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Russia says it has blocked all routes to starving city of Mariupol as Ukraine claims Putin planning ‘false flag’ attack on Chernobyl and refugee numbers rise to 2.5million

  • Ukraine claims Russia ‘planning man-made disaster’ at Chernobyl amid fears over nuclear sites
  • UN official fears Russian claims of Ukraine biological weapons could be cover for its own plan to use such weapons
  • Biden bans sale of Russian caviar, vodka and other goods in US
  • Satellite images show Russians redeploying north of Kyiv and could attack capital within days
  • Putin cites ‘positive shifts’ in talks but civilians still trapped by Russian shelling
  • Woman smeared as actor by Russia after she escaped bombed maternity hospital gives birth
  • Irish medical student Racheal Diyaolu finally makes it home to Ireland
  • Want to help? Here’s how you can aid the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis today

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An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: AP

An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: AP

Rescuers work among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Rescuers work among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Refugees walk in a group after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Refugees walk in a group after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

A rescuer works among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

A rescuer works among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

A woman from Ukraine stands at the border with her fiance from the United States as she waits to ask for asylum, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A woman from Ukraine stands at the border with her fiance from the United States as she waits to ask for asylum, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A woman from Ukraine stands at the border with her fiance from the United States as she waits to ask for asylum, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A woman from Ukraine stands at the border with her fiance from the United States as she waits to ask for asylum, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closeup view of fires in an industrial area and nearby fields in southern Chernihiv, Ukraine, during the Russian invasion, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closeup view of fires in an industrial area and nearby fields in southern Chernihiv, Ukraine, during the Russian invasion, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

A woman from Ukraine walks with her children as they cross into the United States, Thursday, March 10, 2022, from Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A woman from Ukraine walks with her children as they cross into the United States, Thursday, March 10, 2022, from Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Nina, 26, holds a pet carrier with her cat as she waits after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Picture: AP

Nina, 26, holds a pet carrier with her cat as she waits after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Picture: AP

Women and children rest at a charity foundation's shelter as they flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko

Women and children rest at a charity foundation's shelter as they flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko

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An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: AP

Russia claimed to have blocked all routes to Mariupol as its forces continued to lay siege to the key port city in southern Ukraine.

Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said all bridges to the city had been destroyed and all roads were laid with mines, the Kremlin-owned Tass news agency reported.

A Ukrainian official expressed doubt that aid supplies would be able to reach Mariupol residents as the humanitarian crisis in the city deepened.

Mariupol is a significant strategic target for Russian occupation and its capture would grant Moscow complete control over the Ukraine coast in the Sea of Azov – securing a prized land route to Crimea.

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The city of around 430,000 people is surrounded on all sides by Russian-captured land and has been subjected a brutal assault for more than 10 days.

The local council said 1,582 civilians had been killed in the city since the invasion began more than three weeks ago.

“We will never forgive or forget this crime against humanity,” the council said.

Russian shelling of Mariupol continued relentlessly on Friday, officials said.

Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said the situation in Mariupol was critical and aid supplies may not reach residents of the city who have been without food, water or power for days.

Several attempts have been made to create safe evacuation routes to help civilians to leave the city but Ukraine said Russia had repeatedly thwarted plans by breaking ceasefire agreements.

Russia was accused of carrying out an airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday that Ukrainian officials said killed three people including a six-year old and injured more than a dozen others, including pregnant women.

In the wider country, Russian ground forces continue to make limited progress due to logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

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However, Moscow will likely reposture its forces in the coming days for a renewed offensive that will probably include a move on Kyiv, the MoD said.

Satellite images showed a huge Russian convoy that had been mired outside Kyiv had fanned out into towns and forests.

The Russian military offensive took aim at western Ukraine for the first time on Friday with attacks on airports in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankiivsk that US defence officials said were aimed at preventing their use by Ukrainian forces.

In the central city of Dnipro, at least one person was killed in three air strikes, state emergency services said.

Ukraine's top diplomat pushed back on the suggestion of "positive movement" in talks with Russia cited earlier by President Vladimir Putin, saying there's been "zero progress.”

Refugees rise to 2.5million

Eastern Europe's efforts to aid Ukrainians came under strain on Friday, with some cities running out of accommodation as the number of refugees passed 2.5 million and fighting in their homeland.

Relief work in frontline states - Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Moldova - has mainly been shouldered by ordinary citizens volunteering to drive, cook or house refugees, with the help of non-governmental organisations and local authorities.

