Canadians help Ukraine document war crimes

A refugee child waits in a line after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at the border cr ...

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is providing investigative support to efforts to document war crimes in Ukraine, and he said Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible.

“It is clear that Putin is systematically targeting civilians, whether it’s hospitals or train stations or maternity wards. This is one of the reasons why Canada was one of the first countries to call on the International Criminal Court to look into Putin’s war crimes,” Trudeau said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Canadian investigators, Trudeau said, “are building up the case for people to recognize that not only was this a terrible mistake to violate the sovereignty of another country and create massive global instability that’s impacting energy and food prices around the world, but it is also a series of war crimes that Putin is deliberately committing that he needs to be held to account for.”

Asked if the crimes amount to genocide, Trudeau said it remains to be determined.

“The stories of what Russian soldiers are doing, not just the murder of civilians, but the systematic use of sexual violence and rape, to destabilize and have the greatest negative impact on Ukrainian people as possible is absolutely unforgivable and unacceptable,” Trudeau said. “And that’s why the global community is going to and is responding so strongly.”

Sunday services held in war zone

It’s almost Easter in Ukraine, where faith, hope and charity are on display at a trio of churches on the far edges of the capital.

Sunday services were held in Bucha even as bodies were being removed from a mass grave in the churchyard. In Makarov, the faithful were moved to tears at the sight of crosses scattered in broken glass. And in Borodyanka, a church was untouched near where Russian attacks ripped open a high-rise. That’s where donations are bringing help to elderly people who stayed while others fled Russian occupation.

Ukrainian authorities said weeks ago that at least 59 spiritual sites were damaged. On the day when Pope Francis called for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make way for a negotiated peace, church visitors invoked God in recalling their survival.

“Each person who was leaving, from any place, Makarov, Bucha, Hostomel or from Andriivka, the neighboring village which was destroyed to the ground; each one, even those who did not know the Lord’s Prayer, he was speaking to God with his own words,” said Alona Parkhomenko in Makarov, where the church exterior was speckled with bullet holes and the priest warned of falling glass.

Russia names new Ukraine battle commander

Russia’s newly appointed battlefield commander in Ukraine made his reputation crushing resistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad during that country’s devastating civil war.

Russian forces led by Gen. Alexander Dvornikov destroyed whole cities while dropping barrel bombs that targeted civilians. With Moscow supporting Assad, the war in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people.

Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush, a Syrian army defector, said Sunday he expects a similar “scorched-earth” strategy under the commander in Ukraine. Speaking by telephone from Turkey, al-Bayoush said he believes the aim of naming Dvornikov as Ukraine war commander is to cause widespread destruction in many places at once.

“He has very good experience in this policy,” al-Bayoush said. “This commander is a war criminal.”

British PM praised for visit

The mayor of Kyiv and his brother said the visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to their capital shows who Ukraine’s real friends are at this critical time. But they understand if security concerns keep U.S. President Joe Biden from visiting for now.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir have been professional boxers and now outspoken defenders of Ukraine. Interviewed Sunday on ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” they said they expect Russia’s military to return and target Kyiv again. And when they do, they said they can’t defend Ukraine with their fists — they need weapons.

Wladimir Klitschko also pleaded for the world to isolate Russia economically, saying “every cent that Russia is getting, they’re using for weapons to kill us.”

Vitali Klitschko said everyone was shocked when the Russians who pushed on Kyiv retreated after killing hundreds of civilians during their occupation. He called it genocide to kill women, children, old people and teenagers for no reason.

To defend Ukraine now, the mayor said, is to defend democracy and peace in Europe.

White House: Biden to press India PM

The White House said President Joe Biden will press Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a hard line against Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the leaders plan a virtual meeting on Monday.

India’s neutral stance in the war has raised concerns in Washington and earned praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who lauded India this month for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.”

India abstained when the U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council over allegations of war crimes. India continues to purchase Russian energy despite Western pressure to avoid buying Russian oil and gas. And the U.S. has considered sanctions on India for its recent purchase of advanced Russian air defense systems.

Psaki’s statement says Biden will discuss how Russia’s war against Ukraine is destabilizing the global food supply and commodity markets, and the need to strengthen the global economy while “upholding a free, open, rules-based international order to bolster security, democracy, and prosperity.”

Austrian leader heads to Kremlin

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Nehammer told reporters in Vienna on Sunday that he plans to make the journey. It follows a trip on Saturday to Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

APA reported that Nehammer aims to encourage dialogue between Ukraine and Russia and also address “war crimes” in his meeting with Putin.

Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

Nehammer said he was taking the trip on his own initiative, and that he had consulted with the European Union’s top officials. He said that he also informed Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Chernobyl staff rotated

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Ukraine said the staff at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant has been rotated for the first time in three weeks after Russian troops left the area.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern about the well-being of the workers since the Russian military took control of the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the beginning of the war.

The agency said Ukraine informed it on Sunday that it has now rotated the staff, but the situation remains far from normal. They had to be transported to and from the site by water, with the Pripyat River being the only way for people living in the city of Slavutych to currently reach the plant.

The IAEA said Ukraine has informed it that analytical laboratories for radiation monitoring at the site were destroyed, with analytical instruments “stolen, broken or otherwise disabled.” The automated transmission of radiation monitoring data has been disabled.

Missile attacks reported

The governor of the region that includes Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, says the airport was hit twice by missile attacks on Sunday. The Ukrainian military command said Russian forces also keep shelling Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and have kept up their siege of Mariupol, the key southern port city that has been under attack for nearly six weeks.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it’s air-launched missiles hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in two locations, while sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed a Ukrainian unit’s headquarters in the Dnipro region. Neither side’s military claims could be independently verified.

The Pentagon said Russia has a clear advantage in armored forces for its next phase in its war on Ukraine. Press secretary John Kirby said Friday that the Russians spread themselves too thin to take the capital, but now they’re more focused on a smaller region, and still have the vast majority of their combat power. A major effort by Ukrainian defenses and more Western assistance will be needed to push them back.

2.5K men detained trying to leave Ukraine

Ukraine’s border guard agency says that about 2,200 Ukrainian men of fighting age have been detained so far while trying to leave the country in violation of martial law.

The agency said Sunday that some of them have used forged documents and others tried to bribe border guards to get out of the country.

It said some have been found dead while trying to cross the Carpathian mountains in adverse weather, without specifying the number.

Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 are barred from leaving the country so that they can be called up to fight.

Pope calls for Easter truce

Pope Francis has opened Holy Week with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear. He has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians.

Finland returns artworks to Russia

Finland says that a shipment of art works from Russian museums has been returned to Russia after it was seized under European Union sanctions against Moscow.

Finland’s customs service said late Saturday that the Foreign Ministry granted a special permit to return the consignment with a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million). It said that trucks carrying the art works from the Hermitage Museum and the Pavlovsk State Museum in St. Petersburg, among others, left Finnish territory on Saturday afternoon.

The shipment was seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing at the beginning of April. The works were en route to Russia after loan to museums in Europe and Japan. Experts say that art works loaned from Russia typically travel overland via Finland.

Russia has demanded the return of all works on loan to “unfriendly” nations that imposed sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

4.5M refugees from Ukraine

The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people who have left Ukraine since the beginning of the war has reached 4.5 million.

A regular update Sunday of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ online portal on numbers of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Feb. 24 brought the total to some 4.504 million.

About 2.6 million of those fled at least initially to Poland and more than 686,000 to Romania. However, UNHCR notes that there are very few border controls within the European Union and it believes “a large number of people” have moved on from the first country they arrived in.