Monday, June 17, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 54

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. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Source: UN Security Council to discuss situation in Ukraine on April 19

A UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine is scheduled for April 19, a source in the international organization told TASS on Monday.

“The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday,” the source said.

Russia has added forces to eastern and southern Ukraine: Senior US defense official

The US assesses that Russia has added 11 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to their forces in the east and south of Ukraine since late last week, according to a senior US defense official, bringing Russia’s total number of BTG’s to 76.

“They have added to their capability inside Ukraine,” the official said on a press call, adding that all Russian ground forces are currently focused in the east and south of Ukraine, but the US is unable to pinpoint exactly how the new BTG’s are spread out.

Meanwhile, the US has sent four flights of security assistance for Ukraine into the region from the newest round of assistance authorized by US President Joe Biden worth $800 million, the official noted.

Another should be arriving “over the next 24 hours,” according to the official, but no details were provided around what equipment was on the flights.

Ukraine says it sees signs Russia is starting new eastern offensive

Ukraine’s armed forces command has observed signs that Russia is starting an anticipated new offensive in the east of the country, increasing the intensity of attacks in parts of the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, it said.

In a post on Facebook, the armed forces command also added that Russia’s main military force was concentrating on taking control of the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

US set to start training Ukrainians on artillery system: Defence official

The United States military is expected to start training Ukrainian trainers on using the Howitzer artillery system in coming days, a senior US defense official said on Monday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added the training would take place outside Ukraine, Reuters news agency reported.

Putin: Russia has withstood west’s ‘economic blitzkrieg’ attempt

Russia has successfully withstood unprecedented sanctions pressure from the West, President Vladimir Putin has stated.

“The calculation was to quickly undermine the financial and economic situation in our country, to provoke panic in the markets, the collapse of the banking system, and a large-scale shortage of goods in stores,” Putin said, speaking at a briefing on the economic situation on Monday.

“We can say with confidence that this policy against Russia has failed – that the strategy of the economic blitzkrieg has failed,” he added.

The president stated ordinary Europeans and Americans have been made to suffer a deterioration in their living standards as a result of their leaders’ shortsightedness.

“Moreover, the sanctions were not without consequences for the initiators themselves. I am referring to the growth of inflation and unemployment, the deterioration of economic performance in the US and the countries of Europe, the decline in the standard of living of the Europeans and the devaluation of their savings,” Putin continued.

He noted the Russian economy has stabilised, and the ruble exchange rate has basically returned to the levels seen in early February, before Moscow and its Donbass allies kicked off their military operation in Ukraine.

Russian troops still not in full control of Mariupol: Ukraine

Ukraine’s defence ministry announced Russian forces have not yet taken full control of Mariupol, but warns the situation in the besieged, southeastern port city is now “extremely difficult” for Ukrainian forces there.

Speaking at a media briefing, defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk also stated that bombing runs by Russian military aircraft had increased of late by more than 50 percent and that Ukraine’s infrastructure had come in for increased targeting.

The update came after Ukrainian forces inside Mariupol’s encircled Azovstal steel plant on Sunday ignored a Russian ultimatum to lay down their weapons. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the soldiers would “fight to the end” to defend the city.

Russia expels some staff from Bulgarian embassy in Moscow

Russia’s foreign ministry announced it has declared some employees of the Bulgarian embassy in Moscow “persona non grata” in retaliation for Sofia’s decision to expel 10 Russian diplomats in March.

The move was announced in a brief statement that did not say how many Bulgarians were being told to leave.

Two killed by shelling in Kharkiv: Local officials

Two people have been killed by shelling in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv, the local prosecutor’s office claimed.

Ukraine claims 20,600 Russian troops killed in war

Some 20,600 Russian soldiers have been killed since the war began in Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Ukrainian military said on Monday.

Ukrainian forces have destroyed 167 Russian aircraft, 147 helicopters, 155 unmanned aerial vehicles, 790 tanks, 2,041 armored vehicles and 381 artillery systems, according to the Ukrainian General Staff’s latest update.

Some 130 Russian multiple rocket launcher systems, 1,487 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks, 67 anti-aircraft systems and seven boats have also been destroyed, it added.

