Zelensky Condemns Russian ‘Terror’ After Damage To Nuclear Plant

This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian presidential press-service on March 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. STR / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. AFP

 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday accused Russia of using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “for terror” after the operator of the facility reported major damage at the site.

Energoatom, the operator of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the south of the country, said Saturday that parts of the facility had been “seriously damaged” by military strikes and one of its reactors was forced to shut down.

READ ALSO: China’s Largest-Ever Taiwan Military Drills Draw To A Close

Friday’s strikes had damaged a station containing nitrogen and oxygen and an auxiliary building, Energoatom said on the Telegram messaging service.

As hostilities raged on in the east and south of Ukraine, pro-Moscow authorities in the Russian-occupied Kherson region reported the assassination of a senior official.

And the head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine office announced she had resigned from the organisation over the group’s publication of a controversial report that accused the country’s military of endangering civilians.

Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for the attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest atomic power complex.

Zelensky, in his nightly address on Saturday, once again accused Moscow of terrorism, saying, “Russian terrorists became the first in the world to use the power plant… for terror.”

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog expressed alarm over the shelling at the plant. The strikes underline “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster”, said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” he added.

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell condemned the attack “as a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms”.

Another assassination 

An official with the Russian occupying authorities in Kherson died in hospital after being shot on Saturday, Russian state media reported.

Vitalii Hura, “the deputy head of the Novaya Kakhovka administration in charge of the housing and utility sector, died from his wounds”, Yekaterina Gubareva, the deputy head of Russia’s civil-military administration in Kherson, wrote on Telegram, according to TASS.

The report said Hura had been attacked in his home and shot several times.

Another Moscow-appointed official was killed in the same region in June, reportedly by a bomb planted in his car.

There has been a spate of reported assassination attempts and attacks against pro-Kremlin officials in Ukrainian regions controlled by Russia.

Although Russia has seized a large swath of the Kherson region and part of nearby Zaporizhzhia in recent months, Ukraine’s forces have reclaimed some territory.

In his address Saturday, Zelensky hit out at Amnesty International, comparing the rights group’s accusations against Ukraine’s military with its silence on Russia’s actions.

Referring to the strikes on the Zaporizhzhia plant, he said that although they represented “one of the most dangerous crimes against Ukrainians and all Europeans… for some reason, there’s still no report or even just a simple message from Amnesty International about it.

“It’s a very eloquent silence, which points out, once more, a manipulative selectivity of this organisation,” he added.

Amnesty sparked outrage in Ukraine with the report published Thursday that accused the military of endangering civilians by establishing bases in schools and hospitals and launching counterattacks from heavily populated areas.

Amnesty report row

The head of Amnesty’s Ukraine office quit the organisation in protest.

“If you don’t live in a country invaded by occupiers who are tearing it to pieces, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to condemn an army of defenders,” Oksana Pokalchuk said on social media late Friday.

“And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not experienced this pain.”

Pokalchuk said she had tried to warn Amnesty’s senior leadership that the report was one-sided and failed to properly take into account the Ukrainian position but had been ignored.

Amnesty secretary-general Agnes Callamard expressed regret at her departure and paid tribute to her work. But the organisation stands by its report.

On Friday, Ukrainian officials said three-grain ships left Ukraine after the first in months sailed on Monday as part of a deal to avert widespread food shortages.

Another five cargo ships are due to leave the Ukrainian ports of Odessa and Chernomorsk on Sunday, said a statement from the Joint Coordination Centre of the Black Sea Grain Initiative — the organisation coordinating the operation agreed between Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations.

AFP

Zelensky’s Challenges As His Fate Plays Out On Battlefield

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

Catapulted into a war he didn’t start, Volodymyr Zelensky is now left with little choice but to prevail militarily against Russia, analysts told AFP.

Having denied President Vladimir Putin a quick victory, the Ukrainian leader has no appetite to negotiate as the conflict looks set to drag on.

