A team of experts commissioned by the UN's top human rights body said Friday that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, citing evidence of bombings in civilian areas, executions, torture and sexual violence following Russia's invasion nearly seven months ago. Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
12:12pm: Russia excludes some IT professionals, bankers and state journalists from mobilisation
Some Russian technology professionals, bankers, and journalists at state media outlets will be not be called up to serve in Ukraine as part of Russia's mobilisation drive, the defence ministry said on Friday in a statement.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier this week Russia would seek to call up 300,000 additional troops for Russia's war in Ukraine in what the Kremlin has called a "partial mobilisation".
The section of the official decree announcing mobilisation which included the number of people who would be drafted was kept classified and unpublished, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
He rejected a report by the independent Novaya Gazeta paper on Thursday, citing a government source, that said the Kremlin is actually seeking to recruit up to one million people for the campaign.
The defence ministry said some employees working in critically important industries would be excluded from the draft in a bid to "ensure the work of specific high-tech industries, as well as Russia's financial system" is unaffected by Russia's first military mobilisation since World War Two.
11:30am: UN rights experts cite signs of war crimes in Ukraine
A team of experts commissioned by the UN's top human rights body to look into rights violations in Ukraine said Friday its initial investigation turned up evidence of war crimes in the country following Russia's invasion nearly seven months ago.
The experts from the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, mandated by the Human Rights Council earlier this year, have so far focused on four regions - Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
Presenting their most extensive findings so far, they cited testimonies by former detainees of beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention facilities, and expressed grave concerns about executions in the four regions.
"We were struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited. The commission is currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements," Erik Mose, the commission's chairman, said. He said his team had received and was documenting "credible allegations regarding many more cases of executions."
The investigators visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centers; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; and met with advocacy groups and government officials, he said.
"Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," Mose said.
He said the team had examined two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian soldiers by Ukrainian forces.
The commission plans to gradually expand its investigation, with areas of interest including allegations of filtration camps for people being detained or deported, the forced transfer of people, and allegations of expedited adoption of children.
11:07am: Voting begins in Russia's annexation plan for swathes of Ukraine
Voting is taking place in self-styled Donetsk (DPR) and the Luhansk People's Republics (LPR), which Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised as independent just before the invasion, and Russian-controlled areas of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions
"All of us have been waiting for a referendum on joining Russia for 8 long years," said Leonid Pasechnik, the Russian-backed leader of Luhansk. "We have already become part of Russia. There remains only a small matter - to win (the war)."
"We are returning home," said the Russian-backed leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin. "Donbas is Russia." Outcomes that support joining Russia are almost certain, as is a swiftly choreographed legal annexation along the lines of the 2014 annexation of Crimea, which took just days.
As voting began, Ivan Fedorov, the deposed Ukrainian mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol, part of Zaporizhzhia province, said on Telegram that a loud explosion was heard by residents in the city centre at 7 am local time.
"People are afraid to leave their homes," Fedorov said.
11:02am: Abramovich played 'key part' in release of Britons held in Ukraine
Sanctioned former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich played a "key part" in the release of five men held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, a report said on Friday.
One of the five men freed in a prisoner swap earlier this week, John Harding, said the Russian oligarch identified himself to fellow detainee Shaun Pinner after they boarded their flight to Riyadh.
Harding, meanwhile, said he spoke to Abramovich's assistant who said the Russian had played a "key part" in their release, The Sun daily reported.
The freed prisoners were flown to the Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took part in negotiations.
Abramovich, 55, was sanctioned by the UK government on March 10, with Downing Street claiming he had proven his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is also subject to EU sanctions.
8:32am: Russians seeking to avoid being drafted arrive in Istanbul
"The young Russian men we have spoken to have a haggard look of uncertainty in their eyes. Some bought their tickets in reaction to Putin's latest declarations to avoid being drafted in the war with Ukraine that they say is not their war, but Putin's. Others had vacations planned in Turkey and decided to pack as many belongings as possible, 'just in case'". FRANCE 24's correspondent in Turkey Shona Bhattacharyya provides more details below.
7:49am: Signs of torture witnessed on bodies exhumed from mass burial site in Izium
"Ukraine's leadership has not hestitated in affirming that some of the 460 people buried at the mass burial site in Izium were tortured to death but we have no idea at this stage how many. Most, in fact, died under shelling as Russian forces attacked Izium in March", reports Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Ukraine.
7:11am: Referendums on Russian annexation start in occupied Ukraine territory
Referendums on Russia's annexation began on Friday in Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow, Russian news agencies reported, in what Kyiv and the West have denounced as a "sham" vote.
Voting began at 0500 GMT on Friday and was due to end Tuesday in four regions controlled entirely or in part by Russian troops - Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
6:24am: Four Ukraine regions prepare to hold referendums on joining Russia
Four areas of Ukraine controlled by Russia and pro-Moscow forces were preparing to hold referendums on Friday on joining Russia, votes widely condemned by the West as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.
Russian-installed leaders on Tuesday announced plans for the ballots, a challenge to the West that could sharply escalate the war. The results are seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of annexation, and Ukraine and its allies have made clear they will not recognise the outcomes.
Voting in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing about 15% of Ukrainian territory, is due to run from Friday to Tuesday.
Ukraine this month launched a counteroffensive that has recaptured large swathes of territory, seven months after Russia invaded and launched a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions and damaged the global economy. The referendums had been discussed for months by pro-Moscow authorities but Ukraine's recent victories prompted a scramble by officials to schedule them.
3:27am: Russian men fleeing draft arrive in Turkey
Turkey is a relatively straightforward destination for Russians, who can still obtain three-month tourist visas at the airport. Many of the men fleeing the draft don't know if they'll return. FRANCE 24's Shona Bhattacharyya reports from Istanbul:
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)