Thursday, May 23, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 68: UNHCR says 5.5 million have fled Ukraine

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:

Rocket strike hits Odesa, causing deaths and injuries: Local governor

A rocket strike has hit the Black Sea port city of Odesa in southwestern Ukraine, causing deaths and injuries, the local governor, Maksym Marchenko has said on the Telgram messaging app.

Separately, Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne quoted the southern military command as saying that the strike had damaged a religious building.

EU says using Russian roubles payment scheme would breach sanctions

Using Moscow’s proposed scheme for foreign companies to pay for gas by enabling Russia to convert their payments into roubles would breach EU sanctions, the bloc’s energy policy chief has stated.

“Paying rubles through the conversion mechanism managed by the Russian public authorities and a second dedicated account in Gazprombank is a violation of the sanctions and cannot be accepted,” EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson told a news conference after a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels.

Report that Italy is open to paying for Russian gas in roubles misleading: Ministry

Italy’s Ecology Transition Ministry has denied a media report saying that Italy was open to paying for Russian gas with roubles.

In a report, Politico cited Italy’s Ecology Transition minister Roberto Cingolani as saying  European energy companies should provisionally be allowed to comply with Russian demands to pay for gas in roubles.

In a note, the ministry announced the article was “misleading” and did not correspond to the position expressed by Cingolani.

“While waiting for a common EU position on the payments position, the euro/roubles scheme envisaging that companies pay in euros at the moment does not seem to constitute a breach of the sanctions of Feb. 24,” the ministry added.

Ukraine says it has identified hundreds of Russian troops behind ‘atrocities’ in Kyiv region

Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) says it has identified nearly 900 Russian troops who committed alleged crimes against civilians in the Kyiv region during Moscow’s offensive.

“The Ukrainian special services have all the information about the occupiers, as well as evidence of their atrocities,” the SBU said in a Telegram post.

The agency added it had interviewed about 7,000 witnesses to the alleged atrocities and also exposed some “100 collaborators who helped the enemy in the Kyiv region”.

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of killing hundreds of civilians in areas surrounding the country’s capital before they withdrew from the Kyiv region as Moscow shifted the focus of its attack to Ukraine’s east.

Ukraine claims to have recaptured several villages in Kharkiv

Ukraine’s defence ministry claims the country’s troops have regained control of a number of villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

The areas recaptured included Ruska Lozova, from where Russian forces bombarded Ukraine’s second-largest city, the ministry said in a post on Telegram. It did not specify exactly how many villages had been retaken.

Last week, Ukrainian forces seized back several other villages and towns east and north of Kharkiv from Russian troops.

Over 3,100 civilians killed in Ukraine so far: UN

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says more than 3,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in late February.

Most of the 3,153 victims were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, such as missile strikes and air raids, it added, without attributing responsibility.

OHCHR announced that the real toll was likely to be considerably higher, citing access difficulties and ongoing corroboration efforts.

France: New package of sanctions against Russia being prepared

The EU is preparing a new package of sanctions against Russia, but the issue will not be on the agenda of the EU energy ministers’ meeting on Monday, French Minister for the Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili said.

“A new package of sanctions against Russia is being prepared, but this will not be the topic of today’s council of energy ministers. This issue will be reviewed in the coming days,” Pompili told reporters ahead of the meeting in Brussels.

The meeting on Monday will focus exclusively on gas issues, the minister added.

Germany ready to support Russian oil ban: Minister

Germany’s economy and climate action minister has said his country is ready to support a ban on Russian oil but warned any such move must take into account the dependence of other European Union countries on Russian supplies.

“The German position is that we need to prepare the steps well and not lead to an uncontrollable economic situation,” Robert Habeck told reporters before an EU meeting on energy.

“Between consideration for countries’ dependence on Russia and the need to proceed in a united way there is a corridor that we need to discuss,” he added.

“Germany has taken great progress on coal and oil and is on course to do the same for gas. Other countries need a bit more time,” he continued.

Zelensky: More than half a million Ukrainians taken to Russia ‘against their will’

More than half a million Ukrainians have been “illegally taken to Russia, or other places, against their will,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed.

In an interview with Greek state TV channel ERT, Zelensky said the civilians stuck in the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol are afraid to board evacuation buses because they believe they will be transported to Russia.

