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Sanction-hit Russian oligarch being booted out of UK moans that he’s now unable to pay basic bills

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A Russian oligarch being kicked out the UK has moaned he may not be allowed to take his cleaner or driver – as thousands of Ukrainians die at war.

Petr Aven, who is allegedly close friends with Vladimir Putin, said he and his family ‘don’t understand how to survive’ on their own.

The billionaire businessman, 67, who lives in St James’s, central London, fears he will never be allowed back into Britain following crippling sanctions by the West.

Aven had his bank account and assets frozen across the UK and Europe after Russia brutally invaded Ukraine last month.

He was pictured with despot Putin in the Kremlin in Moscow on the day soldiers crossed into the disputed Donbas region.

The former academic and politician – worth around £4.5billion – now wants to challenge the sanctions levelled against him.

It comes as Russian bombs continued to decimate Ukrainian cities across the country on Friday. But the resistance movement kept up the fight and in some areas showed signs of pushing Moscow’s forces back.

Petr Aven, who is allegedly close friends with Vladimir Putin (pictured together in 2010), whined he and his family ‘don’t understand how to survive’ on their own

The billionaire businessman (pictured with Roman Abramovich in Moscow in 2016), 67, who lives in St James's, central London, fears he will never be allowed back into Britain following crippling sanctions by the West

The billionaire businessman (pictured with Roman Abramovich in Moscow in 2016), 67, who lives in St James’s, central London, fears he will never be allowed back into Britain following crippling sanctions by the West

Aven owns Ingliston House (pictured), a mansion in Virginia Water, Surrey, that has a huge art collection

Aven owns Ingliston House (pictured), a mansion in Virginia Water, Surrey, that has a huge art collection

Billionaire oligarch who ‘doesn’t know how to survive’ UK sanctions… who is Petr Aven? 

Petr Aven made his fortune during the fallout of the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

He and his business partner Mikhail Fridman launched a banking giant in Russia through their firm Alfa Group.

They also made huge lumps of cash out of oil investments during decade, even joining with BP for a venture in 2003.

Aven said his proudest moment was being minister for foreign economic relations under Boris Yeltsin.

The oligarch rejects and wants to fight the sanctions against him but said he has struggled to find a British lawyer to help.

He also claimed he was not close to the Kremlin but conceded to do business in Russian meant some contact with the president.

Aven previously hit the headlines when he was one of four Russian billionaires to go after HarperCollins.

Along with Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, he used UK courts to sue the publisher and journalist Catherine Belton over her book on Putin.

He went after them over data protection law and the case was settled.

In an interview with the FT from his sprawling London flat, Aven said: ‘Our business is completely destroyed.

‘Everything which we were building for 30 years is now completely ruined. And we have to somehow start a new life.’

‘Will l be allowed to have a cleaner, or a driver? I don’t drive a car… maybe my stepdaughter will drive. We don’t understand how to survive.’

His wife had spent days touring cash machines in the capital, taking out money as other oligarch’s were being sanctioned.

The EU were first to slap restrictions on Aven, rapidly followed by the UK, with his bank account and assets frozen.

He was accused of being one of Putin’s cronies as the director of the Russian bank Alfa-Bank.

The UK’s office of financial sanctions implementation said: ‘Aven is a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch.’

Aven said his life changed overnight and claimed it has left him unsure whether he can pay for bills. He has less than 20 days to leave Britain.

He has Latvian and Russian passports as well as a US visa but wants to stay in the UK, where he also owns the sprawling Ingliston House in Virginia Water, Surrey.

The tycoon made his fortune during the fallout of the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

He and his business partner Mikhail Fridman launched a banking giant in Russia through their firm Alfa Group.

They also made huge lumps of cash out of oil investments during decade, even joining with BP for a venture in 2003.

Aven said his proudest moment was being minister for foreign economic relations under Boris Yeltsin.

The oligarch rejects and wants to fight the sanctions against him but said he has struggled to find a British lawyer to help.

He also claimed he was not close to the Kremlin but conceded to do business in Russian meant some contact with the president.

Aven previously hit the headlines when he was one of four Russian billionaires to go after HarperCollins.

Along with Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, he used UK courts to sue the publisher and journalist Catherine Belton over her book on Putin. He went after them over data protection law and the case was settled.

Aven is pictured in the Kremlin in Moscow as Putin chaired a meeting of big businesses on the day war broke out in Ukraine

Aven is pictured in the Kremlin in Moscow as Putin chaired a meeting of big businesses on the day war broke out in Ukraine

The oligarch is circled alongside fellow businessman opposite President Putin on the day war broke out last month

The oligarch is circled alongside fellow businessman opposite President Putin on the day war broke out last month

The billionaire businessman is pictured with his wife Elena

The billionaire businessman is pictured with his wife Elena

Aven's business partner Mikhail Fridman, 57, has been slapped with sanctions by the EU over Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Aven’s business partner Mikhail Fridman, 57, has been slapped with sanctions by the EU over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Aven’s comments come as the Ukraine war raged on through Friday, with more bombs dropping and soldiers fighting on the ground.

