Russia-Ukraine live updates: Pope Francis to consecrate Russia, Ukraine

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(NEW YORK) — Russian forces are continuing their attempted push through Ukraine from multiple directions, while Ukrainians, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are putting up “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The attack began Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation.”

Russian forces moving from neighboring Belarus toward Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, have advanced closer to the city center in recent days despite the resistance. Heavy shelling and missile attacks, many on civilian buildings, continue in Kyiv, as well as major cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. Russia also bombed western cities for the first time last week, targeting Lviv and a military base near the Poland border.

Russia has been met by sanctions from the United States, Canada and countries throughout Europe, targeting the Russian economy as well as Putin himself.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Mar 25, 12:50 pm
Biden says he’s in Poland to see humanitarian crisis firsthand

President Joe Biden, flanked by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Samantha Powers of the U.S. Agency for International Development, spoke at a briefing on humanitarian efforts Friday, again calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.”

“The single-most important thing that we can do on the outset, is keep the democracies united in our opposition, and our effort to curtail the devastation that is occurring at the hands of a man, who quite frankly, I think is a war criminal. And I think we’ll meet the legal definition of that, as well,” Biden said.

Biden said he’s in Poland to see the “humanitarian crisis” “firsthand,” but said he’s disappointed he “can’t see it firsthand like I have in other places.”

“They will not let me … cross the border and take a look at what’s going on in Ukraine,” Biden said. “But, you know, I’m eager to hear from you, the humanitarian community, about what you see, what you’re doing, and where you think we go from here.”

Since the invasion began on Feb. 24, over 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine, with more than 2.2 million of those refugees going to Poland, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Whether it’s food, or a blanket, or cash, or the care for medical teams that we send in, or child welfare specialists, they need it now. They need it as rapidly as we can get it there,” Biden said.

Mar 25, 12:12 pm
Biden tells troops ‘what’s at stake’ is beyond Ukraine

President Joe Biden spoke to members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Jasionka, Poland, Friday, telling them, “What you’re doing is consequential — really consequential.”

“What’s at stake” is beyond Ukraine, Biden said.

“What are your kids and grandkids gonna look like in terms of their freedom?” Biden said. “The last 10 years there have been fewer democracies that have been formed than we’ve lost in the world.”

“What you’re engaged in is much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

Biden commended the troops, saying “the rest of the world looks to us, because, you know, we not only lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. And your generation combines both. The rest of the world looks at you and sees who you are. They see you are a multiethnic group of Americans that are in fact together and united in one resolve, to defend your country, and to help those who need help.”

Mar 25, 11:12 am
Biden thanks troops in Poland

In Jasionka, Poland, on Friday, President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited American troops, thanking them for working alongside Polish allies.

Biden and Austin first greeted members of the 82nd Airborne Division in a makeshift barbershop.

Biden and Austin then stopped by a mess hall and ended up staying for a slice of pizza.

Biden also shared a story about searching for his son, Beau, in a mess hall in Baghdad, only to find him using his mother’s maiden name — Hunter — on his fatigues.

“I said, ‘Beau, what the hell’s going on?’ His name was Beau Biden, and he was a colonel, I mean, a major, excuse me,” Biden said.

“And I said, ‘What happened?’ And he said, ‘Dad, with the name Biden, everybody thinks something’s going on. So I’m Hunter.’ That was his mother’s maiden name,” Biden said.

Mar 25, 10:29 am
Ukrainian troops have retaken towns, UK intelligence says

Ukrainian troops have been able to retake towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) east of Kyiv due to counter-attacks and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Friday in an intelligence update on the situation.

Ukrainian troops are likely to continue to attempt to push Russian forces back along the northwestern axis from the Ukrainian capital toward Antonov Airport in Hostomel, a suburb of Kyiv, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

In southern Ukraine, Russian forces are still attempting to circumvent the densely populated city of Mykolaiv as they look to drive west toward Odesa, with their progress being slowed by logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said.

Mar 25, 10:25 am
Biden arrives in Poland

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived at Poland’s Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport Friday afternoon, where he will get a firsthand look at the international efforts to help some of the millions of people fleeing Ukraine.

