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‘Unacceptable armed agression’ and ‘massacre’ must stop says Pope Francis.

A sombre Pope Francis on Sunday issued his toughest condemnation yet of the invasion of Ukraine, saying the “unacceptable armed aggression” and “massacre” must stop.

The pope has not used the word “Russia” in his condemnations of the war since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24th. But the pontiff’s choice of words appear increasingly aimed at rejecting Moscow’s justifications for the invasion.

“Faced with the barbarity of killing of children, of innocents and unarmed civilians, no strategic reasons can hold up,” he told 25,000 people in St. Peter’s Square during his Sunday blessing.

Moscow says its action is designed not to occupy territory but to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” its neighbour. It has also denied targeting civilian areas.

“The only thing to do is stop this unacceptable armed aggression before it reduces cities into cemeteries,” Francis said.

“In the name of God I ask you: stop this massacre!” Francis said, before asking the crowd to join him in silent prayer for an end to the war.

He called Ukraine’s besieged port of Mariupol a “martyred city” and again appealed for “truly secure humanitarian corridors” to allow residents to evacuate.

Russia bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday. Ukraine said pregnant women were among those hurt; Russia said the hospital was no longer functioning and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.

Francis seemed particularly sombre. After an unusually brief greeting to groups in the square, he left the window on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace and returned to the papal library.

Russia calls its action a “special military operation”. Last Sunday Francis implicitly rejected that term, saying it could not be considered “just a military operation” but a war that had unleashed “rivers of blood and tears”.

On Sunday Francis also urged people to take in refugees from Ukraine and thanked those who had joined a “great network of solidarity” to help those fleeing war.

The fighting in Ukraine has created more than 2.5 million refugees, with most taken in by Poland.

Filmmaker killed

US film-maker Brent Renaud reportedly killed by Russian forces in Ukraine By Peter Beaumont in Lviv and Martin Pengelly in New York

Brent Renaud, an award-winning US film-maker whose work has appeared in the New York Times and other outlets, has been killed reportedly by Russian forces in the flashpoint town of Irpin, outside Kyiv. A US photographer, Juan Arredondo, was wounded.

Renaud, 51, was hit in the neck and died after coming under Russian fire while working on Sunday, according to local police officials, however, that could not be independently verified.

Jane Ferguson, a reporter for PBS Newshour who was nearby when Renaud was killed, tweeted: “Just left roadside spot near Irpin where body of American journalist Brent Renaud lay under a blanket. Ukrainian medics could do nothing to help him by that stage. Outraged Ukrainian police officer: ‘Tell America, tell the world, what they did to a journalist.’”

Clifford Levy, a deputy managing editor of the New York Times, issued a statement on Twitter clarifying that Renaud was not on assignment for the paper, contrary to earlier reports.

“[The New York Times] is deeply saddened to learn of the death of an American journalist in Ukraine, Brent Renaud. Brent was a talented photographer and film-maker, but he was not on assignment for the New York Times in Ukraine. Early reports that he worked for Times circulated because he was wearing a Times press badge he had been issued for an assignment many years ago.”

Levy added: “Brent’s death is a terrible loss. Brave journalists like Brent take tremendous risks to bear witness and to tell the world about the devastation and suffering caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The Kyiv region police chief, Andrei Nebitov, said in a statement: “The occupiers are cynically killing even journalists of international media who are trying to show the truth about the atrocities of Russian troops in Ukraine.”

Arredondo, 45, a World Press Photo winner and adjunct professor at Columbia University, said he and Renaud had gone to Irpin to film refugees escaping the town, and they were fired on by forces near a checkpoint. Filmed describing what had occurred while he was receiving hospital treatment, he suggested they had driven into an ambush.

“We crossed the first bridge in Irpin. We were going to film all the refugees leaving. We got into a car ? Someone offered to take us to the other bridge and we crossed a checkpoint and they started shooting at us,” Arredondo said. “So the driver turned around, and they kept shooting ? and there was two of us. My friend is Brent Renaud and he’s been shot and left behind.”

When the interviewer asked how Renaud was, Arredondo replied: “I don’t know. I saw he’d been shot in the neck. And we got split.”

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN: “If in fact an American journalist was killed, it is a shocking and horrifying event. It is one more example of the brutality of Vladimir Putin and his forces as they’ve targeted schools and mosques and hospitals and journalists.

“And it is why we are working so hard to impose severe consequences on him, and to try to help the Ukrainians with every form of military assistance we can muster, to be able to push back against the onslaught of these Russian forces.”

guardian.co.uk ? Guardian News and Media 2022

A Russian air strike on a large Ukrainian military facility near the border with Nato member Poland on Sunday killed 35 people and wounded 134, a local Ukrainian official said, as other officials reported intense Russian attacks around the country.