Over 4.9 million Ukrainians flee war

More than 4.9 million Ukrainians have fled their country following the Russian invasion, the UN announced Monday as it warned of the risks of women and child refugees being exploited.

UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, said 4,934,415 Ukrainians had left the country since Russia invaded on February 24 – a figure up 65,396 on Sunday’s total.

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported nearly 215,000 third-country nationals – largely students and migrant workers – have also escaped to neighbouring countries, meaning more than five million people in all have fled Ukraine since the war began.

Ukraine releases video of detained Putin ally calling for prisoner swap

Ukrainian security services have published a video showing Viktor Medvedchuk, a detained pro-Russia Ukrainian tycoon and politician, calling to be exchanged for Ukrainian forces fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

“I want to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to exchange me for Ukrainian defenders and residents of Mariupol,” he said in the video, wearing black clothes and looking directly into the camera.

Two captured Britons appear on Russian state TV

Two British fighters captured in Ukraine by Russian forces appeared on Russian state TV today asking to be exchanged for a pro-Russian politician who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities.

It was unclear how freely the two men – Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin – were able to talk. Both spoke after being prompted by an unidentified man.

Both asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to help bring them home in exchange for Ukraine releasing pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

Russian economy entering ‘difficult period’: central bank

The Russian economy is entering a period of major adjustments to cope with the impact of the sanctions placed on Moscow by the US and its allies, Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the country’s central bank, says.

“Our economy is entering a difficult period of structural changes associated with sanctions. As I said, sanctions primarily affected the financial market, but now they will begin to increasingly affect the economy,” Nabiullina stated, speaking in the State Duma on Monday.

According to the official, Russia still has reserves to support the economy, but they won’t be able to sustain it much longer, especially after roughly half of them were frozen abroad by sanctions.

“The period when the economy can live on reserves is over. And already in the second – beginning of the third quarter, we will enter a period of structural transformation and the search for new business models,” she added.

Nabiullina noted that while Russia still has the opportunity to use about half of its reserves (around $300 billion), these consist largely of gold, yuan, and IMF drawing rights, which is of no help in managing the situation with the currency on the domestic market.

The official praised the measures that Russia has already introduced to support the economy amid sanctions, including switching to its own financial messaging system, SPFS, after the country was cut off from SWIFT in March.

Nabiullina stressed that sanctions cut off most of the Russian economy from settlements in reserve currencies, the US dollar and the euro, which made it crucial for Russia and partners to develop payments in national currencies.

Control over city of Kreminna ‘lost’ amid heavy fighting

Control over the city of Kreminna has been “lost,” according to Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, as Russian forces try to break Ukrainian resistance in the country’s east.

“At the moment, control over the city of Kreminna is lost” and heavy fighting continues, Haidai said on Telegram.

As residents tried to flee in their own vehicles, Russian forces opened fire on a car carrying civilians, added Haidai.

“Four people died. One seriously injured person is still at the scene,” he continued.

“Doctors cannot reach her due to endless shelling,” he noted.

Russian forces have been trying to advance toward the borders of both Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region. Russia’s focus has shifted to the east since its failure to gain territory around the capital Kyiv, and other parts of the center and north of the country.

Earlier Monday, Russian forces entered the town with “a huge amount of equipment,” stated Haidai, claiming that “the offensive has begun.”

Mariupol adviser accuses Russia of offering false evacuation corridors

Russian forces have been bombarding the Azovstal steel plant, a bastion of the Ukrainian defense, in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, stated Petro Andriushchenko, a mayoral adviser, who accused Russia of trying to trap those defending the city.

Ukrainian forces are continuing to resist Russian attacks in the city after rejecting a deadline to surrender.

“The fighting in the Left Bank (Livoberezhnyi) district has been ongoing all day long,” Andriushchenko said in a statement on Telegram, adding, “The occupiers continue to fire on and bomb Azovstal with all weapons.”

“Realizing that the defenders are not going to give up, the occupiers’ plans are clear,” Andriushchenko stated.

“According to their message, the corridor for safe exit should have been marked with red flags, but no marks were made,” he said, adding, “That once again confirms that they are only preparing a trap for our defenders.”

Andriushchenko previously said that Mariupol would be closed for entry and exit starting on Monday, with Russian forces issuing passes for movement.

