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    Face the Nation on the Radio: Face the Nation on the Radio 3/20/22 on Apple Podcasts

    This week on “Face the Nation” with no end in sight for the war in Ukraine moderator Margaret Brennan has exclusive interviews with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the new weapons being sent to Ukraine and the diplomatic approach to arming them. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang on the re…

    Face the Nation on the Radio 3/20/22

    Face the Nation on the Radio

    Politics

    This week on “Face the Nation” with no end in sight for the war in Ukraine moderator Margaret Brennan has exclusive interviews with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the new weapons being sent to Ukraine and the diplomatic approach to arming them. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang on the relations between the U.S. and China after President Biden warns Beijing not to help Russia with its invasion. Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova on her country’s battle against Russia. A rare Sunday interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on the latest Covid news.

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    Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation," August 1, 2021

    The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired on Sunday, August 1, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

    Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation," August 1, 2021

    AUGUST 1, 2021 / 12:16 PM / CBS NEWS

    The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired on Sunday, August 1, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

    JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who is also on the board of Pfizer, and he joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning. All right, let's start, Dr. Gottlieb, with what Dr. Alroy-Preis was saying about this very specific issue of breakthrough cases. So once people are vaccinated, there are some breakthrough, as everybody expected, that they would get infected. But what Dr. Alroy-Preis was saying was that of those breakthrough cases, only 10%, infect one other person, and the percentage is even lower for those who infect more than one. So it seems like the case of breakthrough cases is a small set. And then there's an even smaller set who might pass on the infection to others. Is that the way you see it?

    DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: That's right. We know that there is more people with this Delta variant who've been vaccinated who are probably spreading the infection, but it's still a very small percentage of people who are becoming infected after vaccination and who then are going on to spread the infection to others. Remember, the original premise behind these vaccines were that they would substantially reduce the risk of death and severe disease and hospitalization. And that was the data that came out of the initial clinical trials. That premise is still fully intact. We still see that these vaccines are doing a very good job preventing symptomatic disease, preventing hospitalization and death. The second premise around these vaccines is that they would reduce the incidence of infection, any infection, including asymptomatic infection, and they can also reduce the risk of transmission. And therefore, they would be an important public health tool at effectively ending the epidemic, the pandemic, because they would prevent people from transmitting the virus. That premise is still intact. But what we see with the Delta variant is it's diminished. There is more evidence that people are likely to spread the Delta variant even after vaccination than they were likely to spread the other variants. But it's still a very small percentage of people. But we need to recognize, especially for vaccinated people who might be in contact with young children, with elderly individuals who are at risk, that there is a risk that they could develop a mild or asymptomatic infection and go on to spread it to others.

    JOHN DICKERSON: So Dr. Fauci said that they found in this Provincetown study that the amount of virus in the nasopharynx was the same as somebody who had not been vaccinated. So help me understand, that seems like if you have- if there's a breakthrough case, then you've got the ability to spread if it's in the nasopharynx. But then what Dr. Alroy-Preis was saying- was that it seemed like a much smaller group of people in the breakthrough category that could pass it on. So help me understand maybe the disconnect between those two.

    DR. GOTTLIEB: Right, the CDC is inferring from this study that there's a risk of transmission in vaccinated individuals and effectively what they saw was what Dr. Fauci said. High levels of the virus in the nasopharynx of individuals who were vaccinated and became subsequently infected on par with the level of virus that you would see in someone who wasn't vaccinated. But we know two things. First of all, nasopharyngeal swabs, the virus titers that you see in those nasopharyngeal swabs, while it's suggestive of someone's ability to spread the virus, it doesn't prove that they're able to spread the virus. So it's not a perfect correlate with your ability to transmit the virus and how contagious you are. You really want to measure virus levels in the lower airways because that's where aerosols are created. And we know that you spread this virus through aerosols. We also have other evidence that came out this week that people who are vaccinated, even if their viral titers are very high initially for the first 24 hours after they become infected, even if they- even if they're asymptomatic and infected, we know their viral titers fall much more quickly than those who are unvaccinated. So maybe after a day or two days or three days, they're much less likely to spread the virus than someone who remains unvaccinated. So initially, someone who's vaccinated may- may have the same level to spread the virus, may be on par with someone who's unvaccinated, but their ability to spread the virus probably diminishes more quickly. And therefore, out in the community, if you were measuring their ability to transmit the virus, you would probably see on the whole, they're less likely to be contagious.

    JOHN DICKERSON: So one of the challenges that we've talked about before is that we weren't testing every single breakthrough case. CDC was waiting until people got to the hospital. They had some inklings of breakthrough cases that weren't at the hospital, but they weren't testing. Should we do more testing to get to the bottom of this and this question?

    DR. GOTTLIEB: The CDC has cohorts. They have tens of thousands of people that they're following and cohorts who were vaccinated at different points in time and they're looking at that data. They peek at that data every two weeks to try to look at whether or not they're seeing a rising incidence of breakthrough cases in the vaccinated individuals. And- and the data that came out to The Washington Post in some slides that were leaked to The Washington Post, do suggest that the CDC has some evidence of declining efficacy in the vaccinated population, particularly older individuals who were vaccinated back in December and January. And that's causing a rethinking of this whole question around boosters. I do think we should be following this. CDC is following it in some smaller cohorts. Other countries are following it in much much larger data sets, including the United Kingdom and Israel. And Israel really was the first to detect this rising incidence of breakthrough cases. And remember, two things are happening at once here. On the one hand, we have a much more contagious variant, the Delta variant that's probably breaking through the vaccines a little bit more than the older variants. On the other hand, we have a population that is further out from when they were initially vaccinated. So if there's any declining efficacy of the vaccine, it's colliding up against a variant that's more contagious.

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    March 30, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

