Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

Bystanders gather around the wreckage of vehicles after Russian missiles struck the courtyard of a multi-storey residential complex on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv on June 26, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Russia said Sunday that its forces had carried out strikes against three military training centres in northern and western Ukraine, including one near the Polish border, just days before a NATO summit.

The bombings were carried out with “high-precision weapons of Russia’s aerospace forces and Kalibr missiles,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Among the targets was a military training centre for Ukrainian forces in the Starychi district of the Lviv region, around 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with NATO member Poland.

The other two training centres were in the central Zhytomyr region and northern Chernihiv region.

Konashenkov did not say when or from where the missiles were fired.

However Kyiv on Saturday said that Russia had carried out strikes from Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus. Moscow did not comment on the claim.

After the strikes, several Ukrainian brigades “completely lost their combat capabilities,” Konashenkov said, adding that “plans to deploy them in combat zones were thwarted”.

The strikes served as a reminder that Russia is capable of striking any part of Ukraine, even with the bulk of its operation now taking place in the east and south of the country.

Ukrainian authorities reported that there were Russian strikes on the capital Kyiv on Sunday morning, but Konashenkov did not mention it in his statement.

The Russian strikes come as a G7 summit opened in Germany on Sunday, and ahead of a NATO meeting in Madrid from June 28 to 30.

‘We Prepare For Worst’, Says Governor Of Ukraine Frontline Region

Mourners attend the funeral ceremony for killed Ukrainian serviceman Roman Ratushny (portrait) at a cemetery in Kyiv on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

The governor of the eastern Ukrainian region now seeing heavy fighting with Russia, Sergiy Gaiday, opened the pockets of his flack jacket Saturday to show gun cartridges and a tourniquet.

Appointed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, the 46-year-old heads the Lugansk region, including the city of Severodonetsk, where Russians are fighting street battles, and Lysychansk, where bangs of artillery are near-constant.

“It’s a tough situation, in the city (of Lysychansk) and in the region as a whole,” he told AFP in an interview, as Russians “are just shelling our troop positions 24 hours a day.”

In Lysychansk, there are signs of preparations for street fighting: soldiers digging in, putting up barbed wire, and police placing burnt-out vehicles sideways across roads to slow traffic.

“There’s an expression: prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself, Gaiday said. “of course, we need to prepare.”

Gaiday has warned of the danger that Russian troops will encircle Lysychansk by cutting off supply roads.

“Theoretically it’s possible. This is a war, anything can happen, he said.

“It could turn out that they cut off the region and we really do end up encircled. Maybe there will be fighting even in Lysychansk — this is war.”

From Lysychansk, Ukrainian artillery is firing at Severodonetsk, where smoke rises from the Azot factory and Russian troops fire back shells and rockets.

“Look how long Severodonetsk has held out: you can see they (the Russians) don’t control the town fully… they can’t go further in and they can’t put their big guns or tanks there,” the governor said.

He called for supplies of “long-range weaponry to arrive as soon as possible”.

“The fact that the West is helping us is good, but it’s (too) late.”

READ ALSO: Ukraine’s Fallen Honoured In Kyiv Memorial

 ‘No Safe Places’ 

Relatives and friends mourn in front of the grave of killed Ukrainian serviceman Roman Ratushny during his funeral at a cemetery in Kyiv on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

The governor could still theoretically visit his home town of Severodonetsk accompanied by military, he said, “but it’s very highly risky”.

In fact “there are no safe places in Lugansk region,” he said, as explosions rang out in the background.

His flak jacket was stuffed with cartridge cases and he said he has a semi-automatic rifle in his car “and if I need to, I will fight”.

Gaiday was born in Severodonetsk and appointed by Zelensky after his election in 2019.

Of his current role as a wartime administrator, Gaiday said: “It’s hard, but I don’t let my emotions out.”

“It’s painful for me to see how my home city is being destroyed,” he said, as well seeing those he knew die.

“It’s all painful, I’m a human being but I bury this deep inside me,” he said, adding that his task is to “help people as much as possible”.