Andriushchenko also added Ukrainian men would be subject to “filtration” — relocated for screening by Russian forces.

Andriushchenko is not in Mariupol but works to gather information collected from people in the city, which has been under a weekslong siege.

Death toll in Lviv missile strikes rises to seven

Seven people are dead and 11 injured after Russia launched four missile strikes in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, regional military governor Maksym Kozytskyy said.

The toll could rise further as rescue efforts continue, he added.

“The rubble is still being dismantled, so the numbers [are] not final yet,” Kozytskyy continued, adding, “Three are heavily injured, a child is mildly injured.”

Three missiles hit warehouses and a fourth hit a tire repair shop, said Kozytskyy.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi noted the strikes shattered windows in eight residential buildings as well as a school.

Kremlin says no consistency in Ukraine’s stance at negotiations

There is no consistency in Ukraine’s stance at the negotiations with Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, adding that Kiev often changes its position.

“I also want to recall President [Vladimir Putin’s] statement that, unfortunately, the Ukrainian side does not demonstrate much consistency in terms of the agreed points [during talks]. The position changes frequently. Of course, the dynamics of progress in the negotiation process leaves much to be desired. But the military operation continues,” Peskov told reporters.

The information about what countries have agreed to pay for Russian gas in rubles is unlikely to be made public, Peskov continued.

“Such information is hardly subject to publication, and both our relevant departments and relevant Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak are engaged in this, he spoke about this at the end of last week, and, of course, first of all, Gazprom with its counterparts … buyers. It has already been said that payment will be sometime in May for these deliveries, which began after the presidential decree goes into effect, so there is still some time,” Peskov stated.

Moscow: Kiev plans to shell churches on Orthodox Easter to accuse Russian forces of war crimes

Russia’s Defence Ministry has information that Ukrainian authorities are planning to carry out a “terrible” provocation on Orthodox Easter, and is appealing to Western governments, the United Nations and the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe to prevent it from taking place, Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the National Defence Control Centre, has announced.

“We are warning countries of the ‘Civilised West’ led by the United States ahead of time that the Russian Federation has an operational base of evidence about terrible crimes planned by the Kiev regime,” Mizintsev said in a briefing in Moscow on Monday.

Kiev, according to the officer, plans to shell churches using mortars in a number of regions of Ukraine, including Zaporozhye, Nikolaev, Odessa, Sumy and Kharkov on Easter night, and to subsequently blame Russia for the massacre of civilians. A number of Western countries are said to be involved in the planning of the provocation, which is to be carried out by over 70 mobile groups formed among ultra-nationalist battalions in mortar-equipped vans and off-road vehicles.

“Kiev plans to gather a large number of reporters from Western news agencies to document these alleged ‘Russian atrocities’ and to immediately and cynically spin these fakes,” he added.

“Street fights” as Russians enter Kreminna in eastern Luhansk: Ukrainian official

Russian forces have entered Kreminna, a town in the eastern Luhansk region that has been bombarded for weeks as Russian forces push westwards in Donbas, a senior Ukrainian official stated.

“The Russians entered Kreminna. Street fights began,” said Serhii Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, in a brief Facebook post early Monday.

The Russians had entered the town with “a huge amount of equipment,” he continued, adding, “The offensive has begun.”

The Russians have been trying to break Ukrainian resistance in Kreminna and a string of towns and cities in Luhansk as they try to advance towards the borders of both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — the declared goal of President Vladimir Putin’s “special military mission.” Evacuation was now impossible, Haidai noted.

“We planned the evacuation, literally along forest paths, so that the people would not come under fire. But overnight the situation changed. While fighting [has broken out] in the city, it is unrealistic to count the civilians who remain there,” Haidai said.

Haidai added the Olympus sports facility in Kreminna was “burning down” and that fire was now covering an area of 2,400 square meters.

“Rescuers are working hard as there is a forest near the center,” he said, adding that elsewhere in the region two people had been killed and four injured in Zolote, while seven people had been recovered from the rubble of a building destroyed in Rubizhne.

On Sunday evening, Russian forces fired at a police building in Lysychansk, Haidai said, injuring six policemen. The shelling continues, he added.