But with the war now in its third week and the number of refugees swelling, it is becoming difficult to provide sufficient help.

In Krakow, Poland's second-largest city, one NGO described the situation at the train station as "tragic".

"There is nowhere to direct the refugees. They are stressed and confused, all kinds of help is needed, and above all, premises," tweeted Fundacja Brata Alberta, an NGO that in normal times helps individuals with mental disabilities.

In Hrubieszow, a Polish town on the Ukrainian border, Mayor Marta Majewska said she had spent all the town's crisis reserve of 100,000 zlotys ($22,889), as well as 170,000 zlotys from the local province, to run a refugee reception centre.

"I am most worried about electricity bills," she told Radio Zet. "The city cannot bear it at all."

In Warsaw, the biggest temporary reception centre was about 70% full by Thursday. Refugees now make up over 10% of the Polish capital's population, Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said.

Close to 4,000 Ukrainian children are now attending school in Warsaw, he added, with city authorities setting up 76 "preparatory classes" in which they learn Polish.

Trzaskowski separately called for other nations to step in, urging airlifts and a global system to manage the influx.

Fears of Chernobyl attack

Ukrainian intelligence officials have claimed Russia is preparing to stage a ‘false flag’ attack on the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

The ministry of defence said that Russia would try and pin the blame for the resulting catastrophe on Ukraine.

In a post on Facebook, the Intelligence Directorate said: “The Russian forces are planning to create a man-made disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the occupiers will try to shift responsibility for it on Ukraine.”

They added: “The nuclear power plant has now been completely disconnected from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s monitoring systems... The occupants refused to grant access to the station to Ukrainian repairmen.”

Russia has seized control of the nuclear power plant and Ukrainian authorities have said that the plant is now disconnected from outside electricity.

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Nina, 26, holds a pet carrier with her cat as she waits after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Picture: AP

Nina, 26, holds a pet carrier with her cat as she waits after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Picture: AP

Nina, 26, holds a pet carrier with her cat as she waits after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova. Picture: AP

Ukrainian government officials warned of the danger of the power cut-off, but outside experts were more measured.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that there was no need for immediate alarm over the condition of Chernobyl. They said that the loss of power violated a “key safety pillar” but that it saw “no critical impact on safety”.

Russian forces have also taken over Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.

Ukrainian energy minister Herman Halushchenko said on Wednesday that 400 Russian troops were stationed at the plant.

A nuclear research institute in Kharkiv has also been shelled by Russian forces, an adviser to the Ukraine’s interior ministry said on Thursday.

The shelling targeted a building which has equipment capable of releasing radiation if damaged, Anton Gerashchenko said, but so far no change in the background radiation has been observed.

A fire broke out as a result of the shelling but it was put out with the help of firefighters.

UN rubbishes biological weapons claims

The United Nations on Friday said it was not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine while Washington and its allies voiced concerns Russia was spreading the unproven claim in order to launch its own biological or chemical attacks.

Russia called the meeting of the 15-member U.N. Security Council to reassert its unsubstantiated accusation that Ukraine ran biological warfare laboratories with U.S. support.

The move risked backfiring on Moscow as members rejected the assertions as "a lie" and "utter nonsense" and used the session to amplify accusations that Russia has deliberately targeted and killed hundreds of civilians in its 15-day-old invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin calls "a special military operation."

Izumi Nakamitsu, the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the council that the United Nations is "not aware" of any biological weapons program in Ukraine, which ratified an international ban on such arms, as has Russia.

The Russian envoy to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, repeated the claim - without providing evidence - that Ukraine ran biological weapons laboratories with U.S. Defense Department support.

Under a 2005 agreement, the Pentagon has assisted several Ukrainian public health laboratories with improving the security of dangerous pathogens and technology used to research. Those efforts have been supported by other countries and the World Health Organization.

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Washington was "deeply concerned" that Russia called the session as a "false flag effort" aimed at laying the groundwork for its own use of biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Although she did not immediately provide evidence of an imminent threat during the meeting of the 15-member council, she said: "Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating."

She added: "We have serious concerns that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people.

"The intent behind these lies seems clear, and it is deeply troubling," she said. "We believe Russia could use chemical or biological agents for assassinations, as part of a staged or false flag incident, or to support tactical military operations."

Cluster bombs

The U.N. human rights office, meanwhile, has received “credible reports” that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council.