Britain said the incident, just 25km from the Polish border, marked a “significant escalation” of the conflict. US president Joe Biden has said Nato would defend every inch of its territory if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spills over into member states of the Western defence alliance.

Ukraine said foreign military instructors have previously worked at the Yavoriv International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, but a Nato official said there were no personnel from the alliance there. It was not immediately clear whether any non-Nato states might have representatives there.

Regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said Russian planes fired about 30 rockets at the facility, adding that some were intercepted before they hit. At least 35 people were killed and 134 wounded, he said. Reuters was not able to verify his statement.

The 360sq km facility is one Ukraine’s biggest and the largest in the western part of the country.

The Kremlin did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the reported missile strike so close to the border with Nato, and a short video briefing by Russia’s defence ministry spokesman on Sunday made no mention of such an attack.

Nineteen ambulances with sirens on were seen by Reuters driving from the direction of the Yaroviv facility after the reported strike and black smoke rose from the area.

“Russia has attacked the International Center for Peacekeeping & Security near Lviv. Foreign instructors work here. Information about the victims is being clarified,” Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an online post.

Foreign instructors

A Ukrainian defence ministry representative told Reuters the ministry was still trying to establish if any foreign instructors were at the centre at the time of the attack.

Ukraine, whose aspirations to join Nato are a major irritant to Russian president Vladimir Putin, held most of its drills with countries in the Western defence alliance at the base before the invasion. The last major exercises were in September.

In the weeks before Russia invaded on February 24th, the Ukrainian military trained there, but according to Ukrainian media, all foreign instructors left the training ground in mid-February, while leaving all the equipment.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent more than 2.5 million people fleeing across borders and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged cities.

“It is terrifying how violent and inhuman it is,” Olga, a refugee from Kyiv, told Reuters after crossing the border into Romania.

Ukraine reported renewed air strikes on an airport in the west, heavy shelling on Chernihiv northeast of the capital Kyiv and attacks on the southern town of Mykolayiv, where officials said nine people had been killed.

Ukraine’s human rights monitor said Russia used phosphorous bombs in an overnight attack on the town of Popasna in the eastern Luhansk region, calling it a “war crime”. She shared a photograph purporting to show the alleged attack, but did not say if Ukraine had concrete evidence. Reuters could not immediately verify any of the reports.

While Western nations have sought to isolate Mr Putin by imposing harsh sanctions, the United States and its allies are concerned to avoid Nato being drawn into the conflict. “There are no Nato personnel in Ukraine,” the Nato official said, when asked if any Nato personnel were at the base.

Asked how much of an escalation the attack was, British cabinet minister Michael Gove told a BBC interviewer: “It is significant.” Mr Putin was pushing the boundaries in military terms, he said.

Airport

The mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk, another city in western Ukraine, said Russian troops also continued to hit its airport, with no initial reports of casualties.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian troops were trying to surround Ukrainian forces as they advance from the port of Mariupol in the south and the second city Kharkiv in the north, the British defence ministry said.

Kharkiv has suffered some of the heaviest bombardment. Videos from one resident, Teimur Aliev, who is helping bring aid to residents, show bombed buildings lining streets, burned out cars riddled with shrapnel holes and debris strewn around.

“We will stitch up the wounds and the pain of our country and our city. We are ready to build it and we are ready to renew it when the war is over. We’re not going anywhere,” Aliev, a 23-year-old musician, said of his food distribution network, which now has dozens of volunteers.

British intelligence also said Russian forces advancing from Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, were trying to circumvent Mykolayiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa. Air strikes on Mykolayiv killed nine people on Sunday, regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said online.

Air raid sirens again woke residents in Kyiv on Sunday morning, while in Chernihiv, about 150km (100 miles) northeast, firefighters rescued residents from a burning building after heavy shelling, video from Ukraine’s emergency service and verified by Reuters showed.

Ukraine accused Russian forces on Saturday of killing seven civilians, including one child, in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv.

Reuters was unable immediately to verify the report and Russia offered no immediate comment.

Moscow denies targeting civilians. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday nearly 125,000 people had been evacuated via “humanitarian corridors” agreed with Russia.

The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “deNazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.

Russian troops have destroyed 3,687 Ukrainian military infrastructure facilities so far, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying on Sunday. It was not possible to independently verify his statement. – Reuters with additional reporting from The Guardian

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