Russia has expelled more than 20 German diplomats in a “reciprocal” move after Berlin said some Russian diplomats had left Germany.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defence Ministry has claimed that its assault troops have captured three more districts in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the Russian advance. Read our blog to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
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10:08pm: Kharkiv and surrounding districts hit by five missiles, say Ukrainian officials
At least five Russian missiles hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and surrounding districts late on Saturday night, causing some damage to civilian buildings, local officials said.
Russia has for months been launching drones and missiles against a wide variety of Ukrainian targets in a bid to damage vital infrastructure.
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov, writing on Telegram, said one missile hit a house in the village of Kotliary, just to the south of Kharkiv, while another sparked a major fire in the city itself.
9:09pm: Cyprus says cracking down on Ukraine war sanctions busters Cyprus has cracked down on those named by the United States and Britain for allegedly helping Russian oligarchs bypass sanctions on Moscow because of the Ukraine war, an official said Saturday.
Financial Commissioner Pavlos Ioannou told state broadcaster CyBC that the assets of the individuals and entities concerned have been frozen.
“It was unavoidable for the banks to take the action they did… and the government also acted prudently,” Ioannou said.
Cyprus Greek-language daily Phileleftheros said the island’s largest lender, Bank of Cyprus, had also “informed 4,000 customers who have a Russian passport and are non-residents of EU countries that their accounts will be closed”.
The east Mediterranean island is home to a large Russian diaspora. Limassol on the south coast — often nicknamed “Moscow on the Med” — has long been a magnet for Russian speakers.
7:14pm: Belarus units complete training on Russian tactical nuclear missile systems
Units from Belarus returned home from Russia on Saturday after training on how to use the Iskander tactical missile system to launch nuclear weapons, the Belarusian defence ministry said.
It made the announcement exactly four weeks after President Vladimir Putin said Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus, sending a warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine.
Russia has not given a clear timetable for moving tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, but Putin said the construction of storage facilities should be complete by the start of July.
5:24pm: Moscow says it has expelled over 20 German diplomats in ‘reciprocal’ move
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that Moscow was expelling more than 20 German diplomats, state media reported, as Berlin said some Russian diplomats had left Germany.
A German Foreign Ministry official said Berlin and Moscow had been in contact about their respective representations in the last few weeks with the aim of reducing Russia’s intelligence presence in Germany.
“Today’s departure of Russian embassy staff is related to this,” said the official. The German ministry declined to say how many Russian diplomats had left.
Commenting on Germany’s expulsions, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: “We strongly condemn these actions by Berlin, which continues to demonstratively destroy the entire array of Russian-German relations.
” It said its own expulsions were “reciprocal”, and that it would significantly limit the maximum number of staff at German diplomatic missions.
3:15pm:Residents in Russia’s Belgorod return home after bomb scare More than 3,000 people in the Russian city of Belgorod were returning to their homes on Saturday after being evacuated while an explosive was disposed of, the local governor said.
Two days earlier a Russian warplane accidentally dropped a bomb on the city, damaging local houses, authorities said.
Those evacuated lived in the same area. Belgorod region governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said that people had started to return to their homes after a “shell” was removed from the area.
2:54pm: Six Leopard tanks leave Spain en route to Ukraine Six Leopard 2A4 tanks destined for Ukraine left Spain by ship on Friday and will arrive in days, Spain’s Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Saturday.
“The Leopards… and around 20 transport vehicles left from Santander port heading for Ukraine, where they will arrive in five or six days,” Robles told journalists.
Robles said this month that Spain will send Ukraine 10 Leopard 2A4 tanks. The military is repairing the remaining four.
Spain has also trained 40 tank crew members and 15 mechanics. Ukraine has been reliant on outdated Soviet-era tanks and appealed to the West for modern battle tanks, saying they are critical to its ground capabilities.
1:42pm: Over 3,000 civilians to be evacuated after explosive found in Russia’s Belgorod
More than 3,000 people will be evacuated in the Russian city of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, after an explosive was found, the local governor said on Saturday, two days after a Russian warplane accidentally dropped a bomb on the city.
Military explosive experts have decided to “neutralize” the explosive at a training ground, Belgorod region governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram.
“The operational headquarters decided to evacuate 17 apartment buildings within a radius of 200 metres. According to preliminary data, it is more than 3,000 people. Anyone who needs help with temporary accommodation, it will be provided,
” he said. On Thursday, a Russian Sukhoi-34 supersonic warplane accidentally fired a weapon into Belgorod, causing an explosion and injuring three people, according to Russian officials. It was not immediately clear if the two incidents were connected.
1:01pm: Russia says it takes three districts in western part of Ukraine’s Bakhmut
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday that Russian assault troops had captured three more districts in the western part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
The Russian military sometimes refers to the Wagner group of fighters as “assault troops”. Ukrainian and Russian units have been battling for months over the eastern city, much of which lies in ruins.
9:21am: Russian head of Crimea says air defences activated, no damage or casualties
The top official in the Russian-annexed Crimea region of Ukraine said on Saturday that air defence systems had been activated but there were no reports of damage or casualties.
“Air defence forces worked in the sky over Crimea. No damage or casualties. I ask everyone to remain calm and trust only trusted sources of information,” the official, Sergei Aksyonov, said on the messaging app Telegram. He did not say what the target of the air defences was or specify the location of the military activity.
Key developments of Friday, April 21:
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attended a meeting on Friday at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where 50 countries, including the United States, were present to discuss coordinating further support for Ukraine.
While there, he said that he was “confident” that Ukraine is prepared to retake more territory as Kyiv readies a new offensive against invading Russian forces. Poland on Friday allowed the transit of Ukrainian grain and other food through its borders, partially lifting a near week-long ban imposed in response to protests from its farmers.
Jowhar with AFP, AP and Reuters