Live: France to expel 35 Russian diplomats after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine

By Rémy Rugira 

France on Monday said it would expel 35 Russian diplomats as part of a joint European action after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.” France decided this evening to expel a number of Russian personnel with diplomatic status stationed in France whose activities are against our security interests,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. Read our live blog for all the latest developments.

10:40pm: Russia says it will present ’empirical evidence’ that it has not committed war crimes in Ukraine

Russia will present “empirical evidence” to the United Nations Security Council that its forces have not been killing civilians in Ukraine and were not involved in events in Bucha, Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s envoy to the UN said on Monday.

We have empirical evidence to support this,” Nebenzya said at a press conference. “We intend to submit them to the Security Council as soon as possible so that the international community is not misled by the false plot of Kyiv and its Western sponsors.”

10:32pm: Civilians in east Ukraine urged to evacuate under threat of large-scale attacks

Russian troops are preparing for a big attack in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine, the local governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram Monday, urging a mass evacuation.

“We see that equipment is coming from different directions, they are bringing manpower, they are bringing fuel,” Gaiday said in a video statement.

“We understand that they are preparing for a full-scale big breakthrough,” he added.

Gaiday urged residents to leave the region as soon as possible.

“Please don’t wait for your homes to be bombed,” he said in a separate video.

“Do not hesitate,” he added, specifying that 1,000 people had been evacuated on Monday.

A senior Pentagon official said Russia has removed about two-thirds of the troops it had around Kyiv — who were mostly sent back to Belarus with plans to redeploy elsewhere in Ukraine.

09:27pm: Kyiv mayor says residents who fled should not return yet

The mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko on Monday called on the residents of the Ukrainian capital who fled the conflict in the city not to return for “at least another week“.

“First, there is a round-the-clock curfew in several districts of Kyiv region. Also in the cities near the capital, where the fighting continued, a large number of explosive devices were found – which can pose a great threat,” he said.

“We do not rule out the possibility of rocket fire. Yes, our air defence forces are working perfectly. But, anything can happen. So I ask people to wait a bit and not to come back,” he added.

Ukraine and Western powers have cast doubt on Russia’s pledge to reduce military activity around Chernigiv and the capital Kyiv, made during face-to-face talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s military has also warned the withdrawal of Russian troops around Kyiv and Chernigiv “is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead”.

09:27pm: Russian likely to deploy thousands of soldiers in east Ukraine, says US intelligence

Russia is ramping up its campaign against eastern Ukraine, with probable plans to “deploy tens of thousands of soldiers” to that region, the White House said on Monday, as it works will allies to unload fresh sanctions against Moscow.

Speaking to reporters, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan also said that images emerging from Bucha, a town recently recaptured by Ukrainian troops as Russian forces regroup, were tragic and shocking.

09:23pm: Ten civilians killed, 46 wounded in Mykolaiv says mayor

Ten civilians were killed and 46 wounded in the Russian bombardment of the Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv, mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said in a video statement Monday.

A strike by the Russian army at 0400 GMT left “one dead and five wounded, including two seriously,” he said. 

That was followed by another in which “nine people were killed and 41 others wounded,” he said, adding the number of casualties could still rise.

On Sunday, eight people were killed in bombardments on Mykolaiv and Ochakiv, about 60 kilometres (about 40 miles) southwest, according to prosecutors.

On the road to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, Mykolaiv was heavily shelled by the Russian army when it tried unsuccessfully to seize it early in its invasion. 

Ochakiv, a port town on the Black Sea with some 15,000 residents, was one of the first targets of the Russian invasion which began on February 24.

08:51pm: Bodies of five men found in a basement in Bucha, prosecutor says

The bodies of five men tortured and killed by Russian troops were found in the basement of a children’s health facility, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office said on Monday.

“In the basement of one of the children’s sanatoriums, police found the bodies of five men with their hands tied,” a statement on Telegram said.

The “unarmed civilians” were “beaten” before being “killed” by “soldiers of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” it said. 

Photos showing the bodies accompanied the statement. 

An investigation into the circumstances of their deaths has been opened, prosecutor Iryna Venediktova’s office added. 

08:16pm ICRC convoy still blocked in eastern town, says Ukraine deputy prime minister 

An evacuation convoy escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross is still blocked in the eastern town of Manhush, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Monday.

Earlier an ICRC spokesperson said one of its teams had been stopped during an attempt to reach the besieged city of Mariupol, which is encircled by Russian troops, and was being held.

