At first Mr. DeRosa didn’t take Mr. Epstein’s command seriously. But Mr. Epstein kept calling, as did members of his staff, asking if he’d made any progress. Mr. DeRosa got to work tracking down a cello.
Like many professional musicians, Mr. DeRosa was wired into the small world of rare string instruments, a few of which command prices as high as $20 million. His own cello, made by the Italian master Domenico Montagnana in 1739, is considered one of the world’s finest and is likely worth millions of dollars. Mr. DeRosa assured Mr. Epstein he wouldn’t have to spend that much.
Soon after, Mr. DeRosa was visiting his mother in Los Angeles when he learned of a cello being sold there by a musician who recorded soundtracks for Hollywood studios. (Before that, the cello had been played by a member of the Indianapolis symphony orchestra.)
While not a Stradivarius or a Montagnana, this cello had a distinguished pedigree, and was manufactured by Ettore Soffritti, who worked in the string instrument center of Ferrara, Italy, from the late 1800s until his death in 1928. Benning Violins, the Los Angeles dealer, described the cello’s sound as “rich and powerful” and said the instrument was “suitable for the finest of cellists.”
Mr. DeRosa tried the cello. He was smitten. He said he considered it “one of the greatest modern cellos in existence.” (By “modern” he meant any produced after the Italian Renaissance.) With an asking price of $185,000, he also considered it a bargain.
Mr. Epstein seemed pleased when Mr. DeRosa told him he’d found something. He said the cello’s intended recipient — a young Israeli man named Yoed Nir — had to test the instrument first. Mr. DeRosa knew nearly every up-and-coming cellist, but he had never heard of Mr. Nir.
Mr. DeRosa had the cello on a trial basis, and Mr. Nir tested the instrument on a visit to Mr. DeRosa’s mother’s house in Los Angeles. Mr. Nir, who was about 30 years old and had dark, shoulder-length hair, which he tossed theatrically while playing, played some of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites. He had clearly had musical training (he was a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance), but Mr. DeRosa considered his playing unexceptional by his exacting standards. He could think of many young cellists more deserving of such an instrument. “I thought it incredibly odd that Jeffrey had chosen this guy,” Mr. DeRosa recalled.
Elon Musk is racing to secure funding for his $43 billion bid to buy Twitter.
Morgan Stanley, the investment bank working with Mr. Musk on the potential deal, has been calling banks and other potential investors to shore up financing for the offer, four people with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk is first focused on raising debt and has not yet begun to seek equity financing for his bid, one of the people said.
Mr. Musk is evaluating various packages of debt, including more senior debt known as preferred debt and a loan against his shares of Tesla, the electric carmaker that he runs, two of the people said. Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm, is among the parties considering offering debt financing in a bid for Twitter. The equity he needs is likely to be sizable.
Mr. Musk is aiming to pull together a fully funded offer as soon as this week, one of the people said, though that timeline is far from certain. The people with knowledge of the discussions were not authorized to speak publicly because the details are confidential and in flux.
It is unclear if Mr. Musk’s efforts will be successful, but they go toward addressing a key question about his Twitter bid. Last week, Mr. Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, made an unsolicited offer for the social media company, saying that he wanted to take it private and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service. But his offer was regarded skeptically by Wall Street because he did not include details about how he would come up with the money for the deal.
poison pill.” A poison pill would effectively prevent Mr. Musk from owning more than 15 percent of Twitter’s shares. The 50-year-old had been building up a stake in the company and owns more than 9 percent of Twitter, making him at one point its single-biggest individual shareholder.
Read More on Elon Musk and His Twitter Bid
The billionaire’s offer could be worth more than $40 billion and have far-reaching consequences on the social media company.
Mr. Musk, whose net worth has been reported at $255 billion, did not respond to a request for comment. On Tuesday, in what appeared to be a veiled allusion to Twitter, he tweeted his thoughts about social networks and their policies.
funding secured,” propelling Tesla shares higher. He did not have financing prepared for such a deal. The Securities and Exchange Commission later filed a securities fraud lawsuit against him, accusing him of misleading investors. Mr. Musk paid a $20 million fine and agreed to step aside as Tesla’s chairman for three years.
Some investors are wary of getting involved in financing Mr. Musk’s Twitter bid, concerned about the risks of teaming up with the mercurial billionaire and a company as politically contentious as Twitter, one person with knowledge of the situation said. For banks, offering a loan against Tesla stock is also risky, given the stock’s volatility.
Mr. Musk has not publicly articulated his business plan for Twitter, though he has spoken about reversing Twitter’s moderation policies and providing additional transparency about how its algorithms work. He has made clear that profit is not his focus, potentially complicating efforts to invest with traditional Wall Street financiers.
“This is not a way to sort of make money,” Mr. Musk said in an interview at a TED conference last week. “My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important.”
Mr. Musk’s offer for Twitter stands at $54.20 a share. Several analysts have said the company’s board is likely to accept only an offer of $60 a share or more. Twitter’s stock rose above $70 a share last year when the company announced goals to double its revenue, though its stock has since fallen to around $45 as investors have questioned its ability to meet those targets.
join the company’s board. At the time, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, and other board members said they welcomed Mr. Musk as a director given his use of the platform. Mr. Musk has more than 82.5 million Twitter followers and tweets frequently.
Mr. Musk and Mr. Agrawal also share similar perspectives about how to decentralize Twitter so that users can gain more control over their social media feeds, a tactic that both men see as a way of promoting more free speech. That move would also reduce the burden on Twitter, which has faced questions about toxic content and misinformation, to decide what posts can stay up and what should be taken down.
But then Mr. Musk rejected the board seat and began the effort to take over the company.
Twitter, which has brought on advisers from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, has also been weighing whether to invite bids from other potential buyers, two people close to the company said. At least one interested party, the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, has emerged, though it is unclear whether it will ultimately submit an offer.
Kate Conger, Mike Isaac and Jack Ewing contributed reporting.
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine said Monday that Russian forces had launched a ground assault along a nearly 300-mile front in the east after hitting the country with one of the most intense missile barrages in weeks, including the first lethal strike on Lviv, the western city that has been a refuge for tens of thousands of fleeing civilians.