He stated that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had assured him the evacuated civilians would be moved to an area controlled by the Ukrainian government.

“We want to believe this,” he added.

Russian rocket strike hits strategic bridge in Odesa region

A Russian rocket strike has hit a strategically important bridge across the Dniester estuary in the Odesa region of southwest Ukraine, according to local authorities.

The bridge, which has already been hit twice by Russian forces, provides the only road and rail link on Ukrainian territory to a large southern section of the Odesa region.

Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the regional administration, reported the latest strike in a post on Telegram but gave no further details.

Poland eyes EU-wide Russian oil embargo by end of 2022

Poland wants the European Union to impose a clear cut off date at which member states will have to stop importing Russian oil, the country’s climate minister says.

“We want this package (of sanctions) to include a very specific and clear date and requirement for all countries… that it should be a complete package without any gaps,” Anna Moskwa stated, adding that she hoped an embargo could come into force before the end of the year.

Warsaw has repeatedly advocated tough measures against Russia, but with many EU countries heavily reliant on Moscow for their energy needs the bloc has appeared split on how sanctions should be enforced.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after they refused to meet its demand to effectively pay in roubles.

Putin doesn’t respect American leadership anymore: Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not respect American leadership anymore and demonstrates this lack of respect by talking about nuclear weapons “all the time,” former US President Donald Trump has complained.

Speaking at a rally in Nebraska, Trump said that unlike Joe Biden’s administration, under his leadership “America was strong, America was respected, like maybe never before.”

“Now leaders of other countries don’t even return the phone calls of the President of the United States,” he stated, apparently referring to March reports that the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates refused to arrange calls with Biden to discuss surging oil prices.

Trump added Biden “has no idea what is happening,” referring to a recent incident in which the 79-year-old Biden appeared to offer a handshake with no one there to receive it. Putin, on the other hand, “talks about nuclear weapons all the time,” Trump said.

Trump claimed nobody “ever talked about nuclear weapons” before.

“You don’t talk about nuclear weapons, you just don’t talk about it, it is too devastating,” Trump said, also pointing out that his administration “totally rebuilt” its nuclear arsenal because “others” were doing the same.

Putin only talks about it now “because he doesn’t respect” US leadership, Trump added.

Heads of states supplying weapons to Ukraine must be held liable: State Duma speaker

All the heads of states supplying weapons to Ukraine must be put to justice as war criminals, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin wrote in his Telegram channel on Monday.

“Leaders of European states headed by Germany can draw their peoples into huge problems. They become the party to the conflict by supplying armament to Ukraine. All heads of states that decided to supply weapons dirtied up themselves and must be put to justice as war criminals,” Volodin wrote.

Heads of countries “are dragging the world to a catastrophe” by supplying weapons to Ukraine, the speaker said.

Leaders of these countries were silent “when the Nazis in Odessa burned peaceful people alive in Odessa exactly eight years ago,” Volodin noted. They also “did nothing to protect Donbass people,” he added.

Heads of states delivering weapons to Ukraine “started forgetting the tragedy of the World War II and the price that had to be paid for freeing the world from fascism,” the speaker said. “Short memory can entail huge problems,” Volodin stressed.

Zelensky accuses Turkey of ‘double standards’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Turkey of having “double standards” by welcoming Russian tourists while attempting to act as an intermediary between Moscow and Kyiv in order to end the war.

“On the one hand, Turkey acts as an intermediary and supports Ukraine with important steps, but on the other hand, we also see a development of tourist routes, specifically for Russian tourism,” Zelensky told Greek television network ERT.

“These are double standards. This is unfair,” he added.

Russia redeploying some forces from Mariupol: Ukrainian military

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces says that several Russian battalions have been redeployed from Mariupol to the town of Popasna in the country’s eastern Luhansk region.

Popasna has been one of the epicenters of fighting in the east as the Russian military has sought to break through the Ukrainian defences there as part of its refocused offensive in the Donbas.

The Ukrainian General Staff also added that Russian forces were trying to press their attacks from Izyum to Slovyansk and Barvinkove.

An evacuation of Mariupol is underway: Adviser to mayor

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol has said that the evacuation of the city’s residents has begun.

