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Ukraine’s military seeks to retake ground lost to Russians as Biden begins European trip: Live updates – USA TODAY

Ukraine’s military, staggered in the early days of the war by the brutal fury of Russia’s invasion, has gained footing and begun the arduous task of taking back territory overrun by Russia’s initial onslaught.

A senior Pentagon official this week described Ukrainian resistance as quick and nimble, and, for the first time, seeking to retake ground lost to the Russians. Russian forces remain largely stalled around the capital of Kyiv, said the official who described intelligence assessments to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The Ukraine Defense Ministry claims its forces have driven occupying Russian troops out of Makariv – a small Kyiv suburb but crucial because it provides control of a highway to the west. The effort also blocked Russian troops from surrounding Kyiv from the northwest and provided the Ukrainian military with a much-needed success story.

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An assessment released Wednesday by the British Defense Ministry described the battlefield across northern Ukraine as “largely static.”  Russian forces are likely reorganizing before resuming large-scale offensive operations, the ministry said in a tweet Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is lobbying for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the carnage. But he also is rallying Ukrainians to fight on.

“We will find a way to push Russia to agree to a peaceful solution,” Zelenskyy said Thursday in a virtual address to Japanese lawmakers.

Zelenskyy continues to plead with the West for help, specifically for the establishment of a “no-fly” zone over his country. The U.S. have responded with a firm no, but President Joe Biden embarks Wednesday on a multi-day trip to Europe starting Wednesday to meet with allies about the ongoing response to Russia’s invasion, including military assistance for Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said Biden is working on long-term efforts to boost defenses in Eastern Europe and reduce the continent’s reliance on Russian energy.

Latest developments

►Putin aid Anatoly Chubais has resigned, left the country and has no intention of returning, according to multiple media outlets. Chubais is the highest-profile figure to step down since the war began, Reuters reports.

►Poland says it’s seeking to expel 45 Russian intelligence officers using diplomatic status as cover to stay in country. Tweeted Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński: “We are breaking up the agents of the Russian secret services in our country.

►The war has jeopardized Ukraine’s wheat and barley harvests, increasing the possibility of rising hunger in impoverished areas around the globe.

►In a nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 100,000 civilians remained in the port city of Mariupol, which also came under naval attack after weeks of air and land strikes.

►The United Nations on Wednesday will now face three resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine after Russia decided to call for a vote on its Security Council resolution which makes no mention of Russian aggression against its smaller neighbor.

Ukraine says Russia seized relief workers in Mariupol convoy

Ukrainian leaders accused Russia of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy of 11 buses that had been expected to evacuate residents.

“Employees of the state emergency service and bus drivers have been taken captive,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

He estimated that 100,000 civilians remained in Mariupol, once home to more than 400,000 people, after weeks of shelling that have battered the city.

“They bombed us for the past 20 days,” said Viktoria Totsen, 39, who fled into Poland. “During the last five days, the planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropped bombs everywhere — on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”

Zelenskyy, speaking Tuesday in his nightly video address to his nation, accused Russian forces of blocking the aid convoy despite agreeing to the route ahead of time.

“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror,” Zelenskyy said.

Biden leaves for Europe 

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden is traveling to Europe, where on Thursday he will meet with NATO leaders in Brussels to coordinate a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday’s meeting will provide “yet another platform to demonstrate our unity, our support to Ukraine, but also our readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies.”

On Friday, Biden will be in Poland and will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Poland has taken in more than a million of the 3 million Ukrainians who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion began last month.

Biden will discuss with Duda how the U.S. and others are responding to the humanitarian and human rights crisis, according to the White House. Poland has proposed the creation of a peacekeeping force, but officials said they do not know if NATO is yet willing to take such provocative action.

— Maureen Groppe

Ukrainian agency: Russian forces destroyed laboratory at Chernobyl

A laboratory at the Chernobyl nuclear plant that works to improve the management of radioactive waste was destroyed, according to the Ukrainian agency in charge of the area surrounding the plant on Tuesday.

The laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world,” the agency said in its statement.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency also said Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.

Russia seized control of Chernobyl early on in its invasion of Ukraine, along with the Zaporizhzhia plant. Chernobyl is the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 when a reactor exploded. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around the plant.

Putin won’t rule out using nuclear weapons, spokesperson says

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the nearly four-week-long war with Ukraine, his longtime spokesman said Tuesday in a CNN interview.

Asked by CNN’s chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, whether he’s convinced Putin won’t take that drastic step, press secretary Dmitry Peskov declined to dismiss that option.

“Well, we have a concept of domestic security, and, well, it’s public,” Peskov responded. “You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with our concept.”

It’s not the first time a high-ranking Russian official has dangled a nuclear threat, likely to sow fear among adversaries. Three days after launching the Ukraine invasion Feb. 24, Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces put on high alert in response to tough sanctions from the West.

Contributing: The Associated Press