The missile strikes, which killed at least seven people in Lviv alone, punctured any illusions that the picturesque city of cobbled streets and graceful squares near Poland’s border was still a sanctuary from the horrors Russia has inflicted elsewhere in Ukraine over the past two months.
The Lviv attack followed 300 missile and artillery strikes that Russia claimed to have carried out, mainly in the east, in what appeared to be a campaign to terrorize the population and intimidate Ukraine’s military before the new ground offensive had begun in the part of the country known as the Donbas.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said on national television that the Russian ground assault, which had been anticipated for weeks, stretched along nearly the entire front line, from the northern Kharkiv region south to the besieged port of Mariupol.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said, “A very significant part of the Russian army is now concentrated for that offensive,” adding, “No matter how many servicemen get thrown there, we will fight, we will defend ourselves.”
The overnight missile barrage targeted fuel depots, warehouses, and other infrastructure, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. Russian forces also appeared to be finally seizing the entire port of Mariupol, where outnumbered Ukrainian fighters defied demands to lay down their weapons at a vast steel plant that has become a kind of industrial Alamo.
Mariupol, a once-vibrant city in southeast Ukraine, is the last obstacle to Russia’s drive to secure a “land bridge” to Crimea, the southern Ukrainian peninsula seized by Russian forces eight years ago.
The intensified attacks came amid signs that international sanctions were beginning to choke Russia’s economy — and in the process, opening fissures between the country’s leaders. President Vladimir V. Putin insisted that “the strategy of an economic blitzkrieg has failed.” But Moscow’s mayor warned that 200,000 people risked losing their jobs in the capital alone, while the head of the central bank warned that the effect of Russia’s isolation was just starting to be felt.
While Ukraine’s east remained the focus of Russia’s recalibrated military ambitions, the strike on Lviv was a lethal reminder that no Ukrainian city, even one scarcely 50 miles from the Polish border, lies outside the range of Moscow’s rockets.
Gray smoke billowed from what remained of the red roof of a long concrete garage on the city’s western outskirts, a sign outside advertising “carwash” and “tire replacement.” A hole in the roof indicated that the building had taken a direct hit from a missile. Air raid sirens wailed continuously as firefighters struggled to extinguish the flames and ambulances ferried away the wounded.
While the garage burned, a train rumbled by toward Lviv’s nearby railway station, carrying passengers fleeing the fighting in the eastern city of Dnipro. It stopped briefly and the train’s conductors and other workers tried to reassure anxious passengers as they started hearing about the airstrikes by phone.
“It was panic,” said Anna Khrystiuk, a volunteer who was handing out information to displaced people, several of whom ran to a shelter in the station when the missiles hit. “Many people were from Kharkiv and other places and they were so afraid of rockets already. They thought that it was safe to stay here.”
In Kharkiv, a northeastern city shelled relentlessly since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a fresh artillery strike killed at least one person in a residential area. The victim was standing a few yards from an apartment building that was struck. It came after a concerted missile barrage on Sunday killed at least five people in the city’s center.
“It was the first time this neighborhood was hit,” said Lubov Ustymenko, 72, who wore a winter coat and stood a few yards from a discarded umbrella and a puddle filled with a mix of blood and the morning’s light rain. “Our life is decided in one second — you go outside, and then you’re gone.”
Russia’s ground onslaught — a push to seize more of the Donbas — got underway after weeks of setbacks, including Russia’s retreat from areas surrounding the capital, Kyiv, and the sinking of a major Russian warship in the Black Sea.
Having failed in the early weeks of the war to destroy the Ukrainian military’s network of fuel and ammunition depots — perhaps under the erroneous assumption that Ukrainian forces would surrender wholesale — Russia has intensified its attacks against those facilities, as well as against transportation infrastructure.
But Russia’s puzzling failure to do so earlier has left its forces with costly unfinished business, and given Ukrainian troops an unexpected advantage. Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst, said that while Russia has hit railway facilities, so far it has avoided aiming missiles at bridges over big rivers.
“If Russia plans to expand its presence on Ukraine’s territory — and the end goal since 2014 has been the destruction of Ukrainian statehood as such — it would need the railway too,” Mr. Luzin said.
Besides targeting Kharkiv, Russian forces have unleashed further destruction on eastern cities like Mykolaiv, which lies in Russia’s pathway to the Black Sea port of Odesa. Those attacks have tied up Ukrainian forces and prevented them from joining the fight farther east, while sowing terror among civilians after Russia failed to conquer these cities early in the war.
In Mariupol, devastated by weeks of siege warfare, a band of Ukrainian fighters remained ensconced in the Azovstal steel plant after having rejected Russian demands to surrender. Russia intensified its bombing of the factory, and it was unclear and how long the Ukrainians could endure in the plant’s labyrinthine underground tunnels. Officials on both sides said Russia could control the city soon.
Even with much of Mariupol now a wasteland, the city’s capture would represent a key strategic prize for Russia and would free up forces for its Donbas offensive.
Still, British defense intelligence officials said the grinding battle for the city has become a source of anxiety for Russian commanders.
“Concerted Ukrainian resistance has severely tested Russian forces and diverted men and matériel, slowing Russia’s advance elsewhere,” said Mick Smeath, a British defense attaché. He likened Russia’s treatment of Mariupol to its brutal tactics in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016.
After two months of fighting, pro-war commentators in Russia are pushing the army for tangible military victories that would cover up some of the embarrassments Moscow has suffered, including the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet, and the retreat from around Kyiv. So far, Russia has been able to claim only the capture of Kherson, a regional capital, as a significant battlefield achievement.
On Russia’s state-run television, commentators have enthusiastically promoted the Donbas offensive as a decisive battle that could be a turning point in the war. Many point toward May 9, the commemoration of Russia’s 1945 victory over Nazi Germany, as the date when Mr. Putin could claim a semblance of victory in Ukraine.
“The big battle for the Donbas has already started,” said Yuri Podolyaka, a pro-Russia analyst who publishes military reports on his popular channel on Telegram. “The activity of the Russian artillery and air forces has intensified again.”
On Monday, the head of the regional administration in Luhansk, which is part of the Donbas, said that Russian forces had gained control of the town of Kreminna, adding to territory in the region held by Moscow.