“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said. “Directing attacks against civilian and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”

Nebenzia replied that the allegations are "refuted repeatedly by our Ministry of Defence.”

US bans caviar

US President Joe Biden said he would ban imports of Russian vodka, caviar and diamonds and called on U.S. lawmakers to join Western allies in revoking the country's preferential trade status following the Ukraine invasion.

Downgrading Russia's trade status "is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States," Biden said in remarks at the White House, adding that it would "be another crushing blow to the Russian economy."

The president can't unilaterally remove what's known as "permanent normal trade relations" status for Russia because that authority lies with Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would consider legislation next week to revoke the designation, a move that has support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Biden's signature on the bill would clear the way for increased import tariffs, and Russia would join Cuba and North Korea as the only countries in the world without preferential trade status in the U.S.

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A rescuer works among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

A rescuer works among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

A rescuer works among remains of buildings damaged by an airstrike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Dnipro, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. effort is happening in concert with European Union and Group of Seven nations, Biden said. The G-7 issued a statement saying the group would also work "to prevent Russia from obtaining financing from the leading multilateral financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development."

Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke again on Friday about the status of the war, in which Russia has escalated and widened its bombardment of cities but has yet to capture the capital, Kyiv.

"Putin's war in Ukraine will never be a victory," Biden said Friday. "He hoped to dominate Ukraine without a fight. He failed."

EU moves

European Union leaders pledged on Friday to cut their dependence on global suppliers of food, microprocessors, drugs, raw materials and digital technologies, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine added a new argument for the EU to be more self-reliant.

The 27-nation bloc has been considering how to become more independent in several strategic areas ever since the COVID-19 pandemic showed that a breakdown of global supply chains could leave the EU without access to pharmaceuticals or microchips.

The war in Ukraine only made that more clear, EU officials said, as Europe will now struggle to wean itself off Russian gas, oil, coal and raw materials and possibly find alternative suppliers of wheat.

"In the context of this crisis we are seeing how our food, our energy, our defence are all issues of sovereignty," French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists after hosting an EU summit at the Chateau of Versailles.

"We want to be open to the world, we want to choose our partners but not depend on any," he added.

European Commission head Ursula von der Layen said the commission would come up with a plan by mid May to phase out the EU's dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal in five years.

Meanwhile, to prepare for next winter, plans will be made to coordinate European countries' currently fragmented network of gas stocks. In the future underground stocks would have to be filled to at least 90pc by Oct. 1 each year, von der Layen said.

Ireland sends blood bags

Ireland has sent 4,000 blood bags and 50,000 medical masks to Ukraine, as part of an effort to support the health service of the war-torn country.

The Government, working with the HSE, has donated thousands of items designed to help Ukrainian medics, as part of an EU-wide effort.

Four thousand blood bags were donated by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and sent to Ukraine on Monday from a supplier in Poland, while 10,000 bio-protection suits, as well as 50,000 medical-grade masks and more than 2,500 litres of disinfectant were dispatched on Friday.

The Department of Health confirmed that, alongside the HSE, staff are planning further donations to Ukraine and neighbouring countries as the Russian invasion shows no sign of ending.

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Women and children rest at a charity foundation's shelter as they flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko

Women and children rest at a charity foundation's shelter as they flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko

Women and children rest at a charity foundation's shelter as they flee from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko

The invasion has caused the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly stressed how vital these kinds of donations were.

“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is devastating. I had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Gerasko earlier this week and am keenly aware of how important these donations are to supporting the Ukrainian response to ongoing conflict,” he said.

“The HSE is coordinating a large number of offers of medicines and medical assistance we can provide, and I look forward to confirming further support shortly.”

Darragh O’Brien, who is Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, said: “What is currently happening in Ukraine is an absolute tragedy. We must pull out all the stops that we can to assist the humanitarian effort that is currently under way.

“The Irish Government recognises the horrors of this conflict and will provide whatever humanitarian supports we can. These medical donations are critical to helping in saving lives.”

Ireland has already taken in more than 2,500 Ukrainian refugees, with thousands more people expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months.

The country has already signed up to an EU-wide fund to provide arms and equipment to Ukraine, although Ireland as a militarily neutral nation has committed to providing non-lethal equipment only.

Appearing at an Oireachtas committee on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney indicated that Ireland is preparing to send defence equipment to Ukraine.