08:06pm: France says to expel 35 Russian diplomats

France on Monday said it would expel 35 Russian diplomats as part of a joint European action after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“France decided this evening to expel a number of Russian personnel with diplomatic status stationed in France whose activities are against our security interests,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

A ministry source, who asked not to be named, said 35 Russian diplomats would be expelled.

“This action is part of a European approach,” the foreign ministry statement added. “Our first responsibility is always to ensure the safety of French people and Europeans,” it said.

Germany on Monday expelled a “significant number” of Russian diplomats in what Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called a response to the “unbelievable brutality” the Kremlin had unleashed in Ukraine. 

Berlin’s move, AFP has learned, involves 40 Russians. Lithuania on Monday said it was expelling Russia’s ambassador over Russian aggression in Ukraine.

There has been outrage across Europe over killings in the town of Bucha near the capital where dozens of bodies were found in mass graves or littering the streets near Kyiv over the weekend. 

The Kremlin has rejected Western accusations that Russian forces were responsible. 

07:48pm: Russia backs self-proclaimed pro-Kremlin mayor in Ukraine’s Mariupol, says city council

Russia has backed a self-proclaimed mayor of Ukraine’s southeastern port city of Mariupol who is collaborating with Russian forces, the city council said on Monday in an online post.

Mariupol has been encircled by Russian forces, who have taken control of some of the city, but as of Monday Russia had not succeeded in taking full control, according to the Ukrainian defence ministry.

07:19pm: Germany is expelling 40 Russian diplomats in response to the killings in Bucha

Germany is expelling 40 Russian diplomats in response to the killings in Bucha and says further measures with partners are being prepared.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Monday the images received from the Ukrainian town following the withdrawal of Russian troops “shows an intent to destroy that goes beyond all boundaries.”

Baerbock said the Bucha images also reveal the “unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”

The German top diplomat said “we must fear similar images from many other places occupied by Russian troops in Ukraine” and that “we must counter this inhumanity with the strength of our freedom and our humanity.” 

She added “it must also be clear that we must stand up for our freedom and be prepared to defend it.”

05:59pm: Merkel defends 2008 decision to block Ukraine from NATO

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday defended her 2008 decision to block Ukraine from immediately joining NATO, rejecting President Volodymyr Zelensky’s criticism as Russia’s invasion clouds her 16-year legacy.

Zelensky in a night-late address had described as a “miscalculation” a Franco-German-led decision at the NATO summit in Bucharest to not admit his country to the alliance despite a push from the United States.

“I invite Ms Merkel and Mr (Nicolas) Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years,” he said, referring to the alleged atrocities against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops that world powers have described as “war crimes”.

The Ukrainian president also accused the European leaders of seeking to appease Russia with their stance then.

But Merkel in a short statement issued by her spokeswoman said she “stands by her decisions in relation to the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest”. 

05:25pm: 410 bodies recovered in Bucha, Ukraine 

Some 410 bodies have been recovered in Bucha, Ukraine, following accusations of rape, torture and killing carried out by Russian soldiers previously occupying the town. Some 280 of the bodies were buried in mass graves.

“You can see for yourself these were civilians,” a local resident who was helping to collect bodies told FRANCE 24. “This one was carrying potatoes. Snipers shot them all in the head.”

Efforts to recover the bodies are ongoing.

04:52pm: US President Biden calls for Russian ‘war crimes trial’

President Joe Biden on Monday called for a war crimes trial over the alleged atrocities against civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, and said he wants more sanctions imposed on Russia.

Calling President Vladimir Putin “a war criminal” and the killings “a war crime,” Biden told reporters there should be “a war crimes trial.”

Biden also said “I’m seeking more sanctions, yes.”

04:43pm: UK says Russia cannot remain a member of UN Human Rights Council

Russia cannot remain a member of the UN Human Rights Council given “strong evidence” of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss has said.

Earlier on Monday the United States said it planned to seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council following apparent evidence of mass executions by Russian troops in Bucha, Ukraine.

“The images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us to now match our words with action,” US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a tweet.

04:43pm: Ukrainian city of Mariupol 90 percent destroyed says mayor

The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in the south-east of the country has been “90 percent” destroyed after being besieged by Russian forces, its mayor Vadym Boichenko said Monday.

“The sad news is that 90 percent of the infrastructure in the city is destroyed and 40 percent is unrecoverable,” Boichenko told a press conference. Around 130,000 people remained trapped in the city, he said.