Still, those scattered Russian advances carry less psychological punch than lethal strikes on Lviv, a city that has become a critical gateway to safety for the millions of Ukrainians who have fled westward, trying to escape the worst of the fighting. In late February, it was quickly repurposed from a charming tourist destination into a base of operations for a vast relief effort, serving as a channel for humanitarian supplies, aid workers, foreign fighters making their way to frontline cities, and many foreign journalists.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have passed through the city’s train and bus stations. For many others, it is a new — if fleeting — home. Lviv, which had about 720,000 residents before the war began, has since welcomed at least 350,000 people displaced from other parts of the country.
Until Monday, the only direct targets that had been hit in Lviv were a fuel storage site and tank facility in the city’s northeast, hit by several missile strikes about three weeks earlier. Before that, a pair of attacks targeted an airport facility and a military base near Lviv, killing at least 35 people.
In Monday’s strike, three missiles hit empty military warehouses while a fourth hit the garage, according to the head of Lviv’s military administration, Maksym Koztyskyy. He did not say whether all the casualties were from the strike on the garage. Besides the seven killed, he said 11 people were injured — a toll that could rise as rescue workers cleared rubble from the site. The missiles, Mr. Koztyskyy said, had been launched by warplanes from the direction of the Caspian Sea.
Orest Maznin, a police officer, said he had been driving to work past the garage when the missiles struck, and he narrowly escaped shrapnel. The windshield of his car had a large hole from the impact of a piece of metal.
“It happened too quickly for me to be afraid,” Mr. Maznin said.
Jane Arraf reported from Lviv, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Mark Landler from London. Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkiv, Ukraine, Michael Schwirtz from Kyiv, and Anton Troianovski and Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul.
In a Russian-occupied village, five men went off to feed cattle. Their relatives and neighbors are wondering what happened to them.
HUSARIVKA, Ukraine — The cows wouldn’t stop screaming.
Russian soldiers had occupied this remote village in eastern Ukraine for about two weeks and were using a farm as a base. But the animals at the farm hadn’t been fed. Their incessant bleating was wearing on both occupiers and townspeople.
A group of five residents from Husarivka, an unassuming agricultural village of around 1,000 people, went to tend the cattle.
They were never heard from again.
“My two nephews disappeared. They went to feed the cows on the farm,” said Svitlana Tarusyna, 70. “They are gone, vanished.”
What transpired in Husarivka has all the horrifying elements of the more widely publicized episodes involving Russian brutality: indiscriminate killings, abuse and torture taking place over the better part of a month.
considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.
The five men fed the cows and tended to their duties. But as they left, something on the farm exploded, residents recalled. Whether it was an artillery strike or an attempt at sabotage is unclear, but it seemed to contribute to their disappearance; Mr. Doroshenko stated that the Russians captured the men after the explosion. It is possible they were behind some type of attack on the Russian headquarters.
“They only got to the crossroad and were seized,” Mr. Doroshenko said.
Two other people near the farm also went missing that day, Mr. Doroshenko added. Roughly a week later, on March 24, a Russian sniper shot and killed Andriy Mashchenko as he rode home on his bicycle. He had been sheltering in a neighbor’s basement during an artillery barrage. He died on Peace Street.
Under heavy bombardment, the Russians retreated from Husarivka about two days later, and Ukrainian forces swept through afterward. The town’s casualty tally during the occupation: seven people missing, two killed by gunfire and at least two by shelling.
Evidence scattered around the town showed how artillery had ruled the day. Spent rockets lay in fields. Roofs were caved in. The rusted hulks of Russian vehicles were seemingly everywhere. In one armored personnel carrier, the corpse of what was presumed to be a Russian soldier remained, barely recognizable as someone’s son.
But as Ukrainian soldiers sifted through the battlefield wreckage after their victory, they found something on Petrusenko Street. It was in a backyard basement sealed shut by a rusted metal door.
“In this cellar the bodies were found,” said Olexiy, a chief investigator in the region who declined to provide his last name for security reasons. He gestured down into a soot-covered hole. “They were covered by car tires and burned,” he said.
“There is no way to tell the cause of their death,” he added, “We found three hands, two legs, three skulls.”
The bodies have yet to be identified, he said. Residents of Husarivka believe the three had been part of the group of five who disappeared. Images provided to The New York Times clearly showed that a rubber work boot was melted to the foot of one leg.
But hauntingly, no one knows for sure what happened to the five men. Many of the cows they went to feed ended up being killed by the shelling.
BRUSSELS — Russia’s faltering war against Ukraine suffered a pair of setbacks Thursday when the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet sank after a catastrophic explosion and fire, as the European Union moved closer to an embargo on Russian oil imports.
Ukraine claimed to have struck the vessel, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, with two of its own Neptune missiles, while Russia said the blast was caused by ammunition aboard the ship. If confirmed, the missile attack would be a serious blow to Russia, both militarily and symbolically — proof that its ships can no longer operate with impunity, and another damaging blow to morale.
It would also give a lift to Ukrainian hopes, while demonstrating the defenders’ homegrown technological capacity and exposing an embarrassing weakness in the Russian navy’s antimissile defenses.
Moscow also faces the possible loss of European markets in fossil fuels, which are providing billions of dollars a month to support its war effort. The European Union has long resisted calls to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, but officials revealed on Thursday that an oil embargo is in the works and is likely to be adopted in the coming weeks.
That comes on top of a previously announced ban on imports of Russian coal. Taken together, the steps are bound to raise fuel and electricity prices in Europe, potentially disrupting the economy and provoking a political backlash.
Ukraine continues to brace for a Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region — where Moscow has said it will focus its war efforts after its failure to capture the capital, Kyiv — while Russian forces squeeze the shrinking pocket of resistance in the ruined southern port of Mariupol. The devastation rained there has offered a dire warning of what may befall other cities in the event of a prolonged Russian siege, prompting a mass exodus of civilians from the Donbas.
Its international isolation deepening, the Kremlin reacted ominously to the growing indications that Finland and Sweden would join the NATO alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, the government warned that any such expansion of NATO would prompt an increased Russian military presence, including nuclear weapons, in the region.