    Mar 29, 2022

    Our live coverage of the war in Ukraine has moved here. The US government is "confident in" the assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about their military’s performance in Ukraine, according to a senior State Department official. “It’s information we’re confident in,” the official said. “I think it’s information that we’re confident in now and it’s also information that probably had a degree of truth to it before the invasion.” On Wednesday, the US revealed declassified intelligence showing that Putin has been misinformed by his own advisers. “There’s only so much we can say about where this information is derived from,” the official said, declining to provide additional details on the intelligence. He explained it was necessary to protect sources and methods. “Putin clearly seems to have thought that he could go into Ukraine, that his forces wouldn’t meet resistance, that they would be greeted warmly including in Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, that he would be able to take Kyiv in a matter of 48, 72 hours,” the official said. “Every single element that he seems to have believed turns out to be wrong. So, whether his advisers weren’t giving him the full unvarnished truth, whether he wasn’t listening, you know … I think we’ve seen this every step of the way.”  Speaking on a visit to Morocco, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "One of the Achilles' heels of autocracies is that you don't have people in those systems who speak truth to power or who have the ability to speak truth to power. And I think that is something that we're seeing in Russia." Video posted on social media appears to show Ukrainian troops have retaken territory from Russian forces near the northern city of Chernihiv. A number of Ukrainian forces are seen in video filmed in the village of Sloboda, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Chernihiv. The village is vital to Ukrainian efforts breaking the Russian encirclement of Chernihiv. It would also be one of the first major victories in breaking the encirclement.   The video has been geolocated and its authenticity verified by CNN. The footage shows a bombed-out, enflamed Russian tank. Thick white smoke is seen in the streets of the village, in addition to Ukrainian forces. Some context: Chernihiv, located about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Kyiv, came under "colossal attack" Wednesday, according to the city's mayor. Strikes also continued in the Kyiv suburbs, just a day after Russia claimed it was scaling back its military campaign near the capital and surrounding area. Russian advances on Kyiv and Chernihiv had already stalled before Moscow's announcement. ##On The Ground## Some Russian forces have withdrawn from the Chernobyl nuclear power site, according to a senior US defense official. Chernobyl, infamous location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, is about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Kyiv. The site fell into Russian hands in the first days of the invasion in late February, triggering fears that safety standards inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone could be compromised. The withdrawal comes as a portion of Russian troops near the Ukrainian capital have repositioned.  Troop movement: On Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the US has seen approximately 20% of Russia’s forces moving against Kyiv “repositioning,” with some heading to Belarus. Kirby said the troops that have been repositioning have generally been fighting in areas to the north and northwest of Kyiv.  Some context: One week ago, Ukraine’s government said Russian forces had looted and destroyed a lab close to the abandoned nuclear plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste.  Russian claims: The movement of Russian forces near Chernobyl and elsewhere around Kyiv came one day after Russia’s Ministry of Defense said its forces would “de-escalate” around Kyiv. Despite the Russian claim, Kyiv and the surroundings cities have seen an ongoing Russian bombardment in the past 24 hours.  “Our assessment would be as we said yesterday that they’re going to refit these troops, resupply them, and them probably employ them elsewhere in Ukraine,” Kirby said.  President Joe Biden is considering releasing a record amount of oil from US reserves in response to high gas prices amid the war in Ukraine.  A plan being considered involves releasing about 1 million barrels per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the coming months, a person familiar with the deliberations said.  The announcement could come as soon as Thursday, when the President is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House on gas prices.  Biden last month announced a coordinated release of oil from the reserves in conjunction with other nations. He also released about 60 million barrels in November.  Some context: The price of oil has spiked following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month, sending already-high gas prices skyrocketing.  Read more about pain at the pump: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed President Joe Biden met with the family of Trevor Reed Wednesday at the White House. Reed was detained in Russia in 2019 and sentenced to nine years a year later for endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers in an altercation — charges he denies. "During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to continue to work to secure the release of Trevor, Paul Whelan, and other Americans wrongfully held in Russia and elsewhere, and to provide all possible assistance until they and others are free and returned home to their families who are advocating so passionately for their release," Psaki said in a statement.  The Reed family had been demonstrating outside the White House to raise awareness about their son's ordeal. The war in Ukraine is entering a "crucial period" as Russian troops refocus their efforts and Russian President Vladimir Putin grows increasingly desperate, US Sen. Angus King told CNN. "The next two weeks are really going to be crucial to see if the Ukrainian forces can keep up the extraordinary level of fight that they have over the last several weeks," King, a Maine independent, said. King spoke to CNN after receiving a classified briefing from US administration officials. "The Russians do seem to be refocusing towards the east and the danger is they encircle the Ukrainian troops and squeeze them pretty substantially," he said. Russian tactics: The senator gave credence to reporting that some Russian forces are moving away from Kyiv but also said the moves could be merely an opportunity to resupply in the region. "I think it's a little of both," King said. "They divided their army essentially into three pieces and now what they're doing is reconsolidating. They've decided they're not going to be able to take Kyiv, at least not now, and they're consolidating in the south and the west." King warned that Putin could turn to more dangerous measures as Ukrainian victories continue, including shifting his strategy toward his "normal modus operandi" of "hammering civilians in cities like he did in Aleppo with (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad and Grozny in Chechnya." The family of Trevor Reed, a US citizen detained in Russia since 2019, met with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday. The family had been demonstrating outside the White House to raise awareness about their son's ordeal. "He listened intently to everything we had to say until we were through talking. We couldn't have asked for more," said Reed's father, Joey Reed. The meeting lasted more than 30 minutes, according to the Reed family.  "We got to get it off our chest, all the things that we've been wanting to say to him, and it's done. We got to say what we wanted to say. He listened intently, and we're grateful for that," said Reed's mother, Paula Reed. Some context: Reed, a former US Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 for endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers in an altercation. Reed and his family have denied the charges against him. During his time in detention, Reed has complained he has not received adequate medical care, saying in recent weeks he is coughing up blood. Joey Reed had previously said he’s concerned the invasion of Ukraine will worsen his son’s fate. The family's campaign: The Reeds said they plan to keep up the public pressure to secure the release of their son and other Americans detained abroad.  "We're gonna keep giving media interviews and spreading the word about our son so that more Americans know about him and all the Americans held in different countries," Joey Reed said. "And hopefully, the President will do what he needs to get our son and other Americans home as quickly as possible before — before they die, they're injured for life." CNN has reached out to the White House for comment. Ukraine's next round of negotiations with Russia will resume online on April 1, the head of the Ukrainian delegation said on Wednesday. In a message posted to his Telegram channel, David Arakhamia also said that during negotiations in Turkey this week, it was announced the time has come for a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The Russian delegation said it first needs a draft agreement with stronger approval on both sides, Arakhamia said. But the Ukrainian negotiator called for the next meeting to be held between the presidents of the two countries. No date or official meeting between the two leaders has been scheduled yet. “At the same time, we insist that such a meeting does not take place on the territory of Russia or Belarus,” Arakhamia said. Half of the Ukrainian city of Irpin has been destroyed, according to Oleksandr Markushin, the city's mayor. Markushin revealed the assessment during a press conference on Wednesday, saying “We can see 50% of the city and the critical infrastructure has been destroyed and the rubble has not been cleared yet." Russian forces had attacked the city of Irpin in recent days, but the city is now under full Ukrainian control as Ukrainian forces fought back, according to the mayor in a separate CNN interview earlier Wednesday. The mayor said that despite the fighting, many individuals still remain in the city.  “Of the restored water and energy supply, this has not yet happened and it is too dangerous because the city is constantly shelled,” Markushin also shared. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is visiting India on Thursday as part of a “diplomatic push” to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a news release from the British Foreign Office on Wednesday. “Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is in India today (Thursday 31 March) as part of a wider diplomatic push following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month,” the press release read. “In a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Foreign Secretary will say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underlines the importance of democracies working closer together to deter aggressors, reduce vulnerability to coercion and strengthen global security”, it added. The foreign minister “wants to counter Russia’s aggression and reduce global strategic dependence on the country ahead of key NATO and G7 meetings next week,” it also added. “Deeper ties between Britain and India will boost security in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and create jobs and opportunities in both countries,” Truss said. “This matters even more in the context of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and underlines the need for free democracies to work closer together in areas like defense, trade and cyber security,” she added. “India is an economic and tech powerhouse, the world’s largest democracy and a great friend of Britain, and I want to build an even closer relationship between our two nations,” she also said. Truss said the two countries would also work to deepen cyber security and defense co-operation and would announce a new joint cyber security program, while the UK would also join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and “become a lead partner on maritime security issues, coordinating work with key partners in Southeast Asia.” India has refused to condemn Russia’s brutal invasion outright, and has abstained from voting on United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions demanding Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine. The head of British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said Putin has massively misjudged the situation in Ukraine and that some Russian soldiers have refused to carry out orders. Speaking during a trip to Canberra on Thursday at the Australian National University, Sir Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, the UK's Intelligence, Cyber and Security Agency said, “it increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people.” Fleming said Putin over-estimated the abilities of the Russian military to secure a quick victory.  “We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he said without specifying when or where this took place. “Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” he said. Fleming also said the National Cyber Security Center has seen “sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems” and has seen indicators suggesting Russia’s cyber actors are looking for targets in countries that oppose the Kremlin’s actions. He also said it is “clear” that Russia is using mercenaries and foreign fighters to support its forces — including the Wagner group. “The group works as a shadow branch of the Russian military, providing implausible deniability for riskier operations,” Fleming said, adding that Wagner is now prepared to send large number of personnel into Ukraine to fight on the Russian side.  “They are looking at relocating forces from other conflicts and recruiting new fighters to bolster numbers,” he said, “These soldiers are likely to be used as cannon fodder to try to limit Russian military losses.” On the role of China, Fleming said there are risks for Russia and China associated with the two countries aligning too closely on the Ukraine conflict. “Russia understands that long term, China will become increasingly strong militarily and economically. Some of their interests conflict; Russia could be squeezed out of the equation,” he said. Negotiations with Russia are ongoing but are “only words”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to social media on Wednesday night. “Yes we have negotiations process but they’re only words, without anything concrete,” Zelensky said.  Zelensky said the “alleged pullback” of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv is not a retreat but a result of the work of the Ukrainian military. “There are other words about alleged pullback of Russian troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv, and reduction of activities of the occupiers in these territories. This is not a retreat, this is the result of the work of our defenders, who pushed them back,” he said.  He went on to say that Russian troops are concentrating in the Donbas region for new attacks, saying Ukrainians are “ready for this.” “We will not give anything away and we will fight for every meter of our land.”  He urged the public not to criticize the performance of the Ukrainian armed forces, saying, “If someone thinks that he or she can teach our military how to fight, and how to stand up to the enemy, the best way to do it is to go to the battlefield on your own, not from a couch at home or from a safe place you escaped to — but from real battle grounds and show your abilities to fight. If you’re not ready to do that, don’t even start to teach our defenders how to do their job.”  The Ukrainian president said he had an hour-long call with US President Joe Biden and thanked him for the additional $500 million in aid for Ukraine.  