Russia suffered battlefield defeats to the east of Kyiv and in the south of the country as the armed forces pressed the attack after a month of dogged defendin.

But the situation in Mariupol looks increasingly bleak as Putin’s men push into the centre of the city. Lukyanivka, a village 35 miles to the east of Kyiv, appeared to be back under the control of Ukrainian forces late Thursday.

Lukashi, another nearby town, was also reported to be back under Ukrainian control by Friday.

Meanwhile heavy fighting was underway in Borodyanka, around 30 miles from downtown Kyiv to the west, as Ukraine’s forces try to wrest control of the city.

If successful, it leaves Russian troops at Bucha and Irpin – thought to number in the thousands – at risk of being surrounded with the potential for mass surrender.

Kherson, in the south west, also appears to have been attacked by Ukrainian forces who thwarted a Russian assault on Mykolaiv.

Kherson airport, where Russia has repeatedly tried to station its aircraft and helicopters, appeared to be hit by Ukrainian artillery overnight.

Malynivka, a small town around 65 miles north of Mariupol, was also reportedly recaptured by Ukrainian forces in an effort to thwart a Russian pincer movement.

Heavy fighting was underway in Izyum, 100 miles to the north, to halt the other arm of the pincer.

But the situation in Mariupol itself appeared grim, with the BBC reporting councillors have been evacuated and are running the city from outside.

Chechen special forces, which uploaded footage of fighting in the city on Thursday, claimed to have captured city hall.

So where exactly IS Sergei Lavrov’s stepdaughter? Imperial College graduate, 26, could still be in London despite being banned from UK (and how did she pay £4.4MILLION in CASH for her Kensington home aged 21?)

  • The glamorous stepdaughter of Sergei Lavrov’s mistress may still be living in Britain, it has emerged 
  • Polina Kovaleva was identified as Russian Foreign Secretary lover’s daughter by Navalny allies
  • Imperial College graduate has been sanctioned by the UK and is now banned from the country 
  • Her mother Svetlana Polyakova has allegedly been bankrolled by Lavrov after affair began in early 2000s 
  • Navalny allies claim she and her daughter have enjoyed holidays funded by Russian taxpayers 

The glamorous stepdaughter of Sergei Lavrov’s mistress may still be living in Britain, despite being banned from the country as part of a raft of sanctions against a string of Russian ‘oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs’, MailOnline can reveal.

Imperial College graduate Polina Kovaleva, a jet-setting 26-year-old who has enjoyed exotic holidays and a first-class education in Britain, was identified as the daughter of the Russian Foreign Secretary’s lover by allies of jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

Key Russian individuals and businesses targeted by the UK in latest sanctions tranche 

ALFA-BANK JSC

The largest of the private banks in Russia and is based in Moscow. Alfa-Bank ranks among the top 10 largest banks in terms of capital in Russia and Ukraine. It is a distinct entity to distinct from Alfa-Bank (Ukraine) which has not been sanctioned.

ALROSA

The world’s largest diamond mining company specializing in exploration, mining, manufacture, and sale of diamonds. It is headquartered in Mirny, Russia and its market capitalization is reported as an estimated £4.69billion.

EUGENE MARKOVICH SHVIDLER  

A billionaire businessman with close business links to Roman Abramovich. His net worth is reported as an estimated £1.2billion

OLEG TINKOV

Founder of Tinkoff Bank. His net worth is reported as an estimated £3.4billion.

HERMAN GREF 

Chief Executive Officer of Sberbank, the largest Russian bank. Gref is a close advisor of President Putin since they started working together in the St Petersburg Government in the 1990s. He served as Putin’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade between 2000 and 2007, before taking over at Sberbank.

OLEG E AKSYUTIN  

The Deputy Chairman of the Management Board at Gazprom PJSC, the Russian multinational energy corporation. 

DIDIER CASIMIRO 

The First Vice President of Rosneft, the Russian State oil company. 

ZELJKO RUNJE

The Deputy Chairman of the Management Board and First Vice President for Oil, Gas, and Offshore Business Development of Rosneft. 

GALINA DANILCHENKO

Installed as ‘mayor’ of Melitopol by Russian authorities after their military occupied the city and kidnapped the legitimate mayor. This is the first designation by any partner country for collaboration with the Russian military in Ukraine since the invasion. 

POLINA KOVALEVA  

Stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She reportedly owns a £4million property in London. This sends a strong signal that those benefiting from association of those responsible for Russian aggression are in scope of our sanctions.

