Russia-Ukraine conflict: What you need to know

Russian forces in Ukraine expanded their offensivein Friday's airstrikes. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the recruiting of "volunteers," from Syria and other countries to the fight.

Russia-Ukraine conflict: What you need to know

As the U.S. and its allies reduced Russian's trade status, the West intensified economic pressure on Russia. This is the latest effort to further isolate Russia in preparation for an invasion.

More than 2.5 millions people have fled Ukraine as a result of the war. Others seek refuge in underground shelters, subway stations, basements and other places. Despite repeated Russian shelling, more evacuations were anticipated. However, attempts to allow people escape the besieged port of Mariupol in southern Russia have been unsuccessful.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, stated via video link from Kyiv that while it's impossible for us to predict how long it will take to liberate our land in the future it is possible to state that we will.

These are the key facts to understand about the war

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN UKRAINE ON THE GROUND?

According to Ukrainian authorities, new areas were attacked in western Ukraine on Friday as Russian airstrikes struck the cities of Ivano-Frankiivsk (and Lutsk) -- far from Russia’s main targets elsewhere.

Russia claimed it used long-range, high-precision weapons to "put out of action" military airfields in two cities. Lutsk Mayor Ihor Poleckuk stated that four soldiers were killed and six more were injured.

Russia's Defense Ministry said that a military offensive led by separatist fighters from Donetsk was further restricting Mariupol's southern port. Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, stated that approximately 1,300 civilians were killed during the siege of Mariupol. However, it was impossible to verify this figure.

Satellite images show that a large Russian convoy has moved out of Kyiv into nearby towns and forests. However, it was not immediately clear if this poses a threat to the capital.

According to the Ukrainian interior ministry, three more Russian airstrikes struck Dnipro, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine, on Friday, resulting in the death of at least one person.

It is believed that thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides were killed during the invasion.

WHAT HAS THE AAP DIRECTLY WITNESSED?

Mariupol was hit again Friday by more airstrikes and shelling, setting apartment buildings ablaze as temperatures plummeted below freezing. For 10 days, the city of 430,000 was without electricity, food, water, or running water. The military situation is not well known by the residents, but they know that it's unsafe to venture outside.

After Russian airstrikes struck the Mariupol Maternity Hospital, a baby girl was left huddled against her mother. Mariana Vishegirskaya gave birth to Veronika via cesarean section at another hospital in the city's outskirts, just one day after the Wednesday attack on the hospital.

AP reporters saw a teenager in recovery at a hospital on the outskirts Kyiv after her family was attacked as they attempted to flee.

Baryshivka is a village east from Kyiv where residents surveyed the damage and boarded windows following a Russian bombing that left a cinema and restaurant hanging metal, dust and other debris. Ivan Merzyk (62 years old) said that Putin created the mess thinking that he would be in control. Ukrainians are a sovereign nation. We won't leave here, and we don’t want any Russians here."

Who are the 'VOLUNTEER FIGHTERS' FOR RUSSIA and UKRAINE?

Putin approved the inclusion of "volunteer fighters" from Syria and other countries to Russia's offensive. Russia's defense minister stated that there were "more than 16,000" applications from the Middle East. Many were from those who fought alongside Russia in the fight against the Islamic State group, he said.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, confirmed that the recruits included fighters from Syria. Russia intervened in civil war in 2015 with President Bashar al-Assad's side.

According to the Ukrainian government, about 20,000 foreigners joined the so-called International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine in order to fight the Russians.

Weapons are provided to pro-Ukrainian fighters upon their arrival. Approximately 100 Americans are part of the fighters. The U.K. warned veterans not to go to Ukraine to fight, and said those who did will be sentenced to court martiale.

Are PEOPLE SAFELY EVACUATED FROM UNITED KINGDOM?

According to Ukrainian authorities, there are plans for multiple evacuation routes and humanitarian aid delivery routes. It is important to evacuate the people of Mariupol as well as provide aid for its most vulnerable citizens.

Friday's buses were sent to several Kyiv suburbs in order to transport people to the capital. Authorities say that half the population of the area, or approximately 2 million, have fled.

Also, efforts were made to create humanitarian corridors around Kherson, Chernihiv and Kharkiv. Russian forces blocked Kharkiv and pushed their offensive in south around three cities and towns including the home of Ukraine's president Kryvyi Rih.

RUSSIA CLAIMS BIOWEAPONS IN UKRAINE ARE BEING DEVELOPED.

Russia requested a meeting with the U.N. Security Council in order to discuss its baseless claims about the U.S. conducting "biological activitiesin Ukraine - an allegation that both Washington and Kyiv have denied.

The United States accused Russia Friday of "lying, spreading disinformation" in a possible false-flag operation. This scenario was warned by Antony Blinken, U.S Secretary of State. It could be a case of Putin trying to justify his violent attack against Ukraine. U.S. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield stated Friday that the U.S. believes Russia might use chemical or biological agents.

Friday's statement by the Pentagon stated that it supports laboratories in Ukraine which are dedicated to responding to biological threats. These labs are operated and owned by Ukraine. Experts say that the work of these labs is not secret and they are not being used to develop bioweapons.

China is meanwhile amplifying unsubstantiated and inflamatory claims.

WHAT'S THE VIEW FROM INSIDE RUSSIA?

Moscow is taking more steps to block foreign social media platforms. Russian communications and media regulator stated that it is blocking access Instagram because it is being used to call for violence towards Russian soldiers.

This comes after Meta Platforms, the owner of Facebook, stated that it had made "allowances for forms for political expression that would normally violate [our] rules on violent speech such as 'deathto the Russian invaders'." Meta also stressed that it wouldn't allow credible calls to violence against Russian civilians.

Russia has blocked access to Facebook, and has limited access to Twitter. However, Twitter launched a privacy-protected site to avoid surveillance and censorship.

YouTube blocked global access to Russian-funded media channels. It stated that it was removing content regarding Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which violated its policy of trivializing or minimising "well-documented violent incidents."

Meta has blocked Russian state media from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Are there more sanctions against Russia?

U.S. President Joe Biden announced Friday that he had reached an agreement with other countries to remove Russia's "most preferred nation" trade status,. This would allow for increased tariffs to be imposed upon Russian imports.

The U.S. also prohibited imports of Russian seafood and alcohol, as well as diamonds.

The Western countries have been largely unison in their efforts to punish Russia economically.

French President Emmanuel Macron stated Friday that the European Union would continue to apply pressure on Moscow and will consider additional sanctions if Putin escalates bombing and lays siege in Kyiv.

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