04:33pm: EU offers support for Ukraine war crime investigation

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday said the EU was ready to send a team of investigators to gather evidence of possible war crimes after the discovery of killed civilians near Kiev.

“The EU is ready to reinforce this effort by sending investigation teams on the ground to support the Ukrainian Prosecution Services. Eurojust and Europol are ready to assist,” she said, referring to EU law enforcement organisations.

03:40pm: Human Rights Watch confirms Russian involvement in civilian rapes and killings

Human Rights Watch has confirmed multiple cases of extrajudicial killing in Ukraine carried out by Russian forces, with at least one occurring in the town of Bucha.

Cases of rape have also been confirmed. “We can confirm that they occurred and that there was direct involvement from Russian troops,” Philippe Dam, Human Rights Watch advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, told FRANCE 24.

Human Rights Watch’s investigations into claims of mass killings in Bucha are ongoing. “What we’re seeing emerging is really putting a really dramatic image to patterns of abuses that we’ve already documented,” Dam added.

03:11pm: President Zelensky visits Bucha

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday visited the town of Bucha outside the capital Kyiv where dozens of corpses, some with their hands bound, were discovered after Russian forces withdrew.

Every day, when our fighters enter and retake territory, you see what’s been happening,” the Ukrainian leader told reporters in the town devastated by fighting, wearing a bullet-proof vest and accompanied by military personnel.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Austria Olexander Scherba posted an image of the President visiting Bucha on Monday, April 4, 2022.

01:32pm: Russia imposes visa restrictions on citizens of ‘unfriendly countries’

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday to introduce visa restrictions for citizens of countries that Moscow deems “unfriendly” in response to sanctions over Ukraine.

The decree, which comes into force on Monday, suspends Russia’s simplified visa issuance regime with some European Union countries as well as Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Iceland.

01:24pm: Red Cross says cannot reach Mariupol due to security conditions

A team of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been able to reach the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday to evacuate civilians, a spokesperson said, citing security conditions.

“Due to security conditions, our team has not been able to reach Mariupol today,” spokesperson Jason Straziuso said in emailed comments to Reuters. Previous attempts by the Red Cross to reach the city over recent days and weeks have not succeeded.

01:21pm: Residents from bombed-out Kharkiv brace for further attacks

At least seven people were killed and 34, including three children, were wounded in a Russian rocket attack on Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv late Sunday, according to the regional prosecutor’s office.

“People are worried that the war could intensify,” said FRANCE 24 senior reporter Catherine Norris Trent, reporting from the ground. She spoke to locals who fear their city could become “another Mariupol”.

01:16pm: Britain keen to send new types of military aid to Ukraine says PM’s spokesman

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keen to send new types of military aid to help Ukraine, Johnson’s spokesman said on Monday, adding that Kyiv had asked for help in defending against Russian ships.

“Certainly the prime minister is keen to look beyond what we have already provided,” the spokesman said, declining to provide specifics.

“We are aware of the requests from the Ukrainians for equipment to defend themselves from ships and we are looking into what we can do.”

01:15pm: US pushes to suspend Russia from Human Rights Council

The United States will ask the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday, after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing dozens of civilians in the town of Bucha.

Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the Geneva-based council.

A two-third majority vote by the 193-member assembly in New York can suspend a state from the council for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights during its membership.

12:59pm: UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by Bucha killings, evokes possible war crimes

The UN human rights chief said Monday she was “horrified” by images of dead bodies in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, after Russian soldiers retreated, warning of possible war crimes.

“I am horrified by the images of civilians lying dead on the streets and in improvised graves in the town of Bucha in Ukraine,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

“Reports emerging from this and other areas raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law,” she said.

12:15pm: Kremlin denies Bucha killings, accuses Ukraine of ‘video falsification’

The Kremlin said on Monday it categorically denied any accusations related to the murder of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and said Ukrainian allegations on the matter should be treated with doubt.

Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday they were investigating possible crimes by Russian forces after finding hundreds of bodies strewn around towns outside the capital Kyiv after the Russian withdrawal from the area.

“From what we have seen, our experts have identified signs of video falsification and other fakes,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Peskov said that the facts and chronology of the events in Bucha did not support Ukraine’s version of events.

Russia’s diplomats would press on with their efforts to convene a UN Security Council meeting to discuss what Moscow has called “Ukrainian provocations” in Bucha despite their first effort to arrange such a meeting being blocked, Peskov said.

11:27am: International leaders condemn Russian actions in ‘potential war crime scene’ Bucha

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has joined a growing chorus of international criticism blaming the Russian armed forces for alleged atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine.

