BRUSSELS — The chair of the African Union, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, has told European Union leaders that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports is paving the way for a “catastrophic scenario” of widespread shortages and price hikes across his continent.

In an address to leaders gathered in Brussels Tuesday for a summit focused on helping Ukraine, Sall said that a halt to grain and fertilizer exports via the Black Sea is very worrying for a continent hosting 282 million undernourished people. He said that the price of fertilizer across Africa has already tripled compared to 2021.

“According to some estimates, cereal yields in Africa will fall by 20 to 50 percent this year,” Sall said. “We would like to see everything possible done to free up available grain stocks and ensure transportation and market access.”

Charles Michel, the EU Council president, said that “the EU is sparing no efforts to free Ukraine’s exports over land and exploring alternative sea routes.”

African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to U.N. figures. The African Development Bank is already reporting a 45% increase in wheat prices on the continent.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Sievierodonetsk mayor says Russian forces seize half of city

— In big bid to punish Moscow, EU bans most Russia oil imports

— A ‘terrible nightmare’: Treating Ukraine’s wounded civilians

— War crimes meeting held at Hague over Russia-Ukraine war

— Turkish leader writes on ‘risks’ of Sweden, Finland in NATO

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

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

Russia’s top diplomat has again blamed the hampering of exports of Ukrainian grain and a global food crisis on Kyiv and the West.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia guarantees “free export of Ukrainian grain by ships that are now locked in Ukrainian ports,” but first Ukraine needs to “de-mine the coastal waters that are in the territorial sea of Ukraine.”

Lavrov told a news conference after meeting with his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani that if that is done, “in the open sea … Russia’s naval forces will ensure the unimpeded passage of these ships to the Mediterranean Sea and further to their destinations,”

He also blamed Western nations for creating “a flurry of artificial problems with closing their ports for Russian vessels, with cutting logistical and financial chains.” He added that they must “seriously think what is more important for them — to do PR on the issue of the food security or solve the problem with concrete steps.”

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MOSCOW — The deputy head of Russia’s Security Council is alleging that sanctions against the country, including new measures targeting oil exports, are aimed at hurting ordinary Russians and motivated by hatred.

Dmitry Medvedev, who is also a former president and prime minister, wrote on Telegram Tuesday that sanctions don’t affect the Russian political elite and won’t be “fatal” for big business, but are “directed precisely against the people of Russia.”

He claimed that measures affecting oil and gas are aimed at forcing the government to introduce budget cuts.

“An embargo on buying oil and gas from Russia? The same thing: to reduce the budget incomes and force the state to abandon its social obligations” such as raising payments in line with inflation, he wrote.

The European Union has agreed on a ban affecting all Russian exports of oil by sea to the EU, but not by a key pipeline to some Central and Eastern European countries including Hungary. The EU hasn’t introduced an embargo on Russian gas.

After listing sanctions in various sectors, Medvedev wrote, “They hate us all! The basis for these decisions is hatred for Russia, for Russians and for all its inhabitants.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian Refugee Council says thousands of civilians caught in Sievierodonetsk are “in dire need of aid.” It is calling for humanitarian organizations to be allowed to access the eastern Ukrainian city “with lifesaving assistance and to enable safe evacuations of civilians who wish to leave.”

The council’s secretary-general, Jan Egeland, said Tuesday: “We fear that up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire in the city, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity.” He added that “the near-constant bombardment is forcing civilians to seek refuge in bomb shelters and basements,” with “only few precious opportunities” to escape.

He added that the organization “cannot save lives under the hail of grenades.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Sievierodonetsk says Russian forces have taken around half of the city in eastern Ukraine.

Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday that heavy fighting is ongoing and artillery bombardments threaten the lives of the thousands of civilians still sheltering in the ruined city.

“Half of the city has been captured by the Russians and fierce street fighting is under way,” Striuk said. “The situation is very serious and the city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block.”

He added that “the Ukrainian military continues to resist this frenzied push and aggression by Russian forces.”

Striuk estimated that around 13,000 people remained in the city out of a pre-war population of around 100,000 but said it was impossible to keep track of civilian casualties amid round-the-clock shelling. He said more than 1,500 people in the city who died of various causes have been buried since the war began in February. Evacuation efforts have been halted because of the danger of shelling.

He said that “civilians are dying from direct strikes, from fragmentation wounds and under the rubble of destroyed buildings, since most of the inhabitants are hiding in basements and shelters.”

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s foreign minister says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Turkey on June 8 for talks that will address among other things opening a Black Sea corridor for Ukrainian grain exports.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said in a video interview Tuesday with the state-run Anadolu news agency that the French and German ambassadors had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry over demonstrations in their countries by groups considered to be terrorist by Ankara.

