Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 39

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:

Johnson condemns ‘despicable’ killings of Ukrainian civilians

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denounced the discovery of hundreds of bodies shortly after the withdrawal of Russian troops from towns near Kyiv.

“Russia’s despicable attacks against innocent civilians in Irpin and Bucha are yet more evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his army are committing war crimes in Ukraine,” Johnson said in a statement.

The UK prime minister promised to do everything in his power to “starve Putin’s war machine,” and vowed that London would increase its financial support for an International Criminal Court investigation into atrocities committed in Ukraine.

He joined German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in vowing stepped by sanctions against Russia.

Johnson added London would increase arms supplies and humanitarian aid to Kyiv.

Germany says West to agree more sanctions on Russia after Bucha killings

Germany announced on Sunday that the West would agree to impose more sanctions on Russia in the coming days after Ukraine accused Russian forces of war crimes near Kyiv, ratchetting up the already vast economic pressure on Russia over its invasion.

“[President Vladimir] Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences” of their actions, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement to reporters in the chancellery.

“And we will continue to make weapons available to Ukraine so the country can defend itself against the Russian invasion,” he continued.

Germany’s defence minister stated on Sunday that the European Union must discuss banning the import of Russian gas after Ukrainian and European officials accused Russian forces of committing atrocities near Kyiv.

“There has to be a response. Such crimes must not remain unanswered,” the defence ministry quoted Christine Lambrecht as saying in an interview with the public broadcaster ARD.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday also called for tougher sanctions on Moscow but stopped short of mentioning the energy sector.

“Those responsible for these war crimes must be made accountable. We will tighten the sanctions against Russia and will assist Ukraine even more in defending itself,” she added.

Macron blasts Russian ‘crimes’ in Bucha

French President Emmanuel Macron has joined the chorus of condemnations over the killing of civilians in Bucha, near Kyiv.

In a statement in French published on Twitter, Macron said: “The images from Bucha, a liberated town near Kyiv, are unbearable. In the streets, hundreds of civilians were murdered in a cowardly way.”

“My sympathies for the victims, my solidarity with the Ukrainians. Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes,” he added.

UN secretary general on civilians killed in Bucha: An “independent investigation” is essential

The top UN official stated an independent investigation into the civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine, is “essential” to ensure “effective accountability.”

“I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement Sunday.

“It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability,” he continued.

Regional military governor: 14 taken to hospital & 1 dead in shelling of Mykolaiv

Vitalii Kim, the regional military governor of Mykolaiv region, stated a total of 14 people were taken to the hospital following the shelling of the city of Mykolaiv.

“On the shelling of the city: 14 were taken to the hospital. 11 hospitalized, among them a child of 15 years with injuries of moderate severity. surgery tomorrow,” he said on Telegram.

“One died, not saved,” he added.

It was not clear from the statement if the person who died was among those delivered to the hospital.

Ukrainian prosecutors say 410 bodies found in towns near Kyiv

Ukrainian prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Russia have found 410 bodies in towns near Kyiv and 140 of them had been examined.

The announcement was made on television by Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova.

Russian MoD denies killings in Bucha, claims footage staged for western media

The defence ministry stressed that Russian troops abandoned the city on 30 March and reminded the audience that the city’s mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, confirmed this fact the next day. Furthermore, the mayor never mentioned in his 31 March that any civilians had been shot in the street with their hands tied, as claimed by Kiev.

During the whole time – right up until Sunday – that the city was under the control of Russian troops, residents of Bucha could move freely and had access to cell networks, the ministry added.

Ukraine says Russia shelled Kharkiv

Russian forces have shelled Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv on Sunday, killing and injuring a number of people, according to the region’s governor.

“In the evening, the occupiers shelled the Slobidsky district of Kharkiv,” Governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram.

“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the civilian population. As of this time, there are 23 casualties, including children. The figures are being established,” Synyehubov added.