The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, warned on Thursday of the possibility that Mr. Putin, facing a debacle in Ukraine, might use a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon, though he stressed that he had seen no “practical evidence” that such a step was pending. It was the first time he discussed publicly a concern that has been much debated in the White House.
“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” Mr. Burns said, in answering questions after a speech in Atlanta.
Prominent voices in Russian state media have made increasingly incendiary statements recently, calling for more brutality in battles that have already sparked calls for war-crimes investigations of the Russian forces.
Much remained unclear about Russia’s setback in the western Black Sea, where a blast on Thursday morning — Wednesday night in the United States — and subsequent fire forced many of the Moskva’s roughly 500 crew members to abandon ship. There was no word on casualties. Ukraine said it had struck the vessel with two Neptune missiles and sunk it.
Russia’s Defense Ministry initially said its sailors had managed to put out the fire and the Moskva, commissioned in 1983, remained afloat. But hours later, it said, the ship sank while being towed to port in a storm.
Western defense officials said they could not be sure what caused the explosion aboard the 12,000-ton ship. Three American officials briefed on the incident said all indications were that it had been hit by missiles. The officials cautioned that early battlefield reports can sometimes change, but expressed deep skepticism over the Russian account of an accidental fire.
Ukraine has been stressing the need for coastal defense weapons, and the U.S. announced this week that it would send more of them. Pentagon officials said that other Russian ships had moved farther from the Ukrainian shoreline, lending credence to the claim of missile strikes.
“It’s going to have an impact on their naval capabilities, certainly in the near term,” but the long-term picture is unclear, said the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, a former Navy rear admiral.
Until now, Russian ships have been able to fire missiles at will against coastal cities. They have blockaded Ukraine’s south coast and threatened an amphibious landing in the southwestern region. The presence of an effective Ukrainian anti-ship weapon — Ukraine says the Neptune has a range of about 190 miles — could change those calculations, though Ukraine’s commercial shipping is unlikely to resume anytime soon.
Current and former American naval commanders said a successful missile attack would represent a shocking lack of Russian combat readiness.
“This is not supposed to happen to a modern warship,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, a former commander of the United States Sixth Fleet, whose area of operations includes Europe. “If this was a Neptune missile strike, it’s indicative of complacency and lack of an effective integrated air and missile defense capability.”
Ukraine has endured most of the suffering in the war that began on Feb. 24, with untold thousands of casualties, widespread destruction and millions of people displaced, but the blowback on Russia has also been severe. Moscow’s vaunted military has often seemed hapless, absorbing unexpectedly heavy losses of men and equipment, while unprecedented sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies have shaken the Russian economy.
President Vladimir V. Putin acknowledged some of that cost on Thursday in a videoconference with top government officials and oil and gas executives, referring to “the disruption of export logistics” in that industry and “setbacks in payments for Russian energy exports.”
Fossil fuels are Russia’s biggest export product, a huge part of the Russian economy that employs millions of people and supplies the government with much of the revenue needed to support its war-making machinery.
Now E.U. officials and European diplomats say the bloc is moving toward barring oil imports from Russia, a ban that would be phased in over months to allow countries to arrange alternative supplies. They said European leaders will not make a final decision until after April 24, when France will hold its presidential runoff; a rise in fuel prices could hurt the prospects of President Emmanuel Macron and boost his right-wing opponent, Marine Le Pen, who has praised Mr. Putin.
The government of Germany, the most influential country in the European Union, has been particularly reluctant to cut off Russian fuel, which would come at a steep cost and could lead to shortages. But pressure from allies and mounting evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine have, step by step, overcome that resistance. Germany refused to allow the virtually completed, $10 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to go into service, supported the coal ban and now appears to be on board with an oil embargo.
The shifting stance of the neutral Scandinavian states is another unintended consequence for Mr. Putin. In waging a war that he said was intended to keep Ukraine out of NATO — a distant prospect at best — he may have succeeded in driving two countries that had been steadfastly nonaligned for generations into the arms of the alliance.
Dmitri A. Medvedev, a senior Russian security official, said on Thursday that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, there would be “no more talk of a nuclear-free Baltics” region. Moscow would be compelled to “seriously strengthen” its air and ground forces in the area, said Mr. Medvedev, a former president and prime minister, and could deploy nuclear-armed warships “at arm’s length” from Finnish and Swedish shores.
Vladimir Solovyov, a television host who is considered a leading voice of Kremlin propaganda, said on Wednesday that Russia should destroy all Ukrainian infrastructure, including basic utilities.
Russia “must bring these terrorists to their senses in the cruelest way,” he said on his show on the state-owned Russia-1 channel. “We need to talk differently with terrorists,” he added. “There shouldn’t be any illusions that they can win.”
Russia has forced independent news outlets to shut down or leave the country, and has criminalized disputing the Kremlin’s account of the war. Yet Margarita Simonyan, the head of the state-owned RT news organization, said earlier this week that the government should restrict information even more.
No major power can exist “without having information under its control,” she said, adding, “we are all waiting for this.”
Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko and Anton Troianovski from Istanbul, Michael Schwirtz from London, and Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.
With evidence mounting of atrocities in the Kyiv suburbs, and Russian forces preparing for a new offensive farther east, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine delivered a scathing speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, accusing Russia of a litany of horrors and questioning whether a world body that takes no action to stop a war serves any purpose.
Speaking via video link to the U.N. Security Council, he compared Russian forces to the Islamic State, called for a Nuremberg-like war crimes tribunal and vented his bitter frustration, knowing that the council — where Russia is one of five permanent members with veto power — would do nothing but talk.
“Where is the security that the Security Council needs to guarantee?” Mr. Zelensky said, raising the question of whether Russia deserved to keep its seat on the council. “Are you ready to close the U.N.? Do you think that the time of international law is gone? If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately.”
The chamber fell silent as a short video provided by Mr. Zelensky’s government played, showing some of the hundreds of corpses found strewn around the city of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, after Russian forces retreated last week — bloated, charred bodies of civilians, including children. Some victims, their hands bound, had been shot in the head.
Mr. Zelensky said that in Bucha, “they killed entire families, adults and children, and they tried to burn the bodies.” Civilians “were crushed by tanks while sitting in their cars in the middle of the road,” he added, asserting that “women were raped and killed in front of their children; their tongues were pulled out.”
China refrained from criticizing Russia in Tuesday’s session, saying that the Security Council should wait until investigations establish the facts in Ukraine. A rising global power, China has drawn closer to Russia in recent years, united by a shared antipathy to the United States. The divisions on the war appeared essentially unchanged since Feb. 26, when 11 of 15 Security Council members voted for a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, Russia vetoed the measure, and three others abstained — China, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, reiterated his government’s claims — rebutted by ample evidence — that atrocities in Bucha had been faked, or had not occurred when Russians held the city. He made a number of other unsupported claims, including stating falsely that in Ukraine — where the freely elected president is a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust — Nazis are “running the show.”
After President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia launched the war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, his military became bogged down on several fronts in the face of logistical failures and unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance. Russian forces spent weeks shelling and occupying cities and towns in northern Ukraine, where they took heavy losses as they failed to capture Kyiv, the capital. Last week they pulled back from that part of the country, preparing for what Russian officials and foreign analysts said would be a shift in focus toward eastern Ukraine.
“The next pivotal battle of the war” is likely to be for the eastern city of Sloviansk, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Institute for the Study of War, based in Washington.
Revulsion over the apparent executions discovered in Bucha deepened Russia’s economic isolation, despite its denials of responsibility.
The United States has started blocking Russia from making debt payments using dollars held in American banks, a move designed to deplete its international currency reserves and potentially push Russia toward its first foreign currency debt default in a century.
And the European Union took a significant step toward overcoming resistance to curbing fuel imports from Russia, on which its member nations rely heavily. The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, proposed cutting off imports of Russian coal — oil and natural gas remain hotly debated — and barring Russian vessels from E.U. ports as part of a new round of sanctions.
The measures, which require unanimous approval, are expected to go to a vote of E.U. ambassadors on Wednesday. Diplomats said the sanctions package would target, among others, two daughters of Mr. Putin. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the chief E.U. diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, announced plans to visit Kyiv this week and meet with Mr. Zelensky.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said that it, along with the Kyiv police, had discovered what it called a Bucha “torture chamber,” where Russian forces had left behind the bodies of five men, their hands tied, who had been tortured and killed.
Mr. Zelensky reinforced a point that U.N. officials have made repeatedly: The true extent of Ukraine’s destruction and casualties is unknown but far greater than what has been documented, because outside observers have been unable to reach some of the most devastated areas. “Now the world can see what Russia did in Bucha, but the world has yet to see what it has done in other parts of our country,” Mr. Zelensky said.
New York Times journalists on Tuesday were able for the first time to reach the town of Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv, battered by Russian rockets and airstrikes, where the mayor estimated 200 dead lay beneath the rubble. In the besieged port of Mariupol, local officials have put the death toll in the thousands.
Fierce fighting continues along Ukraine’s southern coast, where Mariupol, largely reduced to ruins by Russian bombardment, is “the center of hell,” said Martin Griffiths, the U.N. chief of humanitarian relief.
More than 250 miles west of Mariupol, explosions shuddered through the port of Mykolaiv, a day after the mayor said Russian strikes had killed 10 people and wounded 46. He said that Russians had hit residential buildings, schools, a hospital and an orphanage in his city since the war began, and had used cluster munitions. Soldiers defending the city said that increasingly, Russian forces were hitting civilian targets.
After four consecutive days of trying and failing to send an aid convoy into Mariupol, where people are desperately short of food, water, power, heat and medicines, the International Committee of the Red Cross decided against another attempt on Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials say the Russians have prevented crucial supplies from reaching the city. Mr. Nebenzya, the Russian U.N. ambassador, said the Ukrainians had blocked the convoy, and he claimed that Russian forces had evacuated 123,500 people from Mariupol.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that in fact, tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including from Mariupol, had been taken to “filtration camps” in Russia, where family members were separated and people were stripped of passports and cellphones. “I do not need to spell out what these so-called filtration camps are reminiscent of,” she said. “It’s chilling, and we cannot look away.”
Rosemary A. DiCarlo, a U.N. under secretary general, said there was credible evidence that Russia had used cluster munitions — shells that burst open to spew many smaller bomblets over a wide area — at least 24 times in populated areas of Ukraine. Most countries have signed a treaty banning cluster munitions as indiscriminate weapons with a high risk of civilian casualties, but Russia, like the United States, has not.
More than 11 million Ukrainians — about one in four — have fled their homes because of the war, including more than 4 million who have left the country, according to the United Nations, creating Europe’s largest and fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.
Russian forces recently captured the eastern city of Izyum, and Western analysts say they are preparing for a drive to the south and southeast, to bolster efforts to seize more of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years. Many of Ukraine’s best-equipped and most experienced military units have been concentrated in that area, known as Donbas.
“Russian forces continue to make little to no progress in frontal assaults” on the portions of Donbas still held by Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War reported.
Whether the Russians aim simply to reinforce their units in Donbas, or are planning a more ambitious effort to encircle the Ukrainian forces, capturing Sloviansk is crucial, the institute said.
In the Luhansk region on Tuesday, an attack that Ukrainians blamed on Russian forces hit a storage tank containing nitric acid, releasing a toxic cloud and prompting the regional administrator to urge people to stay inside and close their windows.
The Russian units that withdrew from the region around Kyiv, having suffered heavy casualties, extensive equipment losses and poor morale, the institute said, “are highly unlikely to be effectively deployed elsewhere in Ukraine and are likely a spent force.”
An intelligence assessment released by the British defense ministry was less definitive, but said that any Russian forces redeploying from the north would first need considerable time to repair and replace equipment, and to make up for casualties.
Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall in Borodyanka, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine; Rick Gladstone, Michael Schwirtz and Farnaz Fassihi in New York; Dan Bilefsky in Montreal; Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff in Brussels; Megan Specia and Cora Engelbrecht in Krakow, Poland; Anton Troianovski in Istanbul; and Lara Jakes in Washington.
BUCHA, Ukraine — Growing evidence of atrocities against civilians has brought home the horrific toll of the war in Ukraine, prompting world leaders on Sunday to threaten even harsher sanctions, including a lockout of Russia’s vital gas industry, a step some had been loath to take.
In Bucha, a newly liberated suburb northwest of the capital, residents were still finding bodies in yards and roadways days after Russian troops withdrew. A man in a bright blue fleece lay hunched over the steering wheel of a crushed car at an intersection in the center of town. Another man lay on his back beside the road, a large bullet hole in the back of his head and his green bicycle toppled beside him.
But it was the discovery of corpses with their wrists bound, images of which quickly proliferated online, that sparked the most international outrage.
“The Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes,” said France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, called the actions of the Russian army in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv “acts of genocide.” And António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, expressing “shock” over the images of dead civilians, said: “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”
Even as Moscow’s troops pulled away from Kyiv, Russia continued to batter Ukraine’s southern coastline with airstrikes on infrastructure Sunday. It has described the withdrawal as a tactical move to regroup its forces for a major push in the Donbas region in the east and south.
Missiles struck the Black Sea port cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv, according to Ukrainian officials, and Ukraine’s air defense southern command said it had intercepted two Russian sea-based cruise missiles. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the strikes, saying it had destroyed an oil refinery and three oil depots around Odesa that “were used to resupply Ukrainian military units” near Mykolaiv.
But on Sunday, the world’s attention was focused more on where Russian forces had been than where they were now, with Bucha at the forefront.
As Ukrainian forces swept into the suburb, civilians emerged from basement shelters to a landscape dotted with bodies and the husks of destroyed tanks.
The dead were so numerous that local officials resorted to digging a mass grave outside a church, where a coroner, Serhiy Kaplishny, said about 40 bodies had been deposited during the occupation. In an interview, Mr. Kaplishny said his team had collected more than 100 bodies during and after the fighting, including those of more than a dozen men whose hands had been tied and who had been shot in the head.
Journalists from The New York Times, The Associated Press and other international news outlets arriving in Bucha and nearby towns have also filmed and photographed bodies in civilian clothes scattered in the streets and at least nine lying together in a yard. In several cases, hands were bound behind the back.
The bodies of 410 people who appeared to have been civilians have been recovered from the Kyiv region, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said in a Facebook post on Sunday. The Times was not able to independently verify that figure.
“We are being destroyed and exterminated, and this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century,” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,”
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Sunday rejected all accusations that its troops had committed atrocities in Bucha, saying that “not a single” civilian had been injured while the town was under Russian control. It said pictures and video footage from the area had been “staged by the Ukrainian government.”
But as evidence of the apparent massacre of civilians mounted, leaders across the world said Moscow was to blame for the violence and should be held accountable.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain condemned “Russia’s despicable attacks against innocent civilians in Irpin and Bucha,” and even Yair Lapid, the foreign minister of Israel, which has been wary of antagonizing Moscow, said it was “impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha.”
“Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it,” Mr. Lapid said.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in an interview on CNN, said the killings should not go unpunished. “We’ve said before Russia’s aggression that we thought it was likely that they would commit atrocities,” Mr. Blinken said, adding: “We can’t become numb to this. We can’t normalize this.”
Outrage over the civilian deaths could move the needle for the European Union, which has so far rebuffed mounting calls from Ukraine, and by President Biden, to impose sanctions on Russian oil and gas, citing its dependency on Russian fuels.
In what would mark a significant shift in her country’s position, Germany’s defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, said that in light of the Bucha atrocities, the bloc should consider banning Russian gas imports. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said on Twitter that more European Union sanctions against Russia “are on their way.”
On Sunday, a leading human rights group said it had documented “apparent war crimes” against Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces that had occupied Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Citing interviews with eyewitnesses, victims and local residents, the group, Human Rights Watch, documented a case of a woman who was repeatedly raped, as well as two summary killings and other episodes of violence against civilians.
The report painted a grueling picture of brutality in Bucha even before the accounts that emerged from there after Russian forces withdrew.
One eyewitness cited in the report described an execution in early March, in which Russian soldiers forced five men to kneel on a roadside and pull their shirts over their heads before shooting one of them in the head.
“The cases that we documented are corroborated by these recent allegations,” said Yulia Gorbunova, the author of the Human Rights Watch report, referring to the recent reports circulating from Bucha. “What is emerging now, if confirmed, is quite horrendous and gives an indication of the scale of these atrocities,” she said.
War crimes cases can be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but successful prosecution is a steep climb, experts say.
“It would likely be difficult to prove in court,’’ said David Scheffer, an international law expert. “The circumstances are unknown. Who executed them. Who bound their hands. This would require a very difficult and detailed investigation.’’
“This is very different from a military strike on a city,’’ he said.
Accusations can also be brought before the International Court of Justice, but the United Nations Security Council would be responsible for enforcing any ruling against Russia; as one of five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia would have veto power over any decision.
The Russian government has consistently denied claims that its forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, even as reports emerged of mass casualties from the bombing of a maternity ward and theater in Mariupol. In occupied Bucha, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement residents “could freely move around the town” and were allowed to leave.
“This is another provocation,” the ministry said of the new reports of atrocities.
But the accounts from Ukraine and the grisly images may spur additional military aid to Ukraine, aside from more punishment on Russia.
American lawmakers said the reports from Bucha justified further assistance to Ukraine, with some calling for the provision of more surface-to-air missiles to help Ukrainian forces. “We need to do more to help Ukraine, and we need to do more quickly,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.
In the besieged port city of Mariupol, residents were still awaiting the arrival of an aid convoy that has been trying to reach them since Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday. Late Thursday, Russia announced a cease-fire to allow for evacuations out of Mariupol, but humanitarian efforts to reach the city have stalled repeatedly.
Carlotta Gall and Andrew E. Kramer reported from Bucha, and Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City. Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul; Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Poland; Jane Arraffrom Lvivm Ukraine; Cassandra Vinograd from London; Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels; Monika Pronczuk from Przemysl, Poland; and Jesus Jiménez from New York.
Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, March 27, 2022. Simone Risoluti/Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
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VATICAN CITY, March 27 (Reuters) – The threat of a global conflict spawned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should convince everyone that the time has come for humanity to abolish war before it abolishes humanity, Pope Francis said on Sunday.
“More than a month has passed since the invasion of Ukraine, since the start of this cruel and senseless war, which, like every war, is a defeat for everyone, for all of us,” he said to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday blessing.
“We must repudiate war, a place of death where fathers and mothers bury their children, where men kill their brothers without even seeing them, where the powerful decide and the poor die,” he said.
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The war in Ukraine was destroying the country’s future, he said, citing a statistic that half of the country’s children had to flee the country.
“That is the bestiality of war, something that is barbarous and sacrilegious,” he said, urging his listeners not to consider war as inevitable or something to get used to.
“If we emerge from this (war) the same as we were before, we will all be in some way guilty. Faced with the danger of self-destruction, humanity must understand that the time has come to abolish war, to cancel it from the history of man before it cancels man from history,” he said.
Since Russia invaded its neighbour on Feb. 24, Francis has several times spoken of a possible nuclear conflict.
“I beg every politician involved to reflect on this, to make a commitment, and, looking at martyred Ukraine, to understand that every day of war worsens the situation for everyone,” he said.
“Enough! Stop! Let the weapons fall silent. Negotiate seriously for peace,” he said.
Since the invasion, which Russia calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise Ukraine, the pope has implicitly criticised Moscow, strongly condemning what he has called an “unjustified aggression” and denouncing “atrocities.”
But he has used the word “Russia” only in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace last Friday read more
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Reporting by Philip Pullella;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle
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KYIV, Ukraine — A month into a war that began with widespread expectations of a quick Russian rout, Ukraine’s military has begun a counteroffensive that has altered the central dynamic of the fighting: the question is no longer how far Russian forces have advanced, but whether the Ukrainians are now pushing them back.
Ukraine has blown up parked Russian helicopters in the south, and on Thursday claimed to have destroyed a naval ship in the Sea of Azov. Its forces struck a Russian resupply convoy in the Northeast.
Western and Ukrainian officials also have claimed progress in fierce fighting around the capital, Kyiv.
The asserted gains in territory are hard to quantify, or verify. In at least one crucial battle in a suburb of Kyiv, where Russian troops had made their closest approach to the capital, brutal street fighting still raged on Thursday and it was not clear that Ukraine had regained any ground.
But even this muddied picture of Ukrainian progress is helpful for the country’s messaging to its citizens, and to the world — that it is taking the fight to a foe with superior numbers and weaponry, and not just hunkering down to play defense. And it underscores the flawed planning and execution that has bedeviled Russian forces from the start, including supply shortages and demoralizing conditions for its soldiers. Those missteps have enabled Ukraine to unexpectedly go on the offensive.
In particular, by preventing Russian troops from capturing Irpin, a suburban town about 12 miles from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine showed that its strategy of sending small units out from the capital to engage the Russians, often in ambushes, has had success, at least for now.
Western governments have issued cautiously optimistic assessments of the counteroffensive. In an intelligence report released Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian moves were “increasing pressure” on the Russians to the east of Kyiv, and that Ukrainian soldiers “have probably retaken Makariv” and another small town directly north of the capital.
While noting the inconclusive state of the battle, the report raised what it called a “realistic possibility” that the Ukrainian counteroffensive could succeed in encircling and cutting the supply lines of the Russian invasion force in the area, in what would be a clear tactical victory for Ukraine. At the least, it said, “the successful counter attacks by Ukraine will disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganize and resume their own offensive toward Kyiv.”
In the counteroffensive around Kyiv, the Ukrainian military ordered lower-level commanders to devise strategies for striking back in ways appropriate to their local areas. In many cases, this involved sending small units of infantry on reconnaissance missions to find and engage Russian forces that had fanned out into villages near Kyiv, a soldier on one such mission said over the weekend.
In the battles to the northwest of the capital, time is likely on Ukraine’s side, analysts say. Russian columns have run low on fuel and ammunition, intercepted radio transmissions suggest. Soldiers have been sleeping in vehicles for a month, in freezing weather.
And military analysts see this axis of the Russian advance, though it came the closest to the center of Kyiv, as the most troubled by logistical failures and setbacks in combat.
Still, without knowing now which army is actually advancing in the contested towns and villages, the war here is in a state of uncertainty, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va.
More broadly, throughout the country, time is also on Ukraine’s side in at least stalling the initial Russian invasion force. But this may shift. An initial upswelling of patriotism could wane as the war’s grim reality sets in or as civilians begin to grasp Ukraine’s military losses, about which little is known.
“Our understanding of where we are now in this war is very incomplete, and we have to be honest about this,” said Mr. Kofman. “If you don’t know who controls what, you don’t know who has the momentum on the ground.”
By Thursday, the intensive fighting had set so many fires in towns around Kyiv that the city was shrouded in an eerie, white haze of smoke. But signs of actual, on the ground progress were elusive. Ukrainian forces have been unable to demonstrate they control villages or towns previously held by the Russian army.
“They are fighting day and night and everything is burning,” said Olha, 33, a saleswoman who escaped from Irpin Wednesday evening, and who was not comfortable providing her full name. She was interviewed at an aid station for displaced civilians where a continuous, cacophonous rumble of explosions could be heard from the fighting nearby.
Earlier on Wednesday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had in fact pushed back Russian troops and that “almost the whole of Irpin is in Ukrainian hands.” Other Ukrainian and Western officials have also offered more optimistic accounts than could be verified from witnesses.
The deputy police chief of Irpin, Oleksandr Bogai, said Russian soldiers were still in the town, occupying several districts and fighting Ukrainian forces. That is essentially the same situation that has persisted for nearly the entire month of the war. “There are huge explosions and a lot of smoke,” he said by telephone. “Civilians are holed up in basements. I don’t know exactly what is happening.”
In Makariv, another battleground town to the west of Kyiv that Ukrainian officials claimed to have recaptured this week, the fighting was also ongoing, Vadym Tokar, the mayor, said in a telephone interview.
“I don’t understand where this nonsense came from,” he said of reports his town had been liberated. “It is not true. We have shelling and we have Russian tanks shooting into the town right now.”
To be sure, some Western and Ukrainian official accounts have also offered more measured assessments. The head of the Kyiv regional military administration, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said Thursday that the counteroffensive had managed to “improve positions” in Irpin and Makariv, but did not assert control.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, announced the counteroffensive on March 16, after it became clear the Russian armored columns had become bogged down, plagued by logistical and communications glitches and taking losses in ambushes.
Russian forces have continued to make advances in eastern Ukraine, where its military claimed on Thursday to have captured Izyum, a provincial town in the Kharkiv region that had been under attack for weeks. Ukraine denied it was captured. Neither account could be independently confirmed.
In the fighting around Kyiv, civilians evacuating from the combat zone painted a picture, not so much of liberated towns but of chaotic, lethal violence.
Vladimir, 66, a retired furniture factory worker who declined to offer his last name, walked out of Irpin Thursday morning after his home burned down overnight.
“Nobody is putting out the fires,” he said. “My neighbor’s home burned and I saw sparks on my roof and then my house started to burn.”
Lacking water to fight the fire, he could only watch. “We should never surrender,” he said. “We will never live under the Russians again.”
There were also few signs the Ukrainian government had established even rudimentary civilian services in the towns it is attempting to recapture.
A woman who also offered only her first name, Elena, arrived at an aid station on the evacuation route out of Irpin in tears, saying neighbors had helped her bury her adult son in her backyard because no authorities were collecting the dead.
“I just hope his grave will not be destroyed” in the artillery shelling, she said. “The men dug a grave in the garden between the roses, and put stones around it, and a cross over it.”
Still, in one sign the counteroffensive has pushed into areas previously controlled by Russian troops, a Ukrainian unit that retrieves military dead from the battlefield has now also been finding the bodies of Russian soldiers in the towns around Kyiv, according to Serhiy Lysenko, the unit’s commander.
He declined to say in which towns he had been working. For now, he said in a telephone interview, they are leaving the Russian dead in place, not wanting to take additional risks to retrieve them.
Mr. Kofman, from the CNA research institute, said “It’s clear Russia cannot achieve its initial political objectives in this war now.” He said Russia must shift its goals or alter its military strategy “if it wants to sustain this war on scale beyond the coming weeks.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.
After war began last month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine turned to Mykhailo Fedorov, a vice prime minister, for a key role.
Mr. Fedorov, 31, the youngest member of Mr. Zelensky’s cabinet, immediately took charge of a parallel prong of Ukraine’s defense against Russia. He began a campaign to rally support from multinational businesses to sunder Russia from the world economy and to cut off the country from the global internet, taking aim at everything from access to new iPhones and PlayStations to Western Union money transfers and PayPal.
To achieve Russia’s isolation, Mr. Fedorov, a former tech entrepreneur, used a mix of social media, cryptocurrencies and other digital tools. On Twitter and other social media, he pressured Apple, Google, Netflix, Intel, PayPal and others to stop doing business in Russia. He helped form a group of volunteer hackers to wreak havoc on Russian websites and online services. His ministry also set up a cryptocurrency fund that has raised more than $60 million for the Ukrainian military.
The work has made Mr. Fedorov one of Mr. Zelensky’s most visible lieutenants, deploying technology and finance as modern weapons of war. In effect, Mr. Fedorov is creating a new playbook for military conflicts that shows how an outgunned country can use the internet, crypto, digital activism and frequent posts on Twitter to help undercut a foreign aggressor.
McDonald’s have withdrawn from Russia, with the war’s human toll provoking horror and outrage. Economic sanctions by the United States, European Union and others have played a central role in isolating Russia.
Mr. Zelensky was elected in 2019, he appointed Mr. Fedorov, then 28, to be minister of digital transformation, putting him in charge of digitizing Ukrainian social services. Through a government app, people could pay speeding tickets or manage their taxes. Last year, Mr. Fedorov visited Silicon Valley to meet with leaders including Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple.
Russia invaded Ukraine, Mr. Fedorov immediately pressured tech companies to pull out of Russia. He made the decision with Mr. Zelensky’s backing, he said, and the two men speak every day.
“I think this choice is as black and white as it ever gets,” Mr. Fedorov said. “It is time to take a side, either to take the side of peace or to take the side of terror and murder.”
On Feb. 25, he sent letters to Apple, Google and Netflix, asking them to restrict access to their services in Russia. Less than a week later, Apple stopped selling new iPhones and other products in Russia.
Russia damaged the country’s main telecommunications infrastructure. Two days after contacting Mr. Musk, a shipment of Starlink equipment arrived in Ukraine.
Since then, Mr. Fedorov said he has periodically exchanged text messages with Mr. Musk.
were put on pause following the invasion. Russia, a signatory to the accord, has tried to use final approval of the deal as leverage to soften sanctions imposed because of the war.
But while many companies have halted business in Russia, more could be done, he said. Apple and Google should pull their app stores from Russia and software made by companies like SAP was also being used by scores of Russian businesses, he has noted.
In many instances, the Russian government is cutting itself off from the world, including blocking access to Twitter and Facebook. On Friday, Russian regulators said they would also restrict access to Instagram and called Meta an “extremist” organization.
Some civil society groups have questioned whether Mr. Fedorov’s tactics could have unintended consequences. “Shutdowns can be used in tyranny, not in democracy,” the Internet Protection Society, an internet freedom group in Russia, said in a statement earlier this week. “Any sanctions that disrupt access of Russian people to information only strengthen Putin’s regime.”
Mr. Fedorov said it was the only way to jolt the Russian people into action. He praised the work of Ukraine-supporting hackers who have been coordinating loosely with Ukrainian government to hit Russian targets.
“After cruise missiles started flying over my house and over houses of many other Ukrainians, and also things started exploding, we decided to go into counter attack,” he said.
Mr. Fedorov’s work is an example of Ukraine’s whatever-it-takes attitude against a larger Russian army, said Max Chernikov, a software engineer who is supporting the volunteer group known as the IT Army of Ukraine.
“He acts like every Ukrainian — doing beyond his best,” he said.
Mr. Fedorov, who has a wife and young daughter, said he remained hopeful about the war’s outcome.
“The truth is on our side,” he added. “I’m sure we’re going to win.”
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac contributed reporting.