avoiding alienating Russia, and has not imposed sanctions over the war. New Delhi has raised concerns in Washington in particular by continuing to buy Russian oil and gas, despite pressure from Biden for world leaders to take a hard line against Moscow.

French banking group Societe Generale said Monday it was ceasing activities in Russia and selling its Rosbank unit to an investment firm founded by an oligarch close to the Kremlin. The exit will cost the firm 3.1 billion euros ($3.4 billion).

"Societe Generale ceases its banking and insurance activities in Russia," the firm said in a statement. It also announced "the signing of a sale and purchase agreement to sell its entire stake in Rosbank and the Group's Russian insurance subsidiaries" to Interros Capital, an investment firm founded by one of Russia's richest oligarchs, Vladimir Potanin.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Algeria on Monday as Rome steps up efforts to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian gas.

Italy buys the vast majority of its gas from overseas, with some 45 percent of imports coming from Russia. But Rome is hoping its second-biggest supplier Algeria can boost its sales in order to reduce that dependence after the war in Ukraine sparked a push for sanctions against Moscow.

Ukraine is expecting Russia to launch a major offensive in the east "soon", defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a briefing on Monday.

"The enemy has almost finished preparation for assault on the east, the attack will begin soon," he said. "We don't know precisely when, but the preparation is almost over."

After rebuffing a Russian offensive on Kyiv, Ukraine has for days said a renewed Moscow attack on its east and south is looming. "We are predicting that intense fighting will take place in these territories in the near future," Motuzyanyk said. "We cannot predict exactly when this will happen, these are sources from Western intelligence," he continued. "The Ukrainian army is ready."

Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Monday became the first European Union leader to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine, as various Austrian media including newspaper Kronen Zeitung said the meeting had started.

As news of Nehammer's visit aimed at helping end the war emerged on Sunday, reactions ranged from surprise to dismay. Nehammer's own coalition partner the Greens condemned the trip as a public relations coup for Putin, although German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he welcomed it.

North Korea's minister of foreign affairs on Monday denounced last week's suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, calling it an "unreasonable act" led by the United States and the West to maintain political hegemony.

"What the US is after [...] is to isolate the independent countries, and forces challenging them at the international arena, so as to maintain its illegal and inhumane US-led hegemonic order," the minister said, according to a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.

The World Bank says Ukraine's economy will shrink by 45.1% this year because of Russia's invasion, which has shut down half of the country's businesses, choked off imports and exports, and damaged a vast amount of critical infrastructure.

Unprecedented financial and export sanctions imposed by Western allies in response to the war, meanwhile, are plunging Russia into a deep recession, lopping off more than a tenth of its economic growth, the World Bank said in a report Sunday.

Horrified by the devastation wreaked by Russian troops in Ukraine, EU foreign ministers launched discussions Monday on a sixth round of sanctions but a consensus was proving increasingly difficult.

"Discussing about Ukraine means certainly to discuss about the effectiveness of our sanctions," Josep Borrell, the European Union's top diplomat, told reporters in Luxembourg as he arrived for the foreign ministers' meeting. While five rounds of sanctions have already been implemented since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 - the last just last Friday - "certainly ministers will discuss which are the further steps," he said.

The European Union is now committed to what European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen says are "rolling sanctions" on Russia. But it has so far held back from those which would hit Moscow's coffers the hardest: a boycott of Russian oil and gas exports.

Military equipment maker Rheinmetall is preparing to supply up to 50 used Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Monday, citing the group's CEO.

Rheinmetall could deliver the first tanks in six weeks and the rest over the following three months through its subsidiary Rheinmetall Italia if it gets a green light from the German government, Chief Executive Armin Papperger told Handelsblatt.

Papperger said Ukrainian soldiers could be trained on the Leopard 1 within a few days if they are already skilled military personnel.

French police officers and forensic doctors arrived in Ukraine Monday to help investigate alleged Russian war crimes after hundreds of civilian bodies were discovered in towns around Kyiv, Paris said.

The French interior and justice ministries said they had sent the team to "prevent the impunity of acts constituting war crimes" following the killings that shocked the world.

The ministries said the detectives would "provide concrete support" to Ukrainian and international jurisdictions to probe the killings. "In agreement with the Ukrainian authorities, it may also contribute to the International Criminal Court investigation."

Canada said on Monday that it was imposing sanctions on companies in the Russian defence sector and that it was studying options for additional measures in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Monday's sanctions impose restrictions on 33 entities in the sector for providing assistance to Russia's military in the conflict, the government said in a statement.

"These entities have provided indirect or direct support to the Russian military and are therefore complicit in the pain and suffering stemming from Vladimir Putin's senseless war in Ukraine," the statement said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow will not pause fighting in Ukraine before the next round of peace talks with Kyiv.

Nearly 45,000 more Ukrainian refugees fled in 24 hours, the UN said Monday, although many were trapped in their regions or staying put hoping the war will end soon.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said 4,547,735 Ukrainians had fled the country since the Russian invasion on February 24 - a figure up 44,781 from Sunday.

The UN's International Organization for Migration estimates that 7.1 million people have fled their homes but are still in Ukraine.

1:26 pm: Ukrainians focused on 'existential concerns', but aware of stakes in French presidential election

"More than anything, the Ukrainians have existential concerns on their minds at the moment, and their focus is ... here in Ukraine, where the presidential advisor has been warning of serious battles to come ahead in eastern Ukraine," FRANCE 24's chief international affairs editor Rob Parsons reports from Kyiv.