Russia launches missile attack on town of Vasylkiv

Ukraine’s military has said that Russia launched a missile attack on the town of Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, hitting the regional HQ.

Some civilians were reported as being hurt.

Mayor: Chernihiv mostly destroyed

The northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv is about 70% destroyed following an assault by Russian troops, Vladyslav Atroshenko, the city’s mayor, said Sunday.

The “consequences” of the attack by Russia in Chernihiv are “severe,” similar to the aftermath in other badly damaged cities and towns like Bucha, where bodies of civilians were found in the streets, as well as in Kharkiv and Mariupol, he stated.

The most urgent issues facing residents is a “concentration of Russian troops on the Belarusian border,” and concerns the city will be hit with more missiles and air bombs, Atroshenko added.

“Russians move around Ukraine like at home. And the fact that they left does not mean that they will not come back tomorrow. It takes about an hour and a half for them to get to us … Today we can say it is quiet, there is cleaning, there is demining,” he continued.

US will take additional actions against Russia “very soon”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price hinted at additional US action against Russia coming “very soon” when asked about Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s request for greater G7 sanctions in response to the latest atrocities in Bucha.

“When it comes to our sanctions, we’ve always said that we will continue applying pressure on President Putin, on the Kremlin, on all of those around him including oligarchs and cronies who are empowering this war of choice against Ukraine, until and unless the Kremlin deescalates, until and unless the violence diminishes, and until and unless these kinds of atrocities come to an end. So I suspect you will very soon see additional pressure applied,” Price told MSNBC Sunday.

“When it comes to these images out of Bucha, we have already assessed that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. What we’re doing, we are collecting information. One, to shine a spotlight on precisely what they’re doing, but two, to ensure that all of those who have perpetrated these atrocities and all of those who ordered these atrocities are held to account. That’s our mission,” he continued.

Mass grave with 57 bodies found in Bucha: Ukrainian official

Fifty-seven people were buried in a mass grave in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv recently retaken by Ukrainian forces from Russian troops, a local official stated Sunday as he showed AFP the slit trench where the bodies lay.

“Here in this long grave, 57 people are buried,” noted Serhii Kaplychnyi, who identified himself as head of the rescue services in Bucha and who was organising the recovery of the bodies.

The mass grave is behind a church in the town’s centre. Some of the bodies were either unburied or partially buried in the earth.

NATO secretary general calls civilian deaths in Bucha a “brutality”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called the deaths of civilians in a town northwest of Kyiv a “brutality” after allegations they were executed by Russian forces in the area.

“It is a brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades. And it’s horrific and it’s absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed. And it just underlines the importance that this war must end,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” when asked if the act was genocide.

The bodies of at least 20 civilian men were found strewn across a street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area in disturbing images released by AFP on Saturday.

Stoltenberg stated, “I strongly welcome” an investigation by International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine.

He noted that tens of thousands of soldiers of the Ukrainian army were trained by NATO.

“It must be remembered that NATO allies – the United States, Great Britain, Canada and some others – have been training Ukrainian troops for years,” the secretary general said.

He stressed that at the moment the soldiers trained by the alliance are participating in the fighting on the front line.

“The armed forces of Ukraine are much larger, better equipped and trained, better led than at any time in the past,” Stoltenberg added.

Stoltenberg said that Russia’s pullback of troops from the Ukrainian capital is not a real withdrawal.

The move is rather a repositioning that could be followed by further attacks, Stoltenberg added.

WH chief of staff: War in Ukraine is “far from over”

US President Joe Biden’s White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain stated the war in Ukraine is “far from over” this morning in an interview on ABC News’ “This Week.”

“I think the Ukrainians are winning the war around Kyiv and in the northern part of the country. And that’s tremendous credit to the fighting they’ve done and to the support that the United States and our NATO allies have provided them. We send weapons into Ukraine almost every single day,” Klain told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Klain continued: “But I think we have to be very clear. I think there’s a lot of evidence that Putin is simply taking his troops out of the northern part of the country to redeploy them to the eastern part of the country to relaunch a battle there. So I think there have been victories for the Ukrainians so far, but this war, sadly, is far from over.”

