Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 139

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:

Emergency services: Death toll from collapsed Donbas apartment block rises to 43

The death toll under a collapsed apartment block in the Donetsk region town of Chasiv Yar climbed to 43 evening, with rescue work still not over four days after the building was hit by Russian rocket fire, emergency services announced.

Over 420 tonnes of rubble had been cleared and 9 people rescued from under the ruins, the regional emergency services directorate wrote on Facebook.

Ukraine says grain talks must be resolved under UN auspices

Ahead of scheduled four-way talks in Turkey to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports, Ukraine’s foreign ministry has said the grain issue must be resolved under the auspices of the United Nations.

“Ukraine advocates that the issue of unblocking Ukrainian grain be resolved under the auspices of the UN,” foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko told Reuters news agency.

“In this context, we are grateful to Secretary General Antonio Guterres for his active efforts to find a solution that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of our country,” he added.

UN chief on Ukraine grain export talks: ‘still a way to go’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that “there is still a way to go” in talks to try and resume Ukraine Black Sea exports of grain.

Military delegations from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine will meet with UN officials on Wednesday to discuss the issue, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar stated on Tuesday.

“We are working hard indeed, but there is still a way to go,” Guterres told reporters, adding, “Many people are talking about it, we prefer to try and do it.”

US announces additional $1.7 bn aid to Ukraine

The United States Treasury has announced it will send an additional $1.7bn in economic aid to Ukraine to help fund the country’s recovery from Russia’s invasion.

“This aid will help Ukraine’s democratic government provide essential services for the people of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The funds are part of the $7.5bn aid package signed by President Joe Biden in May.

Civilian toll in Ukraine conflict passes 5,000 mark: UN

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has said that more than 5,000 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, adding that the real toll was likely much higher.

OHCHR, which has dozens of human rights monitors in the country, announced in its weekly update that 5,024 people had been killed and 6,520 injured.

Death toll from attack on residential building in eastern Ukraine rises to 35

At least 35 people have died after Russian rockets hit a residential building in the town of Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, Ukraine’s State Service for Emergency Situations in the Donetsk region said Tuesday in a statement on Facebook.

“As of 11:00 a.m., the bodies of 35 dead people, including 1 child (a boy about 9 years old), were found and removed from the rubble of a 5-story residential building destroyed by shelling in the town of Chasiv Yar,” the statement read.

Nine people were rescued from the rubble and “more than 320 tons of destroyed elements of the building were cleared and disassembled,” according to the statement.

Emergency teams continue to work at the site, it added.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces attacked the five-story residential building in Chasiv Yar with missiles.

Eight ships enter Ukraine to transport grain: Navy

Ukraine’s navy has announced that eight ships entered the Danube, Black Sea canal to transport Ukrainian grain through Romania amid a looming food crisis caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea.

The arrival of the vessels was made possible after Ukrainian forces liberated the Zmiiny (Snake) island near the canal after months of Russian occupation.

“Unfortunately, most of our nation’s ports remain closed, and some are occupied,” the Ukrainian navy said on Facebook.

The navy added that Russia “tries to manipulate information about its gestures of goodwill to de-block the export of Ukrainian raw materials by sea.”

Another Russian arms depot on fire in southern Ukraine: Mayor

A Russian emergencies ministry base is on fire in the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol, its mayor has said.

Russians “took their military equipment there after Ukrainian forces delivered a ruining strike on a Russian military base at the Melitopol airport a week ago,” the city’s mayor Ivan Fyodorov stated.

He added that local residents heard 25 explosions and saw dense black smoke rising from the base.

Russians block exits from occupied Melitopol amid rising number of Ukrainian missile strikes

Russia has blocked the exits from the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol for the second day in a row, according to city mayor Ivan Fedorov.

Russian forces were “so afraid of the counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that they have covered themselves with thousands of civilians as human shields,” said Fedorov, who is not in Melitopol.

“The whole city is held hostage,” he added.

Fedorov stated the Russians had closed the checkpoint at Vasylivka — the main crossing point for civilian traffic trying to reach other parts of Ukraine.

On Monday, Fedorov said the Russians had blocked off the western part of Melitopol, stranding “tens of thousands of the citizens of the residential neighborhood.”

Like parts of neighboring Kherson region, Melitopol has seen strikes by Ukrainian forces far behind the front lines in recent days.

The Russian-appointed head of the regional administration in Melitopol, Yevgeniy Balitskiy, stated Tuesday on his Telegram channel that the Ukrainian government had “turned into ISIS: they blow up bridges, carry out attacks on public figures,” an apparent reference to the reported assassination attempt against a pro-Russian local official, Andriy Siguta, whose car was blown up.

“This will not change anything,” Balitskiy continued, adding, “The people of Zaporozhzhia region have already made their choice….The liberated part of Zaporizhzhia region will become a part of [the Russian Federation] through a referendum.”

Fedorov has claimed that there were high casualties in a Ukrainian strike on a Russian garrison in Melitopol on Saturday night, saying the occupying forces “do not know where to put the bodies of the killed Russian soldiers.”

“Doctors of forensic medical examination do not want to collaborate and do not issue death certificates because they do not want to cooperate with the Russians,” Fedorov continued.

Last week, Fedorov noted there had been more than 30 strikes on a single military base outside the city.

No discussion underway on resuming Russia-Ukraine talks: Kremlin

There is no discussion underway on resuming talks between Russia and Ukraine, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

“No, there is no discussion underway at the moment,” he said, when asked whether it was possible to resume the negotiation process at this point.

According to Peskov, Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey did not discuss the issue in their phone call on Monday.

The Kremlin announced earlier that Putin and Erdogan had exchanged views on the situation around Ukraine.

US, allies teetering on brink of military confrontation with Moscow: Russian official

The United States and its allies are teetering on the brink of an open military conflict with Moscow, which would be fraught with nuclear tensions, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Tuesday.

“After provoking an escalation of the Ukrainian crisis and unleashing a violent hybrid confrontation with Russia, Washington and its allies are dangerously teetering on the brink of an open military confrontation with our country, which means a direct armed conflict between nuclear powers. Clearly, such a confrontation would be fraught with nuclear escalation,” the statement reads.

Zakharova also slammed Japan’s attempts to paint Russia as a country that made nuclear threats.

“It is unacceptable to try to distort the logic of deterrence, which is what Russia’s official statements on nuclear issues are based on, for propaganda reasons, as well as to depict us as a country threatening to use nuclear weapons,” she stressed.

The Russian diplomat added that the tone and focus of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s remarks on the nuclear weapons issue were perplexing.

“We have taken note of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent anti-Russian remarks, including his controversial statements on the nuclear weapons issue. Their focus and tone are puzzling. In particular, in order to justify the move to choose Hiroshima as the host city of a G7 summit, a remark was made that there was no better alternative to the city in a situation where ‘Russia’s use of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats are becoming a reality’,” the statement noted.

Death toll from Russian strike on residential building in Donetsk rises to 34

The death toll has risen to more than 30 following a Russian strike on an apartment block in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine over the weekend, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday.

The residential building in the town of Chasiv Yar was hit on Saturday evening as Russia once again ramped up its assault on cities and towns in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to take control over the entire Donbas area.

At least 34 people died and at least nine were injured in the attack, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration, said on his official Telegram channel on Tuesday. One of those who died was a child, he added.

The rescue operation is ongoing and the Emergency Services have cleared about 70% of the rubble, Kyrylenko stated.

Chasiv Yar and other towns in Donetsk have been under heavy fire in recent days as Russian forces try to grind down Ukrainian resistance in the area and move further west towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Kremlin: Many Ukrainians want to be Russian citizens

The Kremlin has said that many Ukrainians want to become Russian citizens, a day after Moscow published a decree simplifying rules for Ukrainian citizens to acquire Russian passports.

During a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated there was “no discussion” of relaunching peace talks with Kyiv, over four months after Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine.

Russia has announced that residents of areas of southern and eastern Ukraine occupied since February are entitled to become Russian citizens, a move that Ukraine and Western countries say confirms that Moscow plans to retain control of those regions.

Russia, Ukraine to discuss grain crisis in Turkey with UN

A fresh round of talks between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations over grain exports from Ukraine will take place on Wednesday in Istanbul, Interfax news agency has reported, citing the Russian foreign ministry.

Ukraine is a key agricultural exporter and its inability to ship vital grain supplies has caused a surge in food prices, aggravating concerns about a global food crisis.

Death toll from Ukraine’s attack on Nova Kakhovka rises to seven: Official

At least seven people have died in Ukraine’s attack on the Russian-held town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region, TASS reports.

“There are already seven dead for sure and about 60 wounded,” TASS quoted Vladimir Leontyev, head of a Russian-installed administration, saying.

Russian troops making incremental gains in Donetsk: UK

Russian troops are making small, incremental territorial gains in the Donetsk region, with Russia claiming to have seized control of the village of Hryhorivka, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence briefing on Twitter, the ministry added Russian forces were continuing their assault along the main supply road towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

“Russian forces are likely maintaining military pressure on Ukrainian forces whilst regrouping and reconstituting for further offensives in the near future,” the UK added.