Kyiv halts evacuations for second consecutive day over security concerns

Ukraine has announced it is halting the evacuation of civilians from conflict-affected areas for a second consecutive day due to concerns over Russian attacks.

“For security reasons, it was decided not to open humanitarian corridors today,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a post on Facebook.

“In violation of international humanitarian law, Russian occupiers do not stop blocking and shelling of humanitarian routes,” she added.

Luhansk governor claims four civilians shot dead while fleeing Russian attack

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, claimed four civilians have been shot dead while trying to flee by car from the town of Kreminna during a Russian attack.

Russia claims it destroyed four arms depots in Ukraine overnight

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday it had destroyed four arms and military equipment depots in Ukraine overnight with Iskander missiles, the Russian news agency TASS reported.

Russian air defense weapons shot down two Ukrainian MiG-29 fighters, a Su-25 aircraft and eleven drones, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov stated.

“Throughout the night, the Russian artillery systems delivered strikes against 315 Ukrainian military targets to destroy 18 command posts, 22 artillery batteries, an OSA-AKM surface-to-air missile system, and also 275 strongholds and areas of enemy manpower amassment,” the spokesman added.

Regional governor says six killed in missile strikes on Lviv

Six people have been killed and eight wounded in missile strikes on the western city of Lviv, regional governor Maksym Kozystkiy has said.

Three missiles hit military infrastructure facilities while one struck a car tire replacement facility.

Two injured, railway infrastructure destroyed as missiles hit Dnipro

Two missiles hit the city of Dnipro in east-central Ukraine on Monday, the region’s military governor said.

Valentyn Reznichenko, head of Dnipro’s regional military administration, stated on Telegram that the districts of Synelnykiv and Pavlograd had both been hit by what he termed “morning arrivals.”

“Two people were injured in Synelnykiv district. The missile hit an infrastructure facility. Rescuers put out the fire,” he continued.

No casualties were reported in Pavlograd, Reznichenko added, but railway infrastructure had been destroyed.

Russia’s attacks on Mariupol similar to its approach in  Chechnya, Syria: UK

The British defence ministry claims Russia’s targeting of civilian areas in Ukraine’s Mariupol aligns with its approach to Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016.

“This is despite the 24 February 2022 claims of Russia’s defence ministry that Russia would neither strike cities nor threaten the Ukrainian population,” the ministry announced in its latest intelligence briefing.

The ministry also praised Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and elsewhere, saying it has “severely tested Russian forces”.

US Congress members to visit Germany, UAE, hoping to get more support for Ukraine

A group of US lawmakers will travel to Germany, Poland, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to try to secure stronger support for Ukraine, The Hill reports.

The Congressional lawmakers will include US Senators Mark Kelly, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Ed Markey, as well as House of Representatives member Mondaire Jones.

“The delegation will meet with a number of key foreign leaders in Poland, UAE, India, Nepal, and Germany to strengthen ties during this period of heightened global tension,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement, quoted by The Hill on Sunday.

The delegation’s upcoming nine-day trip was announced by Kelly in an e-mail to the newspaper on Sunday evening.

“This strong congressional delegation will have the opportunity to meet with US military leadership and troops in Poland in order to learn how the US can continue to support Ukraine and our NATO allies,” the lawmakers’ joint statement adds

According to The Hill, Germany, Poland, India, and the UAE have not been active enough in cooperating with US-led efforts to isolate Russia.

French minister refuses to call events in Ukraine a genocide

“No, that’s not entirely true… Even in a situation where brutal acts are being committed, precise terms must be used,” Clement Beaune, French minister of state for European affairs, said on Sud Radio in response to a question about whether he considers Russia’s actions in Ukraine to be “genocide”.

Earlier, some European politicians including French President Emmanuel Macron refused from defining the Russian special operation in Ukraine as a “genocide”.

Prior to that, US President Joe Biden used the word “genocide” to refer to the situation in Ukraine and its impact on the world.

Macron does not have a visit to Ukraine scheduled in the near future, Beaune stated, replying to a question about the invitation extended to the French president by his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We are not talking about the next couple of days,” he noted.

“The republic’s president cannot make symbolic visits. He will go to Ukraine when it will be useful,” the top official explained.

He reiterated that France was providing military and humanitarian support to Ukraine.