According to the White House, Biden and Zelensky “discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” Zelensky said the support of the US is crucial for Ukraine, adding, “If we want to fight for freedom together - then we ask our partners to help and if we are really fighting for freedom and protection for democracy ourselves, we have all rights to demand help in this crucial difficult moment. We need tanks, warplanes, artillery… Freedom has to be armed no worse than tyranny.” Despite claiming that it would “drastically reduce military activity” around Kyiv and Chernihiv on Tuesday, Russian shelling and sporadic small arms fire continued around Kyiv on Wednesday, according to CNN teams on the ground.  The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also said that the Russian army continues to conduct a full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine on Wednesday, while Ukrainian forces continue to conduct a defense operation in the eastern, southeastern and northeastern directions. The US Department of Defense said they’ve seen around 20% of Russia’s forces that had been moving against Kyiv “repositioning,” with some heading to Belarus, over the last 24 hours. In the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukrainians also experienced continued attacks; the mayor of Chernihiv dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations, following what he describes as a "colossal attack”. In Mariupol, a Red Cross warehouse was hit by at least two military strikes, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirm. There is no information yet regarding potential casualties or the extent of the damage.  Here are more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine conflict: Russian attacks with cluster munitions "may amount to war crimes," UN says: As of Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has received credible allegations that Russian armed forces have used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times. Russia’s indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and “may amount to war crimes,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She said her investigators are looking into the 24 cluster munitions attacks. To date, they have verified 77 incidents in which medical facilities were damaged to various degrees, including 50 hospitals, 7 psycho-neurological facilities and 20 other medical facilities. Pentagon: Putin hasn't been "fully informed" by his Ministry of Defense "at every turn" of Ukraine invasion: Russian President Vladimir Putin has “not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn” throughout the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. Kirby did not offer any details that led to this assessment. Kirby said the US does not have “access to every bit of information that” Putin has been given or “every conversation that he’s had,” but he said he concurs with the “basic finding” of press reporting that Putin has not been fully informed by his Defense Ministry of the situation in Ukraine.  No breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine talks, French foreign minister tells CNN: There has been no breakthrough in talks between Russia and Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told CNN on Wednesday. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Le Drian said there was “nothing new” and “no breakthrough” in what has been discussed at negotiations in Istanbul.He added that “the issues are still the same” and that Russian President Putin “still wishes to impose his diktat on Ukraine.” The French foreign minister said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “wants some security guarantees to be given to his country and at the moment there is nothing like that in the discussion.”  UN Refugee Agency unable to communicate with some of its employees in Mariupol: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is unable to communicate with some of its employees in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the organization’s High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said Wednesday. “Some managed to get out. Some are inside and we can’t communicate with them at this point. Those are my colleagues,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson from Lviv. Grandi called for "firm commitments" that there will be no fighting in order to operate evacuation corridors, adding that it’s “very complex and it needs those reassurances, otherwise we cannot do it.”   Pentagon: First 6 of "around 30" new shipments of security assistance getting into Ukraine: The US Defense Department said the first six of “around 30 or so” total shipments of the latest round of US security assistance to Ukraine have been moved into the region. “Materiel is getting into the region every single day, including over the last 24 hours,” said Pentagon press secretary Kirby. He said the US is prioritizing “the kinds of materiel that we know the Ukrainians need the most,” including anti-armor and anti-air systems, and that the Switchblade drones promised to Ukraine will begin shipping in “relatively soon.” About 1,000 Wagner group fighters are now in Ukraine's Donbas region, Pentagon spokesperson says: About 1,000 people associated with the Wagner group, a paramilitary group sponsored by Russia, are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine, Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. The US has seen Russia become “much more active” in the Donbas region “in the last few days,” Kirby added. “We think that the Wagner group now has about 1,000 people dedicated to the Donbas. ... We have seen them prioritize airstrikes in the Donbas area,” he said. Wagner contractors have been fighting in the Donbas “over the last eight years, so this is an area where the Wagner group is experienced,” Kirby added.  ##Catch Up## A delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers visiting Washington, DC, on Wednesday said they believe Russia is just using peace talks with Ukraine as a “smokescreen” for their forces to regroup and re-strategize in Ukraine. “At this particular moment, these peace negotiations are far from real negotiations,” Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, who chairs Ukraine’s Parliamentary Committee on Integration of Ukraine to the European Union, told a small group of reporters at a roundtable hosted by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “Definitely, I think that Putin is using this as a smokescreen, buying time to regroup … and sending false, lying messages to the whole world,” she said. “We feel these are not real peace talks at this point,” said MP Anastasia Radina, who heads the parliament’s Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy. “We feel that what Russia is doing is trying to save face. They say they are withdrawing troops from Kiev region. That’s not true for one simple reason. They’re not withdrawing. … They were kicked (out).” Radina said there is only “one way out of the war, and that is for Ukraine to win.” Their remarks came one day after the Russian Ministry of Defense said that it had decided to “drastically reduce hostilities” around Kyiv and Chernihiv. US officials, including President Joe Biden, remain skeptical of the announcement. “We’ll see,” Biden said on Tuesday when asked about Russia’s claims. “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through on what they’re suggesting.” More weapons needed: Ukraine’s military is seeking foreign assistance obtaining reconnaissance and attack drones, tactical radars, electronic warfare anti-drone systems and close-air support aircraft, according to Ukraine’s most recent list of needs provided to Congress. The list delivered to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, which was obtained by CNN, also includes help treating wounded troops and repairing equipment, including mobile military medical hospitals, the repairs of armored vehicles in neighboring countries and aircraft to help transport weapons. Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday that latest the list provided to Congress this week reflected Ukrainian military and civilian leadership’s “urgent needs.” At the top of the priority list of 17 items was reconnaissance and attack drones, including “switchblade” drones, which are small so-called kamikaze or suicide drones that carry a warhead and detonate on impact. The list also included combat aircraft — specifically referencing the Su-25, a Russian-made ground attack plane similar to the US-made A-10 Warthog. The Ukrainian military is also seeking artillery systems, surface-to-air missile systems, anti-tank Javelin missiles, anti-ship missiles and optical surveillance equipment. The all-female Ukrainian delegation — men between the ages of 18-60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine amid the war — traveled to Washington this week primarily, they say, to ask American lawmakers and administration officials for more military support, which they said is still falling far short of Ukraine’s needs. “Proper action for Ukraine right now, for support to Ukraine right now, would be weaponry,” Radina said. “Ukraine is constantly asking for weaponry and not only defensive weaponry, but also offensive weaponry. In our situation, this distinction between defensive and offensive is, frankly speaking, humiliating. In our situation, all weapons are defensive because we are defending our lands.” Radina reiterated that Ukraine needs fighter jets, “because this is how we can actually stop bombings. … And as of now this is the issue on the table, and while it is on the table, people will continue suffering.” “Our ‘humanitarian aid’ is weapons,” said MP Maria Ionova. “Because to minimize these victims and casualties, we have to defend our air. Freedom has to be armed. And that is why our main message here is please, help us to defend our future and the future of the democratic world.” "Neutrality is not an option for Ukraine": Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signaled that Ukraine might be willing to forgo NATO membership and commit to neutrality if the West provides Ukraine with solid security guarantees. But such a move would have to be put to a referendum — and Klympush-Tsintsadze indicated that anything short of NATO membership should be rejected. “Neutrality is not an option for Ukraine,” she said. Read more here. Ukraine’s military has submitted a list of needs to Congress as the conflict with Russia continues. Here is some of what Ukraine is asking for: reconnaissance and attack drones tactical radars electronic warfare anti-drone systems close-air support aircraft The list delivered to Capitol Hill on Tuesday — which was obtained by CNN — also includes a request for help in treating wounded troops and in repairing equipment, including mobile military medical hospitals. Additionally, Ukraine is asking for help with the repairs of armored vehicles in neighboring countries, as well as aircraft to help transport weapons. Ukraine’s military has provided Congress and the Executive Branch with a variety of wish lists over the past several weeks as the Biden administration has ramped up its security assistance to Ukraine. Last week, Ukraine was seeking 500 American-made Stinger and Javelin rockets daily. Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday that the latest list provided to Congress this week reflected Ukrainian military and civilian leadership’s “urgent needs.” At the top of the priority list of 17 items was reconnaissance and attack drones, including “switchblade” drones, which are small so-called kamikaze or suicide drones that carry a warhead and detonate on impact. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Dr. Celeste Wallander told lawmakers during Wednesday’s hearing that the switchblade drones are “in the process of being delivered,” to Ukraine. The switchblade drones were included in President Joe Biden’s $800 million presidential drawdown package of military assistance for Ukraine announced March 16. Wallander said that the Pentagon was familiar with the list and was looking at how it could help provide Ukraine with the items it is seeking. The list also included combat aircraft, specifically referencing the Su-25, a Russian-made ground attack plane similar to the US-made A-10 Warthog. The Ukrainian military is also seeking artillery systems, surface-to-air missile systems, anti-tank Javelin missiles, anti-ship missiles, and optical surveillance equipment. The senior Russian military official at the embassy in Washington was kicked out of the association of top international military officers in the US capital in a recent vote because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the request of the Ukrainian embassy’s defense attaché, a vote was held by the Defense Attachés’ Association and a majority voted to expel Russian Major General Evgeny Bobkin from the group, three European defense officials in Washington told CNN.   As defense attaché, Bobkin is the most senior Russian military officer stationed in the United States. The role is to essentially serve as a military diplomat, acting as a go-between with the Pentagon and other military, diplomatic and political officials in Washington. His expulsion from the DAA, whose dean is selected by the US Defense Intelligence Agency, will have no bearing on Bobkin’s official presence in Washington but is yet another example of the effort to isolate and punish Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. “For us it was mission accomplished. We cannot let them play how they want,” a defense attaché from a NATO country said. “You cannot have in your midst the representative of a country that is not respecting any international agreements, that is [ignoring] human rights.” The vote by secret ballot was held last week at the Canadian embassy. Notably absent from the special vote were officials from African and Middle East countries, in addition to the more predictable absences of China and most former Soviet countries (except for Kazakhstan and the Baltics). Nevertheless, the necessary quorum was reached and around 60 countries voted with most voting to expel Russia’s attaché, officials in attendance said. A person who answered the phone in the Russian defense attaché’s office quickly hung up and the embassy press office did not respond to a request for comment. The DAA serves as a professional and social organization for defense attachés and their spouses. Bobkin wrote in a blistering letter obtained by CNN that the effort mounted by his Ukrainian counterpart was “impregnated with hate towards Russia.” Attempting to pre-empt the vote, Bobkin said Russia would withdraw from the association “till the organization is cleared from Nazis.”  “Everyone who vote[s] against Russia will give his voice for Nazi regime and for the country which tolerated revival of Nazism and genocide of its people,” Bobkin concluded in his response with, echoing President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the war he launched is intended to “denazify” Ukraine. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is unable to communicate with some of its employees in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the organization’s High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said Wednesday.   “Some managed to get out. Some are inside and we can’t communicate with them at this point. Those are my colleagues,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson from Lviv.   Grandi called for "firm commitments" that there will be no fighting in order to operate evacuation corridors, adding that it’s “very complex and it needs those reassurances, otherwise we cannot do it.”   The high commissioner said that “we helped in Kharkiv just last week; but to do that, we need firm commitments that there will be no fighting and we need a bit of time.”   “It is one employee. We haven’t been able to reach this team member for over a week,” communication officer for UNHCR in Ukraine Victoria Andrievska told CNN on Wednesday. US stocks extended their losses and closed lower Wednesday, as Russia continued its bombing of Ukraine just one day after it promised to scale back its invasion. Germany warned Wednesday that it might ration its natural gas because of its disputes with Russia, and inventory of US crude fell. This sent crude prices up about 3% and energy stocks along with them.  Retail stocks felt downward pressure on Wednesday following Q4 earnings reports that fell below expectations. Shares prices for Five Below, Chewy, and Restoration Hardware dropped significantly.  