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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 18

Ukrainian soldiers install an anti-tank missile system near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 17, 2023.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia's war on Ukraine. All times EDT.

9:41 p.m.:

9 p.m.: Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army said, according to Reuters.

And in the latest claim to have inflicted heavy casualties, Kyiv said its troops had killed 193 Russians and injured 199 others during the course of fighting on Friday.

Russia has made the capture of Bakhmut a priority in its strategy to take control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas industrial region. The city has been largely destroyed in months of fighting, with Russia launching repeated assaults.

"We are managing to deliver the necessary munitions, food, gear and medicines to Bakhmut. We are also managing to take our wounded out of the city," military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty told the ICTV television channel.

8:20 p.m.: Ukraine is not forcibly mobilizing women, contrary to rumors spread through Russian Telegram channels, according to a March 18 statement by Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Maliar said that women will not face compulsory mobilization, even to serve as medics.

"Kremlin propaganda continues to spread fakes and myths," said Maliar, "using manipulated facts to influence Ukrainian society."

She reiterated that draft notices will not come through the popular e-governance app Diia.

Earlier, Maliar made a statement denying that mobilized Ukrainians are thrown into the front line without preparation, in response to news reports about poorly prepared and equipped Ukrainian units in Bakhmut.

7:30 p.m.: The U.S. should continue supporting Ukraine, former Vice President Mike Pence and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said on Saturday, a position that puts them at odds with the top two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Reuters reported.

Foreign policy has emerged as the main ideological fissure within the Republican Party as the 2024 nominating contest heats up.

While former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have called for dedicating resources to domestic issues rather than Ukraine, several other declared and likely presidential candidates have portrayed themselves as unwavering defenders of the eastern European county.

Both Pence and Sununu have defended Ukraine before, but their Saturday comments were particularly pointed and come as the Republican foreign policy feud intensifies.

6:45 p.m.: The Kyiv Independent reports: A video posted by Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand showed a cargo plane being loaded with a vehicle that appears to be a Bergepanzer 3, which can tow heavy armor, transport or evacuate troops and clear obstacles.

5:52 p.m.:

4:40 p.m.: The United Nations confirmed that the deal to export Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports, which was due to expire Saturday, has been extended, but it did not say for how long, VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer writes.

According to the terms of the agreement, the renewal should be for 120 days, but Russia said it will extend it for only half that period.

Russia agreed to extend the grain deal for only 60 days, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russia’s TASS news agency on Saturday. "We repeat once again. Russia agreed to extend the deal for 60 days."

4:07 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine as allies of Kyiv in the fight against the Russian invasion issued statements condemning the annexation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Russian state TV showed a video of a casually dressed Putin walking with a group of officials in Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.

3:11 p.m.: Russian strikes killed two people and wounded eight in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on Saturday, the mayor said, accusing Moscow of having used cluster bombs in the attack, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Russia continues to spread terror," Oleksandr Goncharenko said in a Facebook post. "Consequences of Kramatorsk bombardment with cluster bombs: two people were killed and eight were wounded, three of them seriously."

AFP journalists on the ground heard around 10 explosions go off nearly simultaneously just before 4 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) and saw smoke above a park in the southern part of the city.

2:18 p.m.: Ukrainians have reacted with a mix of support and skepticism to news that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Russian children's rights official for their roles in alleged war crimes relating to the illegal transfers and deportations of children from occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Anton Buryak, a 21-year-old construction worker from Novomykhailivka, an occupied town in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, told RFE/RL that he supports this decision "because Putin's war crimes did take place."

"I personally know of cases of children being forcibly taken to Russia from the occupied territories," he said on Saturday.

1:15 p.m.: Ukrainian Forces Fight Off 'Unlimited' Russian Attacks on the Donetsk Front: Standing just behind the front line in Donetsk, the former industrial city of Avdiyivka lies in ruins. As Russian shelling continues, the few remaining residents say they're not going anywhere. Despite the risk to life and limb, Ukrainian civilians carry on while the defending army says it's holding the line in this hot zone just southwest of Bakhmut. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

12:20 p.m.: Russia has notified all parties to the Black Sea grain deal that the agreement has been extended for 60 days, and it said again it would not consider another extension until its concerns have been addressed, Moscow said Saturday via its TASS news agency.

10:15 a.m.: VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer notes that Ukraine’s infrastructure minister is tweeting that the grain deal has been extended for 120 days, and the U.N. said it be issuing a statement soon.

8:35 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, introducing harsher punishments for "discrediting participants" of Moscow's all-out war against Ukraine, the Russian state-controlled RIA Novosti news site reported on March 18, according to The Kyiv Independent.

The new punishments include a fine of up to about $67,000 and a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Additionally, Russians could be punished for discrediting not only the Russian army but also "volunteer formations, organizations or individuals who contribute to the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces." The Russian Defense Ministry calls irregular armed formations fighting in Ukraine — the state-backed mercenary Wagner Group — as volunteers.

7:15 a.m.: Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that Turkey would make efforts to further prolong the Black Sea grain deal enabling exports of grain from Ukraine, on the day the pact is due to expire, Reuters reported.

"Russia agreed an extension of the grain deal for only two months. We will make efforts for a further extension of the deal after two months," Cavusoglu said in a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo.

6:25 a.m.: Russia, China and Iran have completed three-way naval exercises in the Arabian Sea that included artillery fire at targets on the sea and in the air, the Russian defense ministry said Saturday, according to Reuters.

The exercises, off the Iranian port of Chabahar, took place as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Moscow for a three-day state visit starting on Monday.

5:15 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said Russia will probably widen its military conscription as its invasion of Ukraine goes on. Under a law likely to pass, the age range for conscription would go from the current 18-27 to 21-30 next year.

4:17 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks across the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line. They also continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and along the outskirts of Donetsk City.

Russian sources that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian forces along the front line in southern Ukraine.

3:11 a.m.:

2:10 a.m.: The Kyiv Independent reported that Ukrainian forces shot down three drones over Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Two more hit targets, causing serious damage to an infrastructure facility in Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.

1:09 a.m.:

12:02 a.m.: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on Friday spoke of their "unwavering support" for Ukraine during a call with their Ukrainian counterparts, the White House said, according to a Reuters report.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined the end of the call, the readout said.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.