The president of the European Council has called on Europe to open to fleeing Russians in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order.
Charles Michel urged Europe to show an “openness to those who don’t want to be instrumentalised by the Kremlin”, according to Politico.
“In principle I think that ... the European Union [should] host those who are in danger because of their political opinions. If in Russia people are in danger because of their political opinions, because they do not follow this crazy Kremlin decision to launch this war in Ukraine, we must take this into consideration,” Mr Michel said.
He added: “I agree on the idea that we should very quickly co-operate and co-ordinate because this is a new fact — this partial mobilisation.”
The remarks come ahead of a key meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday within the framework of the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response, Politico reports. The European Council is the EU body that defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU.
The number of border crossers from Russia into Finland has doubled in recent days compared to last week, Satu Sikanen, the regional mayor for south Karelia in Finland, told BBC News on Saturday.
Yesterday, Finland’s president and the ministerial committee proposed significant restrictions on issuing visas to Russian citizens and entry to the country, said Ms Sikanen. The number of issued visas has already been decreased, she added.
“This is a serious situation of course for our region, but I want to underline we have strong border guards, we have strong defence forces and Finland is joining Nato so we are safe.”
In recent weeks, Finland has come under enormous pressure from its EU neighbours after it refused to follow suit in the paths of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in banning Russian tourists from entering their borders.
Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities on Saturday as Kremlin-orchestrated votes continued in occupied regions of Ukraine to pave the way for their annexation by Moscow.
Zaporizhzhia governor Oleksandr Starukh said the Russians targeted infrastructure facilities in the Dnieper River city, and that one of the missiles hit an apartment building, killing one person and injuring seven others.
The Russian forces also struck other areas in Ukraine, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that Russia was targeting the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskyy Donets River in northeastern Ukraine following previous strikes on a dam on a reservoir near Kryvyi Rih, causing flooding on the Inhulets River.
“Ukrainian forces are advancing further downstream along both rivers,” the MoD said. “As Russian commanders become increasingly concerned about their operational setbacks, they are probably attempting to strike the sluice gates of dams, in order to flood Ukrainian military crossing points.”
Amid the fighting, voting continued in Kremlin-organised referendums in occupied areas — votes that Ukraine and its western allies dismissed as a sham with no legal force.
In the five-day voting in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south that began Friday, election officials accompanied by police officers carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations, citing safety reasons.
The votes are set to wrap up Tuesday when balloting will be held at polling stations.
The United States is prepared to impose additional economic costs on Russia in conjunction with allies if Russia moves forward with Ukraine annexation, the White House announced on Friday.
“We know that these referenda will be manipulated,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Reuters reports.
Mr Putin has thrust himself more directly into strategic planning for the war in recent weeks, US officials said, including rejecting requests from his commanders on the ground that they be allowed to retreat from the vital southern city of Kherson.
A withdrawal from Kherson would allow the Russian military to pull back across the Dnieper River in an orderly way, preserving its equipment and saving the lives of soldiers.
But such a retreat would be another humiliating public acknowledgment of Mr Putin’s failure in the war and would hand a second major victory to Ukraine in one month. Kherson was the first major city to fall to the Russians in the initial invasion and remains the only regional capital under Moscow’s control. Retaking it would be a major accomplishment for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine.
Ukraine said on Friday it had shot down four Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones used by Russia’s armed forces, prompting Mr Zelenskiy to complain that Tehran was harming Ukrainian citizens, Reuters reports.
Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine said that they had shot down the Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicles over the sea near the Odessa port.
Ukraine and the United States have accused Iran of supplying drones to Russia, something Tehran has denied.
Elsewhere, the governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov has said 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izyum. Thirty of the bodies bore visible signs of torture in the burial site in Kharkiv, a region held largely by Russian forces before a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, Mr Synyehubov told reporters, adding three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukraine.
The UN has said its investigators have concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, including bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
The team of three independent experts had launched initial investigations looking at the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions where they were “struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited”, and the frequent “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”. — Guardian, Associated Press