Turkey has said activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are one of its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and U.S.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A court in Ukraine has convicted two Russian soldiers of war crimes for the shelling of civilian buildings and sentenced both to 11 1/2 years in prison. Tuesday’s verdict concluded the country’s second war crimes trial since the Russian invasion started.

Russian servicemen Alexander Bobykin and Alexander Ivanov were charged with violating the laws and customs of war over the shelling of civilian infrastructure in the Kharkiv region on the first day of the Russian attack on Ukraine. They both stood trial in a court in Ukraine’s Poltava region and pleaded guilty to the charges.

Earlier this month, a court in Kyiv sentenced a 21-year-old Russian soldier to life in prison for fatally shooting a Ukrainian civilian in the first war crimes trial since Russia invaded.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark says its embassy in Moscow will no longer accept applications for visas or residence permits. It’s citing a staff shortage after Russia expelled four diplomats and three other employees earlier this month.

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that “it is not possible to maintain the usual level of activity.” It said it wants to prioritize giving assistance to Danish citizens. It said that the move was temporary, but didn’t specify how long it will last.

Moscow’s tit-for-tat move came after Denmark in April expelled 15 Russian embassy employees, identified as intelligence officers, from the diplomatic mission in Copenhagen in line with similar steps taken by other European Union countries.

The Netherlands also shut down its visa department in Moscow because staff were expelled.

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The leader of Russia-backed separatists who control part of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region says his administration will nationalize some of the ships in the port of Mariupol.

Denis Pushilin was quoted by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday as saying that “some of the vessels will come under the jurisdiction of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The relevant decisions have been made.” It wasn’t immediately clear whether he was referring to Ukrainian vessels or ships from other countries.

Kyiv has accused Russia of blocking its sea ports and hindering grain exports, fueling a global food crisis. Moscow has sought to pin the blame on the West and the sanctions it imposed on Russia.

Russian forces encircled Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea, early in the war. They took full control of it this month after capturing nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up in the sprawling Azovstal steel mill, the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance.

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BRUSSELS — After securing a compromise overnight to slap an embargo on most Russian oil imports, European Union leaders will focus Tuesday on how to help Ukraine export millions of tons of grain blocked by the war.

The leaders will call on Russia to halt its attacks on transport infrastructure in Ukraine and lift its blockade of Black Sea ports so that food can be shipped out, notably from Odesa.

Ukraine says Russia has prevented the export of 22 million tons of its grain and is fueling a global food crisis. The U.N. says African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the EU’s sanctions are making things worse. Putin says he’s willing to help ease concerns if the restrictive measures are lifted.

The EU leaders are likely to call for a speedier effort to set up “solidarity lanes” and to help Ukraine get its grain out through European land routes and sea ports.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian regional governor says an overnight missile strike on the city of Sloviansk in the eastern Donetsk region killed at least three people and wounded six more.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Facebook post on Tuesday morning that a school and at least seven multi-story buildings were damaged.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, where Russian forces are attempting to take the city of Sievierodonetsk, two people were killed and four wounded by shelling, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram on Tuesday. He didn’t say when the shelling occurred.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Representatives of a group of nations working together to investigate war crimes in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are meeting in The Hague amid ongoing calls for those responsible for atrocities to be brought to justice.

Tuesday’s coordination meeting at the European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, of members of a Joint Investigation Team and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan comes as Russian forces continue to pound Ukrainian towns.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has been widely condemned as an illegal act of aggression. Russian forces have been accused of killing civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and of repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure including hospitals and a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol that was being used as a shelter by hundreds of civilians. An investigation by The Associated Press found evidence that the March 16 bombing killed close to 600 people inside and outside the building.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the AP and PBS series Frontline have verified 273 potential war crimes.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office says he has stressed the need to set up a corridor for Ukrainian agricultural products in a phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine says Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea ports is preventing the supply of millions of tons of grain around the world.

Erdogan’s office said late Monday he told his Ukrainian counterpart that he “attaches particular importance” to securing safe passage for ships carrying agricultural exports.

He also wants Turkey to be part of an Istanbul-based “control center” including Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations to find a way to end the war.

Earlier Monday, Erdogan spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A readout of that call from Erdogan’s office referred to an “observation mechanism” involving Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the U.N. No further details were given.

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POKROVSK, Ukraine — Across eastern Ukraine, hospitals in cities and towns near the front lines of Russia’s war are increasingly coming under pressure.

Many staff have fled and those who remain have to deal with an influx of war wounded on top of their usual flow of sick patients. One lifeline for the overstretched hospitals is a specially equipped evacuation train run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

It includes an intensive care unit and ferries the wounded and the sick westward to better equipped hospitals in safer parts of the country.

One surgeon in the eastern city of Kramatorsk says medical workers are facing “the most terrible nightmare” of treating civilians who have been wounded in Russian attacks including children with their limbs blown off.