 

She lives in a stunning £4million home in Kensington, west London, allegedly bought ‘in cash’ when she was 21, and shares the apartment with a man who also has a 10 per cent stake in the ‘investment company’ she now runs, according to Land Registry documents and Companies House files.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss targeted Miss Kovaleva, along with Wagner Group mercenaries ‘hired to assassinate Volodymyr Zelensky’, several Russian banks and businesses, and individuals including billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler and founder of Tinkoff bank Oleg Tinkov – all for their alleged ‘complicity in the murder of innocent civilians’ in the Ukraine war.

The sanctions prevent Miss Kovaleva from being in Britain, and also prevent UK nationals and businesses from ‘dealing with any funds or economic resources which are owned, held or controlled’ by her. They also prevent money being provided to Miss Kovaleva, or being provided for her benefit.

But questions about her current whereabouts remain unanswered, with Britain’s Foreign Office unwilling to comment when asked by MailOnline.

A spokesman also declined to answer questions about Svetlana Polyakova, Miss Kovaleva’s mother and Lavrov’s alleged mistress. 

According to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Lavrov promoted the ‘unemployed’ actress and restaurateur to a position in the Russian Foreign Ministry after starting an affair with her in the early 2000s, and bankrolled her luxurious lifestyle. They claim that she has flown on Lavrov’s business trips dozens of times, and that her daughter has also travelled with the Foreign Secretary.

In March 2017, for instance, it is alleged that Miss Kovaleva flew to Tokyo with Lavrov – and had fun walking around the capital while the Russian Foreign Secretary met his Japanese counterparts. A photo posted to her Instagram appears to confirm this. 

Navalny’s allies have also claimed that Miss Kovaleva celebrated her 22nd birthday at a Montenegrin villa owned by the well-known oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that a swimming pool and colonnade by which the 26-year-old posed for photos are the same as those at the oligarch’s house. Again, the images were posted to her Instagram account, which has since been deleted.

It is unclear why London did not sanction Miss Polyakova, and a spokesman refused to comment on whether the UK Government is planning to target her. However, Whitehall sources indicated that there would be further sanctions against Russian targets, with one telling The Times: ‘These sanctions are partly about sending a signal that there is nowhere to hide’.

The Foreign Office claims that targeting Lavrov’s stepdaughter ‘sends a strong signal that those benefiting from association of those responsible for Russian aggression are in scope of our sanctions’.

Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that Lavrov and Polyakova had been together for ‘around two decades’.

Questioning where Miss Kovaleva got the money to buy her apartment, Miss Pevchikh said: ‘Polina’s biological dad isn’t superrich. She doesn’t have an oligarch husband. Yet aged 21, she bought a prestigious apartment on Kensington High Street for £4.4 million, and her lifestyle is like a ‘non-stop holiday’.’

Miss Kovaleva’s mother also enjoys ‘substantial assets’ that a Foreign Ministry apparatchik would almost certainly not be able to afford.

Property records show that she and her family own real estate in Russia and Great Britain worth about 1 billion rubles. At the time this was worth $13.6million, although the ruble has since collapsed due to the debilitating war in Ukraine.

Lavrov is married to philologist wife Maria, and the couple have a daughter Ekaterina, 40, who was raised mainly in the US where he was posted as a diplomat. Despite this, Lavrov has been seen on foreign trips accompanied by Miss Polyakova, who sometimes uses the female form of his surname, Lavrova.

The sanctions also targeted Russian Railways, and defence company Kronshtadt, the main producer of Russian drones. Private military contractor Wagner Group has also been sanctioned.

They were among 59 individuals and entities added to the sanctions list which has been used to target Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Imperial College graduate Polina Kovaleva, a jet-setting 26-year-old who has enjoyed exotic holidays and a first-class education in Britain, was identified as the daughter of the Russian Foreign Secretary’s lover by allies Alexei Navalny

Imperial College graduate Polina Kovaleva, a jet-setting 26-year-old who has enjoyed exotic holidays and a first-class education in Britain, was identified as the daughter of the Russian Foreign Secretary’s lover by allies Alexei Navalny 

Navalny’s allies have also claimed that Miss Kovaleva celebrated her 22nd birthday at a Montenegrin villa owned by the well-known oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that a swimming pool and colonnade by which the 26-year-old posed for photos are the same as those at the oligarch’s house Navalny’s allies have also claimed that Miss Kovaleva celebrated her 22nd birthday at a Montenegrin villa owned by the well-known oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that a swimming pool and colonnade by which the 26-year-old posed for photos are the same as those at the oligarch’s house

Navalny’s allies have also claimed that Miss Kovaleva celebrated her 22nd birthday at a Montenegrin villa owned by the well-known oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that a swimming pool and colonnade by which the 26-year-old posed for photos are the same as those at the oligarch’s house