Here's how the US market looked at closing: The Dow ended the day down 0.2% or 65 points. The S&P 500 fell by 0.6%. The Nasdaq Composite lost 1.2%. As stocks settle after the trading day, levels might still change slightly. The US Defense Department said the first six of “around 30 or so” total shipments of the latest round of US security assistance to Ukraine have been moved into the region. “Materiel is getting into the region every single day, including over the last 24 hours,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. Kirby said the US is prioritizing “the kinds of materiel that we know the Ukrainians need the most,” including anti-armor and anti-air systems, and that the Switchblade drones promised to Ukraine will begin shipping in “relatively soon.” The damage caused by Russia’s continued bombardment on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol is “devastating,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “The place is just being decimated from a structural perspective by the onslaught of Russian airstrikes,” Kirby said. The “significant damage” has been inflicted on “civilian infrastructure, residential buildings, hospitals, recreation, park, everything,” Kirby added. New satellite images of the besieged southern port city show entire entire blocks obliterated as Russian forces continue to bombard the area. The Department of Defense said they’ve seen around 20% of Russia’s forces that had been moving against Kyiv “repositioning,” with some heading to Belarus, over the last 24 hours. “Our assessment would be as we said yesterday that they’re going to refit these troops, resupply them, and them probably employ them elsewhere in Ukraine,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby at a briefing with reporters, “but I don’t believe that at this stage we’ve seen the refitting going on with any specificity.” Kirby said that if Russia was serious about their claim of de-escalation, they should send those forces “to their home garrison,” and that Russian forces are still attacking Kyiv “by bombardment, artillery fire as well as airstrikes.” He specified that the Defense Department is seeing the repositioning forces coming from the Russian forces that had been attacking the city from the north and northwest, and that there were also some Russian forces repositioning from the forces arrayed against Chernihiv and Sumy into Belarus.  About 1,000 people associated with the Wagner group, a paramilitary group sponsored by Russia, are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. The US has seen Russia become “much more active” in the Donbas region “in the last few days,” Kirby added. “We think that the Wagner group now has about 1,000 people dedicated to the Donbas. ... We have seen them prioritize airstrikes in the Donbas area,” Kirby said. Wagner contractors have been fighting in the Donbas “over the last eight years, so this is an area where the Wagner group is experienced,” Kirby added.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has “not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense at every turn” throughout the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.   Kirby did not offer any details that led to this assessment. Kirby said the US does not have “access to every bit of information that” Putin has been given or “every conversation that he’s had,” but he said he concurs with the “basic finding” of press reporting that Putin has not been fully informed by his Defense Ministry of the situation in Ukraine.  CNN reported earlier Wednesday that a US official said the US believes that Putin is being "misinformed" by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the effect of sanctions on Russia's economy. “I’ve seen these press reports attributed to a US official, and we would concur with the basic finding, but we are not going to get any more specific than that,” Kirby said. Some European countries are heavily dependent on Russia for their gas supply. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this month that EU leaders had agreed to spend the next two months drafting proposals for eliminating the bloc's dependency on Russian energy imports by 2027. Germany, Russia's biggest energy customer in Europe, had already taken measures to address the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But now it is responding to more concerns about possible gas shortage along with other countries. Here's a look at actions some European countries are taking so far: Germany: It has issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages after Russia said it wanted to be paid in rubles and threatened to cut off supplies if that didn't happen. "A payment with rubles is not acceptable," German economy minister Robert Habeck had said on Monday. Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday, he said that the warning stage was of a preventive nature and would see increased monitoring of gas supplies. He also called upon companies and consumers to use gas sparingly. German gas storage is currently filled to 25% capacity, according to Habeck. "There are currently no supply shortages," he said. "Nevertheless, we must take further precautionary measures to be prepared for any escalation by Russia." German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin later on Wednesday, and the German leader stressed that Berlin is committed to a G7 agreement that energy supplies from Russia would be paid for only in euros or US dollars, according to a German readout of the call.  Putin informed Scholz that the law that payments for Russian energy supplies would have to be made in rubles does not apply for European partners, and payments would continue to be made in euros and transferred to Gazprom Bank, which is not affected by sanctions, and then converted into rubles, according to the readout.  “Chancellor Scholz did not agree to this procedure in the conversation, but asked for written information to better understand the procedure,” the readout said. Netherlands: The Dutch government asked the public to use less gas as it hopes to reduce its dependency on Russian imports, according to a spokesperson for the economy ministry. However, the Dutch government would not be triggering a gas crisis plan, spokesperson Tim van Dijk told CNN. Instead, the government hopes to reduce Dutch gas usage through a campaign addressing its citizens. The campaign had been prepared for weeks in light of the war in Ukraine and was not launched in connection with Germany's decision to issue an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages, van Dijk added. Austria: It issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages in the country, which also follows Russia demand to be paid in rubles and its threat to cut off supplies if its demand was not met.  Austrian climate minister Leonore Gewessler announced the warning following a government crisis meeting. The early-stage warning sees Austria take "the next step in the preparation for an emergency," Gewessler wrote on Twitter.   "We are monitoring the situation on the gas market even more closely & taking precautions to continue to ensure the supply of our households," the minister added.  There have been 82 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, according to World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Since the beginning of the Russian Federation's invasion, there have been 82 attacks on health care, resulting in at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, including patients and health workers," he said at a media briefing on Wednesday. "Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately." Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said there's a "world of difference" between health access issues during conflict as compared to conflict actively targeting health care.  "It's a very big difference between that situation and a situation in which access is being actively denied to a population, where the actual cutting off of people is part of the tactics. It's part of the military strategy," he said.  "This is not people caught up in the fog of war. It's not people just caught up in the conflict. It is people being directly targeted, directly denied, and directly used as strategic implements, as chess pieces on a horrific, murderous board that they have no right, or no need to be on," he said. Russia’s indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and “may amount to war crimes,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Wednesday. Bachelet said her investigators are looking into 24 cases where cluster munitions were used by Russia. Hospitals, water supplies and administrative buildings have been struck by missiles or shelling, she reported. “The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to,” she said. The Ukrainian people are enduring a “living nightmare,” Bachelet added. “The hostilities must stop, without delay,” Bachelet said. “Today, I call on the Russian Federation to heed the clear and strong calls of the General Assembly and of this Council, and immediately act to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory.” There has been no breakthrough in talks between Russia and Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told CNN on Wednesday.  In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Le Drian said there was “nothing new” and “no breakthrough” in what has been discussed at negotiations in Istanbul.    He added that “the issues are still the same” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin “still wishes to impose his diktat on Ukraine.”    The French foreign minister said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “wants some security guarantees to be given to his country and at the moment there is nothing like that in the discussion.”  “We want a ceasefire as soon as possible but, in the meantime, we shall continue to provide Ukraine with defensive, legal weapons because this is necessary, because we want the war to stop, and we want the war to stop without going to war ourselves,” Le Drian told Amanpour. Speaking about the conditions in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Le Drian said that President Putin "already has experience of doing so because it is very much the method that was used by the Russian forces in Aleppo [Syria].”  “If Russia wishes to make some gestures, they have to put an end to that — in particular, in Mariupol. They have to lift the siege of Mariupol. They have to allow access to Mariupol for humanitarian purposes so that the humanitarian assistance can reach the population and so that, as well, the Mariupol people are free to move. So that would allow us to give the minimum of credibility to the Russian statements,” Le Drian continued.  The mayor of Irpin, Oleksandr Markushin, told CNN that despite being a small city, it was able to stand up to the world’s second-largest military.  “Irpin is a small city, but it did not allow the second-largest army in the world go forward,” Markushin told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen in an interview just outside Irpin on Wednesday.   “We had spirit, strong army and territorial defense and we had nowhere to retreat,” the Mayor added. “We are fighting for our land.” Markushin said Russia never had full control of the city on the suburbs of Kyiv.  “The Russians attacked Irpin and wanted to own it, but they failed. They captured 30% of the city. A few days ago we knocked them out,” he said. “Now Irpin is Ukrainian by a 100%.” Despite being under full Ukrainian control, the area remains dangerous as Russian forces continue to occupy nearby areas. “It's still dangerous here, because Bucha, Vorzel and Hostomel are nearby. They are under Russian troops who still shooting,” the Irpin mayor explained. “They use Grad system, shells and mines.” Markushin said Ukrainian forces had destroyed more than 100 vehicles in and around Irpin and that a humanitarian rescue effort was still ongoing, as many of Irpin’s residents had been unable to leave.  “We take out the wounded and dead bodies. Today and yesterday we have evacuated approximately 500 people. Today I myself evacuated about 50 children and 100 adults,” he said.   “There are many destroyed buildings, schools and kindergartens. There are completely destroyed residential multi-story buildings,” he said. Ukrainian officials say there has been no reduction in hostilities overnight despite claims by Russia that it planned to reduce the number of troops and military operations around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said the Russian army continues to conduct a full-scale armed aggression against the country on Wednesday, while Ukrainian forces continue to conduct a defense operation in the eastern, southeastern and northeastern directions. The mayor of Chernihiv said the city has come under "colossal attack," while Russia says that there has been "no breakthrough" in negotiations being held in Istanbul. The mayor of the northern Ukrainian city dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations. The city was “under fire” from Russian airstrikes while shelling continued through the night, according to Viacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv regional administration.  US officials have also been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation in certain parts of Ukraine, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal setbacks on the battlefield. Here's more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine conflict: Ukrainian police say there is continued shelling by Russians in the Donetsk region: Russia troops have attacked nine settlements, damaging at least eight civilian buildings, including houses and shops, according to the National Police of Ukraine. Russians fired at the civilian population with “mortars, tanks, artillery, and small arms," and some have been wounded. The most heavily shelled cities and towns in the region over the past 24 hours have been: Mariupol, Marinka, Krasnohorivka, Avdiivka, Vuhledar, Volnovakha, Zalizne, Ocheretyne (Oleksandrivska TG), and Novoselivka-3, according to police. The city of Pokrovsk also came under attack on Wednesday. The Donetsk region is one of two breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories, the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Satellite imagery confirms Mariupol Red Cross warehouse has been hit by military strikes: The Red Cross warehouse in central Mariupol was hit by at least two military strikes, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirm. On Wednesday, the Azov Battalion — a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces — claimed on their Telegram channel that the warehouse had been hit by Russian military strikes, posting an image of the larger complex as evidence. CNN has obtained a satellite image from Maxar Technologies that confirms the allegation.  Top US general in Europe says US force posture has to change on the continent: Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing Wednesday the US force posture in Europe needs to change. Wolters, who oversees the US military presence on the European continent, said the US force posture needs to change not only in Eastern Europe but also in “air policing activity” and in “naval maritime groups.” Wolters also highlighted the eight battalion-sized battle groups the US and NATO are establishing in Eastern European NATO member countries. Biden told Zelensky the US would provide Ukraine with $500 million in "direct budgetary aid," White House says: US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about an hour Wednesday, according to the White House. Zelensky tweeted after the call that they "shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid." In a statement, the White House said Biden told Zelensky the US “intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid” on the call. The budgetary aid is to help pay salaries, among other things, according to an official. Top US senators express frustration over delay of bill to punish Russia: Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed concern about the delay of the bill to revoke the normal trade status of Russia and Belarus. "First of all, it doesn't have to be this way. If people just focus on the bottom line is that this is the key addition that our country needs to add economic firepower to the fight against Putin," he told CNN. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the panel, said to CNN: "I wish we had been able to move last week. But as you know, in the Senate, we have to get unanimous consent or spend a week or more on a filibuster battle. We've been working really hard to get it put together and we've been making some progress. And my hope is that we'll be able to move soon."  UNICEF says 2 million children have fled Ukraine, with more than 100 killed: Roughly two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine — making up half of all refugees from the war — the United Nations Children's Fund said Wednesday. More than 1.1 million have arrived in Poland alone, with hundreds of thousands in nearby countries of Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. UNICEF warned of a heightened risk of exploitation and trafficking for children fleeing violence. In an effort to quell those risks, the UN agency is scaling up “Blue Dots,” which are one-stop safe spaces for traveling families. More than 100 children have been killed in the conflict, UNICEF added, with more than 130 injured. More than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced within Ukraine, according to UNICEF. British prime minister says it's "not the objective of the UK government" to remove Putin from power: Boris Johnson said Wednesday that it’s “not the objective of the UK government” to remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from power. Speaking to the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, Johnson was asked by lawmakers if he agreed that the final outcome should not only be “Russians out of Ukraine but Putin out of the Kremlin?” He said: “It is absolutely clear, it is not the objective of the UK government [to remove Putin from power]. We are simply setting out to help, to protect the people of Ukraine, to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence. That is what we are doing,” the prime minister responded.  ##Catch Up## Heavy fighting continued in the outskirts of Kyiv on Wednesday, despite an announced drawdown of Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital. A CNN team newsgathering near the suburb of Irpin heard constant incoming and outgoing shelling. Multiple rocket launch systems were also heard intermittently near the last checkpoint between Kyiv and Irpin, as was sporadic outgoing small arms fire. The British government said Wednesday that it has issued 25,500 visas to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.   Of the 25,500 visas issued as of Tuesday, 22,800 were granted to applicants under the Ukraine Family Scheme, the Home Office said. The visa program allows Ukrainian refugees to apply to join or accompany a UK-based family member and if granted a visa, to live, work and study in the UK and access public funds.  Some 2,700 visas have been issued through the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, also known as the “Homes for Ukraine” program, despite 28,300 applications having been made. More than 200,000 people in the UK have offered to host Ukrainian refugees in their homes under the scheme which launched on March 18, a spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told CNN on Wednesday.  Across both the visa schemes, the Home Office has received a total of 59,500 applications, of which fewer than half have been approved. Earlier this month, the UK government was criticized for its response to Ukrainian refugees, with its Family Scheme being described as complex and lengthy by people navigating the system.  On Wednesday, the Russian army continued to conduct a full-scale, armed aggression against Ukraine, while Ukrainian forces continue to conduct a defense operation in the eastern, southeastern, and northeastern directions, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also claims Russian troops have “suffered significant losses” and likely “temporarily gave up the task of blocking Kyiv.” The Russian military has regrouped and is focused on “offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone and to increase the system of logistical support of troops in the Donetsk and Tavriya areas,” the ministry said in a statement. Russia has “intensified fire and assault operations” in the Donetsk region and “continues to strike air and missile strikes on settlements.” The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims that Russia’s main efforts are focused on taking control of the cities of Popasana, Rubizhne and Mariupol. It also claims that the Russian military is “demoralized” and has “low motivation to take part in hostilities in Ukraine.” Russian forces are continuing to build up in the area of the Chernobyl power plant, the Shelter Facility, and the exclusion zone in general, according to the latest assessment. Some background: Yesterday, Moscow claim it would "drastically reduce military activity," but US officials are skeptical of Russia's claims, with the Pentagon cautioning that troop movement near Kyiv is "a repositioning," not a withdrawal. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said Wednesday that he supports sending the S-300 missile defense systems to Ukraine.   “Yes, I support this because this is the equipment that Ukraine needs the most," he told CNN's Becky Anderson, but added, “I don’t support speaking a lot about what we are giving them." Janša also said he spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who told him that his government is prepared to propose a referendum to Ukrainians to change the constitution to abandon Ukraine's wish to join NATO.  “I think they made some kind of pragmatic decision, because after they will win this war, I think that it will be NATO wanting them to join,” Janša said. “When they win this war, the Ukrainian army will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest army on the European continent." British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that it’s “not the objective of the UK government” to remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from power.    Speaking to the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, Johnson was asked by lawmakers if he agreed that the final outcome should not only be “Russians out of Ukraine but Putin out of the Kremlin?”  “It is absolutely clear, it is not the objective of the UK government [to remove Putin from power]. We are simply setting out to help, to protect the people of Ukraine, to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence. That is what we are doing,” the prime minister responded.  Johnson also said sanctions against Russia should be intensified until every Russian boot was out of Ukraine.  “I certainly don’t think you could expect the G7 to lift sanctions simply because there’s been a ceasefire in Ukraine. That again goes straight into Putin’s playbook. In my view, we should continue to intensify sanctions with a rolling program until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine,” he said.  Asked if this included Crimea, Johnson said, “As I said, every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine.”  Russia troops have attacked nine settlements, damaging at least eight civilian buildings, including houses and shops, according to the National Police of Ukraine.  Russians fired at the civilian population with “mortars, tanks, artillery, and small arms," and some have been wounded. The most heavily shelled cities and towns in the region over the past 24 hours have been Mariupol, Marinka, Krasnohorivka, Avdiivka, Vuhledar, Volnovakha, Zalizne, Ocheretyne (Oleksandrivska TG), and Novoselivka-3, according to police. The city of Pokrovsk also came under attack on Wednesday.  Information about destruction and the victims is still being clarified, police say. The Donetsk region is one of two breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories, the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing Wednesday the US force posture in Europe needs to change. Wolters, who oversees the US military presence on the European continent, said the US force posture needs to change not only in Eastern Europe but also in “air policing activity” and in “naval maritime groups.” “It’s gotta change, and certainly this is an opportunity as a result of this senseless act on behalf of Russia to re-examine the permanent military architecture that exists not only in Eastern Europe, but in our air policing activity in aviation and in our standing naval maritime groups,” Wolters said. Wolters also highlighted the eight battalion-sized battle groups the US and NATO are establishing in Eastern European NATO member countries. “We are in the process of establishing eight very coherent minimum battalion sized battle groups in Eastern Europe that have all of the appropriate enablers that are coupled in with all the air policing assets and all the standing naval maritime groups so that we can more comprehensively defend in the east and do so in the north all the way back to the Atlantic Ocean extending back into the Mediterranean,” Wolters said. NATO member nations will be a part of building up the force posture in Europe and are committed to changing the force posture from a “rotational” to a “more permanent” presence, Wolters said.  “They are going to be part of the equation, and they’re very willing to do so to change the presence from a rotational to a more permanent, and I think it will continue to grow, and we’re working very hard with the North Atlantic Council to do that,” Wolters said. In addition, he said the US has “two centers” with “approximately 100 individuals” that are working to get military assistance and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. “We at US EUCOM have two centers with approximately 100 individuals that continue to iterate in the military dimension with Ukrainian liaison officers that are working both the security assistance items in the military dimension and the humanitarian assistance items,” Wolters said. Wolters called the system an “iterative process” that is “based off supply and demand.” “It’s not perfect by any means, but it continues to improve over time, and we’ll continue to iterate, and we’ll make sure that we continue to connect with those interlocutors at the Ukrainian level to make sure they get the right gear as quickly as we possibly can,” Wolters said.  Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that a "planned regrouping of troops" was underway around Kyiv and Chernihiv, one day after Russian negotiators said Moscow's forces would take steps toward de-escalation around the two cities.  "At the first stage of the special military operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Donbas and Ukraine, it was planned to force the enemy to concentrate his forces, means, resources and military equipment to hold large settlements in these areas, including Kyiv," Konashenkov said in a statement. "To tie them up on the battlefield and without storming these cities, in order to avoid losses among the civilian population, inflict such a defeat on the armed formations of the Kyiv regime that would not allow it to use these forces in the main direction of operations of our armed forces - in the Donbas. All of these goals have been met." Ukrainian officials have reported Russian shelling over the past 24 hours around both cities. US officials have been skeptical of Russia's claims of de-escalation, and some observers have suggested Russia's shifting military objectives are meant to conceal setbacks on the battlefield. Konashenkov claimed that the "main tasks of the Russian armed forces in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions have been completed," adding Russian forces were regrouping in order to "intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas," in Ukraine's east. US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for about an hour, according to the White House. Zelensky tweeted after the call that they "shared assessment of the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid." In a statement, the White House said Biden told Zelensky the US “intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid” on the call. The budgetary aid is to help pay salaries, among other things, according to an official. “The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” the White House says, adding Biden also “reviewed the additional sanctions and humanitarian assistance announced last week.” The call was scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET (5:45 p.m. in Kyiv) “to discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.” It began at 11:08 a.m. ET and ended at 12:03 p.m. ET. The call comes a day after Biden and other US officials voiced extreme caution at signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions. "We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House Tuesday. Biden noted that in the meantime, the US will continue to "keep strong the sanctions" and "provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves." William Hubbard, a US father from Massachusetts, helped his daughter Aislinn, grandson and her boyfriend leave Ukraine to Slovakia in a trek across the wilderness.  The journey was arduous, she told CNN, and they had their two cats and multiple duffel bags with them. "It was an eight-hour hike. It was very difficult, up a very steep mountain. We had to find an area that was discreet, and we were lucky that we didn't encounter any military along the way. We were able to get out," Aislinn, 19, said speaking from Austria during an interview on CNN. The area they crossed was in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, and Aislinn slid down a muddy hill with her baby at one point. Her father was in Slovakia tracking their progress through his phone. "It was incredibly stressful, because I'm sitting there ... watching this little dot move. Then it would stop for a while. And I'm thinking to myself, 'what happened, did someone get hurt? Did soldiers get to them?' Because we had no communication. All I was doing was following a little dot on a map," he said. Because men 18-60 years old are barred from leaving the country, her boyfriend will not be able to return to Ukraine, she and her father said. They also had previous issues with documentation for the baby, because he was born at home during the pandemic and did not have a birth certificate. "This wouldn't have been necessary if the Ukrainians and the [US] State Department would have assisted us in getting the proper paperwork in a timely manner, but they gave us no other alternative but to take the bull by the horns and hatch a plan that would work for us," Hubbard said. The near-term plan right now, he said, is for Aislinn and her family to go to Prague and stay there to obtain the documentation needed. The Red Cross warehouse in central Mariupol was hit by at least two military strikes, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirm. On Wednesday, the Azov Battalion — a unit that began as an ultra-nationalist militia but has since integrated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces — claimed on their Telegram channel that the warehouse had been hit by Russian military strikes, posting an image of the larger complex as evidence.  CNN has obtained a satellite image from Maxar Technologies that confirms the allegation.  Citing additional imagery it captured, Maxar said the northern end of the warehouse was hit sometime between March 19-22. A second military strike, on the southern end of the building, occurred sometime between March 23-26. Sensory satellite data from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System also confirmed that a number of explosions were detected in the vicinity on March 20 and every day between March 22-25. International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Jason Straziuso told CNN that it is a Red Cross warehouse. “We do not have a team on the ground, so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or the extent of the damage," Straziuso said. "We can say that we had already distributed all aid supplies in the warehouse.” No Red Cross staff have been at the warehouse since March 15, according to Straziuso, and that the organization does not know how the building may have been used since. "Under international humanitarian law, objects used for humanitarian relief operations must be respected and protected at all times," Straziuso said. "But what we are most concerned by is the overall humanitarian situation in Mariupol and the relentless suffering inflicted on civilians living there. People are trapped with no safe way out of the city, and they are running out of the very basics needed for their survival." Straziuso said that intense fighting has prevented the Red Cross from bringing any humanitarian aid to the city. Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament commissioner for human rights, called for the “world community to condemn” the shelling of the building. “This is another war crime of the Russian army in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and a gross violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions,” she said.   There was no information on victims, Denisova added. CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defence for comment.    Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed concern about the delay of the bill to revoke the normal trade status of Russia and Belarus. "First of all, it doesn't have to be this way. If people just focus on the bottom line is that this is the key addition that our country needs to add economic firepower to the fight against Putin," he told CNN. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the panel, said to CNN: "I wish we had been able to move last week. But as you know, in the Senate, we have to get unanimous consent or spend a week or more on a filibuster battle. We've been working really hard to get it put together and we've been making some progress. And my hope is that we'll be able to move soon." More on the bill: The legislation would allow higher tariff rates on some imports from Russia and Belarus, where Russia launched some of its troops. Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden called for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and said the US would ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from the nation as part of an effort to ramp up economic pressure on Russia for invading Ukraine. The move requires approval from Congress. The House passed the bill on March 17 — one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an emotional appeal in a virtual address to Congress. Now the legislation must go to the Senate. To schedule a vote in the United States Senate, it requires consent of all 100 senators. If one objects, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can take time consuming procedural steps to overcome the objection assuming he gets 60 votes. But Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has objected to a quick vote as he's demanded changes to the bill's sanctions language, worried that it's too broad and could be abused by the US government. And Schumer has refused to eat up floor time to overcome the objection. So talks continue to try to reach a deal and a quick vote. CNN's Clare Foran and Kristin Wilson contributed reporting to this post.  Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion involves not just attacking Ukraine, but also “attacking principles at the core of transatlantic security.”  Austin called the war in Ukraine “Putin’s war of choice” during opening remarks at the Pentagon on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with German Minister of Defence Christine Lambrecht. “Putin’s war of choice has taken a terrible toll on civilian casualties and forced millions of innocent Ukrainians to flee their country,” he said.  Austin thanked Germany for working with the US to deploy forces “to and through Germany in recent months,” as part of the US’s increased security presence in Europe. He also said he applauds Germany’s decision to spend 2% of their “economic output on defense.” “Together, we send a clear message, and that message is any challenge to our security will meet a firm and united response. And our commitment to NATO’s collective defense is ironclad,” Austin said. Lambrecht said the relationship between the US and Germany is “good” and “permanent” in her opening remarks. “We met in very troubling times, and what is important for me is that the transatlantic relationship, especially the relationship between Germany and the United States, is meant to last and is sustainable, so we were able to show that we were able to unite NATO, that we were able to unite Europe against President Putin in the form of the sanctions that we decided on together, and especially through the support that we have shown our allies in the alliance,” Lambrecht said via a translator. The US believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being "misinformed" by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia's economy, a US official tells CNN. "We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth," a US official said. The official said the assessment is based on declassified US intelligence findings. The official added that the US has information indicating that Putin has become aware of the misinformation, leading to a rift between Putin and his top defense officials. “We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military. There is now persistent tension between Putin and the (Ministry of Defence), stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership," the US official said. The official said Putin did not know his military was "using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president." Roughly two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine — making up half of all refugees from the war — the United Nations Children's Fund said Wednesday. More than 1.1 million have arrived in Poland alone, with hundreds of thousands in nearby countries of Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. UNICEF warned of a heightened risk of exploitation and trafficking for children fleeing violence. In an effort to quell those risks, the UN agency is scaling up “Blue Dots,” which are one-stop safe spaces for traveling families.  More than 100 children have been killed in the conflict, UNICEF added, with more than 130 injured.  More than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced within Ukraine, according to UNICEF. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for more weapons and for Europe to close its sea ports to Russia in an address to the Norwegian parliament on Wednesday.   Zelensky asked for anti-ship missiles, Harpoon rockets, anti-air missile systems and anti-tank guns. “All weapons you can help us with will be used only to protect our freedom, your freedom,” he said.  Zelensky said Russia is blocking Ukraine’s sea ports, amounting to piracy.  “Russia should not be able to use the world ports freely. This is a matter of global maritime security,” he said. He warned the future of the “entire continent, from north to south, from east to west, is being decided right now” in Ukraine.   Russian forces fighting in Ukraine have used banned anti-personnel mines in the eastern Kharkiv region of the country, according to Human Rights Watch. The international organization said that the anti-personnel mines were located by Ukrainian explosive ordnance disposal technicians on March 28. “Russia is known to possess these newly deployed landmines, which can indiscriminately kill and maim people within an apparent 16-meter (52 feet) range,” HRW said, adding that Ukraine does not possess this type of landmine or its delivery system. “Countries around the world should forcefully condemn Russia’s use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine,” said Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch. “These weapons do not differentiate between combatants and civilians and leave a deadly legacy for years to come.” The 1997 international Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Russia is not among the 164 countries that have joined the treaty, said HRW. “Russia’s use of antipersonnel mines in Ukraine deliberately flouts the international norm against use of these horrid weapons,” Goose added. CNN cannot independently verify this information. CNN has asked the Russian Ministry of Defence for a response to the report. Following a meeting between the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers, China said the two countries' relations have “withstood the new test of changing international landscape.” “China is ready to work with Russia to take China-Russia relations to a higher level in the new era," China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Anhui Province. In a statement, Wang Yi also voiced support for Russia and Ukraine “in overcoming difficulties and continuing peace talks” as well as for “efforts made by Russia and other parties to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis." “In the long run, we should draw lessons from the Ukraine crisis, respond to the legitimate security concerns of all parties based on the principle of mutual respect and indivisibility of security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture through dialogue and negotiation,” Wang Yi added. More background: China is walking a tightrope as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. While officials have said the Chinese president was alarmed at what has taken place since Russia invaded, there is little to indicate China is prepared to cut off its support entirely. The Chinese Communist Party leadership is not all in agreement regarding how to respond to Russia's request for assistance, said a source. Two US officials said that China's desire to avoid economic consequences may limit its appetite to help Russia. "There is real concern by some that their involvement could hurt economic relationships with the West, on which China relies," said one of the sources. Officials are also monitoring whether China provides some economic and diplomatic relief for Russia in other forms, like abstention votes at the United Nations. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “effectively a war criminal,” and stressed that the UK “must do our bit economically, just as the Ukrainian armed forces are doing their bit militarily.” Cameron urged the US, Britain, European countries and others not to attend the upcoming G20 summit in November in Bali, Indonesia, if Putin is invited and able to attend. It is unthinkable for, you know, an American President to have to sit next to someone who is effectively a war criminal. Who is indiscriminately bombing and shelling civilians in their homes and schools and hospitals. It should be unthinkable,” he told CNN’s John Berman, Cameron said the UK must do “everything else we can” to help Ukraine aside from military action, including increasing pressure on Russia with sanction. “We’ve also got to recognize that while we can’t put our own troops in, and while we can’t operate a no-fly zone for fear of making this conflict go wider, we must do everything else we can,” Cameron said. Cameron also detailed two occasions during his time in office when he believed President Putin “flat-out lied.” He said that the international community should “judge [Russia] by their deeds. Do not believe their words.” “I remember one was him lying about the presence of Russian troops in the Donbas in 2014,” Cameron said. “Another occasion was about the fate of the Malaysian Airliner MH17 that was shot down over Ukraine.” Some background: Cameron's remarks come nearly two weeks after US President Joe Biden also called Putin a "war criminal." It was the harshest condemnation of Putin's actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began on February 24. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as "war crimes," citing ongoing international and US investigations. But on March 16, speaking with reporters at an unrelated event, Biden affixed the designation on the Russian leader, saying, "I think he is a war criminal." However, other Western leaders have been more reticent in their condemnation of Putin. At the beginning of March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia's actions in Ukraine qualify "as a war crime," but he didn't refer to Putin as a war criminal himself. CNN's Sam Fossum, Kevin Liptak, Gabby Gretener and Sarah Diab contributed reporting to this post. Ukraine says that Chernihiv has come under "colossal attack," while Russia says that there has been "no breakthrough" in negotiations being held in Istanbul. If you're just joining us, here's the latest on the war in Ukraine: Chernihiv attack: The mayor of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations, following what he describes as a "colossal attack." The city was “under fire” from Russian airstrikes while shelling continued through the night, according to Viacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv regional administration.  "No breakthrough": Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there were no breakthroughs following a round of Russia-Ukraine in-person negotiations in Istanbul but welcomed Ukraine’s written demands. Disabled children: About 80 disabled children, some accompanied by their guardians, have arrived in the border town of Przemyśl, Poland, after being transferred from the central Dnipropetrovsk region on Tuesday. A CNN team on the ground saw ambulances and crowds of paramedics waiting for the children at the train station earlier in the day. Belgorod explosions: Explosions in Russia's Belgorod region late Tuesday night may have occurred because of a fire at an ammunition depot, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Wednesday, citing preliminary information.  Refugees: More than 4 million people, or almost 10% of Ukraine’s pre-war population, have fled their home country since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, the UN says. Evacuation corridors: Ukraine and Russia have agreed on three evacuation corridors for the day, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister said Wednesday. Vereshchuk announced one corridor for the evacuation of Mariupol residents and delivery of humanitarian aid to Berdyansk, one route for humanitarian aid delivery to and evacuation from Melitopol, and another for a column of people in personal vehicles from Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia. Russian units return to Belarus: Some Russian units have returned to Belarus after suffering heavy battlefield losses in Ukraine, according to the UK. The units will need to reorganize and resupply in Belarus, in what the MoD said was an indication of the logistical difficulties Russia is having in Ukraine. Here's a look at the map of Ukraine as it stands amid the Russian invasion: From Moscow to the Siberian oil capital of Novosibirsk, and from the intellectual hub of St. Petersburg to the nuclear submarine base of Murmansk, Russians are searching for a way out in anticipation of a grim future in a country torn apart by isolation, censorship and belligerence. "On February 24, everything changed, our lives were divided into before and after," said Veronica, a 26-year-old digital marketer who lives in Moscow. She gave a pseudonym to protect her identity. She didn't want to make a rushed decision as she watched her friends and acquaintances abruptly packing their bags and breaking rental agreements, days after they learned that Russia had attacked Ukraine. Instead, she went to anti-war protests in the Russian capital. New legislation was passed in Russia in early March that can send people to prison for up to 15 years for posting or sharing information about the war that the authorities deem to be false. They made it illegal even to use the word "war," Veronica said. The last straw for her, however, was the reaction of the wider Russian population who she thinks largely "believe TV propaganda." "I was screaming that it was time for us to protest, to go to rallies, to write complaints to deputies -- instead, people went shopping on IKEA's last business day," Veronica said. "I don't want to live with people like that, they broke my heart." It doesn't matter where we go, we just want to escape," she told CNN. Read the full story: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there were no breakthroughs following a round of Russia-Ukraine in-person negotiations in Istanbul but welcomed Ukraine’s written demands. “It is positive that the Ukrainian side has at least begun to formulate concretely and put down on paper what it proposes,” Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call. “As for the rest, we cannot yet state anything promising, no breakthroughs. Lots of work ahead,” he added. Peskov went on to say that the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, is expected to give an update later on Wednesday about the results of the bilateral talks held in Istanbul Tuesday. Some background: Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday covered an array of important issues, including the future of the eastern Donbas region, the fate of Crimea, a broad alliance of security guarantors and a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. About 80 disabled children, some accompanied by their guardians, have arrived in the border town of Przemyśl, Poland, after being transferred from the central Dnipropetrovsk region on Tuesday. More than 100 people in total arrived in Przemyśl on Tuesday evening on the train, a spokesperson for the local Podkarpackie Voivode region, Michał Mielniczuk, told CNN on Wednesday. They were then transferred to a reception center in the city of Stalowa Wola, with 26 children taken via ambulance, Mielniczuk said. A CNN team on the ground witnessed a row of ambulances and crowds of paramedics waiting for the children at the train station earlier in the day. The children will stay for about three days in Stalowa Wola, where they will receive aid and support, before being taken to Germany, Mielniczuk added. Some background: The European Disability Forum, a pan-European NGO, estimates 2.7 million people in Ukraine have disabilities. According to Inclusion Europe, another NGO, around 261,000 people in Ukraine have learning difficulties that make them extremely vulnerable to the conflict. At least 100,000 of them, mostly children, live in care homes and institutions. Their chances of getting out of the country are slim. CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Yulia Kesaieva contributed reporting to this post. This post has been updated. ##On The Ground## Explosions in Russia's Belgorod region late Tuesday night may have occurred because of a fire at an ammunition depot, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Wednesday, citing preliminary information.  