Here is a summary of key challenges ahead for Zelensky as his future plays out on the battlefield:

– Take back territory –

For the first few weeks of Russia’s invasion, Zelensky appeared ready to negotiate, but the situation has now evolved into a war of attrition at great cost in terms of soldiers’ lives and military hardware.

“He is convinced that the war must follow its course, that he has his weapons, and that the Russians have their weaknesses,” said Elie Tenenbaum at the IFRI French institute for international relations.

“He was willing to make concessions in the beginning because he was very scared, but now he’s gotten into the swing of things,” Tenenbaum said.

“The concept is clear,” said William Taylor, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and currently at the US Institute of Peace. “He stops the momentum, he counter-attacks and he pushes back towards the disposition on the 24th of February,” the day that Russia invaded.

This would dovetail with a statement by Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov to British daily The Times that he still has “a million” soldiers to throw into battle.

“The political decision on a counteroffensive has already been made,” said Ukrainian political analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk. “The campaign for the liberation of the occupied territories has already begun.”

– Wear the enemy down –

The Ukrainian army has shown that it will only retreat when there is no other option, like in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the east where they resisted the Russian army as long as possible.

“Ukrainians made them pay for that land pretty hard,” said a senior US defence official who asked not to be named.

Both sides appear to believe that time is on their side, said Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher at the Tartu university in Estonia.

One side must be miscalculating and that will be the side “least capable of sustaining the type of demands that the war is imposing”, he said.

The warring neighbours also know that logistics is key, and they are trying to cripple each other’s supplies, such as when Ukraine claimed a hit on a Russian munitions depot in the occupied southern Kherson region.

– Protect his aura –

Zelensky, a former TV personality, was a controversial figure in Ukraine before the war.

“Reforms weren’t getting done .. and there were all kinds of political intrigues,” said Angela Stent, an expert on Western relations with Russia at the US-based Brookings Institution.

But since, she said, he has turned into a “very effective wartime leader, obviously using all the skills he has learned as a comedian and a TV actor to communicate well”.

Keeping this image up is crucial for Zelensky’s future standing, analysts said, even in the face of rising pressure which observers said seems to have little impact on his energy levels.

“I haven’t seen any indication that it’s wearing him down,” said Taylor.

“He’s doing a brilliant job. By all accounts, the strength that he has is his tie to the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Klyszcz agreed, saying there were no reports of Zelensky “breaking down mentally, emotionally or physically in the last few months”. Instead he was projecting an image of “a decisive leader who is focused and committed to win the war”.

– Preserve Ukrainian unity –

Despite the deaths, the deprivations and the fear in the Ukrainian population, the nation’s unity is holding, and there appears little public support for negotiations with Moscow.

“That’s not to say it won’t happen,” said Taylor. “There has to be a limit to how much pain they can take.”

For now, he observed, “they haven’t hit it yet”.

Should cracks appear in Ukraine’s united front, it will most likely be because of disagreements between those who reject all territorial concessions, and those who don’t.

For now, any calls for negotiations “could only be promoted by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine” who are “on the sidelines” of Ukrainian politics, said Oktysyuk

But opinions could shift as the conflict wears on.

“The cost of the war has become more evident for the Ukrainian population,” said Klyszcz, adding that any major setback on the battlefield or tactical error could bring talk about compromise out into the open.

– Keep the west on side –

The war has deepened relations between Ukraine and Western governments, with Kyiv even obtaining candidate status to join the European Union.

Zelensky’s message to his Western allies “is that he’s fighting for us. He’s making this point over and over, and I’m sure he believes it”, Taylor said.

But analysts suspect he also knows that Western support will only last as long as his resistance on the battlefield.

“If Ukraine is able to conduct a successful offensive with Western arms, then many would be encouraged by the prospect than Ukraine can take back some territory,” said Michael Kofman, at CNA, a US think-tank.

But if not, “many people would be disappointed or perhaps disheartened and would assume that even with substantial supply of Western arms and equipment, Ukraine’s best option is to seek to regain its territory at the negotiating table rather than the battlefield”, he said.

AFP

Zelensky Asks G7 To Limit Price Of Russian Oil

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
File Photo of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky 
Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday asked the Group of Seven rich nations to further squeeze Russia over its invasion of Ukraine by capping the prices of oil exported by Moscow.

“For us, a consistent position of the G7 countries on sanctions is important. They must be further strengthened, by limiting the prices of oil exported by the aggressor,” Zelensky wrote on his Telegram account after addressing G7 leaders meeting in Germany via video link.

He added that “Ukraine feels the support of the G7 countries”.

“Thank you for the defence and financial aid given to our country in its fight against the Russian invasion,” he said.

A senior US official told reporters Monday that negotiations on how to cap the amount of money the Russians can get for their key oil exports were advancing.

The United States and Canada, which are far less reliant on Russia as an energy supplier than Europe, have banned all Russian oil imports.

Africa A ‘Hostage’ Of Russia’s Ukraine War, Zelensky Tells AU

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022.
Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that Africa was “a hostage” of Russia’s war on Ukraine which has spurred global food shortages and famine fears across the African continent.

But he said Kyiv was engaged in “complex negotiations” to unblock the grain trapped at its Black Sea ports by Russia’s naval blockade.

“Africa is actually a hostage… of those who unleashed war against our state,” Zelensky said in an address to the African Union.

Russia’s invasion and its blockade of Ukraine’s ports has paralysed grain exports from one of the world’s largest producers, sparked dramatic grain and fertiliser shortages and put hundreds of millions of people at risk of hunger.

“This war may seem very distant to you and your countries. But the food prices that are catastrophically rising have already brought (the war) to the homes of millions of African families,” he said.

“The unjust level of food prices, which has been provoked by the Russian war, is being painfully felt on all continents. Unfortunately, this can be a particular problem for your countries.”

Although the global grain crisis would last as long as Russia pressed its “colonial war”, he said Ukraine was trying everything to free up its ports while also trying “to build a new logistical supply chain” for the 25 million tonnes of grain blocked inside its borders.

READ ALSO: Africa Needs $25 bn A Year For Full Electricity Access – IEA

“We are conducting complex multilevel negotiations to unblock our Ukrainian ports. But there is no progress yet because no real tool has yet been found to ensure Russia does not attack them again,” he admitted.

So far, global organisations had not yet found a way to convince Russia to end its invasion.

“That is why the food crisis in the world will continue as long as this colonial war continues.”

He said Kyiv wanted to “intensify” dialogue with African Union member states and would soon appoint a special representative for Africa.

And he also proposed opening discussion on a “major political and economic conference” on ties between Ukraine and Africa.

Senegalese President and African Union chair Macky Sall thanked Zelensky on Twitter and said Africa “remains committed to respecting the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflict and the freedom of trade”.

African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat also reiterated “the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict to allow peace to return to the region and to restore global stability” in a posting on Twitter.

Zelensky Vows To Retake South, NATO Warns Of Long War

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Sunday that his forces “will not give away the south to anyone” after his first visit to the southern frontline, as NATO’s chief warned the war in Ukraine could last “for years”.

Making a rare trip outside Kyiv, where he is based for security reasons, Zelensky travelled to the hold-out Black Sea city of Mykolaiv and visited troops nearby and in the neighbouring Odessa region for the first time since the Russian invasion.

“We will not give away the south to anyone, we will return everything that’s ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” he said in a video posted on Telegram as he made his way back to Kyiv.

He said he talked with troops and police during his visit.

“Their mood is confident, and looking into their eyes it is obvious that they all do not doubt our victory,” he said.

While Zelensky remained defiant, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that “we must be prepared for this to last for years.”

Speaking to German daily newspaper Bild, Stoltenberg said “We must not weaken in our support of Ukraine, even if the costs are high — not only in terms of military support but also because of rising energy and food prices.”

Russian forces have directed their firepower at the east and south of Ukraine in recent weeks since failing in their bid to take the capital Kyiv after the lightning February 24 invasion.

“The losses are significant. Many houses were destroyed, civilian logistics were disrupted, there are many social issues,” Zelensky said.

“I have commissioned to make assistance to people who have lost loved ones more systemic. We will definitely restore everything that was destroyed. Russia does not have as many missiles as our people have the desire to live.”

Mykolaiv is a key target for Russia as it lies on the way to the strategic Black Sea port of Odessa.

READ ALSO: Indian Commercial Jet Makes Safe Landing After Engine Fire

Zelensky surveyed the city’s badly damaged regional administration building and met officials in what appeared to be a basement where he handed out awards to soldiers, in a video released by his office.

Soldiers in Mykolaiv meanwhile were trying to keep their pre-war routines alive, with one saying he would not give up his vegan diet on the frontlines.

Oleksandr Zhuhan said he had received a package from a network of volunteers to keep up his plant-based diet.

“There was pate and vegan sausages, hummus, soya milk… and all this for free,” the 37-year-old drama teacher said happily.

– ‘Hero’ –

Back in Kyiv, with shockwaves from the war continuing to reverberate around the world, thousands gathered to pay tribute to one young man — Roman Ratushny, a leading figure in Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan movement, who was killed fighting Russians in the country’s east earlier this month aged just 24.

In front of the coffin draped in a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag at the foot of a monument that overlooks the sprawling Independence Square in the capital, people of all ages saluted his memory.

“I think it is important to be here because he is a hero of Ukraine and we must remember him,” Dmytro Ostrovsky, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP.

The loss put a human face on the shared grief of Ukrainians, as the bloodshed continues.

The worst of the fighting continues to be in the eastern industrial Donbas region, with battles raging in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk, which Russia has been trying to seize for weeks.

“There’s an expression: prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself,” the governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, told AFP in an interview from the Ukrainian-controlled city of Lysychansk across the river from Severodonetsk.

“Of course, we need to prepare.”

Wearing a flak jacket and carrying gun cartridges and a tourniquet, he said Russian forces “are just shelling our troop positions 24 hours a day.”

Earlier, Gaiday said on Telegram that there was “more destruction” at the besieged Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering.

He also said Lysychansk was being “heavily shelled”.

There are signs of preparations for street fighting in the city: soldiers digging in, putting up barbed wire and police placing burnt-out vehicles sideways across roads to slow traffic, as residents were preparing to be evacuated.

“We’re abandoning everything and going. No one can survive such a strike,” said history teacher Alla Bor, waiting with her son-in-law Volodymyr and 14-year-old grandson.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian officials in the eastern, separatist-held city of Donetsk said five civilians were killed and 12 injured by Ukrainian bombardment.

In Lysychansk, the governor Gaiday said watching his home city, Severodonetsk, be shelled and people he knew dying was “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”.

AFP

Ukraine To Introduce Visas For Russians – Zelensky

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
File Photo of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky 
Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Friday that Kyiv intends to introduce visas for Russians from July 1, four months into Moscow’s invasion of his country.

“Ukraine is introducing a visa regime for citizens of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said on his Telegram account. He said the requirement would take effect on “July 1, 2022”, according to a government decision that he expected “today.”

The move will end visa-free travel for Russians that began when Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said the move was being taken because of Russia’s invasion that began on February 24 and to bolster his country’s defensive efforts.

“Due to the full-scale war launched by the Russian Federation, we need to strengthen the control over the entry of Russian nationals into our territory. Security is a priority.”

The two neighbours share a border stretching almost 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) and share extensive family links.

But the number of Russians travelling to Ukraine fell sharply after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which unleashed a war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine that was backed by the Kremlin.

In 2013, 10.8 million Russians visited Ukraine but a year later, that figure plummeted to 2.5 million. And between 2015 and 2019, it further dropped to some 1.5 million a year, Andrey Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border guards, told AFP.

In 2020 and 2021 as the Covid pandemic took hold, the number of Russian travellers did not exceed 500,000 a year, he said.

Ukraine, where Russian is widely spoken and which has lived through two pro-democracy revolutions since 2004, has also become a popular destination in recent years for liberal Russians fleeing the authoritarian regime of President Vladimir Putin.

By the end of January, nearly 175,000 Russians had residence permits in Ukraine, migration officials told AFP.

But that number is likely far higher as, until now, Ukraine has never had a visa regime with Russia.

Ukraine’s Zelensky ‘Didn’t Want To Hear’ Warnings About Invasion – Biden

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
In this file photo, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden said Friday that his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky “didn’t want to hear” American warnings ahead of Russia’s invasion of his country.

“I know a lot of people thought I was exaggerating,” Biden said at a fundraising reception in Los Angeles, referring to his forewarning of the possibility of a Russian attack.

“But I knew we had data to sustain (the assessment),” he added in front of reporters.

“(Russian President Vladimir Putin) was gonna go into the border. And there was no doubt, and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it, nor did a lot of people. I understand why they didn’t want to hear it, but he went in.”

READ ALSO: China Will ‘Not Hesitate To Start War’ Over Taiwan, Beijing Tells US

The United States began raising the alarm over Russia’s preparations for an invasion of Ukraine well before Putin announced the “special operation” against the country on February 24.

The warnings were met with disbelief and even veiled criticism from some European allies, who at the time felt the United States was being too alarmist.

AFP

Russia Controls ‘About 20 Percent’ Of Ukraine – Zelensky

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022.
Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Russian troops control about one-fifth of his country, including the annexed Crimean peninsula and territory in the east held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

“Today, about 20 percent of our territory is under the control of the occupiers,” he said during an address to lawmakers in Luxembourg, as Russian forces were solidifying their hold on the eastern Donbas region and pushing towards Ukraine’s de facto administrative centre there.

Russians ‘Pushed Away’ From Kharkiv As Washington Boosts Aid

Ukrainian soldiers stand on an armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line with Russian troops, in Izyum district, Kharkiv region on April 18, 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Ukrainian soldiers stand on an armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line with Russian troops, in Izyum district, Kharkiv region on April 18, 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP

 

Ukraine said Wednesday it was pushing Russian troops away from the country’s second city Kharkiv but facing stiff resistance, as Washington predicted that Vladimir Putin was ready for a long war.

With President Joe Biden’s warning that Ukraine would within days likely run out of funds to keep fighting, the US House of Representatives voted late Tuesday to send a $40 billion aid package to the country.

Russia has focused on eastern Ukraine after failing to take Kyiv. Ukraine’s forces are struggling to hold on in the Donbas region, but have been boosted by what Kyiv says is the recapture of four villages around Kharkiv further north.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Tuesday that he had “good news” from Kharkiv.

“The occupiers are gradually being pushed away,” he said. “I am grateful to all our defenders who are holding the line and demonstrating truly superhuman strength to drive out the army of invaders.”

READ ALSO: UN To Hold Another Meeting On Ukraine

Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said on Facebook on Wednesday that “occupiers continue to focus their efforts on preventing the further advance of our troops towards the state border of Ukraine” from Kharkiv.

The head of the Kharkiv regional state administration Oleg Synegubov said four villages — Cherkasy Tyshky, Rusky Tyshky, Rubizhne, and Bayrak — around the city had been liberated, but that “fierce battles” were still raging.

Despite the apparent gains, Zelensky urged Ukrainians against “moral pressure, when certain victories are expected weekly and even daily”, a reflection of the grinding war that is now deep into its third month.

A stark example of that could be seen in the Kharkiv region itself, where Synegubov announced that 44 civilian bodies had been found under the rubble of a destroyed building in the eastern town of Izyum, now under Russian control.

‘They Come in Waves’ 

In this file photo, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference following his talks with the President of the European Council in Kyiv on April 20, 2022. Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

Ukraine is engaged in what appears to be an increasingly desperate effort to hold the Russian-speaking Donbas.

“They come in waves,” volunteer fighter Mykola said of the Russians’ repeated attempts to push south past a strategic river near a rural settlement called Bilogorivka.

Nearby, the casing of a cluster munition stood upright like a fence pole not far from a team of Ukrainian medics rushing a bleeding soldier from the eastern front.

One of the doctors reassured the wincing fighter that the tourniquet being squeezed just above his knee did not mean he was about to lose a part of his leg.

“They tried over the weekend and we pushed them back. Now they are trying again. It goes back and forth. First they hit us, then we hit them,” said Mykola.

But on Tuesday US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Vladimir Putin’s focus on the Donbas was “only a temporary shift”.

“We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” Haines said.

US intelligence thinks he is determined to build a land bridge to Russian-controlled territory in Moldova, all the way from Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014.

A path to achieving that goal is the strategic port of Mariupol, where Ukraine says around 1,000 troops remain trapped in increasingly dire circumstances at the Azovstal steelworks.

The sprawling plant is the final bastion of resistance in the city, which has seen relentless destruction.

A sister plant of the Azovstal mill in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia shows how these Stalin-era sites have ended up being tailor-made to defy Russia’s invasion.

“We can stay in the shelters for a long time,” said Zaporizhstal employee Ihor Buhlayev, 20, in his hooded silver safety gear as molten metal flowed and sparked behind him. “I think it will give us the chance to survive.”

 ‘Blow off Steam’

Despite the scale of the Russian offensive, its current force might not be large or strong enough to capture and hold the territory it aspires to, US intelligence chief Haines said.

The United States views it as increasingly likely that Putin will mobilise his entire country, including ordering martial law, and is counting on his perseverance to wear down Western support for Ukraine.

As Russia cracks down internally, a member of the band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, said she had left Russia by disguising herself as a food delivery courier to escape police.

Alyokhina joins thousands of Russians who have fled their country since Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

“I was happy that I made it, because it was an unpredictable and big ‘kiss-off’ to the Russian authorities,” she told the New York Times.

Ukraine has been pushing Western countries for more support, with Washington the latest to step up.

The US Senate is expected to rubber-stamp the House of Representatives’ decision by the end of this week or next, a show of rare bipartisan support that would bring total US help to Ukraine to around $54 billion.

“With this aid package, America sends a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Kyiv meanwhile hailed what it called a change of position by Germany on arms deliveries and a Russian oil embargo, following a visit by Berlin’s foreign minister on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian capital itself is slowly returning to life after Russian forces retreated from the suburbs, with people now looking for ways to burn off weeks of pent-up stress.

In a Kyiv boxing gym the sound of hip hop mixes with the dull thud of fists walloping heavy bags as a group of Ukrainian boxers unleash combinations of punches.

“With the curfew in the city and restrictions on movement, we needed some place to blow off steam and discharge emotional tension,” said Oleksandr, a 38-year-old employee of the International Red Cross.

AFP

Zelensky, Putin Invited To G20 Summit – Indonesian Leader

A photo combination of Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to the G20 summit in November, which will also be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president of host nation Indonesia said Friday.

“I have invited President Zelenskyy to attend the G20 summit,” said Joko Widodo, suggesting a compromise had been reached following Western pressure to bar Russia from the event in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Putin confirmed in a phone call with Widodo he will attend the summit, to take place on Bali island, the Indonesian leader said in a livestreamed address.

Russia is a G20 member, while Ukraine is not.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Indonesia has faced fierce pressure from Western countries, led by the United States, to bar Russia from the summit.

But Jakarta had insisted that, as the host, it must remain impartial, while US President Joe Biden had suggested Ukraine could take part.

Zelensky had announced in a tweet that he was invited to the summit by Indonesia on Wednesday, following a call with Widodo.