Social Media 

Conditions are grim for civilians left in Lysychansk, who have no mobile phone connection, running water, or power. They cook on campfires and shelter in cellars.

“About 10 percent” have stayed in the city, Gaiday said.

“We try to talk to people and persuade them to leave. Some point-blank refuse.”

There is a “small percentage” who are waiting for Moscow to build a “Russian world” in the region, he said.

Gaiday has a prominent presence on social media including Telegram and Facebook, giving regular updates on the war.

“You need to talk,” he said, saying this could counteract the powerful influence of Russia’s state propaganda machine.

He said he also wanted people in the conflict zone to “understand that I haven’t abandoned them, that I’m on the spot and with them.”

Referring to a potential war crimes tribunal, he also suggested his posts “could even be a small element when we try (Russian President Vladimir) Putin at the Hague”.

AFP

Kyiv Strike: Moscow Claims It Destroyed Tanks Supplied By Eastern European Countries

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov

 

Russia said Sunday that it had destroyed tanks supplied to Ukraine by eastern European countries during strikes on Kyiv.

“High-precision, long-range missiles fired by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by eastern European countries and other armoured vehicles that were in hangars,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.


READ ALSO: Putin To Hit New Targets If Long-Range Missiles Are Supplied To Ukraine


Earlier on Sunday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, had said that the Ukrainian capital had been hit by “several explosions in Darnytsky and Dniprovsky districts of city”, the first such strikes on the capital since April 28.

According to the Ukrainian air force, several cruise missiles were fired in the direction of Kyiv by Russian TU-95 planes based in the Caspian Sea, one of which was destroyed.

Relative calm had returned in recent weeks to Kyiv after Moscow abandoned its assault on the capital to concentrate on eastern Ukraine.

AFP

Putin To Hit New Targets If Long-Range Missiles Are Supplied To Ukraine

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Sunday that Moscow will strike new targets if the West supplies long-range missiles to Ukraine and said new arms deliveries to Kyiv were aimed at “prolonging the conflict”.

If Kyiv is supplied with long-range missiles, “we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our arms…. to strike targets we haven’t hit before,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

In extracts of an interview to be broadcast late Sunday on Rossiya-1 television, Putin did not specify exactly which targets could be hit nor the exact range of the missiles to which Moscow would react.


READ ALSO: Kyiv Strike: Moscow Claims It Destroyed Tanks Supplied By Eastern European Countries


But his comments came just days after the United States announced it would supply Ukraine with Himars multiple launch rocket systems.

Himars is a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) away.

Military experts say that the range of the Himars systems is slightly longer than that of similar Russian systems, meaning Kyiv’s forces could strike enemy artillery while keeping out of Moscow’s reach.

US President Joe Biden has nevertheless ruled out supplying Ukraine with systems that could reach as far as Russia, despite Kyiv’s repeated demands for such weapons.

Putin said that there was “nothing new” in the weapons supplied by Washington to Kyiv, and that Ukrainian forces had at their disposal weapons “similar to Soviet- or Russian-made systems”.

The range of the missiles did not “depend on the system itself, but on the missiles used,” the Russian leader continued.

“From what we know and understand today, they are systems using missiles with range of 45-70 kilometres”.

Putin said that the sole aim of the West supplying arms to Ukraine was “to prolong the conflict for as long as possible”.

AFP

EU Eyes Russian Oil Import Ban As Moscow Strikes Western Ukraine

A view shows the Russian oil producer Gazprom Neft’s Moscow oil refinery on the south-eastern outskirts of Moscow on April 28, 2022. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

 

The European Commission proposed a gradual ban on Russian oil imports Wednesday to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, as Russian forces pounded sites to the east of the country and hit targets in the far west near the EU border.

The EU also pledged to “significantly increase” its support for Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbour that has seen a series of attacks in a Moscow-backed separatist region, sparking fears it could be drawn into the conflict.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the bloc would “phase out Russian supply of crude oil within six months, and refined products by the end of the year”.

