Ukraine's president takes his diplomatic campaign against Russia to Arab summit, G7

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Friday before what a senior official said would be a trip to Japan for a meeting with the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies.

Zelenskyy has in recent months made foreign trips to shore up diplomatic support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion almost 15 months ago and solicit more military support.

He earlier this week returned from a three-day trip to Italy, the Vatican, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Ukraine and Russia are squaring up for a major and potentially decisive phase of the war as Kyiv prepares an expected counteroffensive. The conflict has been bogged down in a war of attrition in recent months amid bad weather.

Zelenskyy’s office said he was invited to attend the Arab League summit in Jeddah, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before holding other bilateral meetings.

They discussed Zelenskyy’s peace plan, the security situation in Ukraine and possible investments in the reconstruction of the country, a presidential statement said. Zelenskyy also invited Prince Mohammed to visit Ukraine.

Zelenskyy urged leaders at the summit to resist Moscow’s influence and consider his peace proposals, which include the withdrawal of the Kremlin’s forces from occupied areas of Ukraine.

“I’m more than sure that none of you will agree to surrender a third of your country to the invaders,” Zelenskyy said in English.

“Another priority is the protection of the Muslim community of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation, and most of those who suffer repression in occupied Crimea are Muslims.”

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev accompanied Zelenskyy on the visit.

Zelenskyy will later travel to a Group of Seven summit in Japan, where leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies aim to step up punishment on Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.

However, Danilov’s office later posted a statement backtracking on his announcement and saying Zelenskyy would appear at the G-7 summit via video. Zelenskyy’s movements are kept secret for security reasons.

Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up their long-range bombardment of Ukrainian targets while drones reportedly damaged train lines behind their front line.

About 130 meters (430 feet) of railway track were damaged and trains were halted for hours after an explosion derailed eight cars of a freight train carrying grain in Russia-occupied Crimea, Russian state media reported Friday.

Thursday’s blast prompted renewed suspicions about possible Ukrainian saboteur activity behind Russian lines.

Train traffic was also halted in northern Crimea on Thursday night after a drone hit a railway track near the town of Dzhankoi, Russia’s Baza Telegram channel reported.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed head of Crimea, said in a separate post that four Ukrainian drones were shot down overnight in the peninsula’s north. Aksyonov claimed there was no damage or casualties.

Russia overnight fired cruise missiles, drones and artillery at targets across Ukraine, killing two civilians, officials said Friday.

The attacks included an air assault on Kyiv for the second straight day and the 10th time in three weeks. The Kremlin’s forces also took aim at central, eastern and southern Ukraine, and the western Lviv region near the border with Poland.

Russia launched 22 Iranian-made Shahed drones and six Kalibr cruise missiles during the night, the Ukrainian Air Force said. It said air defenses downed 16 drones and three missiles.

The Russian shelling killed two civilians and wounded nine others in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, said its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko.

The missile attacks that have intensified recently aim to “disrupt Ukraine’s plans and preparations for active military operations during the spring-summer campaign,” according to a statement from Ukraine’s intelligence agency, published on Telegram.

The targets are Ukraine’s military control points and barracks, supply routes and the places where ammunition, equipment, fuel are stored, it said.

On Friday, the United Nations said operations to ship Ukrainian grain were “partially restarting,” two days after Russia gave a green light to extend the deal for two months. The U.N. also urged a swift return to the previous tempo of ship arrivals and departures from all three Black Sea ports and inspections of their cargo.

U.N. associate spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay said the Joint Coordination Center, which includes representatives from the four parties involved in the deal – Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations -- approved the registration Friday of six new vessels to participate in the grain shipments. Nine applications to participate remain pending, she said.

No ships are currently loading at any of the three ports, Tremblay said, but inspection teams from the center checked and cleared three new vessels Friday to proceed to the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk.

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Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine