Sunday, April 21, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 38

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. Clashes are ongoing in various locations of Ukraine, while the Russian military keeps up its airstrikes. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict during round-the-clock negotiations. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Defense ministry: Russian armed forces destroyed 125 Ukrainian aircraft

The Russian armed forces have destroyed 381 Ukrainian drones, 1,888 tanks and 205 multiple rocket launchers since the beginning of their special military operation, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.

“Overall, 125 planes and 88 helicopters, 381 unmanned aerial vehicles, 1,888 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 205 multiple launch rocket systems, 793 field artillery guns and mortars and also 1,771 special military motor vehicles have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation,” he added.

Nearly 300 buried in ‘mass grave’ in Bucha: Mayor

Almost 300 people have been buried in a mass grave in Bucha, its mayor has told AFP news agency.

“In Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves,” mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said, adding the heavily destroyed town’s streets are littered with corpses.

Air strike damages airfield and fuel depot in Ukraine’s Poltava region: Governor

A Russian air raid damaged an airfield runway and fuel depot near the city of Myrhorod in Ukraine’s central-eastern Poltava, Governor Dmytro Lunin stated.

Kremlin: Russia would like to continue talks with Ukraine in Belarus, but Kiev doesn’t want it

Russia would like to continue negotiations with Ukraine in Belarus, but Kiev didn’t want to do so from the very start, and the talks there came with great difficulty, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has said.

“In order for negotiations between two parties to take place, especially between parties which have such a complex relationship as Russia and Ukraine do today, it’s necessary to have the mutual consent of all sides. And, in fact, the first two rounds of talks which took place in Belarus came with great difficulty,” Peskov stated, speaking to Belarusian television on Saturday.

The Ukrainian side “actually didn’t want to go there to the final moment,” he noted, recalling that when the Russian delegation arrived for the first round of negotiations, they had to wait for the Ukrainians for nearly a day, and did not know whether they would come or not.

“We would be happy to continue negotiations in Belarus, but the Ukrainians don’t want this. For some reason, it’s not convenient for them. But you must admit that the main thing is to find the place where its possible to converge with the Ukrainian negotiators, and that they continue, whether it’s in Istanbul or somewhere else,” Peskov added.

The spokesman stated the peace negotiations continue to be difficult.

Contemporary Ukraine is a “very difficult country” for Moscow, the spokesman stated, noting that in its current state, its status could be described as “hostile.”

He suggested that the current regime in Kiev is not friendly to either Russia or Belarus, pointing to Ukrainian authorities support for the attempted colour revolution in Minsk in 2020, and the Kiev’s aspirations to join NATO, as well as its efforts to “nurture” forces that “walk down the street with Nazi swastikas.”

“This is a country which has completely banned any Russian-speaking and Russian media, a country that has made the Russian language secondary,” he added.

Peskov also pointed to the network of US military biolabs operating in Ukraine, saying that the “extremely dangerous pathogens, microbes and viruses’ held there, as well as “projects to create new types of weapons, biological weapons, which are meant to target certain ethnic groups,” are a threat to both Russia and Belarus.

The spokesperson emphasized Moscow’s continued “absolute” military support for Belarus, saying an attack on Minsk would be deemed the equivalent of an attack on Russia itself.

Commenting on the current state of the Russian military operation, Peskov insisted that it was “in full swing” and that “the military potential and infrastructure” of Ukraine “have been largely destroyed.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser warns days ahead “will not be easy”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said heavy fighting is still expected in the east of Ukraine, near Mariupol, and in the country’s south.

He warned that the military effort “will not be easy” in those regions.

“I think we will take back Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, and the south,” he continued, adding, “But — listen carefully — it will not be easy there.”

Arestovych and other senior Ukrainian officials have stepped up calls in recent days for the US and its allies to deliver more heavy weaponry.

Speaking during his daily briefing, Arestovych stated the main directions of the military over the past day were the Kyiv region, where Ukrainian troops reclaimed more than 30 settlements from Russian control.

“We seize a lot of equipment that is empty, without fuel, and transfer it to the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said, adding, “That is, the offensive is going well.”

Arestovych — who gives regular briefings on Ukrainian television — also urged people to return to normal life, noting, “In those areas that are liberated from the enemy, that do not pose an immediate threat, and even more so in the cities of Central and Western Ukraine or in the East and Center of Ukraine, where there is no immediate threat, economic recovery is critical to restoring normal social and political life, even psychological life.”

Moscow: Belgorod hit by Ukrainian airstrike after US call on Americans to leave Russia

Ukraine’s Armed Forces carried out an airstrike on a petroleum depot in the Russian city of Belgorod after the US Department of State had called on US citizens to leave Russia, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday.

“Did Washington know?” she wrote in her Telegram channel.

Zakharova added that on March 31 at about 19.30 UTC, Spokesperson for the US Department of State Ned Price urged the US citizens in Russia and Ukraine to leave those countries immediately.

“We take seriously our responsibility to inform US citizens about developments that may impact their safety and security when they are traveling or residing outside of the United States,” Price said, adding, “We reiterate that all US citizens in Russia and Ukraine should depart immediately.”

“Six hours later, on April 1 at 02.00 a.m. UTC, two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters crossed the Russian border and carried out a strike on targets in Belgorod,” the Russian diplomat noted.

On Friday morning, a fire broke out at a petroleum depot belonging to the Belgorodnefteprodukt company after the Ukrainian Armed Forces had carried out two airstrikes in Belgorod. No one was killed or injured in the incident. The fire engulfed fuel tanks, so the residents of nearby apartment buildings were evacuated. The blaze was extinguished only by night. Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin initiated an investigation into the airstrike.

Blasts near Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant: Nuclear agency

A series of blasts has torn through the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar nearby the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Ukraine’s state nuclear agency reported about Saturday’s attacks on its official Telegram channel.

Both the city and the plant, which generates over a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity and is one of the largest nuclear facilities in Europe, have been under Russian control since March 4, according to Interfax Ukraine.

A video clip accompanying the Telegram post by Ukraine’s Energoatom appeared to feature loud blasts and flying debris.

A second post on the state enterprise’s channel claimed that explosions and mortar bursts could be heard in the vicinity of the Sovremennik cultural center, where residents held a rally in support of Ukraine.

Zelensky: Mines in wake of Russian retreat keep Kyiv unsafe

Retreating Russian troops are creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of those killed,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned.

Ukraine and its Western allies reported mounting evidence of Russia withdrawing its forces from around Kyiv and building up troop strength in eastern Ukraine.

The visible shift did not mean the country faced a reprieve from more than five weeks of war or that the more than 4 million refugees who have fled Ukraine will return soon.

“It’s still not possible to return to normal life, as it used to be, even at the territories that we are taking back after the fighting,” the president said.

“We need wait until our land is demined, wait till we are able to assure you that there won’t be new shelling,” he added.

Ukrainian presidential adviser calls for heavier weaponry from West as Russia shifts military focus

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Saturday called on the US and its allies to deliver heavier weaponry to Ukraine as the Russian military shifts its campaign to focus on the east and south of Ukraine.

“After the rapid retreat of the Russians from Kyiv and Chernihiv, it is clear that Russia has prioritized another tactic — to move east/south, to control large occupied territories (not only in Donetsk and Luhansk regions) and to gain a strong foothold there,” he said.

The Russian military announced the “first stage” of its invasion of Ukraine was complete and that it would withdraw forces from around Kyiv and Chernihiv to concentrate on the Donbas region in the country’s east. Russia’s announcement of that new phase in part may provide political cover for the Russian military, explaining heavy setbacks in the battles around Kyiv, but Ukrainian officials have also reported a ramping up of military activity and shelling in the Donbas by Russian forces.

Podolyak alluded to the expectation from US and Western officials that Ukraine might need to prepare for partisan warfare in the event of Russian invasion and the fall of the Ukrainian capital.

“Our partners must finally understand that the ‘Afghanization’ they want and the long-lasting exhausting conflict for Russia will not happen,” Podolyak continued, adding, “Russia will leave all Ukrainian territories except the south and east. And will try to dig in there, put in air defense and sharply reduce the loss of its equipment and personnel.”

The US, the UK and other NATO allies provided anti-tank weapons and man-portable air defenses. Podolyak said Ukraine needed heavier weaponry.

“‘Afghanization’ is when there is a strong guerrilla resistance across the country that inflicts heavy losses on the aggressor for many months or even years and thus significantly weakens the power of the occupier’s army,” he said.

“Such actions took place during the Soviet Union’s attempt to control Afghanistan: Afghan guerrillas destroyed and weakened the Soviet occupiers for years. As a result, weakened Russia as a whole,” he added.

Podolyak continued, “Some of our partners believed that something similar could happen in today’s Ukraine. The Russians think otherwise. They have established in the east and south and are dictating harsh conditions. So we definitely can’t do without heavy weapons if we want to unblock the east and Kherson and send [back] the Russians as far as possible.”

Putin is ‘a war criminal’: Ex-ICC prosecutor

The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview.

In interviews given to Swiss media to mark the release of her latest book, the Swiss lawyer who oversaw ICC war crimes investigations in Rwanda, Syria and the former Yugoslavia, said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

UN: Over 4.1 million Ukrainian refugees flee war

Nearly 4.14 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24, with tens of thousands continuing to flood into neighbouring countries each day, UN numbers show.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that 4,137,842 Ukrainians had fled in just over five weeks, an increase of 34,966 on the figure given yesterday.

Women and children account for 90 per cent of those who have left Ukraine, with men aged 18 to 60 eligible for military call-up and unable to leave.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced that in addition to Ukrainian refugees, nearly 205,500 non-Ukrainians living, studying or working in the country have also left.

Nearly 6.48 million people were meanwhile estimated to be internally displaced within Ukraine as of mid-March, according to the IOM.

That puts the total number of people displaced by the conflict at well over 10 million, or around a quarter of Ukraine’s total population.

Pope Francis implicitly criticises Putin over Ukraine for first time

Pope Francis came the closest he has yet to implicitly criticising Vladimir Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that a “potentate” was fomenting conflicts for nationalist interests.

The term ‘potentate’ refers to a monarch or ruler, especially an autocratic one.

“From the east of Europe, from the land of the sunrise, the dark shadows of war have now spread. We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” the Pope said in an address to Maltese officials after arriving on the Mediterranean island nation for a two-day visit.

“However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all,” he added.

“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that, will either shared, or not be at all,” he continued.

Pope stated he was still considering a visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv following invitations from the mayor and the president.

The Pope has already strongly condemned what he has called an “unjustified aggression” and denounced “atrocities” in the war. But he has only referred to Russia directly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25.

Ukraine faces heavy battles in east and south despite progress in Kyiv

Heavy battles are approaching in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions as well as for the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said.

Speaking on national television, Arestovych said Ukrainian troops around Kyiv had retaken more than 30 towns or villages in the region and were holding the front line against Russian forces in the east.

“Let us have no illusions – there are still heavy battles ahead for the south, for Mariupol, for the east of Ukraine,” he added.

Death toll from Mykolaiv strike on government building rises to 35

At least 35 people have been confirmed killed as a result of Tuesday’s rocket strike on the regional administration building in Ukraine’s southern port city of Mykolaiv, Governor Vitaliy Kim said in an online post.

Rescue workers have continued to dismantle the rubble and search for victims after the strike blasted a hole through the side of the building in central Mykolaiv.

Nearly 160 children died since war started

At least 158 children have been killed and more than 254 have been wounded since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Interfax news agency reported citing figures from Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office.

Russian forces violently disperse protesters in occupied Ukrainian town

Local authorities in the occupied Ukrainian town of Enerhodar said Russian forces had violently dispersed a pro-Ukrainian rally and detained some participants.

Residents had gathered in the centre of the town in the south of the country to talk and sing the Ukrainian national anthem, when Russian soldiers arrived and bundled some into detention vans, the local administration said in an online post.

“The occupiers are dispersing the protesters with explosions,” it added in a separate post on Telegram, sharing a video of what appeared to be multiple stun grenades landing in a square and letting off bangs and clouds of white smoke next to the town’s main cultural centre.

It also accused Russian forces of shelling another part of the town on Saturday and claimed as a result four people had been wounded and were being treated in hospital.

Ukrainian journalist found dead near Kyiv: presidential aide

Ukrainian photographer and documentary maker Maks Levin has been found dead near the capital Kyiv after going missing more than two weeks ago, presidential aide Andriy Yermak said on Saturday.

“He went missing in the conflict area on March 13 in the Kyiv region. His body was found near the village of Guta Mezhygirska on April 1,” he added.

Germany: Russian gas supply ‘still guaranteed’

Germany is still receiving Russian gas, but is preparing for all scenarios, Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said.

“Currently, the gas supply is still guaranteed… [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s statements are contradictory. Therefore, it is good that the emergency early warning level has been introduced. It helps the provision. Nobody can wish for an escalation,” Habeck stated in an interview with the Rheinische Post.

According to Habeck, Berlin is “ready for anything” as now it is necessary to “think through even the most unlikely scenarios”.

Abandoning the boycott of Russian gas was the right move, as the situation was fraught with a split in German business and society, Habeck added.

On Wednesday, Habeck announced an early warning level in anticipation of Moscow cutting off gas exports over Western sanctions imposed on the country due to its military operation in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree, stipulating that all contracts for gas supplies with companies registered in “unfriendly” countries be settled in rubles. The measure only concerns Gazprom’s pipeline exports, with the company expecting to receive first ruble payments in the second half of April and in May.

Kremlin: UK won’t get Russian gas

British energy major Shell will not be able to buy Russian gas due to London’s anti-Russia sanctions, Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the media on Saturday.

“London wants to be the leader of everything anti-Russian. It even wants to be ahead of Washington! That’s the cost!” Peskov outlined.

He was referring to the fact that the UK is the only country to have imposed sanctions on Russia’s Gazprombank, through which payments for Russian natural gas are made. The measure effectively denies Britain the ability to pay for the commodity.

Defense ministry: Russian armed forces eliminated 381 Ukrainian drones, 1,882 tanks

Since the beginning of the special military operation, Russian Armed Forces eliminated 381 Ukrainian drones, 1,882 tanks and 203 multiple launch rocket systems, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Saturday.

“Since the beginning of the special military operation, a total of 124 planes, 84 helicopters, 381 drones, 1,882 tanks and other armored vehicles, 203 multiple launch rocket systems, 786 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 1,764 special automobile vehicles,” he added.

In the past 24 hours, Russian Armed Forces hit 67 Ukrainian military objects, including two rocket artillery ordnance depots and 54 combat vehicle concentration locations, Konashenkov announced Saturday.

“During the night, Russian Aerospace Forces and missile forces hit 67 Ukrainian military objects, including two command posts, two rocket artillery ordnance depots, nine field artillery guns and mortars, and 54 combat vehicle concentration locations,” he stated.

Russian forces in ‘rapid retreat’ from northern areas: Ukraine

Russian forces are making a “rapid retreat” from areas around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv in northern Ukraine, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said.

“With the rapid retreat of the Russians from the Kyiv and Chernigiv regions… it is completely clear that Russia is prioritising a different tactic: falling back on the east and south,” he added.

Russia: Road for Ukraine’s membership in EU lies through NATO

Moscow is not against Ukraine’s accession to the European Union, but NATO membership is now a prerequisite for it, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday.

“The experience of the recent years with Montenegro and Macedonia shows that joining the EU can be done only through NATO. These are interdependent organizations,” Medvedev wrote on Telegram.

The US plays a leading role in the relations between NATO and the EU and “Brussels also takes its orders from Washington,” even though it likes to deny this, Medvedev noted.

“Now Ukraine wants to join the EU again. More so than before… Our position is known to Ukrainians: if there is a desire to join, go ahead if you are invited,” Medvedev continued, adding that currently it does not seem possible without NATO approval.

UN says recorded 1,276, civilian deaths in Ukraine but toll much higher

Five weeks after the Russian military operation in Ukraine began, civilian deaths by the UN was at 1,276, with 1,981 wounded, although the toll is much higher as the number fleeing climbed to 4,102,876.

UN agencies announced feeding residents in besieged areas is also difficult due to the destruction of so much infrastructure in Ukraine since the war began Feb. 24

The Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OCHCR) said most civilian casualties recorded were caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems and missile and airstrikes.

“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed,” added the rights office.

Russia’s Gazprom pumping natural gas to Europe via Ukraine as requested

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced it is meeting supply requests for natural gas from European buyers, providing more than 108 million cubic meters through Ukraine on Saturday.

“Gazprom is supplying Russian gas for transit through Ukraine as usual based on requests from European consumers. That is 108.3 million cubic meters delivered on April 2,” a statement read.

Gazprom’s contract with Ukraine caps the daily amount of gas traversing the neighbour at around 109.6 million cubic meters a day, or 40 billion until the end of 2022.

EU says it eyes further Russia sanctions that will not affect energy sector

The European Union is working on further sanctions on Russia but any additional measures will not affect the energy sector, the EU’s Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni stated.

The 27-nation bloc will be faced with a growth slowdown caused by the war in Ukraine but not a recession, he added, saying the 4 percent growth forecast was too optimistic and the EU would not reach it.

Some historians say Putin making same mistakes doomed Hitler

Russian President Vladimir Putin often evokes the Soviet Union’s epic defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II to justify his country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet Putin is committing some of the same blunders that doomed Germany’s 1941 invasion of the USSR — while using “Hitler-like tricks and tactics” to justify his brutality, military historians and scholars say.

This is the savage irony behind Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine that’s become clear as the war enters its second month: the Russian leader, who portrays himself as a student of history, is floundering because he hasn’t paid enough attention to the lessons of the “Great Patriotic War” he reveres.

“I have been trying to make sense of this for a month, because as terrible as Putin is, you could never say he was illogical,” says Peter T. DeSimone, an associate professor of Russian and Eastern European history at Utica University in New York.

“All of this is illogical, and that’s the scary thing,” he states.

“This is not normal for what he’s done in the past. This is something that makes no sense on many levels, and not just in regard to World War II,” he adds.

Ukraine’s economy could contract 40 percent

Ukraine’s economy could shrink by 40 percent this year as a result of Russia’s military invasion, the country’s economy ministry said in a statement, citing preliminary estimates.

“Areas in which remote work is impossible have suffered the most,” it added.

UK: Ukraine continues to advance against Russian forces near Kyiv

Ukrainian forces continue to advance against withdrawing Russian forces in the vicinity of Kyiv, British military intelligence said in a regular bulletin.

Russian forces are also reported to have withdrawn from Hostomel airport near the capital, which has been subject to fighting since the first day of the conflict, Britain’s Ministry of Defence added.

Russian missiles strike several Ukrainian cities

Russian missiles hit two cities in central Ukraine, Poltava and Kremenchuk, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings, a local authority has said.

“Poltava. A missile struck one of the infrastructure facilities overnight,” Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava region, wrote in an online post.

“Kremenchuk. Many attacks on the city in the morning,” he added.

Lunin later stated at least four missiles hit two infrastructure objects in Poltava while, according to preliminary information, three enemy planes attacked the industrial facilities of Kremenchuk.

There was no immediate information about possible casualties, Lunin continued.

Russian officials confirmed withdrawal of troops from Chernobyl: IAEA

During a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi, Russian officials notified the international organization that all Russian troops were withdrawn from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Ukraine.

“Ukraine has informed the IAEA that all Russian forces have left the Chornobyl NPP, and this was confirmed by the Russian officials at today’s meeting in Kaliningrad. Ukraine has not yet reported any staff rotation at the Chornobyl NPP since 20-21 March,” the IAEA secretariat said.