If approved, the oil ban would be the EU’s toughest move yet against Russia’s strategic energy sector that helps the Kremlin finance its war, but will still not touch its huge gas exports.

Hungary and Slovakia, both hugely dependent on Russian oil, would be given more time to meet the ban under the proposed plan, which will need unanimous approval before going into effect.

The proposed new sanctions also include moves against Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, and the targeting of Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– Solidarity for Moldova –

Western allies continue to provide Kyiv with cash and weapons in a bid to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back, alongside unprecedented sanctions.

But more than two months after the February 24 invasion, Russian forces continue to batter the south and east, where 21 civilians were killed and 28 wounded in a series of assaults in Donetsk on Tuesday.

Both sides on Wednesday also reported Russian strikes on key transport infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, near Poland, and Transcarpathia, a region bordering Hungary.

In neighbouring Moldova, there are fears the conflict will spill over the border.

Visiting the tiny ex-Soviet republic Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel offered the EU’s “full solidarity” and support including in the areas of logistics and cyber defence.

“This year we plan to significantly increase our support to Moldova by providing its armed forces with additional military equipment,” he told a press conference with President Maia Sandu.

Ukraine has accused Russia of wanting to destabilise Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria to create a pretext for a military intervention.

– ‘No storming’ of Azovstal –

The war in Ukraine has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 13 million, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

There was some rare good news on Tuesday with the arrival in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia of more than 150 civilians evacuated from the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

Further evacuations from the city, now almost entirely under Russian control after two months of siege, were to take place Wednesday with the help of the United Nations and the Red Cross, a Mariupol mayoral adviser said.

Osnat Lubrani, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, had earlier said that 101 of the civilians had been evacuated from the immense underground galleries of the Azovstal steelworks, but more could be trapped.

The Russian army said Tuesday that its forces and pro-Moscow separatists were attacking “firing positions” in Azovstal where Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday denied Ukrainian claims that it had launched a “powerful assault”, telling reporters: “There is no storming.”

“The order was publicly given by the supreme commander-in-chief to cancel the assault,” he said, referring to an order given by Putin last month not to pursue an attack on the area.

– Bombing every second –

Azovstal evacuees who emerged from a caravan of white buses in Zaporizhzhia were met at a makeshift reception centre by crying loved ones and dozens of journalists.

“We are so thankful for everyone who helped us. There was a moment we lost hope, we thought everyone forgot about us,” evacuee Anna Zaitseva said, holding her six-month-old baby in her arms.

Elyna Tsybulchenko, 54, who worked at the site doing quality control before the war trapped her there, described days and nights of endless barrages.

“They bombed like every second… everything was shaking. Dogs barked and children screamed,” she told AFP. “But the hardest moment was when we were told our bunker would not survive a direct hit.”

– ‘No safe place’ –

Since abandoning early attempts to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russian forces have shifted to the east, including largely Russian-speaking areas, and the south.

Ukraine’s general staff said Wednesday the Russian assault continued with the aim of establishing “full control” of the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, and to maintain a land corridor to occupied Crimea.

Russia’s defence ministry said Wednesday that its air- and sea-based weapons had destroyed six electrical substations near railways including around Lviv, near Odessa to the south, and near Dnipropetrovsk to the south-east.

It said Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbas region had used the railway stations to transport weapons and ammunition from the EU and United States.

Meanwhile in the eastern Lugansk region, governor Sergiy Gaiday said two people had died in the last 24 hours, and “the whole region is under fire completely, there is no safe place”.

– Battle for democracy –

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday framed the war as a historic battle for democracy in a speech to workers at a factory producing Javelin missiles, which have wreaked havoc on Russian tanks.

Reprising one of his presidency’s core themes, Biden said the fight by democratic Ukraine against Putin’s Russia was a front in a wider contest between democracies and autocracies worldwide, including China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping had told him that democracies can no longer “keep up,” Biden said.