"It would be wrong to say that people have been concentrating heavily on what's been happening in France," Parsons reports. "But people are nevertheless aware that if (President) Emmanuel Macron were to lose this election ... France's position on the war between Ukraine and Russia might change."

Tens of thousands of people have likely been killed in Russia's assault on the southeastern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday, as he asked Seoul for any military aid it could provide.

"Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive," Zelensky said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers.

Reuters could not verify the accuracy of his estimate of those killed in the city, which lies between eastern areas of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists and Russia-annexed Crimea.

Zelensky did not specify which weapons he sought, but said South Korea had many weapons that could not only help save the lives of ordinary Ukrainians, but help prevent Russia from attacking other nations.

"Ukraine needs various military technologies from airplanes to tanks," he said through an interpreter. "South Korea can help us."

The European Commission is drafting proposals for a possible EU oil embargo on Russia, the foreign ministers of Ireland, Lithuania and the Netherlands said on Monday, although there is still no agreement to ban Russian crude.

"They are now working on ensuring that oil is part of the next sanctions package," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said of the European Commission as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

His Dutch and Lithuanian counterparts also said the European Commission was looking at ways at targeting Russian oil, which makes up about a quarter of the EU's crude imports, as a means to pressure Russia to halt the shelling of Ukrainian cities.

"We are looking at all other (sanctions), including energy," Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

Germany will completely phase out Russian fossil fuel imports and wants a coordinated EU plan for the bloc to do the same, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

"As the German federal government, we have already made it clear that there will be a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, starting with coal, then oil and gas, and so that this can be implemented jointly in the European Union, we need a joint, coordinated plan to completely phase out fossil fuels to be able to withdraw as a European Union," Baerbock said before a meeting with fellow EU ministers in Luxembourg.

Germany sees massive indications of war crimes in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

"We have massive indications of war crimes," she told reporters before a meeting with fellow European ministers in Luxembourg. "In the end, the courts will have to decide, but for us, it is central to secure all evidence."

European Union foreign ministers are meeting Monday to weigh the effectiveness of the bloc's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine amid concern about Moscow's preparations for a major attack in the east.

The ministers will hold talks with the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Karim Khan as Western pressure mounts to hold to account those responsible for any war crimes in Ukraine.

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday that the European Commission was working on details of an oil embargo on Russia as part of a possible next sanctions package, but that nothing has been decided.

He said he hoped it could be agreed by the EU's 27 member states as soon as possible but gave no further details.

Kyiv and Moscow have agreed nine humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from Ukraine's besieged eastern regions for Monday, including five in the Luhansk region, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The planned corridors include one for people evacuating by private transport from the city of Mariupol, Vereshchuk said.

Russian forces have destroyed an S-300 missile launch system on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the Russian defence ministry said, according to the TASS news agency.

The defence ministry also said Moscow's forces downed two Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jets near the city of Izium, 120 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv, according to the Interfax news agency.

More European Union sanctions on Russia are an option, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday when asked if the EU was ready to consider a Russian oil embargo.

"Sanctions are always on the table," Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. "Ministers will discuss which are the further steps," he said.

Russian forces' shelling has continued in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbas, with Ukrainian forces repulsing several assaults resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery equipment, the UK's ministry of defence tweeted in a regular bulletin on Monday.

The report said that Russian forces' continued reliance on unguided bombs decreases their ability to discriminate when targeting and conducting strikes, and greatly increased the risk of further civilian casualties in Ukraine.

French banking group Societe Generale said Monday it was ceasing its activities in Russia and selling its stake in Russia's Rosbank, joining a Western corporate exodus following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Societe Generale said in a statement that its withdrawal from Russia would cost it €3.1 billion.

The transaction to transfer the group's stake in Rosbank to Interros Capital, a Russian business linked to oligarch Vladimir Potanin, requires regulatory approval, Societe Generale said.

The 2022 spring crop sowing area in Ukraine can reach 80 percent of the pre-war acreage if the country manages to clear mines in northern regions, Kyiv's deputy agriculture minister Taras Vysotskiy said on Monday.

Ukrainian agriculture officials said in February that the sowing area could fall 50 percent due to the Russian invasion, but they later revised the sowing area forecast to around 70 percent as Russian focres failed to occupy most of the country.

"If the territories of Chernihiv and Sumy regions, which have huge agricultural areas, can be cleared of mines in coming weeks, the sown area may increase to 80 percent," state-run Ukrinform news agency quoted Vysotskiy as saying.

New Zealand said on Monday it will deploy a C-130 Hercules transport plane and 58 personnel to Europe to further support Ukraine against Russia's invasion.

The team would travel throughout Europe transporting equipment and supplies to distribution centres, but would not enter Ukraine, Defence Minister Peeni Henare said in a statement.

The government also said it would donate an extra NZ$13.1 million ($9 million) towards military, legal and human rights support.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine's fate as the war shifts south and east depends on whether the United States will help match a surge in Russian weaponry in the regions.

"To be honest, whether we will be able to (survive) depends on this," Zelensky said in an interview broadcast on US television Sunday night. "Unfortunately, I don't have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need."

Zelensky said he was grateful to Biden for US military aid to date but added that he "long ago" forwarded a list of specific items Ukraine desperately needed and that history would judge Biden's response.

"He has the list," Zelensky said. "President Biden can enter history as the person who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people who won and chose the right to have their own country. (This) also depends on him."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Sunday in his nightly address to the nation that the coming week would be as crucial as any during the war, saying "Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)