Missile strike in Kramatorsk leaves two dead, six injured, says Ukrainian official
From Yulia Kesaieva
At least two people have died and six were wounded after a missile strike in the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration.
Kyrylenko said other details of the attack were currently being clarified.
Kramatorsk was one of the first cities to be targeted by the Russian military when the invasion of Ukraine was launched more than three weeks ago.
5:43 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
Mariupol among nine evacuation corridors agreed for Friday, says Ukrainian government
From CNN's Andrew Carey
Nine corridors to evacuate civilians from towns and cities badly hit by Russian attacks have been agreed for Friday, according to the Ukrainian government.
For the second day running, one of the agreed corridors links the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, which remains under Ukrainian control.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there were plans to deliver humanitarian aid to the towns of Balakleia and Izium to the southeast of Kharkiv.
Some context: According to Vereshchuk, almost 800 private cars left Mariupol on Thursday, with more than 2,000 people making it through Russian-occupied territory to the city of Zaporizhzhia by mid-evening.
It is the first time in many days that a corridor out of Mariupol had been agreed, though Vereshchuk made no mention of whether a planned humanitarian convoy destined for the besieged city had been allowed to leave Berdiansk by Russian forces.
Elsewhere, 36 tons of food and medicine were delivered to the towns of Hostomel and Bucha to the northwest of Kyiv, as well as three villages to the northeast of the capital -- areas which have seen some of the worst Russian artillery and rocket fire.
One planned corridor between Kharkiv and Vovchansk, close to the Russian border, failed to operate due to shelling by Russian forces, Vereshchuk said.
5:56 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
Ahead of Biden-Xi call, Chinese official says Beijing respects "sovereignty and territorial integrity"
From CNN's Beijing bureau
China respects "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Friday.
He was speaking ahead of a 9 a.m. ET call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping that is expected to focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"China always stands for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, attaching importance to the legitimate security concerns of all countries, supporting all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis and promoting peace talks and easing the humanitarian situation," Zhao said.
"China’s position is above board, fair, objective and unquestionable."
China's friendship with Russia: Since a February meeting between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, China has talked up its “no-limits partnership” with Russia.
US officials believe Russia has asked China for military and economic support to wage its unprovoked war in Ukraine and that Beijing has indicated its openness to helping Moscow. Both Russia and China have denied the allegation.
The US has indicated that China would pay an economic price if its support for Russia goes beyond rhetoric.
Speaking Friday, Zhao repeated China’s public rebuke, saying "some people in the US have been spreading disinformation to smear and put pressure on China, which is extremely irresponsible and will not help solve the issue. China is firmly opposed to this and will never accept it."
"The US should seriously reflect on its role in the Ukrainian crisis, take its due responsibilities and take concrete actions to ease the situation and resolve the issue, rather than adding fuel to the fire and shifting the conflict to others," he said.
Zhao said Ukraine needs food rather than weapons, and the US sending military assistance to the country will not bring peace.
Why leaders' meeting matters: The call comes at a potential turning point for ties between the United States and China. White House officials are watching with growing concern the budding partnership between Xi and Putin, and China's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine has proved troubling to Western observers.
White House officials said they expected the call could turn intense; a preliminary meeting between the two leaders' aides stretched for seven hours earlier this week.
4:59 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
One killed in fire after downed rocket hits Kyiv residential building
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv
One person died and four others were injured in a fire at a residential building in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv on Friday, Ukraine's Emergency Service said.
The blaze broke out after the remains of a downed rocket hit the five-story building, the service said.
The initial report about a fire was received at 8:04 a.m. local time, it said. Upon arrival, firefighters saw there was a fire from the first through the third floors. The blaze is being extinguished at the moment.
According to preliminary information, 12 people were rescued and 98 people were evacuated, the service said.
On Tuesday, a 10-story apartment building in the Podil neighborhood of the district was hit in a strike, causing a fire in the first five floors of the building, according to emergency services.
4:12 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
Ukraine's military: Russia fired 6 missiles toward Lviv and 2 were intercepted
From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnyy and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv
The projectiles were most likely cruise missiles fired from warplanes over the Black Sea, it said in a statement on Facebook.
Two of the missiles were intercepted by air defense systems, the statement added.
Where the missiles hit: Lviv's mayor said missiles hit an aircraft repair plant near the airport. Work at the plant had stopped before the missiles hit and there were no reports of casualties at this stage, he said.
A CNN crew in Lviv heard multiple explosions at about 6:30 a.m. local time and smoke was seen rising from the direction of the Danylo Halytskyi International airport to the west of the city.
3:19 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
Analysis: US sets the stage for contentious Biden call with China's Xi
The call will find the US surmounting one of its deepest-set foreign policy fears — risking an open clash with China while simultaneously facing down Russia — in another extraordinary geopolitical shuffle triggered by the Ukraine war.
It also puts Biden in the odd position of seeking the tacit cooperation of the nation seen as America's most powerful rising foe to suppress its historic Cold War rival of the second half of the 20th century.
Given that China is known for ruthlessly pursuing its own interests and has no interest in shoring up the Western-led world order that Putin is seeking to buckle, it seems fanciful that Xi will choose what the US sees as the right side of history on the Ukraine conflict — at least until its own economic self-interest dictates a change of course.
And US-China relations are so toxic that many analysts had been predicting a new Cold War in the Pacific between the rivals, before the original version reignited in Europe with Putin's invasion of Ukraine at the end of last month.
The theatrics of a call that will be closely watched around the world cannot be dismissed. Just by holding the conversation, and publicizing it heavily beforehand, Biden is sending a signal to Putin that his "no limits" friendship forged with Xi in Beijing shortly before the invasion may not be as significant as the Russian leader had hoped. The conversation also fosters an impression that Washington sees China as the key global power other than itself — instead of Moscow.
In an update on his Facebook page, the mayor said work at the plant had stopped before the missiles hit and there were no reports of casualties at this stage.
Some context: Until Friday, the picturesque city in western Ukraine has largely been spared from the relentless bombardment of Russian forces. But at about 43 miles (70 kilometers) from the Polish border, Lviv is at NATO's doorstep — any attack here could have international repercussions.
2:37 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
Here's why Lviv is so important to Ukraine's defense
At least one Russian missile hit a location in Lviv early Friday, according to the city's mayor.
Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said on Facebook he was unable to confirm the location of the strike but it was not the city's airport.
So far, the picturesque city in western Ukraine has largely been spared from the relentless bombardment of Russian forces.
Here's why Lviv is so important:
Location: At about 43 miles (70 kilometers) from the Polish border, Lviv is at NATO's doorstep — any attack here could have international repercussions.
Refugees: Lviv has become ground zero for displaced Ukrainians. It hosts more than 200,000 internally displaced people in a city of just over 700,000, according to the mayor. They've flooded into the city in search of relative safety, with many using it as a stopping point before making their way to the border.
Logistics: The larger region serves as a crucial weapons supply route to the Ukrainian military and a wider resistance effort that has foiled Moscow's plans for a blitz-like invasion.
Culture:Lviv's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the National Museum houses the country's most complete collection of sacred medieval art and rare religious manuscripts.
Temporary base: The city has become the makeshift home for many media organizations and embassies, which were forced to relocate from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.
Last Sunday, Russia expanded its offensive to western Ukraine, firing missiles near Lviv and hitting a large military base close to the Polish border, reportedly killing dozens of people and drawing the war closer to the borders of a NATO country. The attack came the day after the Kremlin threatened to attack Western weapons shipments to Ukraine.