The latest details about Russia’s attack on Ukraine:

Russian invasion still slowed, airspace over Ukraine still contested, Pentagon says

6:33 p.m. EST March 6

Though Russia has now committed about 95% of the combat power it amassed along Ukraine’s borders, the Pentagon has seen “limited changes on the ground” while the airspace remains contested, a senior U.S. defense official said Sunday evening.

After 11 days of war, “Russian forces continued efforts to advance and isolate Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv across the north and east are being met with strong Ukrainian resistance,” the official said, in an email to reporters.

“There does not appear to be any significant movement along the Russian axes,” the official said. “Leading elements remain outside these city centers. We cannot give specific distances today.”

The long convoy of Russian troops and vehicles headed south to Kyiv “continues to be stalled,” the official said, offering details on the condition of anonymity.

“We assess that the Russians have now committed inside Ukraine somewhere near 95% of the combat power they had amassed along the border.

Fighting continues in the south, near the cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv, the official said.

“We cannot independently verify reporting of Russian forces firing on protesters in Kherson,” said the official, who added that the Pentagon has not observed an amphibious landing in or near Odessa either.

“Nor do we assess one is imminent,” the official said.

“We’ve observed continued ongoing fighting and efforts to encircle Mariupol,” the official said. “There continue to be reports of wide-spread utility outages (water and electricity).”

Earlier in the day, Ukraine claimed Russia violated a second ceasefire agreement. The official could not independently verify those claims.

“We continue to observe that the airspace over Ukraine is contested,” said the official. “Ukrainian air and missile defenses remain effective and in use. The Ukrainian military continues to fly aircraft and to employ air defense assets.”

The official could not independently verify Ukrainian claims of Russian aviation losses.

“We are aware of the Ukrainian military’s release of videos and numbers of Russian aircraft shot down,” the official said. “We cannot independently verify those incidents, but neither are we in a position to refute them. Both sides have taken losses to both aircraft and missile defense inventories. We are not going to speak to numbers. We assess that both sides still possess a majority of their air defense systems and capabilities.”

As of today, the Pentagon said that approximately 600 Russian missile launches have occurred since the invasion began, the official said.

“Again, these are of all different types of missiles,” the official said. “We believe the Ukrainian people in most parts of the country still have means of communication, access to internet and the media.

The official added a list of reports that could not be verified or corroborated, including:

*reports of the use of cluster munitions or thermobaric weapons.

*reports that the Russians are calling up reserves.

*reports of Russian naval infantry loading on LSTs.

*reports of Ukrainian claims that they shot down one enemy Su-25 fighter jet, two Su-34 fighter-bombers, two Su-30 SM planes, and four helicopters today.

*reports that Russia dropped 1,000 pound bombs near Chernihiv.

US gives ‘green light’ for NATO allies to send military planes to Ukraine, Blinken says

1:25 p.m. EST March 6

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said the United States would approve of NATO allies sending fighter jets to Ukraine.

“That gets the green light,” said Blinken on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians,” Blinken said.

Blinken said the countries are in close contact about the proposal for the U.S. to provide fighter jets to Poland if Poland sends jets to Ukraine, confirming a Wall Street Journal report released earlier Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, Poland’s prime minister’s office tweeted Poland would not send fighter jets to Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked U.S. lawmakers to help provide more warplanes for his military.

-Jessica Edwards, Military Times

Russian forces tightening grip on Zaporizhzya nuclear plant, IAEA says

12:30 p.m. EST March 6

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Russian forces are tightening their grip on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, Ukraine’s largest, that they seized last week.

The director general of the agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said Sunday Ukrainian staff members are now required to seek approval for any operation, even maintenance, from the Russians, and that they have impeded normal communications by switching off some mobile networks and internet at the site.

Ukraine’s regulatory authority said that phone lines, as well as e-mails and fax, are no longer working. Grossi said he is “extremely concerned about these developments,” adding that for the plant to operate safely, “staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions, without undue external interference or pressure.”

-The Associated Press

Evacuation effort in Mariupol halted for second day

9:55 a.m. EST March 6

Plans to evacuate civilians from a besieged port city in Ukraine collapsed Sunday for the second time along with an expected Russian cease-fire, Ukrainian officials said as they tried to persuade Russia to agree on terms for safely getting residents out of areas under fire near Ukraine’s capital.

Residents expected to leave the port city of Mariupol during a 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. local ceasefire, Ukrainian military authorities said earlier in the day. Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said the planned evacuations were halted because of an ongoing assault by Russian troops.