In March 2017, for instance, it is alleged that Miss Kovaleva flew to Tokyo with Lavrov – and had fun walking around the capital while the Russian Foreign Secretary met his Japanese counterparts. A photo posted to her Instagram appears to confirm this

In March 2017, for instance, it is alleged that Miss Kovaleva flew to Tokyo with Lavrov – and had fun walking around the capital while the Russian Foreign Secretary met his Japanese counterparts. A photo posted to her Instagram appears to confirm this

But questions about her current whereabouts remain unanswered, with Britain’s Foreign Office unwilling to comment

But questions about her current whereabouts remain unanswered, with Britain’s Foreign Office unwilling to comment

She lives in a stunning £4million home in Kensington, west London, allegedly bought ‘in cash’ when she was 21, and shares the apartment with a man who also has a 10 per cent stake in the ‘investment company’ she now runs, according to Land Registry documents and Companies House files

She lives in a stunning £4million home in Kensington, west London, allegedly bought ‘in cash’ when she was 21, and shares the apartment with a man who also has a 10 per cent stake in the ‘investment company’ she now runs, according to Land Registry documents and Companies House files 

Polina’s mother is reported to be Svetlana Polyakova, 51, with whom Lavrov has had a relationship since the early 2000s and is said to be his unofficial wife

Polina’s mother is reported to be Svetlana Polyakova, 51, with whom Lavrov has had a relationship since the early 2000s and is said to be his unofficial wife 

The global crimes of the notorious Wagner Group used by Putin for ‘dirty’ missions 

The Wagner group (file picture) and Chechen special forces have allegedly been trying to kill the Ukrainian president since Russian troops launched a savage invasion of Ukraine on February 24

The Wagner group (file picture) and Chechen special forces have allegedly been trying to kill the Ukrainian president since Russian troops launched a savage invasion of Ukraine on February 24

The notorious Wagner Group, a private military company, has also been sanctioned by the UK. 

Founded by a former soldier and Putin-ally known as ‘Putin’s chef’ it has committed war crimes across the globe. They have now allegedly been tasked with assassinating Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian politicians.

In December, the EU accused Wagner of ‘serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique’.

So what are some of the crimes the group is alleged to have committed? 

DONBAS, UKRAINE: The Wagner group first appeared in 2014, to help Russia destabilise the Donbas region. 

Hundreds of members assassinated Donbas separist leaders who were not following Kremlin orders, with the killings blamed on Ukraine.    

SYRIA: Wagner was operating in Syria in 2015, where the Russians wanted to bolster the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad. 

In 2017, Wagner employees tortured a deserter from the Syrian army. 

Sickening footage showed how they    broke his legs with a sledgehammer and then crushed his chest, before cutting off his hands, his head and finally setting his corpse alight. 

The conduct of Wagner in Syria eventually became so bad that the Russian government refused to pay them, viewing them as dangerous cowboys. 

Wagner’s founder and leader is Dmitry Utkin, a shaven-headed former lieutenant colonel in Spetsnaz – Russia’s special forces. 

He is described as a neo-Nazi with  ‘an appreciation of the aesthetic of the Third Reich’. Utkin was sanctioned by the EU for ordering Bouta’s killing.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Wagner mercenaries arrived in CAR to support President Faustin-Archange Touadéra against rebels in 2017.

Wagner employees were accused by the UN and France of carrying out human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings of suspected rebels.

There were also accusations of rape, robbery and torture against unarmed civilians. 

The United Nations is probing an alleged massacre during a joint operation by government forces and Wagner fighters.

One military source told AFP that more than 50 people died, some in ‘summary executions’

In 2018, three Russian journalists reporting on Wagner’s activities in CAR were ambushed and shot dead. Another Russian journalist investigating the group ‘fell’ to his death from his fifth floor flat. 

SUDAN: Wagner mercenaries are believed to have trained government forces. 

The group also ‘spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illicit activities connected to gold mining’.

MOZAMBIQUE: Wagner has supported the army in its fight against the Islamist militant insurgency in the north.

They have been accused of burning down villages, terrorising civilians and killing women and children. 

However, the group retreated in the face of jihadists after around a dozen men were killed in gruesome attacks by ISIS terrorists.

They were believed to have been killed in ambushes and botched operations. 

MALI: The Mali government employed 1,000 Wagner operatives in December.  

Russian operatives are believed to have helped train coup plotters who took over last year.  

Gazprombank is one of main channels for payments for Russian oil and gas. Alfa-Bank is one of Russia’s top private lenders, controlled by Mikhail Fridman, who was sanctioned by Britain earlier this month, and his partners.

Miss Truss said yesterday: ‘These oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price. Putin should be under no illusions – we are united with our allies and will keep tightening the screw on the Russian economy to help ensure he fails in Ukraine. There will be no let-up.

