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Russia-Ukraine war: Key things to know about the conflict

Refugees with children waited for a transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022.Sergei Grits/Associated Press

Ukraine’s cities stood under relentless Russian fire as NATO leaders huddled in Brussels Thursday and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged them to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to his country.

Four weeks into the deadly Russian onslaught, its forces appear to have stalled in many places in the face of fiercer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance. That’s provided the West’s NATO allies time to meet in Brussels on how to make Russia’s offensive as painful as possible for President Vladimir Putin — without triggering a nuclear war.

On that, Russia issued an unsubtle warning, answered Thursday by France. Senior Russian official Dmitry Rogozin said in televised remarks that “within minutes at any distance,” the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine. He then named several types of nuclear weapons Moscow is considering using in the conflict.

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Meanwhile, Russia’s stock market reopened for limited trading Thursday.

Here are some key things to know about the Russia-Ukraine war:

WHAT’S HAPPENING AS THE WAR GRINDS INTO A SECOND MONTH?

Zelenskyy is calling on people worldwide to gather in public Thursday to show support for his embattled country as he prepared to address Biden and other NATO leaders gathered in Brussels.

“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,” Zelenskyy said in English during an emotional video address recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. “Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”

WHAT ARE UKRAINE AND RUSSIA SAYING?

When Russia unleashed its invasion — Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II — on Feb. 24, it seemed likely to swiftly topple Ukraine’s government. But a month into the fighting, the massive country that sprawls across 11 time zones is bogged down in a grinding military campaign of attrition.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going “strictly in accordance” with plans.

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In its last update, Russia said March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. NATO estimates, however, that between 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed - the latter figure about what Russia lost in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.

A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released — intentionally or not — and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.

Ukraine, which has released little information about its military losses, also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.

Wednesday’s shelling of Kyiv claimed the life of another journalist. Oksana Baulina, a Russian reporter for the independent Russian news outlet The Insider, was killed in a Kyiv neighborhood.

On Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling, France answered Thursday that it had successfully tested the modernized version of its nuclear missile, the ASMPA.

WHAT HAS THE AP DIRECTLY WITNESSED OR CONFIRMED?

Russian troops who occupy the southern city of Kherson seized one of the most prominent theater directors in Ukraine “in a fascist manner” and took him to an unknown location, Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said.

Witnesses said nine Russian military vehicles pulled up to the home of Oleksandr Kniga early Wednesday and led him out. The Russians warned neighbors that if they came out of their homes they would be killed, the witnesses said.

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“The whole world should know about this!” Tkachenko said on Facebook.

Kniga, 62, director of the Kherson Regional Academic Theater, is one of the most important and respected theater directors in Ukraine.

Kyiv was shaken by a constant barrage of shelling Wednesday and plumes of black smoke rose from the western outskirts of the city. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the Russian bombardment has killed 264 civilians in the capital, including four children. As he spoke to reporters in Kyiv park, explosions and loud gunfire echoed in the background. At dusk, air raid sirens wailed over the capital as attacks continued.

In the seaside city of Odesa, fondly known as the Pearl of the Black Sea, street musicians played under cloudless skies as people fled.

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE NATO SUMMIT?

Biden and Western allies opened a trio of meetings in Brussels to chart a path to more pressure on Putin while tending to the economic and security fallout that’s spreading across Europe and the world.

Over the course of a half-day Thursday, the European diplomatic capital is hosting an emergency NATO summit as well as a gathering of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and a meeting of the 27 members of the European Union. Biden is attending all three gatherings.

The American president and other Western leaders opened the summit Thursday with the hopes of nudging allies to enact new sanctions on Russia, which has already seen its economy crippled by a steady stream of bans, boycotts and penalties over the last four weeks.

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The West has been largely unified in confronting Russia, but there’s wide acknowledgement that unity will be tested as the costs of war chip at the global economy.

WHAT ABOUT WAR CRIMES?

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has made the formal determination that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Blinken said there have been numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians. He said Russian forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, shopping centers, and ambulances “leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded.”

Blinken said the U.S. would work with others to prosecute offenders. The International Criminal Court at The Hague is already investigating.

Biden has described the possibility that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine as a “real threat” and said it’s an issue that world leaders will discuss at the NATO summit.

WHAT ARE UKRAINIAN REFUGEES SAYING?

Some of the more than 3.5 million people who have fled Ukraine have shared nightmarish stories of death, destruction and the painful separation from loved ones.

Natalia Savchenko, 37, arrived in Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday and said the situation in the eastern city of Kharkiv is “terrible.” She said there is no electricity or water, and children are not being given medicine or food.

“People are being killed day and night. They are shooting with everything they have,” she said.

At the train station in Przemysl, Poland, Kateryna Mytkevich said her family was trapped in Chernihiv for three weeks and hoped the war would pass them by — but then “bombs began to fall.”

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“Our children are dying. My son had to stay in Chernihiv, I could only take my daughter with me. It hurts a lot,” said Mytkevich, 39.

Volodymr Fedorovych, 77, also fled Chernihiv, saying: “There was nothing, there wasn’t even bread.” He said bread was brought in every three days, and on one day, he walked away from the bread line to get some tea when a bomb fell without warning.

“Sixteen people died and 47 were taken by ambulance, some of them without arms and legs. Horrible. There were one hundred people in that queue,” he said.