Biden Announces New $800m Military Package For Ukraine

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 announced Thursday a new package of $800 million in military aid for Ukraine, saying it would help Kyiv in the fight against Russian forces in the Donbas region.

The Pentagon said the newest round of US support will include 72 155mm howitzers, 72 armored vehicles to tow them, 144,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 120 “Phoenix Ghost” tactical drones recently developed by the US Air Force specifically to address Ukraine’s needs.

Biden said the new package was tailored to help Ukraine’s forces meet the emerging Russian offensive in the country’s east, which he said would be a different kind of fight than that in the north around Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces successfully beat Russian forces back in the first six weeks of the war.

“We’re in a critical window now… where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war. And the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine… the weapons their forces need to defend their nation,” the president said.

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

Biden also announced that Russia-affiliated ships would be banned from US ports, and that the US Treasury was putting up a fresh $500 million for Ukraine’s government so it can pay salaries and pensions and provide services.

He said unity between the US and allies in support of Ukraine is sending “an unmistakable message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine. That will not happen,” Biden said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has pushed strongly for more and heavier weaponry, said in a tweet that he was grateful for Biden’s announcement.

“This help is needed today more than ever! It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace” in Ukraine, he said.

 Long-range Artillery 

At the Pentagon, Spokesman John Kirby said that Ukrainian troops were already being trained on the M777 howitzers and that the some of the new equipment would be on its way for delivery to the embattled country by this weekend.

Combined with 18 howitzers announced for Ukraine last week, the new artillery would be enough to equip five battalions, Kirby said, noting that both sides are preparing for a battle driven by long-range artillery fire.

In their training on the howitzers, Ukrainian forces “are very happy with the performance of the system and they’re learning it quickly,” said Kirby.

The new drones, he indicated, will act as both surveillance and “loitering” attack drones, which can hover over a target and either drop munitions or themselves crash into a target and explode at the most opportune moment.

“We are going to continue to utilize all available tools to support Ukraine’s armed forces in the face of Russian aggression,” he said.

– $4 billion in defense assistance –
The new package follows $800 million in military assistance announced by the White House last week, taking to $4 billion the amount the US has put up in arms and supplies for Ukraine’s forces since the start of the Biden administration in January 2021.

Numerous allies in Europe have also supplied Ukraine with weapons and military supplies.

Biden pledged that US military aid for Kyiv will not dry up, and said he was preparing to ask Congress for more funds “to keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption.”

He called on allies to continue their support.

“We have the capacity to do this for a long time. The question is, are we going to maintain the support of the international community to keep the pressure on Putin” and keep enforcing tough sanctions on Russia, he said.

“The most important thing is maintain unity,” he said.

AFP

Russia Renews Attacks On Kyiv, Zelensky Issues Talks Ultimatum

In this file photo, smoke rises after an attack by the Russian army in Odessa, on April 3, 2022. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 

Russia renewed air strikes on Kyiv on Saturday, as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that peace talks with Moscow will be scrapped if the last Ukrainian troops in the besieged port city of Mariupol are killed.

The fresh bloodshed in Ukraine’s capital and the mounting pressure on Mariupol came as Austria’s chancellor, the first European leader to meet with Vladimir Putin in person since the invasion began, said he thought the Russian president “believes he is winning the war”.

The attacks on Kyiv ended weeks of relative calm in the city.

Smoke rose from the Darnyrsky district in the southeast of the capital after what Moscow said were “high-precision long-range” strikes on an armaments plant, killing one person and wounding several others.

READ ALSO: Strikes Leave Five Dead In East Ukraine City Of Kharkiv

A heavy police and military presence was deployed around the factory, which was badly damaged.

“Our forces are doing everything possible to protect us, but the enemy is insidious and ruthless,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

The strike came a day after a similar attack on a plant that produced Neptune missiles — the type which, according to Kyiv and Washington, sunk Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva on Thursday.