‘All those sanctioned today will have their assets in the UK frozen which means no UK citizen or company can do business with them, and individuals subject to travel bans are also prohibited from travelling to or from the UK.

‘Today’s sanctions will bring the total global asset value of the banks the UK has sanctioned since the invasion to £500billion and the net worth of the oligarchs and family members in excess of £150billion.

‘The provisions brought in by the Economic Crime Act have streamlined the previous legislation so the UK can respond even more swiftly and effectively to the current crisis. The government will continue to tighten the screw and use sanctions to degrade the Russian economy on a scale that the Kremlin, or any major economy, has never seen before.

‘The UK has led the international sanctions effort, cutting off whole sectors of the Russian economy by targeting its defence companies, its trade and transport sector, and working with allies to exclude Russia from the SWIFT financial system.’ 

It comes as Boris Johnson was accused by the Kremlin of being the most active anti-Russian leader as he urged a targeting of Putin’s gold reserves. 

Downing Street said the Prime Minister was instead ‘among the most active anti-Putin leaders’ as sought to rally leaders at a NATO summit in Brussels to provide more defensive military support to Ukraine.

In a virtual address to the allies on Thursday, Ukraine’s president pleaded for ‘1% of all your planes, 1% of all your tanks’ but it appeared his demand would not be met.

Mr Johnson had instead committed a new package of 6,000 more missiles and announced sanctions against a further 65 individuals and entities.

Speaking to broadcasters after landing in Belgium’s capital, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.’

The Foreign Office said a total of 1,000 fresh sanctions have been handed out since the invasion begun, with the new round including Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler and Galina Danilchenko, who was installed by Moscow as the mayor of occupied Melitopol in south-east Ukraine.

Britain’s response in particular appeared to be riling Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the state-owned RIA news agency as saying: ‘As for Mr Johnson, we see him as the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian. It will lead to a foreign policy dead end.’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman firmly denied Mr Johnson being ‘anti-Russian’.

‘The Prime Minister is among the most active anti-Putin leaders,’ he said. ‘We have no issue with the Russian people and in fact we have seen many bravely protest – not least Alexei Navalny – against Putin’s regime and call on them to cease this war.’

Praising him as ‘one of the most extraordinary war leaders of recent times’, Mr Johnson said Mr Zelensky wants tighter sanctions on Putin’s regime and ‘very specific defensive military support’ for his armed forces.

‘And that, we’re determined to provide,’ Mr Johnson said.

He also hit out at Moscow’s bid to host Euro 2028, saying Russia should withdraw its forces and the football tournament should be handed to Ukraine.

‘The idea of Russia holding any kind of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire,’ he said.

‘The best thing possible would be for the entire Russian armed forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and to hand it to them, of course.’

However, those remarks came just a day after the UK and Ireland football associations submitted their joint formal interest in staging the tournament.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson was responding to a question about Moscow’s ‘brazen and sorely misjudged’ attempt to obtain a platform on the international stage by hosting the tournament.

During his virtual address to leaders including US President Joe Biden, Mr Zelensky was understood not to have reiterated his plea for NATO to install a no-fly zone above Ukraine, following fears it would provoke a wider conflict.

A western official speaking after the summit did not rule out individual leaders providing tanks or planes as requested by the Ukrainian leader, but said ‘there was no direct discussion about allies providing that sort of equipment now’.

They said leaders agreed Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine would mark a ‘fundamental change’ in the Ukrainian conflict that would be met with a ‘very severe response’.

The western official said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that would cause allies to send their troops to the conflict, but would not outline what the response would be, saying ‘we need to keep Putin guessing’.

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive armoured vehicles past local residents in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 24, 2022

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive armoured vehicles past local residents in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 24, 2022

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with symbols 'Z' painted on its side in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 24, 2022

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with symbols ‘Z’ painted on its side in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 24, 2022

Boris Johnson gives a press conference at the end of a G7 meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, March 24, 2022

Boris Johnson gives a press conference at the end of a G7 meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, March 24, 2022

Ahead of the summit getting under way, Russian hoaxers, suspected of working for the Kremlin, released a full version of their video call with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

The MoD has warned the footage being trickled out, in which Mr Wallace thought he was talking to Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal, is doctored and propaganda.

The hoaxers warned that a ‘prank’ call with Home Secretary Priti Patel will follow ‘soon’.

Britain has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, including next-generation light anti-tank weapons systems (Nlaws) and Javelin missiles. It is also supplying and training Ukrainian troops in the use of Starstreak high-velocity anti-air missiles as well as providing body armour, helmets and combat boots.

The Government will provide an additional £4.1million to the BBC World Service to counter disinformation in Russia and Ukraine as well as new support for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Putin’s latest ‘war crimes’: Four civilians are killed as Russian shelling hits a humanitarian aid centre in Kharkiv but Ukrainian troops push Moscow’s forces away from Kyiv

Russia has shelled a humanitarian aid centre in the city of Kharkiv, leaving at least four civilians dead, though continued to suffer battlefield defeats elsewhere as Ukrainian forces pushed Putin’s men back from Kyiv. 