For FRANCE 24’s international affairs commentator, “vast swathes” of the country are “potential war crime scenes”. “This is not something that’s just happened overnight,” he said, “this is an ongoing and grisly pattern that we’ve been seeing.”

11:25am: Russian shelling kills eight in south Ukraine, says Kyiv

Eight people were killed and 34 wounded in Russian attacks on two towns in southern Ukraine on Sunday, prosecutors in Kyiv said.

“The Russian armed forces attacked the cities of Ochakiv and Mykolaiv. Shelling damaged residents’ homes, vehicles and civilian infrastructure,” the Ukrainian prosecutor general said in a statement on Monday.

“As a result of enemy shelling, seven residents of Ochakiv were killed and another 20 were injured. In the city of Mykolaiv one person died and 14 people were wounded, among them a child,” it added.

The prosecutor’s statement comes as French President Emmanuel Macron called for new sanctions against Moscow after claims its forces committed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv.

11:16am: Russia to again ask UN security council to discuss Bucha ‘criminal provocations by Ukrainian servicemen’

Russia on Monday will reiterate its request for the UN Security Council to convene a meeting over what it called the “criminal provocations by Ukrainian servicemen and radicals” in the town of Bucha, a foreign ministry official said.

The UN Security Council will hold a previously scheduled discussion on Ukraine on Tuesday and will not meet on Monday as requested by Russia, said Britain’s mission to the United Nations, which holds the presidency of the 15-member council for April.

10:46am: EU urgently discussing new Russia sanctions after Ukraine ‘atrocities’

The EU said Monday it is urgently discussing a new round of sanctions on Russia as it condemned “atrocities” reported in Ukrainian towns that have been occupied by Moscow’s troops.

The European Union “will advance, as a matter of urgency, work on further sanctions against Russia”, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the bloc.

09:49am: Russia orders probe of Ukrainian ‘provocation’ over civilian deaths in Bucha

Russia’s chief investigator on Monday ordered an official examination of what he called a Ukrainian “provocation” after Kyiv accused the Russian military of massacring civilians in the town of Bucha.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee, ordered that a probe be opened on the basis that Ukraine had spread “deliberately false information” about Russian armed forces in Bucha, the committee said in a statement.

08:44am: Macron says wants fresh sanctions against Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that more sanctions on Russia were needed after Ukraine accused Russian forces of the killings of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

Macron told France Inter radio that there were “very clear clues” indicating that Russian forces were responsible for war crimes in Ukraine.

08:31am: ‘The explosions continue’ in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine

The regional governor in Kharkiv said that Russian artillery and tanks launched over 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the country’s northeast over the past day. “Some places don’t have enough supplies of medicine or food,” says FRANCE 24 senior reporter Catherine Norris Trent, reporting live from the ground in Kharkiv this morning. 

07:40am: Russia says footage in Ukraine’s Bucha was ‘ordered’ to blame Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry said that footage of dead civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha had been “ordered” by the United States as part of a plot to blame Russia.

“Who are the masters of provocation? Of course the United States and NATO,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in an interview on state television late on Sunday.

Zakharova said the immediate Western outcry over the images of dead civilians indicated the story had been part of a plan to sully Russia’s reputation.

“In this case, it seems to me that the fact that these statements (about Russia) were made in the first minutes after these materials appeared leaves no doubt as to who ‘ordered’ this story.”

7:00am: UK says Russian forces continue to refocus their offensive into the Donbas region

Russian forces continue to consolidate and reorganise as they refocus their offensive into the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine, British military intelligence said on Monday.

Russian troops, including mercenaries from the Russian state-linked Wagner private military company, are being moved into the area, the ministry of defence tweeted in a regular bulletin.

The report could not be immediately verified.

4:20am: Russia seeks Monday UN Security Council meet on Bucha, Ukraine

Moscow has called for a special UN Security Council meeting Monday to address claims that Russian forces committed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv.

“In the light of heinous provocation of Ukrainian radicals in #Bucha Russia requested a meeting of UN #SecurityCouncil on Monday April 4,” Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on Twitter.

Ukraine and Western leaders have erupted in outrage over the discovery of mass graves and hundreds of dead people in Bucha, a small town northwest of Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly blamed Moscow for the “killings” of civilians.

Russia denied the accusations and said Kyiv staged footage of the corpses.

A senior Washington official swiftly slammed Moscow’s UN move and said it was designed to “feign outrage.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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