Explosions reported in Lviv & Dnipropetrovsk regions

Authorities in Ukraine have reported multiple explosions in the western and southern regions of Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk.

Andrey Sadovoy, the mayor of Lviv, stated that there had been “five targeted missile strikes on the city”.

Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk, reported attacks early on Monday morning, but said most of the missiles had been shot down by Ukrainian air defence systems.

There were no immediate information about casualties and damage.

Ukraine: Russian troops “completing creation of an offensive group” in east

Russian forces are “completing the creation of an offensive group” in the east and have regained combat capability and replenished their reserves in the Donetsk and Tavriya regions, the Ukraine’s military has said.

According to a recently released operational report from the general staff of the armed forces, on the Donetsk and Tavriya regions, Russian forces have regained combat capability and replenished their reserves while concentrating their main efforts in the areas of the settlements of Lyman, Kreminna, Popasna and Rubizhne, trying to establish full control over the city of Mariupol.

It is also expected that Russian forces “will continue to fight to reach the administrative borders of the Kherson region,” officials stated.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine repulsed 12 Russian attacks, destroyed ten tanks, fifteen armoured units and five vehicles, as well as five enemy artillery systems, according to the report. The Ukrainian air force hit five air targets: one plane, three helicopters and one UAV, it added.

Medvedev warns Russia’s default may entail Europe’s default

Russia’s foreign payments default may entail hyperinflation in Europe and its own default, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said.

Commenting on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s words that Russia’s default is a matter of time, he noted, “Well, please try” and pointed to “two obvious things.”

“Russia’s default may entail Europe’s default, both moral and, quite possibly, tangible,” he wrote on his Telegram channel, as, in his words, the European Union’s financial system is not very stable and people are losing confidence.

Moreover, the European Union’s authorities should expect “a strong gratitude from rank and file Europeans for the hyperinflation that cannot be blamed on vile Russians, for the lack of elementary foods in shops and for the influx of refugees, which will provoke a wave of force crimes,” he continued, adding “In this case, the people in Brussels will have to change their rhetoric. Otherwise, stinky fires of tyres will be burning in the streets of European cities in the glory of Maidan heroes.”

As for von der Leyen’s statements, they “are not about the sufferings of emaciated people, not about the end of the special military operation, not about the long-hoped for peace in Ukraine, but about Russia’s foreign payments default,” he said.

“That’s what they have been dreaming of! This is the European Union’s core strategy. This is what the masochists from Brussels and their overseas playmates really want,” he stated.

In an interview with Bild am Sonntag, von der Leyen said that the Western sanctions are shaking Russia’s economy, with hundreds of large companies and thousands of experts leaving Russia and its GDP expected to drop by 11% Russia’s default, in her words, is a matter of time.

Russian forces to close entry and exit to Mariupol and introduce pass system: Mayor’s adviser

An adviser to Mariupol’s mayor said Russian forces have announced the besieged city would be closed for entry and exit on Monday, warning men remaining in the city would be “filtered out.”

Petro Andriushchenko, the mayor’s adviser, said Russian forces had begun issuing passes for movement within the besieged city, posting a photo purportedly showing residents lining up for the passes.

“Hundreds of citizens have to stand in a line to get a pass, without which it will be impossible not only to move between the districts of the city, but also to go out on the streets starting next week,” he added.

In a separate statement, Andriushchenko said Russian forces announced the city would be “closed for entry/exit for everyone from Monday, but there will also be a ban on moving around the districts for a week.”

Andriushchenko added, according to information received from inside the city, men in the city will be subject to “filtration” — relocated for screening by Russian forces.

Ukrainian and US officials have alleged Russian forces have carried out filtration of civilians in areas under their control, biometrically screening them, confiscating their phones and, in some cases, deporting them against their will into Russia. The Mariupol City Council has alleged filtration was part of a broader effort by Russia to cover up potential war crimes carried out in the city.

Ukrainian forces defending the city earlier rebuffed an ultimatum from the Russian Ministry of Defense calling on Ukrainian soldiers in the city to surrender.

Russian troops carrying out torture in southern Ukraine: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed Russian troops in southern Ukraine have been carrying out torture and kidnappings.

“Torture chambers are built there,” the president said in an evening address to the nation.