Kharkiv, which has been bombarded by Russian forces since the early days of the war, came under fresh attack overnight an early Friday – leaving four dead and three wounded after an aid centre was struck in the early hours of Friday. ‘There is no military facility nearby,’ authorities said, indicating the attack amounts to a war crime.

But there was success elsewhere for Ukrainian forces which succeeded in recapturing the village of Lukyanivka, 35 miles to the east of central Kyiv, as troops were filmed occupying the settlement amid the ruins of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles. Lukashi, another nearby town, was also reported to be under Ukrainian control.

Meanwhile heavy fighting was underway in Borodyanka, around 30 miles from downtown Kyiv to the west, as Ukraine’s forces try to wrest control of the city away from Russia. If successful, it leaves Russian troops at Bucha and Irpin – thought to number in the thousands – at risk of being surrounded with the potential for mass surrender.

Kherson, in the south west, also appears to have been attacked by Ukrainian forces who thwarted a Russian assault on Mykolaiv. Kherson airport, where Russia has repeatedly tried to station its aircraft and helicopters, appeared to be hit by Ukrainian artillery overnight.  

Malynivka, a small town around 65 miles north of Mariupol, was also reportedly recaptured by Ukrainian forces in an effort to thwart a Russian pincer movement aiming to surround its armies in the Donbass. Heavy fighting was also underway in Izyum, 100 miles to the north, to halt the other arm of the pincer.

But the situation in Mariupol itself appeared grim, with the BBC reporting that councillors have now been evacuated and are running the city from outside after Russian forces pushed into the centre. Chechen special forces, which uploaded footage of fighting in the city on Thursday, claimed to have captured city hall.

Firefighters battle a blaze in Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, after the city was hit by shelling in the early hours of Friday - hitting a humanitarian aid centre which killed at least four people

Firefighters battle a blaze in Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, after the city was hit by shelling in the early hours of Friday – hitting a humanitarian aid centre which killed at least four people

A Ukrainian firefighter walks amid the ruins of a building in Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, after it was destroyed by Russian shelling which struck in the early hours

A Ukrainian firefighter walks amid the ruins of a building in Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, after it was destroyed by Russian shelling which struck in the early hours

. .

A destroyed Russian T-72 tank (left) and armoured vehicle (right) are seen in the village of Lukyanivka, around 35 miles to the east of Kyiv, after a successful counter-attack by Ukrainian forces

. .

A Ukrainian soldier (left) stands next to the wreckage of a T-72 tank after it was destroyed in counter-attacks east of Kyiv

Counter-attacks continue to the east and west of Kyiv, with the village of Lukyanivka back in Ukrainian hands on Friday morning while heavy fighting has been reported at Borodyanka as Kyiv's men try to encircle Russian troops there

Counter-attacks continue to the east and west of Kyiv, with the village of Lukyanivka back in Ukrainian hands on Friday morning while heavy fighting has been reported at Borodyanka as Kyiv’s men try to encircle Russian troops there

A Ukrainian soldier walks beside the ruins of Russian armour that was destroyed during a counter-attack east of Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier walks beside the ruins of Russian armour that was destroyed during a counter-attack east of Kyiv

A Russian soldier with a heavy machine gun walks in front of the ruins of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles east of Kyiv

A Russian soldier with a heavy machine gun walks in front of the ruins of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles east of Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier walks past the ruins of a damaged Russian armoured vehicle after a counter-attack to the east of Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier walks past the ruins of a damaged Russian armoured vehicle after a counter-attack to the east of Kyiv

With Russian advances at a standstill across Ukraine, Kyiv's men are increasingly looking to go on the counter-attack - striking to the west and east of Kyiv, attacking Kherson from Mykolaiv, and trying to blunt a Russian pincer movement to encircle troops in the Donbass at Malynivka and Izyum

With Russian advances at a standstill across Ukraine, Kyiv’s men are increasingly looking to go on the counter-attack – striking to the west and east of Kyiv, attacking Kherson from Mykolaiv, and trying to blunt a Russian pincer movement to encircle troops in the Donbass at Malynivka and Izyum

Members of the band Antytila, singer and bandleader Taras Topolia (centre), keyboardist Serhii Vusyk (left), and guitarist Dmytro Zholud (right) pose on the frontlines in Kyiv

Members of the band Antytila, singer and bandleader Taras Topolia (centre), keyboardist Serhii Vusyk (left), and guitarist Dmytro Zholud (right) pose on the frontlines in Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier is seen guarding a defensive position to the north of Kyiv, as Russian forces are pushed back