Ukraine is the “first” battle “to determine whether that’s going to happen,” he said.

Elsewhere, diplomats said Russia will boycott a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday with the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC), a further sign of deteriorating relations between Moscow and its United Nations partners.

Moscow Trades US Ex-Marine For Russian Pilot In Prisoner Swap

In this file photo taken on March 11, 2020 US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Russia and the United States announced a prisoner swap Wednesday despite fierce tensions over Ukraine, with Moscow handing over a jailed ex-Marine in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling.

Trevor Reed, a 30-year-old from Texas who was jailed in Russia in 2020, was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, 53, who had been serving a 20-year US prison sentence since 2011.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the two had been exchanged on Wednesday “as a result of a lengthy negotiations process”.

Russian state television showed Reed — dressed all in black and carrying a large bag — escorted onto a plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport by men in military uniform.

READ ALSORussia Cuts Gas Supplies To Poland, Bulgaria Over Ukraine

His father Joey Reed told CNN that Trevor was moved to a Moscow prison this week and then flown to Turkey where the swap took place.

“The American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane and they walked both prisoners across at the same time, like you see in the movies,” he said.

US President Joe Biden said the swap required “difficult decisions”.

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” Biden said in a statement.

“His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also praised the swap.

“I am pleased to announce the release of US citizen Trevor Reed, who was wrongfully detained in Russia,” Blinken said in a statement.

“We also remain committed to securing the freedom of all US nationals wrongfully detained abroad,” he added.

Reed was sentenced in July 2020 to nine years in prison by a Russian court after allegedly attacking police officers while drunk.

While being driven to a police station, he allegedly grabbed the arm of a police officer, causing the car they were in to swerve, and elbowed another officer in the abdomen.

Hunger Strike

In this file photo taken on July 30, 2020, US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants’ cage during his verdict hearing at Moscow’s Golovinsky district court. Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

 

Reed pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying he remembers nothing of the incident.

While imprisoned in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia Republic, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Moscow, Reed staged a hunger strike over what he said was the violation of his rights.

His lawyer Sergei Nikitenkov said at the time that Reed was several times put in an isolation cell and prison staff were withholding letters from him.

Nikitenkov told the Interfax news agency Wednesday that his client did not ask for a pardon.

“He agrees with the fact of the exchange, approves it, but at the same time Trevor does not admit his guilt,” he said.

Russian television reported that Yaroshenko had already arrived back in the country.

He was arrested in Liberia in 2010 for drug trafficking, then transferred to the United States, where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in September 2011.

Yaroshenko’s lawyer Alexei Tarasov told the RIA Novosti state news agency: “I would call this an Easter miracle,” referring to Orthodox Easter.

He said that the swap was carried out in a third country and “had been in the works for a very long while”.

The Russian’s health “leaves much to be desired,” Tarasov told state news agency TASS.

In June 2021, Yaroshenko’s family sent a letter to Biden requesting a pardon for the jailed pilot.

Yaroshenko’s wife Viktoria told RIA Novosti that her husband was exchanged in Turkey, and she was waiting for him at a Moscow airport.

An exchange of prisoners was on the agenda last June during a summit meeting between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

At the time, Putin hinted that Reed’s case could be resolved quickly, calling him a “drunk and a troublemaker”.

Another US citizen, Paul Whelan, a former security official at an auto parts company, remains in a Russian prison serving 16 years on espionage charges.

Biden referred to his case in a statement, saying: “We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”

AFP

Russian Forces Have Captured Several Villages In East, Says Ukraine

Russian soldiers patrol a street on April 11, 2022, in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. The picture was taken during a trip organized by the Russian military. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces had pushed deeper into the east of the country and captured several villages as part of Moscow’s offensive to take control of Donbas.

Moscow said earlier this month it was withdrawing its invading troops from around the capital Kyiv to focus its military efforts on capturing Donetsk and Lugansk in east Ukraine.

The defence ministry said that Russian forces had pushed out Kyiv’s army from Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody in the northeastern Kharkiv region and had gained control over Zarichne and Novotoshkivske in Donetsk.

