UPDATED:Ukraine asks IAEA to close sky above nuclear sites, Russian forces trying blockade Mariupol

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LVIV, Ukraine, March 3 (Reuters) – Ukraine asked the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to seek NATO help with closing the air over Ukrainian nuclear sitest to prevent act of “nuclear terrorism” by Russia, Kyiv’s energy ministry said on Thursday.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors and Russia has already seized the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant during its week-long invasion of its neighbour. 

“We insist on taking urgent decisive actions,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement.

  • Russian forces are trying to create a blockade around the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, attacking rail links to prevent civilians evacuating, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said in video broadcast on Thursday.

Constant attacks over the past 24 hours have cut off water and power supply and the local authorities need a ceasefire to restore power, he said.

“The invaders are systematically and methodically trying to blockade the city of Mariupol,” he said.

  •  Talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations will begin in Belarus at about 1400 GMT and Kyiv plans to discuss setting up humanitarian corridors before moving on to other issues, Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia said on Facebook.
  •  Russian forces have occupied the regional administration building in Ukraine’s port city of Kherson, regional governor Hennadiy Laguta said in an online post on Thursday.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had captured Kherson on Wednesday but Ukraine has said its forces continue to defend the Black Sea port of about 250,000 people

  •  Ukraine’s defence lines were holding against the Russian attack, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his latest video on Thursday, adding there had been no respite in Moscow’s shelling of Ukraine since midnight.

“We have nothing to lose but our own freedom,” Zelenskiy said, adding Ukraine was receiving daily arms supplies from its international allies.

He said it had been two years since Ukraine recorded its first COVID-19 case: “It’s been a week now that another virus attacked,” he said of Russia’s invasion.

Zelenskiy said Russia’s changing tactics and shelling of civilians in cities proved Ukraine was successful in resisting Moscow’s initial plan of claiming a quick victory through a land assault.

He told Russia to study the word “reparations” as Kyiv would demand Moscow makes up for all it has destroyed in its invasion.

He also said Ukraine was paying out pensions and offering handouts to those unable to work because of the war. He said 16,000 foreigners volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

In an emotional speech, Zelenskiy said Ukrainians had lived through two world wars, the Holodomor famine, Holocaust, Soviet terror, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in the east.

“We don’t have the biggest territory … we don’t have nuclear arms, we don’t provide oil and gas to international markets. But we do have our people. We do have our land. This is what we are fighting for.”

Zelenskiy, in a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said: “Go save your own Russian speakers. Not all over the world – but in your own home. There are many of them there, some 150 million. As for here — Glory to Ukraine!”

  • Pro-Russian forces may launch targeted strikes on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol unless Ukrainian forces there surrender, the Interfax news agency quoted Donetsk separatist commander Eduard Basurin as saying on Thursday.

Russia and separatists say they have encircled the city of 430,000 located on the Azov Sea coast.

Russian shelling and attacks on civilian populations killed 34 civilians in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region in the past 24 hours between March 2-3, the emergency services said on Thursday.

  • Separately, the governor of the Ukraine-controlled eastern Donetsk region said the port city of Mariupol, one of the first targets of the Russian invasion, was without electricity or water supplies.
  • Meanwhile,  Germany is considering supplying 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine as it seeks to defend itself against an invasion by Russia, a government source said on Thursday.

German news agency DPA reported earlier that the economy ministry had approved supplying the Soviet-made Strela missiles, part of the inventories of the former German Democratic Republic’s army.

A source told Reuters that the Federal Security Council had yet to approve the move. “The missiles are ready to be transported,” the source said.

That would come on top of 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles that Germany said on Saturday it would supply to Ukraine, in a shift of policy after Russia invaded its neighbour.

  • Russia’s advance on the Ukrainian capital has made little progress over the past three days and the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands, according to British military intelligence.

“The main body of the large Russian column advancing on Kyiv remains over 30km from the centre of the city having been delayed by staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion,” Britain’s defence ministry said in an intelligence update.

“The column has made little discernible progress in over three days,” it said. “Despite heavy Russian shelling, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands. Some Russian forces have entered the city of Kherson but the military situation remains unclear.”

“The Russian defence ministry has been forced to admit that 498 Russian soldiers have already been killed and 1,597 wounded in Putin’s war. The actual number of those killed and wounded will almost certainly be considerably higher and will continue to rise.”

Photo – A handout still image taken from handout video made available by the Russian Defence ministry press-service shows the Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark attack helicopter readyfor battles in Ukraine on the field, Russia. EPA-EFE/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE

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