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Russia steps up Ukraine offensive as Biden increases economic pressure on Putin



Ukraine’s state emergency service said there were at least three airstrikes in the Novokodatskyi district of Dnipro early Friday morning, hitting around a kindergarten school, an apartment building and a two-story shoe factory. At least one person was killed, it said.

NBC News has not verified the number of people killed, and Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.

Local authorities said Russian strikes also targeted airports in Ivano-Frankiivsk and Lutsk, marking a further expansion of the conflict to the west. In video shared on Telegram Friday, Yurii Pohuliaiko, head of the Lutsk regional council said two military members had died after strikes hit a military airport in his city.

As Russia makes limited progress and takes on growing losses, the Kremlin moved to bolster its forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin greenlit a plan to bring thousands of fighters from the Middle East to join Russian troops.

Speaking at a security council meeting, Putin said he believed those who want to fight alongside Russian forces should be allowed to, Reuters reported. His defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said there were as many as 16,000 volunteers ready to join the fight.

Humanitarian crisis grows

Russia appeared to be intensifying its attacks on major cities in Ukraine even as it faced growing global condemnation and fueled a growing humanitarian crisis.

Moscow was accused of war crimes in the wake of the deadly airstrike on a hospital in Mariupol, where officials warned a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding amid failed attempts to get residents out and aid into the southern port city.

The city of around 400,000 people has been cut off from access to heat, electricity and water for at least a week during freezing temperatures. It has held out even as fears grow for the fate of its residents.

Moscow said Friday that Russian-backed separatists had captured nearby Volnovakha, a small city in the Donetsk region that has also been encircled and bombarded. NBC News has not confirmed this development and Ukrainian officials have not commented.

On Thursday, high-level talks in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia’s foreign ministers appeared to make little progress.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he left the meeting with the impression that Russia expected his country to surrender. “But this is not what they are going to get,” he said. His Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, claimed that Russia “did not attack Ukraine,” and suggested that the invasion came after complaints from Moscow over threats to Russia had fallen upon deaf ears.

The absence of any diplomatic breakthrough left little prospect of an end to the conflict or the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

The number of refugees who have fled the country reached 2.5 million Friday, according to the United Nations refugee agency. More than 1.5 million people have sought refuge in Poland, while hundreds of thousands more have fled to other neighboring countries.

Nearly 2 million more have been displaced within Ukraine, leaving their homes and often their families behind to escape the fighting.

Biden, allies ramp up pressure on Russia

With Russia showing no signs of stepping back from its military offensive, Biden’s announcement was expected to increase the economic pressure on Moscow.

The president was reportedly set to announce plans to revoke “most favored nation” trade status for Russia over the invasion, The Associated Press and Reuters reported.

The move was expected to be announced as part of a concerted effort by the U.S., European Union and the Group of Seven Countries, they reporter. NBC News has not independently confirmed the news.

The move would come amid growing bipartisan pressure for Washington to revoke “permanent normal trade relations” with Russia, with Zelenskyy also calling on the U.S. to further sanction and isolate Moscow.

It would also come just days after the Biden administration moved to ban imports of Russian oil and gas as the West adds to an ever-growing list of sanctions targeting Russia’s most powerful and wealthy.

Harris, meanwhile, was heading to Romania after meeting with officials in Poland.

On Thursday, the vice president announced that the U.S. had delivered two Patriot missile defense systems to Poland “as a reminder and as a demonstration of our commitment to the security of our allies.”

She also announced that the U.S. would be giving $50 million in humanitarian assistance to help the country aid the more than 1.4 million refugees who have fled across the border from Ukraine in search of refuge.

Harris said she supported a war crimes investigation into Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but stopped short of branding Moscow’s “atrocities” war crimes herself.

Reuters contributed.



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