“According to our information, the buses left Mariupol. According to the preliminary agreement, buses will pick up people in the village of Mangush and Berdyansk,” Petro Andriushchenko told RFE/RL, adding that people can join the column by their own transport.

“We hope that thousands of our Mariupol residents who were stuck on the way from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia … will get to Zaporizhzhia tonight or tomorrow morning,” Andriushchenko continued.

An evacuation from the besieged city was planned for Sunday afternoon but did not get underway.

This general evacuation is different from that involving civilians who have been trapped at the Azovstal steelworks.

As yet there is no word on whether a second phase of that evacuation will get underway Monday.

Ukrainian drone destroys Russian patrol ships off Snake Island: Defense ministry

Two Russian Raptor patrol boats were destroyed near Snake Island by a Ukrainian Bayraktar drone Monday morning local time, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported, citing the head of the Armed Forces General.

Two Russian Raptor patrol boats were destroyed in the early hours of this morning near Snake [Zmiinyi] Island. Bayraktar works! Together to Victory!” the MOD tweeted.

Moscow is yet to confirm or react to the claim.

Ukraine says Russians pressing offensive towards Sloviansk

Russian forces are pressing an offensive in the direction of Sloviansk, an important town in the Donetsk region, according to the Ukrainian military.

The offensive involves heavy shelling of Ukrainian defenses, the General Staff said in its daily update.

“The enemy fired on the units of our troops on the Lyman-Siversk border in order to oust them from their positions and create conditions for the attack on Sloviansk,” it added.

Some analysts say Russian forces have made modest territorial gains in this region over the past week, but Lyman remains in Ukrainian hands.

The General Staff announced Russian forces were attacking a large number of towns in the Luhansk region, and had tried to improve their positions around the town of Popasna by moving one battalion tactical group from Mariupol.

Altogether 10 attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk had been repulsed and Ukrainian forces had destroyed a wide variety of Russian hardware, it claimed.

“The enemy deployed additional surface-to-air missile systems in the temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions,” it said.

Three people in Luhansk were killed as heavy shelling persisted in Lysychansk, Zolote and Popasna, according to Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk’s military administration.

Heavy prolonged shelling prevented a full-fledged evacuation, he added.

In areas of southern Ukraine where fighting continues, Russian forces were looking for weaknesses in Ukrainian defenses to the south of Mykolaiv as they try to extend their control to the whole of the Kherson region, which borders Crimea, the General Staff said.

Parts of southern Zaporizhzhia have also seen heavy fighting. The regional command said Monday that “the enemy tried to break through in small groups with the support of armored vehicles, tanks and artillery, but failed.”

The towns of Polohy and Orikhiv were among those targeted with shelling, it added.

It also claimed that Russian forces were forcing farmers “under the barrels of machine guns” to sell grain at a steep discount.

There has also been an uptick in attacks on grain stores and elevators.

Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional state administration, stated Monday that a grain warehouse had been destroyed in the Synelnykove district.

UNHCR: 5.5 million have fled Ukraine

More than 5.5 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The majority have left for neighbouring Poland, which has welcomed more than three million people bidding to escape Russia’s offensive.

New Zealand adds 170 Russian politicians, 6 defence companies to sanctions

New Zealand has added 170 Russian politicians to its sanctions list, as well as six defence companies and organisations which had contributed to Moscow’s offensive.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that the “full suite” of sanctions has now been placed on more than 400 Russian leaders, oligarchs and their family members.

These sanctions will prohibit those on the list from “carrying out activity in New Zealand, and prevent New Zealand from becoming a financial safe haven for those involved with Russia’s illegal activities in Ukraine”, Mahuta said in a statement.

Germany: EU to terminate Russian coal import in summer

The European Union will stop importing Russian coal in summer and will do away with Russian oil by the end of 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with The Indian Express newspaper published on Monday.

The European Union has adopted, along with its transatlantic partners, “unprecedented sanctions against the Russian Federation,” the Chancellor stated.

“Many countries have joined these sanctions, even if this necessarily implies economic costs for ourselves,” he noted.

“We are furthermore now implementing a very ambitious policy to reduce our dependency on the import of fossil fuels from Russia. We will stop the import of Russian coal this summer, we will phase out Russian oil until the end of the year and will reduce gas imports from Russia severely,” Scholz added.