“There can be no ‘green corridors’ because only the sick brain of the Russians decides when to start shooting and at whom,” Gerashchenko said on Telegram.

The news dashed hopes of progress in easing, much less ending, the war in Ukraine, which is now in its 11 day and has caused 1.5 million people to flee the country. The head of the U.N. refugee agency on Sunday called the exodus “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The presidents of Turkey and France, as well as Pope Francis, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate to end the conflict.

Separately, Ukraine’s national security service said Russian forces fired rockets at a physics institute in the city of Kharkiv that contains nuclear material and a reactor. Russian troops already took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine, as well as Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The security service said a strike on the nuclear facility in Kharkiv could lead to “large-scale ecological disaster.” The service said on Facebook Sunday that the Russians were firing from Grad launchers. Those missiles do not have precise targeting, raising concern that one would go astray.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy reiterated a request for foreign protectors to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which NATO so far has ruled out because of concerns such an action would draw the West into the war.

“The world is strong enough to close our skies,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday.

Putin warned Saturday that Moscow would consider a third-party declaration to close Ukrainian airspace to be a hostile act.

The disappointment for women, children and older adults who waited to leave Mariupol and the nearby city of Volnovakha while able Ukrainian men stayed behind to fight came after a similar cease-fire deal collapsed Saturday and foreign leaders sought to bring diplomacy to bear on ending the war.

Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be halted only “only if Kyiv ceases hostilities and fulfills the well-known demands of Russia,” according to the Kremlin’s readout of the phone call the two leaders held on Sunday.

Putin earlier listed “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and recognition of the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states as the Kremlin’s main demands.

“Hope was expressed that during the planned next round of negotiations, the representatives of Ukraine would show a more constructive approach, fully taking into account the emerging realities.” The third round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators is scheduled for Monday.

In a highly unusual move, Pope Francis said Sunday that he had dispatched two cardinals to Ukraine, saying the Vatican was will to do everything it could to bring peace to end a conflict that began on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“In Ukraine, rivers of blood and tears are flowing,” the pontiff said in his traditional Sunday blessing. “This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery.’’

Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said Sunday that Ukrainian officials and international humanitarian organizations were working with Russia through intermediaries to establish humanitarian corridors from Bucha and Hostomel, which are Kyiv suburbs where there has been heavy fighting.

After the cease-fire in Mariupol failed to hold Saturday, Russian forces intensified their shelling of the city and dropped massive bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.

In Mariupol, bereft mothers mourned slain children, wounded soldiers were fitted with tourniquets and doctors worked by the light of their cellphones as bleakness and desperation pervaded.

-Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press

Blinken says US considering a “backfill” of Polish combat jet stock

7:50 a.m. EST March 6

The U.S. government is considering sending fighter jets to Poland, should that country decide to provide Ukraine with Soviet-era combat jets, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland choose to supply those planes,” Blinken said in Moldova, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The statement came after a desperate plea by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for more aircraft — especially those his pilots can fly — and a no-fly zone as his nation faces an increasingly devastating Russian onslaught. Blinken made his comments during a stop through Europe to reassure allies there about U.S. support in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Blinken, according to the Wall Street Journal, said the U.S. is working with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials to get an “up-to-the-minute assessment of their needs.”

Poland’s prime minister’s office, however, on Sunday dismissed reports that an arrangement was in the works to provide Ukraine combat aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow to use its airports,” the chancellery of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted, calling one synopsis of that report “Fake News.”

Poland flies MiG-29 combat jets that were produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, along with U.S. Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets, as well as other aircraft types, according to published reports.

NBC reported that the deal would involve Poland donating its old Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine, and then selling Poland U.S.-made F-16 jets to replace the Soviet-era fighters.

“We are working with the Poles on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO allies,” a White House spokesperson told NBC. “We are also working on the capabilities we could provide to backfill Poland if it decided to transfer planes to Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” to U.S. senators on Saturday to send more planes to help the country fight the Russian invasion.

Zelenskyy made the request on a call joined by more than 300 people, including senators, some House lawmakers and aides.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine.”

“I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer,” Schumer said.

Schumer told Zelenskyy the U.S. lawmakers are inspired by him and by the strength and courage of the Ukrainian people, according to another person on the call who was granted anonymity to discuss it.

Zelenskyy’s focus “was on control of Ukrainian airspace, asking either for a [no-fly zone] or sending Ukraine Russian-made airframes and drones so that they can protect themselves,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat and former acting assistant Defense Secretary and CIA analyst, said in a Tweet Saturday morning,

The U.S. Congress also is working on a $10 billion package of military and humanitarian aide, and Schumer told Zelenskyy that lawmakers hope to send it quickly to Ukraine, the person said.

