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Ukraine: Russia cuts interest rates to prewar levels


What’s happening in Ukraine today and how are countries around the world responding? Read live updates on Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Russia’s central bank has cut interest rates back to their prewar levels, saying inflation and economic activity are developing better than expected despite sweeping Western sanctions imposed in response to the war in Ukraine.


The bank lowered its key rate Friday by 1.5 percentage points to 9.5%. It had been as high as 20% in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions that restrict dealings with Russian banks, individuals and companies.


Economists say that over time the sanctions will corrode growth and productivity, but the central bank has managed to stabilize Russia’s currency and financial system through drastic measures such as high interest rates, restrictions on flows of money out of the country and a requirement that importers sell their foreign currency earnings for rubles.


Those measures have helped push the Russian currency’s exchange rate to 58.12 against the dollar Friday, compared with 78.8 rubles to the dollar on Feb. 23, the day before the invasion.


The central bank says inflation was an annual 17% in May but appeared to have passed its post-invasion peak of 17.8% and to be headed down amid lower price increases in May and June.


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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging the European Union strongly to put his country on track to membership.


In a video address on Friday to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Zelenskyy said the EU should act quickly to offer Ukraine the status of a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc.


He said that the “gray zone” Ukraine has been left in has encouraged Russian aggression. He urged the EU to show “that its words about the Ukrainian people being part of the European family aren’t a hollow sound.”


Zelenskyy deplored that “there are still some political skeptics who doubt whether we should be allowed to move to join the EU.”


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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland plans to send more defense equipment to Ukraine but isn’t specifying what it is or when it will be delivered.


The government said Friday that President Sauli Niinisto agreed to its request to send more military aid. It said it wasn’t giving more information in order “to ensure that the help arrives.”


The Nordic nation already has sent rifles and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, among other things.


Finland, a European Union member that has a long border with Russia, sought NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


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VATICAN CITY — The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has met with Pope Francis to discuss efforts to end the war in Ukraine and relieve the global food crisis it has exacerbated.


In a tweet after the 20-minute audience Friday, von der Leyen wrote: “We stand with those suffering from the destruction in Ukraine. This war must end, bringing peace back to Europe.”


Von der Leyen also met with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who recently returned from Ukraine. The Vatican said their talks focused on the “common commitment to work to bring the war in Ukraine to an end, dedicating particular attention to the humanitarian aspects and the food consequences of the continuation of the conflict.”


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GENEVA — The UN human rights office has voiced concern about the death sentences imposed by pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine on three captured foreigners who were fighting on the Ukrainian side.


A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found two Britons and one Moroccan guilty of seeking the violent overthrow of power. The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.


UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani noted Friday that, according to the Ukrainian military, all three were part of Ukraine’s armed forces. She said if that is the case they “should not be considered as mercenaries”


Shamdasani said that, since 2015, the office has observed that the judiciary in rebel-run separatist areas “has not complied with essential fair trial guarantees, such as public hearing, independence and impartiality of the court and the right not to be compelled to testify.”


She added that “such trials against prisoners of war amount to a war crime.”


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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s HRT state television says a Croatian citizen who has been wounded while fighting in Ukraine has been transferred home and hospitalized in the capital, Zagreb.


HRT reported Friday that the man is in stable condition after suffering serious injuries to an arm and leg. Doctors say they are assessing his condition to determine whether and when to perform surgery.


The man fought alongside Ukrainian forces against Russia. Another Croatian citizen was detained by Russian troops last month after fighting in the port city of Mariupol.


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KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor says Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for every house in street battles in a key city in eastern Ukraine.


Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press on Friday that the Ukrainian forces have retained control of the industrial area on the edge of the city of Sievierodonetsk and also control some other sections.


He said that “battles are going on for every house and every street.”


Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of Luhansk province in the Donbas industrial region, has been the focus of the Russian offensive in recent weeks.


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LONDON — The British government says Russia must take responsibility for the “sham trial” of two Britons who have been sentenced to death for fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine.


Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted along with a Moroccan man by a court run by Russia-backed rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, which is not recognized internationally.


The two Britons were members of a Ukrainian military unit and were captured in the southern port of Mariupol.


Government minister Robin Walker said it was “an illegal court in a sham government” but that the U.K. would use “all diplomatic channels to make the case that these are prisoners of war who should be treated accordingly.”


He said “Russia needs to take responsibility, its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention, for the treatment of prisoners of war.”


British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to speak to her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba later Friday about the case. The U.K. has not announced any plans to speak to Russian officials.


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KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinds into its fourth month, officials in Kyiv have expressed fears that the spectre of “war fatigue” could erode the West’s resolve to help the country push back Moscow’s aggression.


The U.S. and its allies have given billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine. Europe has taken in millions of people displaced by the war. And there has been unprecedent unity in post-World War II Europe in imposing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and his country.


But as the shock of the Feb. 24 invasion subsides, analysts say the Kremlin could exploit a dragged-out, entrenched conflict and possible waning interest by the West that might lead to pressuring Ukraine into a settlement.


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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Volunteer drivers are risking everything to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukrainians behind the front lines of the war — and to help many of them escape.


The routes are dangerous and long and the drivers risk detention, injury or death. Ukrainian activists say more than two dozen drivers have been detained and held for more than two months by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.


In Donetsk and the Luhansk region, vans and minibuses of volunteers zip through towns and down country roads, racing to evacuate civilians as artillery shells whistle through the air. Russian forces are doubling down on their offensive in the regions.


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