Poll shows more Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of Ukraine

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of the way US President Joe Biden has been handling the Ukraine crisis, a new poll reveals.

Biden’s overall disapproval rate stands at 52 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, while 47 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the Ukraine issue in particular (compared to 42 percent who approve).

Over 40 percent of respondents said they strongly disapprove of Biden’s job performance. The worst ratings are on the issue of inflation, with 68 percent of Americans saying they disapprove and only 28 percent saying they approve.

The new poll revealed that over 9 in 10 Americans are concerned about the rate of inflation in the US, which has been at a 40-year high in recent months, according to reports.

Ukraine says 219 children died in war

Some 219 children have died in Ukraine, and 405 have been wounded, since Russia launched its full scale offensive on February 24, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has reported.

The highest number of children affected by the war was in the Donetsk region (139), followed by Kyiv (115), Kharkiv (95) and Chernihiv (68).

Over 25% of Moscow’s Ukraine ground forces ‘combat ineffective’: UK

More than one quarter of the 120 battalion tactical groups Russia committed at the start of the war in Ukraine are likely now ineffective for combat, the UK’s defence ministry has claimed.

The ministry’s latest intelligence briefing says Russia’s initial commitment represented around 65 per cent of its entire ground combat strength.

It adds that the units to have suffered the highest level of attrition are some of Russia’s most elite and “will probably take years… to reconstitute”.

Missile destroys Dnipropetrovsk grain warehouse: Official

A grain warehouse has been destroyed by a missile strike in the Sinelnikovsky district of the Dnipropetrovsk region, the head of the regional military administration has announced.

“No one was injured,” Valentin Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

Russian FM says May 9 not a relevant date for Ukraine operations

Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow will not base its actions in Ukraine on the deadline of Victory Day celebrated on May 9.

“Our troops won’t artificially base their activities on a specific date, including Victory Day,” Sergey Lavrov stated in an interview on Italy’s Mediaset television channel, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

“We will solemnly celebrate May 9 the way we always do,” he added.

Some analysis, including from the United Kingdom’s defence ministry, has suggested Russia may escalate attacks in the lead up to its national May 9 celebrations to showcase successes in Ukraine.

Explosions in Russia’s Belgorod: Governor

Two explosions took place in the early hours on Monday in Belgorod, the southern Russian region bordering Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region’s governor wrote in a social media post.

“There were no casualties or damage,” Gladkov stated after several residents posted videos with the sound of explosions on social media.

Earlier on Sunday, Gladkov had reported that one person was injured in a fire at a Russian defence ministry facility in the southern Belgorod region.

Explosion damages bridge in Russia’s Kursk region

An explosive device damaged a railway bridge on Sunday in the Kursk region of Russia, which borders Ukraine, the region’s government reported in a Telegram post.

The explosion caused a partial collapse of the bridge near the village of Konopelka, on the Sudzha-Sosnovy Bor railway, the report from Kursk said.

“It was a sabotage, a criminal case has been opened,” stated the region’s governor, Roman Starovoit, according to Russia’s TASS new agency.

He added there were no casualties, and no effect on the movement of trains.

Russian FM: West has just stolen over $300 billions from Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said more than $300 billion was stolen from Russia, the majority of which was payments for oil and gas supplies, because energy giant Gazprom had to store money in Western bank accounts.

“They wanted to ‘punish’ Russia, so they stole it,” Lavrov told the Italian Mediaset broadcaster, explaining that “money was stolen from us (over $300 billion)… most of the amount was received for oil and gas supplies.”

Lavrov added that “now we are offered to continue trading as before, and the money will remain with them.”

EU ministers to hold emergency Russian gas talks

Energy ministers from European Union countries will hold emergency talks on Monday, as the bloc strives for a united response to Moscow’s demands. Moscow has announced foreign gas buyers must deposit euros or dollars into an account at the privately owned Russian bank Gazprombank, which would convert them into roubles.

The European Commission has told countries that complying with Russia’s scheme could breach EU sanctions, while also suggesting countries could make sanctions-compliant payments if they declare the payment complete once it has been made in euros and before its conversion into roubles.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after they refused to pay through the scheme.