Zelenskyy told senators he needs planes and drones more than other security tools, according to a senior Senate aide granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

-Howard Altman, Military Times, Associated Press reporter Lisa Mascaro in Washington

Russians shell Ukraine cities as safe passage again promised in south

7:30 a.m. EST March 6

On Day 11 of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russian troops shelled encircled cities and a pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol.

The number of Ukrainians forced from their country increased to 1.5 million and the Kremlin’s rhetoric grew, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that Ukrainian statehood is in jeopardy. He likened the West’s sanctions on Russia to “declaring war.”

Here’s a look at key things to know about the conflict Sunday:

Promise of safe passage from two cities — again

A pro-Russian official said safe-passage corridors would open again for residents of Mariupol on Sunday, a day after a promised cease-fire in the besieged port city collapsed.

Ukrainian officials confirmed that evacuations from the city would take place starting from 12 p.m. local time.

Ukrainian officials said Russian artillery fire and airstrikes had prevented residents from leaving before the agreed-to evacuations got underway Saturday. Putin accused Ukraine of sabotaging the effort.

Russia has sought to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Avrov in the south. Capturing Mariupol could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the military in separatist-held Donetsk territory, said safe passage corridors for residents would also be opened for residents of Volnovakha.

What else is happening on the ground?

Russian forces launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks across the country, including dropping powerful bombs on residential areas of Chernihiv, a city north of the capital of Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said. But a mileslong Russian armored column threatening the capital was still stalled outside Kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were holding key cities in the central and southeastern part of the country, while the Russians were trying to block and keep encircled Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.

Ukrainian forces were also defending Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port city, from Russian ships, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.

Russian troops took control of the southern port city of Kherson last week. Ukrainian forces have managed to keep control of key cities in central and southeastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy pushes for a no-fly zone

Zelenskyy pushed his call for foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Establishing a no-fly zone would risk escalating the conflict by involving foreign militaries directly. Although the United States and many Western countries have backed Ukraine with weapons shipments, they have sent no troops.

Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday that “the world is strong enough to close our skies.”

NATO countries have ruled out policing a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorized aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Putin said Saturday that Moscow would consider any third-party declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine as “participation in the armed conflict.”

Directly witnessed by The Associated Press

Onlookers in Chernihiv cheered as they watched a Russian military plane fall from the sky and crash, according to video released by the Ukrainian government. In Kherson, hundreds of protesters waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted, “Go home.”

In Mariupol, Associate Press journalists witnessed doctors make unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of wounded children, pharmacies ran bare and hundreds of thousands of people faced food and water shortages in freezing weather.

In Irpin, near Kyiv, a sea of people on foot and even in wheelbarrows trudged over the remains of a destroyed bridge to cross a river and leave the city. Assisted by Ukrainian soldiers, they lugged pets, infants, purses and flimsy bags stuffed with minimal possessions. Some of the weak and elderly were carried along the path in blankets and carts.

Kyiv’s central train station remained crowded with people desperate to leave, and frequent shelling could be heard from the center of the capital city.

Diplomatic efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Moldova pledging America’s support to the small Western-leaning former Soviet republic. The country is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and keeping an eye on Russia’s intensifying war with its neighbor.

A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place Monday, according to Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no additional details.

Previous meetings were held in Belarus and led to the failed cease-fire agreement to create humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians from besieged cities.

Putin continued to blame the war on the Ukrainian leadership and slammed their resistance to the invasion. He said if they continued to resist, “They are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.” His comments came as Zelenskyy made a “desperate plea” on Saturday to the U.S. Congress for more planes as Russian forces continued to batter strategic locations.

Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister returned Sunday from a trip to Russia where he met Putin and discussed the war.

Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, where he met the Russian leader for three hours. Bennett spoke to Zelenskyy after his meeting with Putin.

Bennett’s trip was the latest attempt at diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Israel is one of the few countries that has good working relations with both Russia and Ukraine.

The humanitarian situation

The death toll of the conflict has been difficult to measure. The U.N. human rights office said at least 351 civilians have been confirmed killed since the Feb. 24 invasion, but the true number is probably much higher.

The U.N. World Food Program says millions of people inside Ukraine, a major global wheat supplier, will need food aid “immediately.”

Ukrainian refugees continued to pour into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania and Moldova. The number of people who have left since fighting began has now reached 1.5 million, according to U.N. refugee agency..

Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.

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