“Director General Grossi intends to head an IAEA assistance and support mission to the Chornobyl NPP as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to Ukraine,” the document adds.

Zelensky: Sanctions against Russia are working but should be strengthened

Sanctions against Russia are working but need to be strengthened, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a taped interview with Fox News.

“Sanctions definitely work, and Russia is definitely afraid of sanctions. It puts them out of comfort. It drops down their economy. But there’s a question of how sanctions are working. We are showing and telling the United States and European leaders, everybody must work together quickly,” Zelensky added.

“They must have an impact on the oligarchs, on the President of Russia and on all the parties and on the country in general. The United States should continue working on this if the US would like to have successful negotiations,” he continued.

Pentagon allocates $300 million in military aid to Ukraine

The US Department of Defense [DoD] will allocate another $300 million in military aid to Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“Through USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative], DoD will provide up to $300 million in security assistance to bolster Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself,” the spokesman added.

Kremlin: Putin directed Defense Ministry to increase military potential on Western border

Russia will reinforce its military potential along the Western border to ensure sufficient security, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Belarus-1 television.

He stated Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin that military potential on the other side of the border was on the rise.

“Putin gave orders for Shoigu and our Defense Ministry is now working on this: a plan to react by increasing and reinforcing our military potential along the Western border,” Peskov continued, adding, “That will be done in such a way that will keep us safe and so that it doesn’t occur to anyone to attack us.”

Satellite images confirm Russian forces withdraw from Antonov Airport outside of Kyiv

After weeks of literally digging in at the Antonov Airport in Hostomel, just 18 miles (more 28 kilometers) northwest from the Ukrainian capital, Russian forces there have suddenly disappeared, new satellite images show.

On Thursday, an official with the US Department of Defense told CNN they believed that the Russian military had likely left the airport. The new satellite images, taken on Thursday from Maxar Technologies, confirm they have.

Previous satellite images showed that, around military vehicles and artillery positions, the Russians had constructed protective earthen berms. Now, just the berms remain.

The capture of the Antonov airfield was the first major victory notched by the Russians on the first day of the war — Feb. 24. A number of transport and attack helicopters ambushed the base, and the Ukrainian soldiers at it.

US think tank says Russia focus now on Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, has given its assessment of what Russia’s apparent pullback from Ukraine’s north suggests about Moscow’s military strategy.

Echoing the Ukrainian president, the IOW, says Russia’s “main effort is now focused on eastern Ukraine” with the goal of capturing Mariupol as well as the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Its analysts expect Russia to take Mariupol “in the coming days” but will continue to suffer heavy casualties.

“The Kremlin will continue to funnel reinforcements (including both low-quality individual replacements from Russia and damaged units redeployed from northeastern Ukraine) into operations in eastern Ukraine, but these degraded forces are unlikely to enable Russia to conduct successful large-scale offensive operations,” IOW added.

Zelensky says Russian withdrawal ‘slow but noticeable’; warns on east

In his latest video address, President Volodomyr Zelensky told Ukrainians that Russia’s withdrawal from northern areas of the country was “slow but noticeable” and that Russian forces were pulling back after battles or of their own volition.

“We are moving forward, moving carefully,” he said, adding that buildings, vehicles and even bodies were a risk for mines.

Zelenskyy warned again that the situation in the east was “extremely difficult” with Russia gathering its forces and “preparing for new powerful blows”.

Ukraine was preparing an “active” defence, he added, saying, “I emphasise again, hard battles lie ahead. We cannot think we have already passed all the tests.”

Zelensky warned residents to be aware of land mines as Russian forces were leaving behind “a complete disaster” while retreating from the north.

“They are mining the whole territory, they are mining homes, mining equipment, even the bodies of people who were killed,” he continued.

He urged residents to wait to resume their normal lives until they are assured that the mines have been cleared and the danger of shelling has passed.

US announces new export curbs targeting Russia, Belarus companies

The US has announced more export restrictions against Russia and Belarus, mostly companies with links to the military.

The action aims to “degrade Russian and Belarusian defense, aerospace, maritime, and other strategic sectors in response to Russia’s brutal assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine,” according to the Commerce Department.