He said: “We’re also looking to see what actual gear we can provide as well. We’re making some decisions on that actually shortly having looked at what we have that is spare and available.

“And you’d be surprised – there’s not as much as you might think.

“But there is some military defence equipment that I think would be useful and we’re making decisions on that actually as we speak today. And we’ll get it to Ukraine as quickly as we can.”

Russians regroup

Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv are regrouping northwest of the Ukrainian capital, satellite pictures showed, in what Britain said could be preparation for an assault on the city within days.

Kyiv accused Russian forces of bombing and shelling cities across Ukraine, and of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern town of Izyum where hundreds of patients were sheltering in the basement.

In Russia, prosecutors asked a court to declare Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook and Instagram, an "extremist" organisation, after it allowed posts in Russia and its western neighbours calling for the death of invading Russian troops.

Russia has been pounding Ukraine's cities while its main attack force north of Kyiv has been stalled on roads since the invasion's early days, having failed in what Western countries say was an initial plan for a lightning assault on the capital.

Images released by private U.S. satellite firm Maxar showed armoured units manoeuvring in and through towns close to an airport on Kyiv's northwest outskirts, site of fighting since Russia landed paratroopers there in the first hours of the war.

Other elements had repositioned near the settlement of Lubyanka just to the north, with towed artillery howitzers in firing positions, Maxar said.

"Russia is likely seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days," Britain's Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update. "This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv."

The British update said Russian ground forces were still making only limited progress, hampered by persistent logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance.

‘Turning point’

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine had "already reached a strategic turning point" in the conflict.

"It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it," he said in a televised address.

In an overnight statement, the Ukrainian general staff said Russian forces were regrouping after taking heavy losses. Ukraine had pushed Russians back to "unfavourable positions" in the Polyskiy district, near the Belarus border to the rear of the main Russian column heading towards Kyiv, it said.

Emergency services said no one had been hurt in the psychiatric hospital struck in eastern Ukraine, as the patients were already sheltering in the basement.

Oleh Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said 330 people had been in the building and called the attack a war crime. Reuters could not immediately verify the report and there was no immediate comment from Moscow.

It came less than two days after Russia bombed a maternity hospital in the besieged southern port of Mariupol. Ukraine said pregnant women were among those hurt; Russia said the hospital was no longer functioning and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.

For a seventh straight day, Russia announced plans to cease fire to let civilians leave Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people trapped with no food, water, heat or power. All previous attempts to reach the city have failed with both sides accusing each other of failing to observe ceasefires.

Ukraine said it would try yet again to help people leave. "We hope it will work today," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Moscow denies it has been targeting civilians in what it calls a "special operation" to disarm and "de-Nazify" Ukraine.

‘Positive shifts’

President Vladimir Putin has tried to project an air of calm since ordering the invasion on February 24. At a meeting with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday, Putin said there were "certain positive shifts" in talks with Ukrainians, though he did not elaborate.

Earlier Putin was shown on TV approving a proposal to recruit 16,000 fighters from the Middle East.

Facebook owner designated ‘extremist’

The Russian state prosecutor's office said it had asked a court to designate Facebook's owner "extremist", and the investigative committee said it had opened a criminal case "in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation" by Meta employees. Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Meta spokesperson had said on Thursday it had temporarily eased rules to allow posts such as "death to the Russian invaders", though not calls for violence against Russian civilians. Reuters reported that internal emails sent to content moderators showed posts had been allowed calling for the death of Putin or Lukashenko.

"We hope it is not true because if it is true then it will mean that there will have to be the most decisive measures to end the activities of this company," said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

European Union leaders meeting in France's Versailles Palace agreed to spend more on defence and cut reliance on Russian energy supplies by 2027. They did not manage to agree on all details, or on how far to push with more sanctions against Russia.

The leaders said Ukraine belonged to their family but declined its call for a speedy admission to the EU, wary of angering Moscow and of letting in a country that does not meet the bloc's criteria.

Stalled

In the two weeks since the invasion, Western countries have swiftly moved to isolate Russia from the global financial system to an extent never before visited on such a large economy.

While Russia's advance on Kyiv has been stalled, and it has failed so far to capture any cities in northern or eastern Ukraine, it has made more substantial progress in the south. Moscow said on Friday its separatist allies in the southeast had captured the town of Volnovakha north of Mariupol.

Residents of Ukrainian cities have packed into underground metro stations for shelter. Nastya, a young girl lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of a metro train carriage in Kharkiv, said she had been there for more than a week, unable to move around much and ill with a virus that had being going around.