READ ALSONearly 5.3 Million Flee Ukraine War As Refugees – UN

Zarichne is just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the regional hub of Kramatorsk, where Russian attacks this month on a train station shuttling residents to safety in the east left dozens dead.

The defence ministry cautioned that Russian forces were “continuing an offensive in the direction of Nyzhnye and Orikhiv” in the central Zaporizhzhia region.

Pro-Russian separatists have controlled the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula following street demonstrations that ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader.

Russia has said the offensive in the east would create land border between the separatist-held territory and the Black Sea peninsula.

AFP

Russia Expels Eight Japanese Diplomats Over Ukraine

A photo combination of the Japanese and Russian flags.

 

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling eight Japanese diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to expulsions by Tokyo over the conflict in Ukraine.

Accusing Tokyo of pursuing an “openly hostile anti-Russian course,” the foreign ministry said in a statement that the Japanese diplomats must leave by May 10, in a reciprocal answer to Japan’s expulsion of eight Russian diplomats.

It accused Tokyo of “taking steps that were unprecedented in modern Russian-Japanese relations” and “abandoning friendly, constructive relations with Russia”.

READ ALSORussia Cuts Gas Supplies To Poland, Bulgaria Over Ukraine

Earlier this month Japan expelled the eight Moscow diplomats and announced it will end imports of Russian coal over the military campaign in Ukraine.

Japan has marched in lockstep with Western allies on sanctions against Russia since the start of the conflict on February 24.

Tokyo has complex relations with Moscow, with attempts to sign a post-World War II peace treaty hampered by a long-running dispute over islands that Japan says are “illegally occupied” by Russia.

Russia and the West have imposed a series of tit-for-tat measures over the conflict, including diplomatic expulsions and travel bans.

AFP

Russia Shoots Down Two Ukrainian Drones Near Border –  Governor

Russian soldiers patrol a street on April 11, 2022, in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. The picture was taken during a trip organized by the Russian military. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Russian forces shot down two Ukrainian drones near the border overnight, a regional governor said Monday.

“Today at 4:15 am Russian air defence crews shot down two Ukrainian drones” in the Rylsky district on the border with Ukraine, Kursk region governor Roman Starovoyt said on Telegram.

“There are no casualties, injuries, or damage. The situation is completely under control.”

READ ALSO: Russia Slaps Travel Ban On Kamala Harris, Zuckerberg

Earlier on Monday, Russia’s emergency situations ministry said a large fuel depot was on fire in the town of Bryansk, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Rylsk.

There was no immediate evidence of a link between the two incidents.

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukrainian forces of launching strikes on its soil, warning that in response Moscow’s troops will intensify attacks on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

At the beginning of April, the governor of the Belgorod region, which is also close to the Ukraine border, said that Kyiv helicopters had fired at a fuel depot there.

AFP

Biden Gives ‘Crime Scene’ Ukraine $800m To Hold Off Russia

A Ukraine soldier inspects the rubble of a destroyed apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, 2022, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people, Ukraine emergency services said as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital.  FADEL SENNA / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden announced an $800 million military aid package for Ukraine on Wednesday as international prosecutors declared the war-torn Western ally a “crime scene” amid fears of a massive revamped Russian assault.

The announcement came with the Russian military threatening to strike Ukraine’s command centers in the capital Kyiv if Ukrainian troops continue to attack Russian territory.

“We are seeing Ukrainian troops’ attempts to carry out sabotage and strike Russian territory. If such cases continue, the Russian armed forces will strike decision-making centers, including in Kyiv,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

The warning sparked alarm in Ukraine’s largest city, as Moscow was believed to be refocusing its war aims — withdrawing from Kyiv after failing to capture it and shifting attention to the south and east.