UK: Damage in Belgorod likely to strain Russian logistics chains

British military intelligence has said the destruction of several oil tanks at a depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border, will likely add short-term strain to Russia’s already stretched logistics chains.

“The probable loss of fuel and ammunition supplies from these depots will likely add additional short-term strain to Russia’s already stretched logistic chains,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence wrote on Twitter.

“Supplies to Russian forces encircling Kharkhiv [60km or 37 miles from Belgorod] may be particularly affected,” it added.

At least 53 historic & religious sites damaged in Ukraine since Russian invasion began: UNESCO

At least 53 historic and religious sites in Ukraine have been damaged since the Russian invasion began, according to UNESCO.

UNESCO alongside its sister agency UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) has set up “a system to monitor the state of conservation of the main Ukrainian sites and monuments via satellite imagery,” according to a UNESCO spokesperson.

“To date, we have been able to verify damage to at least 53 cultural sites,” the spokesperson continued.

This encompasses 29 religious’ sites, 16 historic buildings, 4 museums and 4 monuments, according to the organization.

Ukraine says it carried out prisoner exchange with Russia

Ukraine and Russia have carried out a prisoner exchange, leading to the release of 86 Ukrainian servicemembers, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, has stated.

In an online post, Tymoshenko did not reveal how many Russian soldiers were swapped, but he said the deal was a result of continuing peace negotiations.

US providing Ukraine with supplies in case Russia deploys chemical weapons

The United States is providing Ukraine with supplies and equipment in case Russia deploys chemical or biological weapons, the White House has said, adding that this would not compromise domestic preparedness in any form.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated the supplies were being provided given a warning by the United States and other countries about the possibility that Russia could deploy such weapons in Ukraine and might be planning a “false flag” operation to lay the groundwork for such an attack.

Ukraine: Russian forces “not strong enough” to attack Ukraine on all fronts

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN Friday he believes a regrouping of Russian troops is happening as “they cannot sustain the pressure” to continue an assault on Ukraine from three fronts.

Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Kuleba said that the decision by Moscow to reduce military activity on the two fronts of Kyiv and Chernihiv came at a time when “Ukrainian forces started to successfully push them back from villages and small towns in the siege of Kyiv. The reason they said it was because they felt they cannot sustain the pressure and they cannot keep the front line around Kyiv.”

Kuleba stated that it may be indicative of Russian President Vladimir Putin becoming more realistic about his military strategy.

“I believe he already has become more real since I cannot imagine that the withdrawal of Russian forces from the north of Ukraine was not ordered by him,” the minister added.

“If we translate this recent movement into the human language, it literally means I do not have sufficient power to continue attacking Ukraine from three directions simultaneously. So I have to move part of my military strength to another direction to reinforce my army in that area,” he said.

“Whatever his picture of reality is, from the steps they are making on the ground, I can conclude that he has an understanding that his power, that he is not strong enough to continue attacking Ukraine from all corners and that’s clear now,” Kubela added.

But the foreign minister also said that he thinks the withdrawal of Russian forces may be an attempt to strategically prepare for an assault on Ukraine’s Donbas region.

“We see that some of their military unions are withdrawing back into the territory of Belarus, but at the same time we hear consistent messages and we also received intelligence that they’re still looking at Donbas as a low-hanging fruit,” he told CNN, adding, “They need to regroup resources and to prepare for the battle for Donbas.”

Ukraine says it foiled attempted Russian missile attack on Odesa region

Ukraine’s military has announced that its anti-air defences had foiled an attempted Russian missile attack on critical infrastructure in the major Black Sea port of Odesa.

Governor Maksym Marchenko earlier said three missiles had hit a residential area, adding there were casualties.

“The enemy tried in an insidious way to hit critical infrastructure facilities, the destruction of which could be dangerous for the civilian population,” the Ukrainian military’s southern command said in a Facebook post.

“Thanks to the timely and effective response of the air defence forces, the missiles did not hit the targets the enemy had been aiming at,” it added.

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