A Ukrainian soldier is seen guarding a defensive position to the north of Kyiv, as Russian forces are pushed back

Serhii Volosovets, a commander in the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, fires a pistol during a training camp for volunteers in Brovary, northeast of Kyiv

Serhii Volosovets, a commander in the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, fires a pistol during a training camp for volunteers in Brovary, northeast of Kyiv

Ukrainian troops are pictured carrying British/Swedish NLAW anti-tank weapons on the frontlines near Kyiv

Ukrainian troops are pictured carrying British/Swedish NLAW anti-tank weapons on the frontlines near Kyiv

Civilian volunteers attend a training camp of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in Brovary, northeast of Kyiv

Civilian volunteers attend a training camp of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in Brovary, northeast of Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier checks cartridges for a machine gun at a position on the front line in the north Kyiv region

A Ukrainian soldier checks cartridges for a machine gun at a position on the front line in the north Kyiv region

Ukrainian troops reposition British/Swedish NLAW anti-tank weapons in trenches near the capital Kyiv

Ukrainian troops reposition British/Swedish NLAW anti-tank weapons in trenches near the capital Kyiv

A Ukrainian rocket artillery truck is seen on a road near the capital Kyiv, as Russian forces are pushed back from the city

A Ukrainian rocket artillery truck is seen on a road near the capital Kyiv, as Russian forces are pushed back from the city

A Ukrainien serviceman stand guard near a burning warehouse hit by a Russian shell in the suburbs of Kyiv

A Ukrainien serviceman stand guard near a burning warehouse hit by a Russian shell in the suburbs of Kyiv

Should the city fall, it would mark the biggest scalp yet claimed by Russia and would establish a land corridor from occupied Crimea to the Donbass region – which Moscow insists is independent from the rest of Ukraine. The move is thought to be one of the key objectives of Putin’s invasion.

Capturing the city would also free up Russian forces dedicated to the siege to mount attacks elsewhere in the country – further threatening Ukrainian forces in the Donbass with encirclement. 

As fighting wears into its second month, US President Joe Biden will travel to a town near the Polish-Ukrainian border Friday – a sign of America’s commitment to defend NATO territory and a warning to Vladimir Putin not to allow the war to spread further into Europe.  

Air Force One will jet into the eastern Polish town of Rzeszow – bringing the US president less than 50 miles from the war-zone. 

Fearing further escalation, cautious European Union, NATO and G7 leaders in Brussels shied away from Ukraine’s request for more advanced weapons systems and a blanket embargo on Russian oil and gas at a trio of Brussels summits Thursday.

That prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pointedly question whether some allies – particularly those in Europe – were doing enough, quickly enough.

‘You have applied sanctions. We are grateful. These are powerful steps. But it was a little late,’ he told EU leaders via video link, suggesting the invasion and untold bloodshed could have been prevented.

With his calls for fighter jets, missile defence systems, tanks, armoured vehicles and anti-ship missiles seemingly stalled, he warned Europeans about the cost of further delay.

Naming each EU member state in turn, he thanked countries including Poland and Estonia for their support, noted German backing came ‘a little later’ and singled Hungary out for censure.

‘You have to decide for yourself who you are with,’ Zelensky told Hungary’s rightwing populist leader Viktor Orban, who has close ties to Moscow.

Zelensky said more weapons and more pressure on Moscow were urgently needed to help besieged Ukrainian cities.

‘Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol?’ he said. ‘There is no time to hesitate. It’s time to decide already.’

Some in the West fear transferring ever-more lethal weapons to Ukraine could spark further escalation from Moscow that might prove cataclysmic.

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Chechen special forces record themselves fighting in Mariupol, in the south of Ukraine, as they claimed to have captured the city hall on Friday morning

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Mariupol is in danger of falling to Russian forces which are now fighting in the centre of the city (pictured above) 

Mariupol has been surrounded and besieged for almost a month, with Russian forces now pushing into the city centre

Mariupol has been surrounded and besieged for almost a month, with Russian forces now pushing into the city centre

A Russian armoured vehicle with a 'Z' invasion symbol painted on the front is seen driving into Mariupol, as large parts of the city fall under the control of Putin's forces

A Russian armoured vehicle with a ‘Z’ invasion symbol painted on the front is seen driving into Mariupol, as large parts of the city fall under the control of Putin’s forces

Russian forces are pictured rolling into Mariupol as civilians file out, after the city was largely destroyed by bombardment

Russian forces are pictured rolling into Mariupol as civilians file out, after the city was largely destroyed by bombardment

Russian armoured vehicles unload troops on the outskirts of Mariupol as the city falls further into Moscow's hands

Russian armoured vehicles unload troops on the outskirts of Mariupol as the city falls further into Moscow’s hands

Pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with symbols 'Z' painted on its side in Mariupol

Pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with symbols ‘Z’ painted on its side in Mariupol

Russian forces roll into the city of Mariupol, large parts of which are now under the control of Putin's men

Russian forces roll into the city of Mariupol, large parts of which are now under the control of Putin’s men

A Russian soldier stands guard as Ukrainian civilians are evacuated from Mariupol, amid reports some are being kidnapped or forcibly deported to far eastern Russia

A Russian soldier stands guard as Ukrainian civilians are evacuated from Mariupol, amid reports some are being kidnapped or forcibly deported to far eastern Russia

Russia is already accused of using phosphorus bombs and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas – something the United States has branded a war crime.

