Live updates l UK says Russian cyber soldiers target leaders

LONDON – Russian “cyber soldiers” have launched a new offensive against foreign leaders, targeting social media platforms with a large-scale disinformation campaign that seeks to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine, according to research funded by the UK

Paid operatives working from a factory in St. Petersburg use the Telegram messaging app to recruit and coordinate supporters who then flood the social media accounts of the Kremlin critics with comments supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, the UK Foreign Office said Sunday.

The so-called troll factory has developed new techniques to avoid detection by social media platforms, posting comments and amplifying pro-Kremlin content created by legitimate users rather than creating its own content, the Foreign Office said. Traces of its activity have been found on eight social media platforms, including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

The operation has targeted politicians and a wider audience in a number of countries, including the UK, South Africa and India, the Foreign Office said. It is believed to have links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by both the US and Britain for financing the Kremlin’s online influence operations.

“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in the statement. “The UK government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.”

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

– Ukrainian forces fight Russia’s grinding advance in the eastern Donbas region

– Wives of Mariupol defendants appeal for soldiers’ evacuation from final holdout

– Some Ukrainians go back across the front line toward homes, despite dangers

– Ukrainian women learn how to clear land mines at course in Kosovo

– Angelina Jolie makes surprise Ukraine visit, meets children

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LVIV, Ukraine – Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show damage to oil depots just across the Ukrainian border in Russia after suspected Ukrainian attacks.

The photos from Saturday show damage at two sites in Bryansk. The blasts damaged multiple tanks, leaving the surrounding grounds charred.

The explosions happened on Monday. One hit an oil depot owned by Transneft-Druzhba, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled company Transneft that operates the western-bound Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline carrying crude oil to Europe.

The second facility is a short distance from the other.

Bryansk is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the border with Ukraine.

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KYIV, Ukraine – US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has met with Ukraine’s president.

Footage released early Sunday by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office showed Pelosi in Kyiv with a Congressional delegation. Those with Pelosi included Reps. Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.

Zelenskyy told the delegation: “You are all welcome.”

Pelosi later said: “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom. We are a frontier of freedom and your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done. ”

The visit was not previously announced.

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KYIV, Ukraine – Some women and children were evacuated from a steel plant that is the last defensive stronghold in the bombed-out ruins of the port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian official and Russian state news organization said.

But hundreds are believed to remain trapped with little food, water or medicine.

The United Nations was working to broker an evacuation of up to 1,000 civilians living beneath the sprawling Soviet-era Azovstal plant after numerous previous attempts failed.

Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, the only part of Mariupol not occupied by Russian forces, but Russia put the number at about 2,000. An estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the city.

UN humanitarian spokesperson Saviano Abreu said the world organization was negotiating with the authorities in Moscow and Kyiv, but they could not provide details of the ongoing evacuation effort “because of the complexity and fluidity of the operation.”

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LVIV, Ukraine – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says American diplomats are making plans to return to Ukraine as soon as possible.

Blinken made the comment while speaking to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. An overnight statement Sunday said Blinken told Kuleba that America “plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.”

They got diplomats had been making “initial visits” to Lviv to prepare.

The US evacuated its embassy in Kyiv in February just before Russia launched its war on the country. The US had been bringing diplomats across the Polish border each day to work in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, before stopping the practice.

Lviv has largely been spared in conflict, although a missile strike several days ago targeted a railroad facility near the city.

The US is one of Ukraine’s main backers in the war, providing billions in aid and weaponry.

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LVIV, Ukraine – The British military says the Russian ruble will be used as currency in a Ukrainian city that Moscow seized earlier in the war.

The British military wrote that the city of Kherson will begin a four-month transition from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the ruble starting Sunday. The British Ministry of Defense said the move is “indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term.”

It added: “Enduring control over Kherson and its transport links will increase Russia’s ability to sustain its advance to the north and west and improve the security of Russia’s control over Crimea.”

Kherson is some 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Russia seized the city just across the Crimean Peninsula in early March.

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KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy switched into Russian in his nightly video address to urge Russian soldiers not to fight in Ukraine, saying even their generals expected that thousands of them would die.

They said Russia has been recruiting new troops “with little motivation and little combat experience” for the units that were gutted during the early weeks of the war so these units can be thrown back into battle.

They got Russian commanders fully understand that thousands of them will die and thousands more will be wounded in the coming weeks.

“The Russian commanders are lying to their soldiers when they tell them they can expect to be held seriously responsible for refusing to fight and then also don’t tell them, for example, that the Russian army is preparing additional refrigerator trucks for storing the bodies . They don’t tell them about the new losses the generals expect, ”Zelenskyy said late Saturday.

“Every Russian soldier can still save his own life. It’s better for you to survive in Russia than to perish on our land, ”they said.

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STOCKHOLM – Sweden says a Russian military plane has violated Swedish airspace.

The incident occurred late Friday in the Baltic Sea near the island of Bornholm.

In a statement Saturday, the Swedish Armed Forces said a Russian AN-30 propeller plane flew toward Swedish airspace and briefly entered it before leaving the area.

The Swedish Air Force scrambled fighter jets which photographed the Russian plane.

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish public radio that the violation was “unacceptable” and “unprofessional.”

In a similar incident in early March, four Russian warplanes violated Swedish airspace over the Baltic Sea.

Sweden and neighboring Finland are both considering NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has warned that such a move would have consequences, without giving specifics.

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LONDON – Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the progress of the UN effort to evacuate people from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol and “offered the UK’s continued economic and humanitarian support” during a talk Saturday with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskky.

“The prime minister reiterated that he is more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine and ensuring (Russian President Vladimir) Putin fails, noting how hard the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom,” Johnson’s Downing Street office said.

“They confirmed that the UK will continue to provide additional military aid to give the Ukrainians the equipment they needed to defend themselves,” the statement said.

The United Nations has been attempting to broker an evacuation in the port city where some 100,000 civilians remain. Up to 1,000 civilians are living beneath a Soviet-era steel plant in Mariupol, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine has not said how many fighters are also in the plant, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000.

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A Russian rocket attack destroyed an airport runway in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a key Black Sea port, the Ukrainian army said Saturday.

In a Telegram post, Ukraine’s Operational Command South said there was no way that the Odessa runway could be used as a result of the rocket attack.

Local authorities urged residents of the area to shelter in place as Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, citing army sources, reported that “several” explosions had been heard in Odessa.

Odessa’s regional governor, Maksym Marchenko, said the rocket was fired from Russian-occupied Crimea. They said there were no reports of any injuries.

Russian forces have embarked on a major military operation to seize significant parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, the country’s industrial heartland, and capture the country’s Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov coasts.

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KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s national grid operator says it has restored a “reliable” power supply in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, around the site of the 1986 nuclear reactor disaster.

“In the afternoon, the last necessary 330 kV power transmission line was put into operation,” the state-owned Ukrenergo wrote in a Telegram post Saturday.

According to the same post, Ukrenergo also restored another 330 kV line in the northern Kyiv region, helping to stabilize the energy supply in the capital. It got the reconstruction of further transmission lines in and around Kyiv remains underway.

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