Zelensky says Russian forces committing ‘genocide’

President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Russian forces are committing genocide in Ukraine.

“This is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people,” Zelensky told the CBS program Face the Nation, according to a transcript provided by the network, a day after new evidence of atrocities by Russian invasion forces emerged.

“We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities,” he stated.

Ukraine’s foreign minister has also said Russian troops executed civilians while withdrawing from regions “out of anger and just because they wanted to kill”.

Dmytro Kuleba branded Russia “worse than ISIS”, and noted it is possible its military actions could amount to genocide.

Speaking to Times Radio, he stated: “We understand they were killing civilians while leaving, while withdrawing, while staying there in this town of Bucha and also in other towns and villages in key regions, but also while withdrawing from them out of anger and just because they wanted to kill. There was no good reason for them. These were not guerrillas, they were not people opposing them.

“Russia is worse than ISIS, full stop,” he continued.

He added the situation in de-occupied regions, where looted houses and killed civilians have been reported, “ruins [him] inside”.

There’s a “post-apocalyptic picture” in towns retaken from Russian forces: Ukrainian presidential adviser

Reports emerging from towns in the Kyiv region show a “post-apocalyptic picture” of life under Russian occupation, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych stated on Sunday.

“This is a special appeal aimed at drawing the world’s attention to those war crimes, crimes against humanity, which were committed by Russian troops in Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel,” Arestovych said.

“These are liberated cities, a picture from horror movies, a post-apocalyptic picture. Victims of these war crimes have already been found, including raped women who they tried to burn, local government officials killed, children killed, elderly people killed, men killed, many of them with tied hands, traces of torture and shot in the back of the head. Robberies, attempts to take gold, valuables, carpets, washing machines,” he added.

“It of course will be taken into account by the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and law enforcement agencies and international criminal courts,” the official noted.

US says Russia has already seen a ‘strategic defeat’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said Russia has already experienced a “strategic defeat” in its invasion of Ukraine.

“If you step back and look at this, this has already been a dramatic strategic setback for Russia, and I would say a strategic defeat,” Blinken told co-anchor Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked about additional sanctions the US may impose on Russia.

Blinken added Russia has already failed in the three main goals it had at the start of its invasion of Ukraine.

“They had three aims going into this. One was to subjugate Ukraine to Russia’s will, to take away its sovereignty and independence. The second was to assert Russian power. The third was to divide the west and NATO. On all three fronts, its already lost,” Blinken said.

“Ukraine, its sovereignty and independence is gonna be there a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is gonna be on the scene, the Russian military has dramatically underperformed, its economy is reeling, and the west, NATO are more united than any time I can remember,” he added.

Blinken stated that the State Department would help document any atrocities the Russian military committed against Ukrainian civilians, following new images from AFP out of the town of Bucha northwest of Kyiv showing the bodies of at least 20 civilian men found lying strewn across the street.

“You can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut,” Blinken continued.

“Since the aggression, we’ve come out and said that we believe that Russian forces have committed war crimes, and we’ve been working to document that, to provide the information we have to the relevant instructions and organizations that will put all of this together. And there needs to be accountability for it,” he added.

Slovakia agrees to pay for Russian gas in rubles

Slovakia will pay for Russian natural gas in rubles if that’s what it takes to keep the commodity flowing, Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulik has said on national television.

“If there is a condition to pay in rubles, then we will pay in rubles,” Sulik added.

He stressed that Russian imports account for roughly 85% of all Slovakian gas supplies, so the country’s authorities will remain pragmatic on the issue.

“We cannot be cut off from gas,” Sulik emphasized, urging the rest of Europe to jointly seek a solution.

EU will assist Ukraine in documenting war crimes

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has congratulated Ukraine on the “liberation” of the Kyiv region and has offered help in documenting war crimes.

“Shocked by news of atrocities committed by Russian forces,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.

“All cases must be pursued, namely by [the International Criminal Court],” he continued.

France condemns ‘massive abuses’ by Russian forces

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that he firmly condemned what he called the “massive abuses” committed by Russian forces” in Ukraine in the recent weeks.

Le Drian mentioned in particular the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, where Ukrainian authorities say a deliberate “massacre” was carried out by Russia.

Le Drian added in the same statement that such abuses would constitute war crimes and that France will work with Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court to put on trial those responsible for these abuses.

Kremlin says ‘impossible’ to fully isolate Russia

The Kremlin has said it is not possible to completely isolate Russia as the West continues piling sanctions on Moscow over its military operation in Ukraine.

“There can be no complete vacuum or isolation of Russia, it is technologically impossible in the modern world,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state TV.

The world is “much larger than Europe”, he continued, adding that “sooner or later we will have to build a dialogue, whether some overseas want it or not.”

HRW documents alleged war crimes by Russian forces in occupied regions of Ukraine

Rape, summary executions and unlawful violence are some of the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine against civilians in the occupied areas of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced in a statement on Sunday.

The independent rights group says it has documented allegations of war crimes which “include a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14, 2022.”

“Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood. Those who carried out these abuses are responsible for war crimes,” it added.

Ukrainian forces regain control of Pripyat, ghost town near Chernobyl nuclear plant

Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of Pripyat, the ghost town near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced on Sunday.

In late February, during the first week of the war, Chernobyl plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops.

Russia to ask for rouble payments for food and crops

Russia will only export food and crops to “friendly countries” in roubles or in their national currencies, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy secretary of the country’s Security Council, was quoted by RIA news agency as saying.

The comment comes after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Russia’s demand for rouble payments for gas was likely to be applied to more goods.

“I have no doubt that it will in the future be extended to new groups of goods,” Peskov added, according to the RIA news agency.

Kyiv accuses Moscow of trying to “eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can”

Russian forces are brutally targeting any Ukrainian citizens they come across, Ukraine’s foreign minister stated Sunday after the bodies of at least 20 civilian men were found strewn across streets in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv.

“Bucha massacre was deliberate. Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday.

He demanded fresh sanctions from G7 nations, including a total energy embargo, the closure of all ports to Russian vessels, and a ban on Russian banks using SWIFT — a messaging service that connects financial institutions around the world.

The shocking images were released by AFP on Saturday following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area. The dead, all in civilian clothing, were found in a variety of awkward poses, some face down against the pavement, others facing upwards with mouths open. The body of one man was seen with his hands tied behind his back.

The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said the dead civilians had received inhumane treatment at the hands of Russian forces.

“Corpses of executed people still line the Yabluska street in Bucha. Their hands are tied behind their backs with white ‘civilian’ rags, they were shot in the back of their heads. So you can imagine what kind of lawlessness they perpetrated here,” Fedoruk told Reuters on Saturday.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak noted the bodies of the men found with hands tied, “were shot dead by Russian soldiers,” in a tweet on Saturday.

Podolyak added, “these people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?”

Russian forces withdrew from several towns near Kyiv in recent days after Moscow’s bid to encircle the capital failed, with Ukraine declaring that Bucha had been “liberated.”

Kremlin says Western sanctions ‘beyond reason’

The Kremlin has said that by imposing sanctions on Vladimir Putin, the West has demonstrated it has abandoned its sense of reason.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated in televised remarks Sunday that the sanctions against Putin were going “beyond the edge of reason,” adding that they showed that the West is “capable of any stupidities.”

Peskov added that Putin’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is “hypothetically possible” once negotiators from the two countries prepared a draft agreement to be discussed.

Russia will achieve all of the aims of its “special military operation” in Ukraine and hopes that Moscow and Kyiv can ultimately sign some sort of peace deal, the Kremlin announced, Inferfax news agency reported.