And the Kremlin has pointedly refused to rule out using nuclear weapons, while producing a steady flow of disinformation about chemical and biological weapons that Washington says could be used as cover for their deployment by Moscow.

NATO leaders on Thursday decided to bolster their chemical and nuclear defences and announced the deployment of further troops to Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria in case Russia expands its attack beyond Ukraine.

In Poland, Biden will meet members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, part of NATO’s increasingly muscular deployment to its eastern flank.

He will also receive a briefing on the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has seen more than 3.5 million people pour out of the country, mostly to Poland.

The UN believes that more than half of Ukraine’s children have already been driven from their homes, ‘a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come’, according to Unicef chief Catherine Russell.

‘Every day it’s 20, 30 times we go to the basement (to shelter),’ said a sobbing 37-year-old Vasiliy Kravchuk in the garrison town of Zhytomyr.

‘It’s difficult because my wife is pregnant, I have a little son.’ 

While Ukrainian forces have stalled the initial Russian invasion and even launched some successful counterattacks, there are early signs that both sides are digging in for a long and bloody war that neither can easily win.

‘It is obvious that the operation will continue until the objectives set by the president of the country are achieved,’ former president and top security official Dmitry Medvedev told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

In Mariupol about 100,000 civilians are said to be trapped in the southern port city with dwindling supplies of food, water and power, and with encircling Russian forces slowly grinding the city to dust.

Russia’s highly censored media has broadcast aerial footage that appeared to be from Mariupol, showing a hellscape of charred and pocked apartment blocks spread across a singed and blackened wasteland.

Presenters blamed the devastation on Ukrainian ‘nationalists’.

The city is a treasured prize for Russia as it would enable a land bridge between Russian-annexed Crimea and regions already controlled by Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine.

Kremlin-allied Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov on Thursday claimed his forces had pierced Ukrainian defences to take Mariupol’s city hall and hoist Russia’s flag.

Anatoliy Mykolayev, 65, who was injured by glass as a result of shellfire, sits on a sofa in a hospital in Kyiv

Anatoliy Mykolayev, 65, who was injured by glass as a result of shellfire, sits on a sofa in a hospital in Kyiv

Viktoria, who was injured with shelling debris, rests in a bed in a hospital in Kyiv on Thursday

Viktoria, who was injured with shelling debris, rests in a bed in a hospital in Kyiv on Thursday

Displaced people fleeing the suburbs have their IDs checked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv

Displaced people fleeing the suburbs have their IDs checked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

Injured people receive treatment at a hospital after surviving Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine

That claim was not verified, and Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia was still trying to sack Mariupol ‘without success’.

While some civilians have been able to flee to Ukrainian-controlled territory, local officials said as many as 15,000 Mariupol residents have been forcibly deported to Russia. 

In recent days Ukraine has also shown its ability to go on the counter-attack, seemingly pushing Russia’s military out of some towns near Kyiv and hitting valuable Russian targets in the south.

Ukraine on Friday claimed it had destroyed or damaged a small flotilla of Russian warships in the port city of Berdyansk.

According to the Ukrainian armed forces, Russian landing ship the ‘Saratov’ was destroyed, and the landing ships ‘Caesar Kunikov’ and ‘Novocherkassk’ were damaged.

Images from the scene showed a large Russian warship ablaze at dockside, with other vessels steaming away from the inferno.

British military intelligence said the attack on ‘high-value’ targets also destroyed an ammunition storage depot and was part of a broader strategy of Ukraine targeting vulnerable Russian supply lines.

‘Ukrainians will continue to target logistical assets in Russian-held areas,’ the UK Ministry of Defence said.

‘This will force the Russian military to prioritise the defence of their supply chain and deprive them of much-needed resupply for forces.’

But it is far from clear that Ukraine can push the Russian forces out.

For now, the West seems content to squeeze Russia’s economy and Putin’s inner circle.

The European Union and the G7, also meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, pledged to block transactions involving the Russian central bank’s gold reserves, to hamper any Moscow bid to circumvent Western sanctions.

And a series of countries announced asset freezes and travel bans on more Kremlin-connected individuals.

There was no agreement to halt oil and gas imports from Russia, which fill Moscow’s war chest to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per day.

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