“They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities,” he added.

He also stated the Russians are creating separatist states and introducing Russian currency, the rouble, in occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

War should be over in two to three weeks: Ukrainian defence adviser

The “hot phase” of the war in Ukraine will end in two to three weeks, and the war should be completely over in two to three months, Fyodor Venislavsky, a member of Ukraine’s Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence (also know as Verkhovna Rada) said on television.

He added his assessment was based on a number of factors, including that Ukrainian armed forces “have demonstrated how can push the enemy back from Ukrainian lands,” and that “Western partners have not only changed their assessments that Ukraine urgently needs more new models of weapons, they are already being delivered”.

Russia takes 150 children from Mariupol: Human rights group

The Russian military has forcibly removed around 150 children from Mariupol, the Crimean Human Rights Group has reported.

An adviser to Mariupol’s Mayor, Petro Andriushchenko, said that many of the children were taken from hospitals and were not orphans. The children have reportedly been transferred in the direction of the temporarily occupied Donetsk region and the Russian city of Taganrog.

Lyudmyla Denisova, the ombudsman for human rights in Ukraine, has previously noted more than 120,000 children have been forcibly deported to Russia from Ukraine.

Ukraine completes questionnaire for EU membership: Official

Ukraine says it has completed a questionnaire which will form a starting point for the European Union to decide on membership for Kyiv. The questionnaire was handed to President Volodymyr Zelensky by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her visit to Kyiv on April 8.

An aide to the Ukrainian president told the country’s public broadcaster that the European Commission will now need to issue a recommendation on Ukraine’s compliance with the necessary membership criteria.

“We expect the recommendation … to be positive, and then the ball will be on the side of the EU member states,” said Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of Zelensky’s office.

He added that Ukraine expects to acquire the status of a candidate country for EU accession in June during a scheduled meeting of the European Council meeting.

“Next, we will need to start accession talks. And once we hold those talks, we can already talk about Ukraine’s full membership in the EU,” Zhovkva stated.

Russian forces planning false-flag attack on Kherson: Odesa officials

Ukrainian officials warn that Russian forces are preparing to launch an attack on the port city of Kherson in order to blame the Ukrainian army. This will then be used to hold a pseudo-referendum in the city, an official claims.

“Kherson residents report that Russian invaders are preparing a provocation in the city. This should be the reason to ‘save’ the city by holding a ‘referendum’ there,” Serhiy Bratchuk, the speaker of the Odesa regional military administration, wrote on his Telegram channel.

Kherson has been occupied by Russian forces for more than two weeks. There have been reports Russia might stage a referendum on independence from Ukraine in the largely Russian-speaking city, as it previously did in Crimea after annexing it in 2014.

IMF managing director, Zelensky discuss ‘post-war reconstruction’

Ukrainian President Zelensky has posted on Twitter that he spoke with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva about Ukraine’s financial stability and its post-war reconstruction.

“We have clear plans for now, as well as a vision of prospects. I’m sure cooperation between the IMF and Ukraine will continue to be fruitful,” Zelensky added.

Mariupol ‘extremely decisive’ for Russia: Military expert

Editor of the Swiss Military Review, Alexandre Vautravers, has told Al Jazeera that for Russia, controlling Mariupol was “extremely decisive” for its “territorial continuity”.

“Therefore, during the negotiations and agreements that will … take place at the end of hostilities, it will be absolutely indispensable for Russia to gain this territorial continuity in order to be able to break off the secession republics from Ukraine,” he said speaking from Geneva.

“And it is very it is extremely difficult to be able to bring more supplies and more weapons to people who are … defending Mariupol because of course, the Russian pressure is not only exercised on the city itself, also all of the access that would allow for any reinforcements to get to Mariupol,” he added.

Russian shelling of Kharkiv ‘deliberate terror’: Zelensky

Eighteen people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Russian shelling in the past four days in the northeast Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s president has said.

On Sunday, five people were killed and 20 were injured when a missile and artillery fire hit the city centre and the Saltivka suburb, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said earlier.

Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that Russia’s shelling of Kharkiv has been constant.

“This is nothing but deliberate terror: mortars, artillery against ordinary residential quarters, against ordinary civilians,” Zelensky added.

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