Biden has accused President Vladimir Putin of genocide — a claim dismissed as “unacceptable” by the Kremlin — as Russia comes under increasing scrutiny over atrocities discovered in towns since abandoned by its forces.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Braces For ‘Important Battles’ As Pope Urges Easter Ceasefire

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed Biden but France and Germany declined to follow suit, drawing the ire of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who denounced French leader Emmanuel Macron’s stance as “very painful for us.”

The Pentagon says it has been looking to provide Ukraine with weapons that would “give them a little more range and distance,” with Kyiv girding for a huge escalation of violence in the eastern Donbas region.

The new US shipment will include armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and some of the heavier equipment Washington had previously refused to send to Ukraine for fear of escalating the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

Before announcing the aid, Biden spoke to Zelensky for about an hour, the White House said, pledging “to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”

The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which deals with rights abuses, has investigators in Ukraine and told reporters the country had become a “crime scene.”

 ‘Permeated With Pain’ 

An Ukranian soldier patrols in an armoured vehicle a street in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022, where town's mayor said 280 people had been buried in a mass grave and that the town is littered with corpses. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP
An Ukranian soldier patrols in an armoured vehicle a street in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022, where town’s mayor said 280 people had been buried in a mass grave and that the town is littered with corpses. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

 

Officials in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha — now synonymous with scores of atrocities — say more than 400 people were found dead after Moscow’s forces withdrew, with 25 reported rapes.

“We’re here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are being committed,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan said on a visit to the town.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda made his own trip to the town of Borodyanka, a half-hour drive further northwest, calling the area “permeated with pain and suffering.”

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Russia had engaged in “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations.”

Before the latest military aid package, the United States had supplied or promised Ukraine 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 5,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles, several thousand rifles with ammunition, and a range of other equipment.

Reportedly using Ukraine’s own Neptune missiles, Kyiv claimed Wednesday to have damaged the Russian Black Sea fleet flagship “Moskva” off the coast of the strategic port of Odessa.

But even with their own weaponry and US support, Ukrainian forces have struggled to hold the key southern port of Mariupol, where Zelensky has estimated “tens of thousands” of civilians have died.

Russia’s defense ministry said Wednesday more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Mariupol, as airstrikes targeted the city’s huge Azovstal iron and steelworks.

The plant’s maze-like complex has been a focus of resistance in Mariupol, with fighters using a tunnel system below the vast industrial site to slow Russian forces down.

But the city is part of an apparent Russian push to create an unbroken corridor from occupied Crimea to Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Leonid Pasechnik, a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine, said up to 90 percent of territory of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic was now under rebel control.

He told reporters separatist troops would “liberate” the rest of the territory and then decide whether to support Russian troops in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

Britain said Wednesday it would sanction 178 Russian separatists and the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as six more oligarchs and their families.

Russia announced its own sanctions Wednesday, introducing retaliatory measures against 398 members of the US Congress and vowing more sanctions would follow.

Counting The Dead 

This general view shows destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, west of Kyiv, on March 4, 2022. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

 

In a desperate attempt to flee what Ukrainian authorities warn will be a bloody new clash in the east, more than 40,000 people have left the country in the past 24 hours, the United Nations said, bringing those displaced abroad to 4.6 million since the conflict began.

But Kyiv halted humanitarian corridors in several parts of the country Wednesday, deeming them “too dangerous” for evacuations.

Others have chosen to stay, like Maria, a resident of the most easterly city still held by Ukrainian forces, Severodonetsk.

“There’s no electricity, no water,” said the young woman, who did not want to flee her home even though the bombing from Russian forces has made the city a deserted shell of its former self.

“But I prefer to stay here, at home. If we leave, where will we go?”

Underscoring the risk to civilians, Ukrainian prosecutors on Wednesday accused Russian troops of shooting six men and one woman the day before in a home in the occupied southern village of Pravdyne.

Another four civilians were killed in Russian strikes on second city Kharkiv on Wednesday, local authorities said.

US private satellite firm Maxar Technologies published images Wednesday it said showed Russian ground forces moving towards the border with Ukraine.