Blasts were reported late Tuesday near the village of Krasny Oktyabr, not far from the border with Ukraine. Gladkov said there were no casualties from the incident and that there was no damage to residential buildings.  "We are waiting for an official announcement from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation," Gladkov said on Telegram. ##On The Ground## The mayor of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv has dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations, following what he describes as a "colossal attack." His words came as it emerged that the city was “under fire” from Russian airstrikes while shelling continued through the night, according to Viacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv regional administration.  In an interview with New Day's John Berman, the city's mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko hit out at Russia's claim on Tuesday that it planned to "drastically reduce" its military assault on Chernihiv and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies," he told Berman. Watch the interview: Russia made the claim on Tuesday following talks it had with Ukrainian representatives in Turkey. The suggestion appeared appeared to show signs of progress towards an off ramp to the conflict. But according to Atroshenko, hostilities actually increased in Chernihiv since the claim was made. He said: "They're saying reducing intensity, they actually have increased the intensity of strikes. Today we have a colossal attack on the center of Chernihiv. Twenty-five people have been wounded and are now in hospitals. They're all civilians. So whenever Russia says something, this needs to be checked carefully." In an interview posted on Telegram on Wednesday, Chaus said the situation in the region had not changed despite claims by Russia. He said Russian troops had carried out strikes on the city of Nizhyn, destroying “civil infrastructure” as well as “libraries, shopping malls and many residential buildings,” while in Chernihiv there is “no electricity, no water, no heat and no gas.” Communications are down with “no possibility to restore them,” making it difficult to reach isolated villages, he added. There are villages where Russian tanks are stationed. We know that there are our people there and the situation is the worst there, because we are not able to get there and bring either medicine or food.” Ukrainian troops are prepared and are fighting back against Russian troops in the Chernihiv region, he added. More than 4 million people, or almost 10% of Ukraine’s pre-war population, have fled their home country since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said Wednesday. "I have just arrived in Ukraine. In Lviv I will discuss with the authorities, the UN and other partners ways to increase our support to people affected and displaced by this senseless war," Grandi tweeted on Wednesday. The refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine include at least 203,000 third-country nationals, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday. More than 2.3 million of the Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland, while hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries including Romania, Moldova and Hungary, according to data from the UN. Grandi has previously called the exodus of refugees from Ukraine "the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II." CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and Nadine Schmidt contributed reporting to this post. Ukrainian officials say there has been no reduction in hostilities overnight despite claims by Russia that it planned to reduce the number of troops and military operations around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv. If you're just joining us, here's the latest on the war in Ukraine: Evacuation corridors: Ukraine and Russia have agreed on three evacuation corridors for the day, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday. Vereshchuk announced one corridor for the evacuation of Mariupol residents and delivery of humanitarian aid to Berdyansk, one route for humanitarian aid delivery to and evacuation from Melitopol, and one for a column of people in personal vehicles from Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia. Sirens across Ukraine: The morning after Russian officials announced there would be a military de-escalation around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, a senior Ukrainian official said Wednesday there were "no areas without sirens" overnight in Ukraine. US travel advisories: The US State Department reissued its travel advisories for Ukraine and Russia on Tuesday to warn that "Russian government security officials may single out and detain US citizens" in both countries. The advisories for both countries warn US citizens against traveling to Ukraine and Russia and urge them to depart immediately. Russian units return to Belarus: Some Russian units have returned to Belarus after suffering heavy battlefield losses in Ukraine, according to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD) in an intelligence update Wednesday. The units will need to reorganize and resupply in Belarus, in what the MoD said was an indication of the logistical difficulties Russia is having in Ukraine. Russian and Chinese foreign ministers: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Wednesday in Tunxi, China, according to a photo released by Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the photo, the two are seen wearing masks and greeting each other by bumping elbows. UN nuclear watchdog visit: The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities. The agency said the talks will center on plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities and help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment." Germany has issued an "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages after Russia said it wanted to be paid in rubles and threatened to cut off supplies if its demand was not met. Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, German economy minister Robert Habeck said the warning stage was preventive in nature and would mean an increased monitoring of gas supplies.  Triggering the first of three crisis levels, Wednesday's announcement does not yet provide for government supply restrictions. Habeck called on companies and consumers to use gas sparingly. German gas storage is currently filled to 25% capacity, according to Habeck. There are currently no supply shortages," Economy Minister Robert Habeck said. "Nevertheless, we must take further precautionary measures to be prepared for any escalation by Russia." Fears of Russia ending its gas deliveries to Germany arose after Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that "unfriendly" countries start paying for natural gas with rubles rather than US dollars or euros, as agreed in their supply contracts. Germany, Russia's biggest energy customer in Europe, had dismissed Putin's directive as "blackmail." "A payment with rubles is not acceptable," German economy minister Robert Habeck said Monday, adding that "we will not be divided and the answer of the G7 states is unambiguous: the contracts will be met." Some background: Russia is central to the global energy system. It is the world's largest exporter of oil, making up about 8% of the global market. And it supplies Europe with 45% of its natural gas, 45% of its coal and 25% of its oil. In 2019, before Covid-19 depressed prices, revenues from oil and natural gas accounted for 40% of the country's federal budget. Oil and gas accounted for almost half of Russia's total goods exports in 2021. Ukraine and Russia agreed on three evacuation corridors for Wednesday, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced. Vereshchuk said one corridor for the evacuation of Mariupol residents and delivery of humanitarian aid to Berdyansk, one route for humanitarian aid delivery to and evacuation from Melitopol, and one for a column of people in personal vehicles from Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia. "The convoys of buses and trucks with humanitarian aid have already left Zaporizhzhia," she said in a video message on Wednesday. We demand that the occupying forces abide by their commitments and allow humanitarian columns through checkpoints," Vereshchuk added. Vereshchuk said the Russian delegation to talks on Tuesday between Russian and Ukrainian teams in Istanbul received proposals from the Ukrainian side to organize evacuation corridors for some of the regions most heavily affected by fighting, including Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson, Chernihiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Mykolaiv oblasts.  At least 14 people are now believed to have been killed and a further 33 injured following a Russian strike on the office of the regional military governor of Ukraine's southwestern Mykolaiv region on Tuesday. A “number of people” remain stuck under the rubble, Mykolaiv Mayor Alexander Sinkevich told CNN. Some background: Vereshchuk's announcement comes two days after the mayor of the besieged city of Mariupol said evacuation corridors had come largely under the control of Russian forces, after weeks of bombardment left the city in pieces, killed an unknown number of civilians, and forced hundreds of thousands of residents from their homes. "Not everything is in our power," said Mayor Vadym Boichenko, in a live television interview. "Unfortunately, we are in the hands of the occupiers today." Boichenko called for a complete evacuation of the remaining population of Mariupol, which was home to more than 400,000 people before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Ukrainian officials have alleged that Russian forces have prevented evacuation convoys from safely approaching or exiting the southern port city. CNN's Nathan Hodge and Julia Presniakova contributed reporting to this post. The morning after Russian officials announced there would be a military de-escalation around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, a senior Ukrainian official said Wednesday there were "no areas without sirens" overnight in Ukraine. "There was an air alarm throughout the country during the night," said Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister. "In fact, there were no areas without sirens. In the morning they were repeated. In particular, in Donbas — Kramatorsk, Bakhmut — the city ​​of Kyiv, Kyiv region, etc. There was shelling of Chernihiv. There was shelling in Khmelnytsky region. In Kyiv, several rockets were shot down over the capital." Denysenko described the situation in the besieged cities of Chernihiv and Mariupol as "difficult." Around the capital, there were reports of fighting near the western suburb of Irpin overnight, he said.  So there is no need to say so far that the Russians are reducing the intensity of hostilities in Kyiv and Chernihiv directions," he said. "We can say that, yes, indeed, certain units and equipment are moving to the territory of Belarus. But it seems to be more like rotation and licking of wounds than a real cessation of hostilities," he said. In Irpin, Ukrainian forces had discovered many mines and booby traps — including booby-trapped bodies — as they cleared the area, Denysenko said. That claim could not be immediately verified. "Therefore, a huge request to all who want to return to their homes, please wait," Denysenko said. "It will be officially announced when you can enter the city." The US State Department reissued its travel advisories for Ukraine and Russia on Tuesday to warn that "Russian government security officials may single out and detain US citizens" in both countries. “There are continued reports of US citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus,” the updated Ukraine travel advisory said. The advisories for both countries warn US citizens against traveling to Ukraine and Russia and urge them to depart immediately. Some background: Among Americans detained shortly before the invasion was basketball star Brittney Griner, who was said by US officials to be "in good condition" after being granted consular access, State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN’s Poppy Harlow last week. US Ambassador John Sullivan met with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 21 and “demanded that the government of Russia follow international law and basic human decency to allow consular access to all US citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention." Another American — Tyler Jacob, a native of Minnesota — was taken by Russian forces while trying to leave Ukraine and held for 10 days before being freed from detention in Russia on Friday, the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. He was teaching English in Ukraine when the invasion began, according to CNN affiliate WCCO. Some Russian units have returned to Belarus after suffering heavy battlefield losses in Ukraine, according to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD) in an intelligence update Wednesday. The units will need to reorganize and resupply in Belarus, in what the MoD said was an indication of the logistical difficulties Russia is having in Ukraine. “Russia will likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes,” the update reads. CNN has not independently confirmed the units' return to Belarus.   