"I'm scared for my home, for the homes of my friends, very scared for the whole country, and scared for myself of course."

Three air strikes near a kindergarten in the central city of Dnipro killed at least one person on Friday, state emergency services said.

The mayor of the city of Lutsk said four people had been killed and six wounded in an attack on an airfield, a rare strike on a target deep in western Ukraine - far from the battlefields in the north, east and south.

Blogger gives birth

A Ukrainian beauty blogger who was accused of faking her injuries after a Russian bomb hit a maternity hospital has reportedly given birth.

Horrifying pictures emerged on Wednesday of victims leaving the medical centre after a bombardment by Russian forces in the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Marianna Podgurskaya was one of the women at the hospital waiting to give birth and was pictured heavily pregnant with injuries to her face as she walked down a staircase in teddy bear pyjamas, clutching bags of her possessions.

Journalist and disinformation researcher Olga Tokariuk said she has spoken to Ms Podgurskaya’s relatives who confirmed she gave birth to a baby girl on Thursday night.

She tweeted: “I received an update from a relative of Marianna - a pregnant girl from Mariupol’s bombed hospital. They were able to reach her on the phone briefly.

“Last night at 10pm, Marianna gave birth to a baby girl! They are ok, but it’s very cold in Mariupol and the bombing doesn’t stop.”

Russia’s London embassy caused outrage on Thursday after posting photos of Ms Podgurskaya on Twitter - one of her bloodied and leaving the hospital and one of her holding beauty products - saying she “played roles” of pregnant women in the snaps that they were taken by a “propagandist”.

Irish student’s return

Carlow Student Racheal Diyaolu has said she is “really happy” to finally arrive home to Ireland after fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

The 19-year-old flew into Dublin Airport late last night and was reunited with her family at long last.

“Really overwhelmed but really happy, it’s good to be home. Been away for so long and obviously in the circumstances it’s been very scary, and I didn’t know when I’d get to get home so I’m just really happy to be back with everyone again,” she told RTÉ.

“It was a very anxious journey, we had a lot of really bad roads, a lot of things that went wrong along the way, but we stayed positive, and we knew that once we were out of Sumy it was home straight, we just knew we had to go a little bit further and we’d be back home soon.”

The medical student was rescued on Monday along with her Nigerian friends Roycee Iloielunachi and Anolajuwon Solarin, by two Scottish gardeners who drove them out of the city.

The students had been trapped in the university city Sumy since the invasion began 16 days ago.

“There was a bombing I think two days after we left so it was really good that we got out when we did,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Ms Diyaolu said she was able to remain calm in order to update her family back home on her welfare.

“I think for my family I wanted to get back to them and I didn’t want them to be worrying about me when I was away, calls home were important and it was really important for me to stay calm and let them know that I was okay and that I’d get home to them at some point and here we are,” she said.

Ms Diyaolu said she knew she was in safe hands once she caught a glimpse of the Romanian border.

“It was a bit surreal because we’d been on the road for so long, it felt like the end was never going to come, we’d been travelling for so long but seeing the Romanian border meant that I was home safe so it was a really good feeling,” she said.

Joe McCarthy (55) and Gary Taylor (45), who run Ready2Rock landscaping in Falkirk, volunteered to get the students out of Sumy and have been posting video updates on their TikTok page.

As well as rescuing Ms Diyaolu and her two friends, Mr McCarthy and Mr Taylor rescued a mother and her son and an elderly couple.

“It was nice to see some people who spoke English for a change, and they were always ready to have a laugh and take care of us if we needed anything. I don’t know what I would do without them honestly, they’re Godsends,” she said.

Ms Diyaolu said she is relieved that she can continue her education in Ireland as the Minister of Higher Education Simon Harris said students forced to flee the war will be helped to find places in Irish colleges.

“I knew myself that going out to another country again I don’t know how that would go down with the family, thinking of travelling again so to know that I can continue my education here it’s honestly such a relief,” she said.

Her mother said she was relieved to see her daughter home safely, Yemmy Diayolu said: “Thank God I’m happy to see her alive so that’s the main thing.”

Racheal's father Taiwo Diyaolu said his daughter’s resilience got her back home safely.

“I’m proud of her, the kind of stuff she’s made of she’s very resilient, very peaceful and very positive, that’s what saw her through, I’m very happy she’s back,” he said.


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