But even as the military focus shifted eastward, the grim work of accounting for the civilian dead continued in areas recently abandoned by Russia’s army.

North of Bucha in Gostomel, locals exhumed the body of Mayor Yuriy Prylypko, whom authorities said was shot while “handing out bread to the hungry and medicine to the sick.”

Up to 400 people are unaccounted for in the town, said regional prosecutor Andiy Tkach. AFP witnessed dozens of body bags filling a refrigerated lorry trailer, as two others awaited more corpses.

“Our citizens are murdered and we must bury every person in the right way,” said Igor Karpishen, loading the truck.

“I don’t have any words to express these feelings.”

The United Nations has asked for a ceasefire as it awaits a Russian response to concrete proposals for evacuating civilians and delivering aid.

“That was our appeal for humanitarian reasons but it doesn’t seem possible,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference.

AFP

Biden In Poland As Ukraine Fears 300 Dead In Theatre

US President Joe Biden (C) talks to service members from the 82nd Airborne Division, who are contributing alongside Polish Allies to deterrence on the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine, on March 25, 2022. Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden came up close to the war in Ukraine Friday after forging a new set of measures with Europe designed to place a tighter squeeze on Russia’s tottering, energy-rich economy.

Biden visited Poland as a clearer scale of the ruin emerged from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, which a month into the invasion now resembles World War II scenes of Russian cities razed by the Nazis.

Authorities said some 300 civilians may have died in a Russian airstrike on a theatre-turned-bomb shelter in Mariupol last week, in what would be the invasion’s single bloodiest attack.

READ ALSOAgain, UN Calls On Russia To Immediately End War In Ukraine

“I have escaped, but I have lost all my family. I have lost my house. I am desperate,” Oksana Vynokurova, 33, told AFP after finally escaping Mariupol by train to the western city of Lviv.

“My mum is dead. I left my mother in the yard like a dog, because everybody’s shooting,” she said.

Also disembarking from the train, Svetlana Kuznetsova said: “There is no water, light and electricity. We were living in cellars. We were cooking food on fires.

“I have never seen such horror. There is no Mariupol,” the middle-aged woman added. “Mariupol is like Grozny (in Chechnya). Everything is destroyed.”

 New Russian Toll 

US President Joe Biden (C) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) arrive to visit service members from the 82nd Airborne Division, who are contributing alongside Polish Allies to deterrence on the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine, on March 25, 2022. Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP

 

Smaller-scale strikes continued without pause as Russia, suffering heavy losses and meagre progress against key targets pursues a relentless campaign of bombardment against Ukraine’s cities.

Giving only its second death toll of the war, the Russian army said it had suffered 1,351 fatalities in the invasion. Ukraine and Western intelligence say it is many thousands more.

In the east, Russian strikes targeting a medical facility in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv killed four civilians and wounded several others, police said.

“I had gone out looking for bread. There were explosions. When I came back there were four bodies lying there, with relatives crying by their side,” 71-year-old Mykola Hladkiy told AFP.

Several residents said cluster munitions were used in Kharkiv, spraying death indiscriminately.

Chemical Arms Warning 

After summits of NATO, the European Union and G7 in Brussels, Biden warned that the NATO alliance would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin resorts next to chemical weapons.

En route to Poland, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia would pay a “severe price” — but stressed “the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Biden of seeking to “divert attention”, and also denied Ukrainian claims that Russia had broken international law by dropping incendiary phosphorus bombs on civilians.

Biden and EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced a joint energy task force in Brussels, before he headed to the eastern Polish town of Rzeszow, a mere 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Ukraine.

With US help, the EU intends to cut down its heavy reliance on Russian oil and natural gas, while stopping short of demands by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to impose a total embargo and so deprive Putin of billions to fund his war machine.

Taken together, however, Western sanctions are “draining Putin’s resources to finance this atrocious war”, von der Leyen told reporters alongside Biden.

Germany, Moscow’s biggest customer in Europe, said it would halve Russian oil imports by June and end all coal deliveries by the autumn.