The prestige of the US dollar and the euro has been “greatly shaken” by anti-Russia sanctions, which now drive more and more countries to switch to national currencies in settlements with foreign partners, he continued.

Ukraine claims Russian forces hold 11 Ukrainian mayors captive and kill one in detention

Russian forces are holding 11 mayors of Ukrainian local areas captive and have killed one mayor in detention, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk stated on Sunday.

In a message posted to social media, Vereshchuk said that 11 local mayors from Kyiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and the Donetsk regions “are in Russian captivity.”

She added that Ukraine will “inform the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN and other organizations about their captivity.”

Vereshchuk noted the Ukrainian government learned on Saturday that Olga Sukhenko, the mayor of Motyzhyn — a village in the Kyiv region — was killed in captivity by Russian forces.

This is a war crime, those responsible will be punished in line with international humanitarian law,” Vereshchuk said, adding that Ukraine will push to ensure “our civilians, our mayors, priests, journalists, and activists are liberated” from detention.

Mykolaiv port city hit in rocket attack: Interior Ministry

Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to Ukraine’s interior ministry, has announced several Russian rockets have hit the port of Mykolaiv.

Local authorities had reported the attack, Gerashchenko stated in a social media post.

Russian forces have intensified attacks on southern ports including Odesa, Mykolaiv and Mariupol as they try to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and establish a land corridor from Russia to Crimea.

Germany condemns Bucha ‘war crime’, wants more Russia sanctions

Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister has said a “terrible war crime” had been carried out in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and called for fresh EU sanctions against Russia.

“This terrible war crime cannot go go unanswered,” Robert Habeck told German newspaper Bild the day after the bodies of nearly 300 civilians were found in mass graves after Russian troops withdrew.

“I think that a strengthening of sanctions is called for. That’s what we are preparing with our EU partners,” Habeck added.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has also said the images from Bucha were “unbearable”.

“[President Vladimir] Putin’s frantic violence is wiping out innocent families and knows no bounds,” she wrote on Twitter, adding that those responsible for war crimes must be held to account.

“We will strengthen the sanctions against Russia and further support the defence of Ukraine,” the minister stated.

UK says alleged attacks on civilians in Ukraine must be investigated as war crimes

Allegations of attacks against civilians during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must be investigated as war crimes, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said, adding that the UK would fully support any such move by the International Criminal Court.

“As Russian troops are forced into retreat, we are seeing increasing evidence of appalling acts by the invading forces in towns such as Irpin and Bucha,” Truss said in a statement.

“Their indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians during Russia’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine must be investigated as war crimes,” she added.

Kyiv mayor accuses Russia of committing genocide

The mayor of Kyiv has expressed shock at what he called “cruel war crimes” committed by Russian soldiers in the town of Bucha, northwest of the capital.

Referring to reports of executed civilians, Vitali Klitschko told German daily Bild on Sunday that “what happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide.”

He added that civilians had been “shot with tied hands” and called on the whole world and especially Germany to immediately end gas imports from Russia.

EU vows more sanctions after Russian army ‘atrocities’ near Kyiv

EU chief Charles Michel has pledged further sanctions on Moscow as he condemned “atrocities” carried out by Russian forces outside Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

“Shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region #BuchaMassacre,” the European Council head wrote on Twitter.

“EU is assisting Ukraine & NGO’s in gathering of necessary evidence for pursuit in international courts,” he added.

Amid allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Ukraine, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called for an urgent investigation.

“Appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing,” she tweeted, adding: “Perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable.”

Russia’s aerospace forces eliminate 51 Ukrainian military targets overnight

Russia’s Aerospace Forces have struck 51 Ukrainian military targets overnight, including two artillery clusters and two multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov told journalists on Sunday.

“During the night, the strategic aviation of Russia’s Aerospace Forces has struck 51 Ukrainian military facilities. They include: four command posts, two launching systems of the Osa-AKM surface-to-air missile systems in the vicinity of the Barvenkovo and Slavyansk communities, two artillery batteries, two multiple-launch rocket systems, four field artillery and missile warehouses in the vicinity of the communities of Konstantinovka and Krestische, as well as 32 defended posts and areas of concentration of the military equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said.

Russia’s Armed Forces have eliminated an oil refinery and three fuel and lubricants depots near Odessa using high-precision sea-and air-launched missiles, Konashenkov added

“This morning, an oil refinery and three fuel and lubricants depots that were supplying fuel for the group of Ukrainian troops in the Nikolaev direction were eliminated using high-precision sea-and air-launched missiles,” he stated.

Russia’s Armed Forces have eliminated 125 warplanes, 88 helicopters and 383 drones since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman told journalists.

“In all, since the beginning of the special military operation, 125 warplanes and 88 helicopters, and 383 unmanned aerial vehicles, 221 surface-to-air missile systems, 1,903 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 207 multiple-launch rocket systems, 805 field artillery armaments and mortars, as well as 1,781 units of special military automotive equipment have been eliminated,” he noted.

According to him, today the air defense systems of Russia’s Aerospace Forces shot down two Ukrainian drones in the vicinity of the Kudryashovka and Shurovka communities.

Poland ready to deploy US nuclear weapons on its soil

Polish Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the National Security and Defence Committee Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in an interview with Germany’s Welt am Sonntag that his country is open to the deployment of American nuclear weapons on its territory.

Additionally, Poland is calling for an increase in the number of US troops in Europe.

Gazprom continues pumping natural gas to Europe through Ukraine

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

“Gazprom is supplying Russian gas for transit through Ukraine as usual, based on requests from European consumers. That is 108.4 million cubic metres delivered on 3 April”, a statement read.

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

Odesa missile raids destroyed oil refinery

Missile raids have destroyed the Kremenchug oil refinery in the Odesa region, Russian and Ukrainian officials have said.

Dmytro Lunin, governor of Ukraine’s Poltava region, stated on television that “the fire at the refinery has been extinguished but the facility has been completely destroyed and can no longer function.”

Russia’s defence ministry announced that sea and air missiles destroyed an oil refinery and three fuel storages, Interfax reported.

The ministry added the facilities were used by Ukraine to supply its troops near the city of Mykolaiv.

Russian lawmakers seek to retaliate after sanctions

Russian lawmakers will propose measures seeking punishment for the implementation of sanctions on Russia’s territory, a senior lawmaker has said.

“My colleagues from the State Duma and I have finished the work and on Monday we will introduce amendments to the Criminal Code for the implementation of restrictive measures (sanctions) imposed by foreign states on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Andrei Klishas wrote on his Telegram channel.

“We look forward to prompt consideration of the amendments by the State Duma,” Klishas added, without specifying how Russia will identify or punish those who implemented sanctions.

Russian invaders cannot retreat ‘without a fight’

Ukrainian troops have moved to cautiously retake areas near Kyiv despite fears that Russian forces have left booby-trapped explosives.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian soldiers would not allow Russian troops to retreat without a fight and were “shelling them”.

“Our defenders continue to regain control over communities in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions,” he continued, adding, “There are more and more Ukrainian national flags in the areas that have been temporarily occupied.”

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine do not release the invaders without a fight,” he noted.

Russia says peace talks not ready for leaders’ meeting

Russia announced on Sunday that peace talks had not progressed enough for a leaders’ meeting and that Moscow’s position on the status of Crimea and Donbas remained unchanged.

“The draft agreement is not ready for submission to a meeting at the top,” Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said on Telegram.

“I repeat again and again: Russia’s position on Crimea and Donbas remains UNCHANGED,” he added.

Fires reported in Odesa after air raids

Air raids have rocked the strategic Black Sea port city of Odesa, with officials and journalists reporting fires in some areas.