Biden was greeted on the tarmac by four U.S. commanding generals. While in Rzeszow on Friday, Biden will receive a briefing on the humanitarian situation and meet with humanitarian aid groups as well as service members of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

He will later travel to Warsaw, where he will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda as well as refugees from Ukraine on Saturday.

Mar 25, 10:07 am
US says Russian attacks have capacity to put NATO at risk

U.S. President Joe Biden’s support of NATO battle groups on the eastern flank stems from the belief that Russia’s attacks in Ukraine have the capacity to put the alliance’s territories at risk, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“We do believe Russian aggression in Ukraine shows a willingness by the Russians to disregard international borders and to disregard the basic rules of the road of the international community that have been built in sustained over the course of seven decades,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

“It is important in this moment to send a clear message to Russia that the United States and NATO will defend every inch of NATO territory and to deter any thinking that Putin might have about further Russian aggression into NATO,” he said.

Sullivan noted that Belarus’ willingness to station Russian troops on its soil, in particular, has a “significant impact particularly on our NATO allies in the Baltics and Poland.”

Sullivan said Biden has made clear that any diplomatic agreement reached is one that Ukraine will have to determine for itself, meaning Washington is not going to push or pressure Kyiv into any outcome.

Currently, Washington’s priority is to ensure Ukraine has the capabilities to defend itself as Russian forces continue pushing forward, Sullivan told reporters.

Mar 25, 10:02 am
Pope Francis to consecrate Russia, Ukraine

Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Friday, inviting people around the world to join him in the prayer.

“This Act of Consecration is meant to be a gesture of the universal Church, which in this dramatic moment lifts up to God, through His Mother and ours, the cry of pain of all those who suffer and implore an end to the violence, and to entrust the future of our human family to the Queen of Peace,” Francis said in a statement.

He also called for an end to the violence.

Consecration is an act of surrender in which the pope recognizes both Russians and Ukrainians as children of god, and entrusts them to Mary’s care, Father Alexandre Mello, the secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, told Crux.

Mello also said consecration aims to build bridges as the prayer’s goal is to have a healing effect and remind Russians and Ukrainians of their shared roots and identities as children of the same God.

The ceremony is tied to the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, in which many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to three children, asking that the pope consecrate Russia to her immaculate heart.

The Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary will be prayed during the Lenten penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which begins at 5 p.m. local time. The pope will start the prayer at around 6:30 p.m. local time and has asked all Catholic Bishops and priests to join him spiritually.

U.S. bishops, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, announced they will be holding consecration ceremonies on Friday.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said he will join in the prayer from his converted monastery in Vatican City, where he has lived since he resigned.

Mar 25, 9:27 am
Biden to meet with Polish president, refugees from Ukraine in Warsaw

U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda as well as refugees from Ukraine in Warsaw on Saturday, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Poland on Friday, Sullivan noted that Biden will also deliver a “major address” before departing Saturday.

“He will give a major address tomorrow that will speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression,” Sullivan said. “He’ll also talk about the context and history of this conflict and where he sees it going from here.”

Upon arrival in Rzeszow, Poland, on Friday, Biden will meet with humanitarian aid groups as well as service members of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, according to Sullivan.

“He will be able to talk through with a range of different humanitarian leaders and experts, both from the region and from the international community as well as the US government experts who are playing a key role in this, on how the efforts are going so far and what further steps need to be taken to make sure that we’re investing those dollars as wisely as possible,” Sullivan said. “He will also have the chance to visit with troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, who have been deployed to Poland to reassure our NATO ally and to deter further aggression on the eastern flank. And he will also get a briefing from the commanders of those units who will have the chance to lay out for him the various tasks and missions that the American troops stationed at the airfield here have been undertaking and continue to undertake.”

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Mar 25, 8:03 am
Ukrainian rescuers work to remove unexploded devices from homes

Video has emerged showing Ukrainian rescuers working to remove unexploded devices from civilian homes amid the Russian invasion.