Some background: Russia's Defense Ministry said this week it will "drastically reduce military activity" on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv — following in-person talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul. Instead, Russia said it will now focus more of its offensive on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine’s far east. The UK said it believes this shift to be a “tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Wednesday in Tunxi, China, according to a photo released by Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the photo, the two are seen wearing masks and greeting each other by bumping elbows. As Russian artillery began raining down on his homeland last month, one Ukrainian computer researcher decided to fight back the best way he knew how — by sabotaging one of the most formidable ransomware gangs in Russia. Four days into Russia's invasion, the researcher began publishing the biggest ever leak of files and data from Conti, a syndicate of Russian and Eastern Europe cybercriminals wanted by the FBI for conducting attacks on hundreds of US organizations and causing millions of dollars in losses. The thousands of internal documents and communications include evidence that appears to suggest Conti operatives have contacts within the Russian government, including the FSB intelligence service. That supports a longstanding US allegation that Moscow has colluded with cybercriminals for strategic advantage. The Ukrainian behind the leak spoke exclusively to CNN and described his motivation for seeking revenge after Conti operatives published a statement in support of the Russian government immediately after the invasion. He also described his desperate efforts to track down loved ones in Ukraine in recent weeks. "I cannot shoot anything, but I can fight with a keyboard and mouse," he told CNN. To protect his identity, CNN agreed to refer to him by a pseudonym: Danylo. Read the full story here: Inna Sheremet remembers fondly walking her dog every day in the forests of Bucha, having lived in Ukraine her entire life. But on February 24, at 5 a.m., she heard the explosions. “I packed my things, took the dog and left,” Sheremet told CNN, escaping before her fifth-floor apartment was shelled and destroyed. The life she once led — visiting friends, grilling kebabs next to her house, cycling around the city — was gone. “My whole life before the war is destroyed,” Sheremet said. “All I have left is a small bag of clothes and a dog.” CNN spoke with those who have had their entire lives uprooted since the war began more than a month ago. Their stories of the scarred landscapes where their hometowns once stood show how much has already been lost. But also what they’re fighting to protect, as Ukrainian forces continue to defy the Russian advance. Here’s what they have to say. See their photos and read the full story here: Russia insisted for weeks when massing more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders that it had no plans to invade. Then it did. So it's not surprising that deep skepticism greeted its Tuesday announcement of a scaled-back offensive. The US — like everyone — is desperate for a de-escalation of Moscow's onslaught, for humanitarian reasons and because it could ease fears of a spill-over US war with Russia. But the experience of President Vladimir Putin's previous lies and propaganda, and of his brutality, clouded the first signs of progress between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Turkey. The treacherous path any ceasefire or peace deal would face, first to be implemented and then to become permanent, also tempered optimism in the West and Ukraine. In the Cold War, the famous US mantra after nuclear arms reduction deals with the Kremlin was "trust but verify." In this conflict, the approach is exactly the opposite — verify and distrust. The shift reflects the stark suspicion toward the Russian President following his two decades of anti-West leadership. It is also born of revulsion at vicious assaults on innocent civilians — in hospitals, apartment blocks and a theater used as a shelter — over the last month. Read the full analysis here: Russia said Tuesday it will reduce troop numbers and military operations around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and northern city of Chernihiv — but US and Ukrainian officials have expressed skepticism about Moscow's claims. If you're just joining us, here's the latest on the war in Ukraine: New images of destroyed cities: The full extent of the devastation in the city of Irpin is seen in new video taken by a Ukrainian NGO. It comes after Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the city in Kyiv's northwestern suburbs in the past 36 hours. Meanwhile satellite images show entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated — a level of destruction previously not seen in images of the besieged southern port city. Moscow's "pledge": Russia's Defense Ministry said it will "drastically reduce military activity" on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv — following in-person talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul. US officials are skeptical of Russia's claims, with the Pentagon cautioning that troop movement near Kyiv is "a repositioning," not a withdrawal. "I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are," US President Joe Biden said. Meanwhile, Ukraine's President said Moscow's claims about scaling back military activity in parts of the country "don't drown out the explosions of Russian bombs." UN nuclear watchdog visit: The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities. The agency said the talks will center on plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities and help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment." Global food crisis: Russia’s war has created a critical food shortage in Ukraine, with ripple effects of a “global food crisis” felt worldwide, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said. Russia has bombed at least three civilian ships carrying goods out of the Black Sea and the Russian Navy is blocking access to Ukraine’s ports, cutting off the country's ability to export grain, she said. On the ground: An official in the Izyum city council's office said the humanitarian situation in the eastern city "gets worse" every day and people have not received aid since March 14. Late Tuesday night, major artillery and rocket fire were heard in Kyiv, according to a CNN crew on the ground. Intense fighting continued around the suburbs of Kyiv Tuesday, especially in the northwest and northeast of the city. And at least 12 people were killed in a Russian strike on the regional military governor's office in Mykolaiv, emergency services said. Refugees: More than 10 million Ukrainians — including more than half the country's children — have fled their homes since the onset of the war last month, a UN representative said. Of those, 6.5 million are internally displaced and 3.9 million have crossed into neighboring countries. ##Catch Up## Entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated — a level of destruction previously not seen in the besieged Ukrainian city — new satellite images from Maxar Technologies show. With communications in and out of Mariupol non-existent, the images are the first visual update in the past few days that have not come from Russian propaganda. The images confirm what sensory satellite data from NASA has picked up: dozens of explosions have taken place in and around Mariupol. The area just east of the bombed drama theater — where authorities believe about 300 people died in a Russian attack — is in ruins. In one satellite image, the roofs are either missing or have been significantly damaged on nearly every building. In eastern Mariupol, another residential area has sustained similar destruction. Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed. Another sprawling apartment complex in southeastern Mariupol, near the Azovstal iron and steel works factory, has been destroyed. CNN has previously confirmed that Russian troops and Chechen fighters have been active near that apartment complex. The satellite images also show survivors of the carnage. Outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol, hundreds of people are seen gathered in lines, waiting to enter the building. Its roof has holes from military strikes.  Mariupol's mayor estimated that as many as 160,000 people remain in the city as of Monday.  Just northeast of the city, Russian military positions are seen, including vehicles parked directly next to homes. Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of those vehicles. Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities.  Here's what we know: Grossi posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of an official UN vehicle on Tuesday, saying he had "just crossed the border into Ukraine to start the IAEA's mission to ensure the safety and security of the country's nuclear facilities."  In a statement, the IAEA said Grossi is in Ukraine to "initiate prompt safety and security support to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities." Talks with senior government officials will center on the agency's plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance" and "help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment," the statement said.  Grossi's location in Ukraine has not been disclosed. Some context: Russian forces have occupied Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, since March 4, and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — site of the infamous 1986 accident — since Feb. 24.  Safety fears: There are concerns over the safety of the nuclear sites, reactors and staff at the facilities. Grossi said the conflict is "putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger."   Preventing a nuclear accident: Grossi warned "there have already been several close calls" at Ukraine's nuclear facilities since Russia's invasion began. He is set to visit one of the country's power plants during his trip. His visit comes after Ukraine "requested our assistance for safety and security," Grossi said. "We can’t afford to lose any more time," he said, adding that the IAEA's expertise is needed urgently to prevent any nuclear accident. Nuclear sites in Ukraine: The country has 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants, as well as the Chernobyl plant. The IAEA said eight reactors continue to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnitsky, and two at the South Ukraine facility. The other reactors remain closed for regular maintenance. The watchdog said it has drawn up "concrete and detailed plans for safety and security assistance." Several scares: On March 23, the Ukrainian government said Russian forces looted and destroyed a lab close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste. The government agency also reported that samples of radionuclides — unstable atoms that can emit high levels of radiation — had been removed from the lab. Staff working at Chernobyl on the day it was captured only recently had the chance to go home, three weeks after they were due to rotate with an incoming team. Workers had been confined to the plant for 10 days and were “exhausted, both mentally and emotionally, but mainly physically," the local mayor said. Earlier this month, the site was forced to use power from emergency diesel generators for several days, before being reconnected to the national electricity grid after repairs to damaged lines. Ukraine’s government also warned of several fires close to the plant, which it said had probably been triggered by Russian artillery or arson. ##Catch Up## The full extent of the devastation in the city of Irpin can be seen in new video taken by a Ukrainian NGO and provided to CNN. It comes after Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the city in Kyiv's northwestern suburbs in the past 36 hours. Some context: CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video taken by Ukrainian Witness Project, which is chronicling the war in Ukraine. This is one of the first videos in weeks from the eastern part of Irpin, as intense fighting there made it impossible to access safely. On Monday, Irpin's mayor said Ukainian troops has reclaimed the area from Russian forces. A wasteland: The video, filmed Tuesday, shows the wooded suburb akin to an apocalyptic wasteland. Wind passing through the remaining trees and the clanging of sheet metal against metal is the only thing that's heard in the video, save for the dull boom of a military strike in the distance. Ongoing shelling: Russia claims it will reduce military activity near Kyiv, but CNN has seen no sign that's happening yet as military strikes continued on Tuesday evening around the Ukrainian capital. The video shows that while the gunfire, the bombs and the war may have — for now — left Irpin, so has most of the life in the city. Bodies in streets: Aside from debris and destruction of buildings, the bodies of civilians are the only thing in the streets. An individual in a leather jacket, who had apparently been pulling a small cart when killed, is seen face down on the ground. Another casualty is shown on their back in the backseat of a bullet-ridden car. There are at least five bodies in the video. It is unclear how and when they died. The video shows they remain where they were struck dead in the street, in wind-filled silence, among the charred buildings and splintered trees. Watch: Graphic video shows extensive destruction in Irpin ##On The Ground## The top US general in Europe said Tuesday there "could be" a gap in US intelligence gathering that caused the US to overestimate Russia's capability and underestimate Ukraine's defensive abilities before Russia attacked Ukraine. When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month, US intelligence assessed that the country-wide assault could lead to Kyiv falling into Russian hands within days. But Russia's military has been bogged down around the capital as the war has entered its second month, beleaguered by sustainability and logistics problems, along with an unexpected stiff resistance from Ukrainian fighters. Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, US European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, if there was an intelligence gap that caused the US to overestimate Russia's strength and underestimate the Ukrainian defenses. "There could be," Wolters responded. "As we've always done in the past, when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments and find out where our weak areas were and make sure we can find ways to improve, and this could be one of those areas." While US intelligence was spot on in predicting Russia was planning to invade Ukraine — which the Biden administration aggressively released to turn global sentiment against the Kremlin — the intelligence community did not assess the poor performance of the Russian military. Read more: President Joe Biden and other American officials voiced extreme caution Tuesday at signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions. "We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House, where officials were busy digesting intelligence and reports from the ground that Russian troops were moving their focus away from Ukraine's capital toward other areas of the country. Biden's don't-trust-but-verify approach reflects deep American skepticism at Russian President Vladimir Putin's motives amid his monthlong invasion of Ukraine. While the US has observed movements of Russian forces away from Kyiv, there remains doubt the Russian assault on Ukraine will end soon. Read more: Russia said it would "drastically reduce" its military assault on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv after talks took place between representatives of the two nations on Tuesday that appeared to show signs of progress towards an off ramp to the conflict. The Russian Defense Ministry has decided to "radically, at times, reduce military activity" in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv, deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin said, state media RIA reported. The ministry's Telegram channel also said that Moscow would "drastically reduce military activity" in the cities. The announcement comes after Ukrainian and Western intelligence assessments suggested in recent days that Russia's advance on Kyiv was stalling. Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday covered an array of important issues, including the future of the eastern Donbas region, the fate of Crimea, a broad alliance of security guarantors and a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Fomin told reporters that the ongoing discussions regarding the "neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine" had contributed to the decision. More details on the steps to reduce hostilities will follow after the Russian delegation returns from Istanbul, Fomin said in remarks carried by Russian state news agency TASS. Despite the announcement, intense fighting continued around the suburbs of Kyiv on Tuesday afternoon, especially in the northwest and northeast of the city. Ukraine echoed the announcement regarding the reduction in military action, saying some Russian troops were pulling back from Kyiv and Chernihiv. Read more:

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