“The first important milestones have been reached to free us from the grip of Russian imports,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said.

In Poland, Biden met members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, part of NATO’s increasingly muscular deployment to its eastern flank.

He will also receive a briefing on the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which nearly 3.7 million people have fled, mostly to Poland.

The UN believes that more than half of Ukraine’s children have already been driven from their homes — “a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come”, according to Unicef chief Catherine Russell.

Birthday On a Bus 

In the flashpoint town of Irpin on Kyiv’s north-western outskirts, Daria played with her dinosaur mittens as an evacuation bus took her family and others away. It was her fourth birthday on Thursday.

“We were planning some candles and a cake, but we had to leave it there,” said Daria’s mother Susanna Sopelnikova, 29, holding her tightly on her lap.

“We stayed in the basement for about three weeks, then we decided to leave,” Sopelnikova said, to the distant boom of shelling.

On the battlefield, Moscow said it had destroyed Ukraine’s largest remaining military fuel depot, at Kalynivka near the capital Kyiv, using sea-borne cruise missiles.

Fireballs leapt into the air from the storage facility, while a smaller fire blazed from a severed fuel line and a huge plume of black smoke rose over the site, AFP reporters at the scene said.

But while Mariupol and other places are now charred ruins, Western defensive systems including shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles have helped Ukraine’s armed forces hold their line — and increasingly to go on the offensive.

“Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to re-occupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Kyiv,” Britain’s defence ministry said in a daily update.

 Cancelling Russia?

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. (Photo by Alexander VILF / POOL / AFP)

 

For his part, Putin accused the West of discriminating against Russian culture, likening it to the ceremonial burning of books by Nazi supporters in the 1930s.

“Today they are trying to cancel a thousand-year-old country — I am talking about the progressive discrimination against everything connected with Russia,” he said in televised remarks.

After the Kremlin imposed an information blackout on its “special military operation”, most Russians are unaware of the true picture of fighting in Ukraine.

But an exhibition of 24 shocking images opened on Friday at a train station in Lithuania used by Russians transiting from the exclave of Kaliningrad.

On some of the pictures, exhibited at the height of the carriage windows, an inscription read: “Today, Putin is killing the peaceful population of Ukraine. Do you approve of this?”

AFP

Moscow Threatens Western Companies With Arrests, Seizures – Report

In this file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videolink in Moscow on March 11, 2022.  Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russian authorities, facing potential economic calamity as Western sanctions take hold, have threatened foreign companies hoping to withdraw from the country with arrests and asset seizures, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Russian prosecutors have issued warnings to several foreign entities — via calls, letters, and in-person visits — including to Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, IBM, and Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut, according to the business daily, citing sources familiar with the matter.

They have threatened to arrest officials who have criticized the government or to seize assets, including intellectual property.

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“The warnings have prompted at least one of the targeted companies to limit communications between its Russian business and the rest of the company, out of concern that emails or text messages among colleagues may be intercepted, some of the people (familiar with the matter) said,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Russian embassy in the United States on Sunday dismissed the report as “fake”.

“We urge local media to abandon the vicious practice of spreading fake news. The Wall Street Journal opus is pure fiction,” it said on Facebook.

It added that the decision to continue business activities in Russia “is entirely up to the Americans.”

Russia has faced unprecedented sanctions imposed by Western governments after the invasion of Ukraine, with a growing list of companies announcing their withdrawals from the country or their plans to suspend activities there.

Russian authorities have boosted efforts to prevent money from leaving its borders and to support the ruble, which has already seen a precipitous drop in value against the dollar.

Without using the word “nationalization,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is in favor of appointing “external” administrators to head such foreign companies in Russia “in order to transfer them to those who want to make them work.”

The prosecutor’s office on Friday meanwhile ordered “strict control” of companies that had announced a suspension of their activities in Russia, warning especially of increased monitoring of labor legislation compliance, under penalty of prosecution.

Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Yum Brands did not respond to requests for comments by AFP Sunday.

AFP