The video, released Friday by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and verified by ABC News, shows pyrotechnic units in the northern city of Chernihiv using special equipment to carefully search for and remove unexploded shells, missiles and mines that landed in houses.

The State Emergency Service of Ukraine said it was called in to seize ammunition 18 times over the past day. The agency warned people not to approach the objects because they could explode “at any time” and to immediately report such findings to rescuers or police.

-ABC News’ Victoria Beaule

Mar 25, 7:34 am
Biden departs Brussels for Poland

U.S. President Joe Biden departed Belgium on Friday morning and was en route to Poland for the final leg of his four-day trip aimed at maintaining unity among allies and supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

Biden was seen boarding Air Force One in the European Union’s de facto capital, Brussels, at 6:42 a.m. ET. He is expected to land in Rzeszow, Poland, at around 9:15 a.m. ET, where he will receive a briefing on the humanitarian response to the millions of people fleeing Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion. He will also meet with service members from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Mar 25, 6:36 am
300 dead in airstrike on Mariupol theater, officials say

About 300 people were killed last week in a Russian airstrike on a drama theater-turned-bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city’s government said Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

“We didn’t want to believe in this horror,” the Mariupol City Council. said in a statement. “But the words of those who were inside the building at the moment of this terrorist act say the opposite.”

As many as 1,500 civilians had been taking refuge in the grand, columned Donetsk Regional Theatre of Drama in central Mariupol when it was struck on March 16, according to the Ukrainian government. Satellite images showed huge white letters on the pavement in front of and behind the building spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian — “DETI” — to alert warplanes to those inside.

Video circulating online and verified by ABC News shows the immediate aftermath of the strike on the theater. People covered in dust are seen trying to make their way out of the theater, walking down from the first floor staircase in an area of the building that was still standing at the time.

Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian forces have been relentlessly bombarding Mariupol, destroying homes and leaving thousands of residents trapped. Ukraine has defied Russia’s ultimatum for its troops to lay down arms and surrender the strategic southeastern port city of 430,000.

-ABC News Patrick Reevell

Mar 25, 5:20 am
Russia claims to have seized 5 more localities in Ukraine

Russia claimed Friday that its forces had captured five more localities in Ukraine.

“The grouping of troops of the Russian Armed Forces advanced another 4 kilometers overnight and captured Batmanka, Mikhailovka, Krasny Partizan, Stavki and Troitskoe,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Ukraine did not immediately comment on the claim.

Mar 25, 5:10 am
US, EU announce plan to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas

U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Friday a joint task force to “reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and strengthen European energy security,” amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Named the “Task Force for energy security,” the group will be chaired by one representative from the White House and one representative from the European Commission. They will work to ensure energy security for Ukraine and the European Union ahead of the next two winters by focusing on two main goals — diversifying liquefied natural gas supplies and reducing demand for natural gas, according to a fact sheet from the White House.

As part of the agreement, the United States will work with international partners to put more liquefied natural gas on the EU market, pledging to make at least 15 billion cubic meters available in 2022, with increases expected going forward.

The White House stressed that the task force would also work with an eye towards clean energy, looking to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of all new liquefied natural gas infrastructure as well as demand for liquefied natural gas by “accelerating market deployment of clean energy measures.” Those measures include expediting planning of clean energy projects, like wind and solar power, and using smart thermostats and heat pumps in homes.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Mar 24, 5:44 pm
Biden meets with European Council

U.S. President Joe Biden’s final meeting in Brussels on Thursday was with the European Council.

“They reviewed their ongoing efforts to impose economic costs on Russia and Belarus, as well as their readiness to adopt additional measures and to stop any attempts to circumvent sanctions,” the White House said in a statement.

The leaders said they willl continue “providing humanitarian assistance, including to neighboring countries hosting refugees, and underscored the need for Russia to guarantee humanitarian access to those affected by or fleeing the violence,” according to the White House.

They also “discussed EU-U.S. cooperation to reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels, accelerate the transition to clean energy, as well as the need to respond to evolving food security needs worldwide,” the White House said.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

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