“Odesa was attacked from the air,” Anton Herashchenko, adviser to the interior minister, wrote on his Telegram account, adding, “Fires were reported in some areas. Some of the missiles were shot down by air defence.”

A soldier near the site of one of the strikes said it was likely a rocket or a missile.

The blasts sent up at least three columns of black smoke with flames visible apparently in an industrial area.

A Russian strike had hit “critical infrastructure” in the southern port city of Odesa, Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the Operational Staff of Odesa regional military administration said Sunday.

“One of the critical infrastructure objects was hit this this morning,” he said on national television.

“Currently the situation is under control, the respective services are working on site. The details will be announced later,” he added.

US officials say Russia shifting focus to victory by early May in eastern Ukraine

Russia has revised its Ukraine war strategy to focus on taking control of the Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of early May, according to several US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessments.

More than a month into the war, Russian ground forces have been unable to keep control of areas where they have been fighting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to demonstrate he can show a victory, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to achieve that, officials say.

US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focused on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” according to a US official.

May 9 is a prominent holiday on the Russian calendar, a day on which the country marks the Nazi surrender in World War II with a huge parade of troops and weaponry across Red Square in front of the Kremlin. The officials say Putin wants to celebrate a victory of some kind in his war that day.

But other officials note even if there is a Russian celebration, an actual victory may be further off.

“Putin will have a victory parade on 9 May regardless the status of the war or peace talks,” a European defense official stated, adding, “On the other hand: a victory parade with what troops and vehicles?”

Still, US and European officials say any deadlines Moscow may set rhetorically don’t change the reality on the ground that Russia appears to be preparing for the prospect of an extended conflict.

A European diplomat said while the Kremlin is talking optimistically, Putin is preparing for a “Chechnya-style long, drawn-out war, because he, to a certain extent, has nowhere else to go on this.”

There are several reasons behind the May timeframe, the officials say. As the winter freeze ends and the ground softens, it will be harder for heavy Russian ground units to maneuver, meaning it’s vital for those forces to get into place as soon as possible, US intelligence assesses.

Russian-backed fighters have also already been in that region for years. The Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine is where Russian separatist forces took control of territory in 2014.

Ukrainian officials have publicly pointed to the date as well.

“Ahead of May 9, Putin set the goal of a victory parade for this war,” Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov noted on Thursday.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday the Ukrainians believe they are facing a “very complex and difficult month” as Putin tries meet a deadline.

“His ultimate goal is, was, and will be to take over Ukraine, but he failed. He failed due to a very strong resolve of Ukrainian military and very strong unity of Ukraine and the Western world, and the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and G7 and the European Union,” Yatsenyuk continued, adding, “So now, as far as I see, Putin switched to Plan B. My take is that this Plan B has a, kind of, deadline.”

The US also assesses Putin is now preparing, for the first time, to name an overall commander of the war to achieve greater Russian successes, two US officials said.

The US believes Putin will likely name a general who has been in the southern part of Ukraine because that is a place where Russians have succeeded in their objectives.

Intensity of Russian missile attacks has decreased: Ukraine army

The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces says the intensity of Russian air and missile strikes “has decreased” as Moscow continues to withdraw units through the north of Ukraine.

The general staff also added retreating Russian forces were deploying mines on roads and in some settlements.

Civilian bodies found littering streets of Ukrainian town following withdrawal of Russian troops

The bodies of at least 20 civilian men have been found lying strewn across the street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area in shocking images released by AFP on Saturday.

The dead, all in civilian clothing, are found in a variety of awkward poses, some face down against the pavement, others facing upwards with mouths open.

“Three of them are tangled up in bicycles after taking their final ride, while others, with waxy skin, have fallen next to bullet-ridden and crushed cars,” according to AFP journalists who accessed the town after it had been cut off for nearly a month.

One corpse can be seen with his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth.

The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said the dead civilians had received inhumane treatment at the hands of Russian forces.