It was among the first attacks since Russian forces began withdrawing from that region last month, instead turning their focus on gaining control of the eastern Donbas region, for years controlled in part by pro-Russian separatists.

Kyiv regional governor Oleksandr Pavliuk said there were at least two other Russian strikes on the city Friday and that civilians thinking about returning should “wait for quieter times”.

Nevertheless, families and off-duty soldiers were out in the parks of central Kyiv on Saturday, bringing a semblance of normality to the once-bustling city.

“It’s the first time we’ve been back in the city centre… It’s really making me happy to see people out and about,” 43-year-old vet Nataliya Makrieva told AFP.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, in the northeast of the country, a Russian missile strike on a residential district killed at least two people on Saturday and wounded 18 others, the public prosecutor’s office said.

And Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said three people were killed and four others critically wounded in a demining operation near Kharkiv.

Zelensky warning 

In the south, the devastated city of Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet satellite state on February 24.

Russian officials now say they are in full control there, though Ukrainian fighters remain holed up in the city’s fortress-like steelworks.

“Their only chance to save their lives is to voluntarily lay down their arms and surrender”, Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Saturday.

As the Russian forces close in, Zelensky issued a warning.

“The elimination of our troops, of our men (in Mariupol) will put an end to any negotiations,” Zelensky told the Ukrainska Pravda news website.

“We don’t negotiate neither our territories nor our people.”

The peace talks already appeared moribund, having produced little since they began, and Putin said days ago he believed they were at a “dead end”.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met Putin on Monday in Moscow, said he thinks the Russian president believes the war is necessary for his country’s security.

“I think he is now in his own war logic,” Nehammer said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press”, portions of which were released Saturday. “I think he believes he is winning the war.”

Alleged video of Moskva crew 

Nehammer met Putin before the sinking of the Moskva, its Black Sea flagship, in what the Pentagon confirmed was a Ukrainian missile strike — a serious blow to Russia’s war effort.

On Saturday, the defence ministry in Moscow released a 30-second video it said showed rescued crew members meeting with the head of the navy — the first purportedly showing Moskva survivors.

Russia claims the guided missile cruiser sank after a fire onboard sparked by a munitions explosion, and that all members of the crew of more than 500 were rescued.

 International pressure 

Amid escalating tit-for-tat sanctions since the invasion began, Russia said Saturday it was banning entry to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several other top officials.

The foreign ministry accused London of “unprecedented hostile actions”, in particular referring to sanctions on senior Russian officials, and “pumping the Kyiv regime with lethal weapons”.

Moscow’s new entry blacklist includes Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Johnson paid a surprise visit to Kyiv a week earlier, and was filmed walking through the capital’s empty streets with Zelensky.

Britain has been part of an international effort to punish Russia with asset freezes, travel bans and economic sanctions, while several Western countries have supplied Ukraine with extensive weaponry.

Russia warned the United States this week of “unpredictable consequences” if it sends its “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine.

Its defence ministry claimed Saturday to have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane in the Odessa region, carrying weapons supplied by Western nations.

Zelensky meanwhile issued a fresh warning about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons as the conflict wears on.

‘No home to return to’ 

The Ukrainian leader said Friday that between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the conflict, compared to 19,000-20,000 Russian dead.

Russia has said its losses were far smaller.

Zelensky said that around 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded.

Russia has so far detained around 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and captured 700 soldiers, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, while Ukraine has captured around 700 Russian soldiers.

Russia’s apparent new focus on seizing the eastern Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk areas, would allow Moscow to create a land corridor to occupied Crimea.

Ukrainian authorities have urged people in the region to quickly leave ahead of what is expected to be a large-scale Russian offensive.

In Geneva, the UN refugee agency warned that many of the nearly five million people who have fled Ukraine will not have homes to return to.

“For so many, there is no home to return to since it’s been destroyed or damaged, or is located in an area that is not safe,” said Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR’s representative in Ukraine.

AFP