Russia planning attacks on Dnipropetrovsk: Zelensky

Russian forces are accumulating in the south of Ukraine to attack cities and communities in the Dnipropetrovsk region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated.

In his nighttime address he spoke of Russia’s attacks on Sunday, saying the war for Moscow’s troops was one of “extermination”.

“They targeted the warehouses of agricultural enterprises. The grain warehouse was destroyed. The warehouse with fertilizers was also shelled. They continued shelling of residential neighbourhoods in the Kharkiv region, Donbas, etc,” he added.

The Ukraine’s president stated his government is planning to evacuate more civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol on Monday morning.

“I hope that tomorrow all the necessary conditions will be met to continue the evacuation of people from Mariupol. We plan to start at 8am,” he noted

“For the first time there were two days of real ceasefire on this territory. More than a hundred civilians have already been evacuated – women and children first of all,” he said of those who left the Azovstal steel plant on the weekend.

“Given all the complexities of the process, the first evacuees will arrive in Zaporizhzhia tomorrow morning. Hopefully this doesn’t fail. Our team will meet them there,” Zelenskyy added.

Three dead and eight injured in Kharkiv

Three people have died and eight have been injured in the Kharkiv region, the governor has claimed.

Air raid sirens were activated several times overnight in the region.

“Stay as long as possible in shelters. Don’t go out on the streets without necessity,” Oleh Synyehubov wrote on Telegram.

Ukrainian commander claims Russia resumes shelling of Azovstal steel plant

Ukrainian National Guard brigade commander Denys Shlega has said in a televised interview that shelling resumed at the Azovstal steel plant as soon as rescue crews ceased evacuating civilians.

Shlega added at least one more round of evacuations is needed to clear civilians from the plant.

Dozens of small children remain in bunkers below the industrial facilities, as well as several hundred civilians, nearly 500 wounded soldiers and numerous dead bodies, he continued.

Russia has never halted efforts to avoid nuclear war: FM

Russia is committed to working to prevent a nuclear war ever beginning, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said in an interview to Italian television.

“Western media misrepresent Russian threats,” Lavrov stated, speaking in Russian through an Italian interpreter.

“Russia has never interrupted efforts to reach agreements that guarantee that a nuclear war never develops,” he added.

The US and Canada trained neo-Nazi divisions that joined Ukraine’s regular army, Lavrov stated

“As far as Azov is concerned files are being published now confirming that the Americans and particularly the Canadians played a leading role in training ultra-radical, openly neo-Nazi divisions in Ukraine. The goal has been all those years to make sure the neo-Nazi join Ukraine’s regular military forces. Consequently, in each division (a battalion, a regiment) people from Azov would be playing a leading role,” he continued.

German Chancellor defends Ukraine policy

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his decisions on Ukraine, rejecting criticisms that he has been acting too slowly and not doing enough on Russia’s invasion.

“I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies,” he told Bild am Sonntag, adding, “I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.”

Scholz has come under fire over recent weeks for not taking rapid action or doing enough to provide desperately sought armaments to Ukraine.

Four civilians killed in east Ukraine town of Lyman: Governor

Four civilians have been killed in Russian shelling in the town of Lyman as Moscow’s forces push deeper into the eastern Donetsk region, the regional governor has claimed.

“On May 1, four civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, all in Lyman. Eleven other people were injured,” governor Pavlo Kyrylenko stated on Telegram.

Kyiv accuses Moscow of destroying medical infrastructure, denying medical care

Ukrainian intelligence officials have accused Russian forces of destroying medical infrastructure, taking equipment and denying medical care to residents in several occupied cities and towns.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense claimed that ventilators and other equipment provided since 2014 by international donors and the government of Ukraine were removed from a hospital at Starobilsk in the eastern Luhansk region.

The same post alleges that tuberculosis patients were denied medical care in the Kharkiv region at Volchansk while several facilities were used to treat wounded Russian troops.

Ukraine claims it’s stalling Russia’s offensive

The Ukrainian army claims a Russian offensive along a broad front in the country’s east has been stalling amid human and material losses inflicted by Kyiv’s forces.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced in a Facebook post that Russian troops were trying to advance in the Sloboda, Donetsk and Tauride regions, but were being held back by Ukrainian forces that continue to fight village by village.

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