“Corpses of executed people still line the Yabluska street in Bucha. Their hands are tied behind their backs with white ‘civilian’ rags, they were shot in the back of their heads. So you can imagine what kind of lawlessness they perpetrated here,” Fedoruk told Reuters on Saturday.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated the bodies of the men found with hands tied, “were shot dead by Russian soldiers,” in a tweet on Saturday.

Podolyak added, “these people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?”

Russia aiming to seize southeastern Ukraine: Zelensky

Ukraine’s president says Russian forces are aiming to seize regions in the east and south of the country.

“We are strengthening our defences in the eastern direction and in Donbas. We are aware that the enemy has reserves to increase pressure in the east,” Volovymyr Zelensky stated in his late-night video address.

“What is the goal of Russian troops? They want to capture both Donbas and the south of Ukraine. What is our goal? Protect us, our freedom, our land and our people,” he added.

The Ukrainian president went on to complain that Western nations had not provided Kyiv with enough anti-missile systems, and also praised forces defending besieged Mariupol, noting their resistance was allowing other cities to gain valuable time.

Explosions heard in Odesa

The Reuters news agency reported a series of explosions were heard and smoke was seen in Ukraine’s southern port city of Odesa in the early hours of Sunday.

There was no official information about the attack.

Ukraine accuses Russia of killing several women and burning their bodies

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence says it found the naked bodies of “four to five” women on a highway 20km (12 miles) outside of Kyiv.

It added the Russian “barbarians” had tried to burn the bodies on the side of the road.

Russia ‘verbally’ agreed to key proposals: Ukrainian negotiator

Ukraine’s top negotiator in peace talks with Russia has said Moscow “verbally” agreed to key Ukrainian proposals, raising hopes that talks to end fighting are moving forward.

Negotiator David Arakhamia told Ukrainian television channels that any meeting between Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian leader Vladimir Putin would “with a high probability” take place in Turkey.

“The Russian Federation has given an official answer to all positions, which is that they accept the (Ukrainian) position, except for the issue of Crimea,” Arakhamia added.

Russia increasing air activity in southeastern Ukraine: UK

The British Ministry of Defence says there has been a “concentration of Russian air activity in southeastern Ukraine” over the past week.

This is likely a result of Russia focusing its military operations in that area, the ministry announced in its latest intelligence update.

It added that Ukraine continues to provide a significant challenge to Russian air and missile operations despite Russian efforts to diminish Ukrainian air defence capabilities.

“Russia’s inability to find and destroy air defence systems has seriously hampered their efforts to gain broad control of the air, which in turn has significantly affected their ability to support the advance of their ground forces on a number of fronts,” it continued.

Ukraine minister claims regained control of ‘whole Kyiv region’

Ukraine has regained control of “the whole Kyiv region” after invading Russian forces retreated from some key towns near the Ukrainian capital, deputy defence minister Ganna Maliar has said.

“Irpin, Bucha, Gostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” Maliar added, referring to towns that have been heavily destroyed by fighting.

US will facilitate transfer of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine

The US is expected to help facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, according to a source familiar with the plan.

The tanks the US is transferring to Ukraine will be Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which Ukrainian military personnel have experience operating, a senior US official tells CNN.

Those tanks will be delivered “within days, not weeks,” the official said, and will be delivered from NATO partner countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly asked countries for more tanks.

UK collecting evidence of Russian war crimes

The United Kingdom is working with others to collect evidence of Russian war crimes, British foreign secretary Liz Truss wrote on Twitter.

Truss stated she was “appalled by atrocities in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine. Reports of Russian forces targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent.”

Lithuania halts imports of Russian gas: Energy ministry

Lithuania has stopped importing natural gas from Russia, the energy ministry has announced.

The ministry said the country’s gas network has been running without Russian gas imports since the beginning of the month.

“We are the first EU country among Gazprom’s supply countries to gain independence from Russian gas supplies, and this is the result of a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions,” energy minister Dainius Kreivys stated.

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