The ministry also said Russia’s high personnel losses in Ukraine may be forcing Moscow to turn to recruiting soldiers from Russian prisons for the Wagner private military company.

Chasiv Yar death toll reaches 33: Ministry of Internal Affairs

Rescuers have found the body of a child under the rubble of a five-storey residential building in Chasiv Yar, which collapsed due to a Russian missile strike on Saturday, the press service of Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs has said.

The death toll has now reached 33, the ministry added, with rescue efforts continuing.

Dozens injured in Ukrainian strike on Russian-occupied city: Moscow-backed authorities

Dozens of people were injured and some people killed as a result of a Ukrainian airstrike on the city Novaya Kakhovka in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, Moscow’s state news agency TASS cites the Russian-installed head of the region’s administration as saying.

“Unfortunately, there are casualties, a large number of injured, dozens of people were left homeless,” Vladimir Leontyev told TASS.

TASS reported that the Ukrainian Army attacked Novaya Kakhovka on Monday evening, which damaged buildings and led to explosions at several fertiliser warehouses.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted a video of what he said was one of the explosions.

He added Ukraine’s armed forces were “working on the enemy in Novaya Kakhovka”, adding that the extremity of the blast in the video came from fuel trucks being placed around an ammunition depot before the strike.

Biden will push for greater oil output on Mideast trip: WH

United States President Joe Biden will make the case for greater oil production from OPEC nations to bring down gasoline prices, which have surged in the wake of sanctions on Russian oil and gas, when he meets Persian Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia this week, the White House national security adviser has said.

Biden leaves Tuesday night on his first visit to the Middle East as president, with stops in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia on his agenda.

Jake Sullivan stated members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have the capacity to take “further steps” to increase oil production despite suggestions from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that they can barely do this.

“We will convey our general view…that we believe that there needs to be adequate supply in the global market to protect the global economy and to protect the American consumer at the pump,” Sullivan added.

Most residents evacuated from Donetsk region: Governor

Around 80 percent of residents have been evacuated from the Donetsk region since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the governor has said, according to Ukrinform.

“As of February 24, 1,670,000 people permanently lived in the government-controlled territory of the Donetsk region. About 340,000 people have stayed there,” Pavlo Kyrylenko stated during the nationwide telethon.

Kyrylenko added 252 people had been evacuated from the regions of Bakhmut and the Pokrovsk over the past day.

Russian forces are planning a major offensive to take control of the whole of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, after capturing neighbouring Luhansk.

Mykolaiv rocked by ‘powerful’ explosions: Mayor

The Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv has been rocked by powerful explosions, its mayor said in the early hours of Tuesday morning (local time).

“There are powerful explosions in Mykolaiv! I ask everyone not to come out of shelters!”, Alexander Senkevich wrote on Telegram.

Residents also reported blasts on social media, with several counting more than 20 explosions.

Mykolaiv was also rocked by explosions on Monday morning from six missiles, which wounded at least one person, the head of the regional military administration, Vitaliy Kim, added.

France and Germany weary over reduced Russian gas supply as Nord Stream 1 pipeline closes for maintenance

French and German economic ministers fear an extension to reduced Russian gas supplies as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shuts down from Monday for a 10-day maintenance period.

Whilst the maintenance work was scheduled in advance, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Monday that Europe would “not be divided by Russia’s actions,” as the shutdown of the pipeline tests Europe’s resolve to wean itself off Russian fuel supplies.

On Sunday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned that France must act quickly and efficiently to prepare for a “total cut off to Russian gas,” urging attendees at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, to “be creative” and to “stop taking two or three years to do what other nations do in six months.”

France should speed up its construction of a floating natural gas terminal off the Atlantic coast in the west and build more new nuclear reactors, he added.

Germany’s Habeck told public radio station Deutschlandfunk on Saturday that it is “simply a situation we haven’t had before,” and that “anything can happen.”

“It could be that the gas flows again, even more than before. It could be that nothing will come at all. And we honestly always have to prepare for the worst, and work a little bit for the best,” he continued.

On June 23, Germany activated the second phase of its three-stage gas emergency program, taking it one step closer to rationing supplies to industries, as Europe’s biggest economy is now officially running short of natural gas and is escalating a crisis plan to preserve supplies as Russia turns off the taps.

Russia is the second largest provider of natural gas for France, suppling 17% of France’s import in 2021, according to the French Ministry of Ecological Transition.

Unlike its European neighbor Germany, France relies predominantly on nuclear energy, which represents 75% of its energy output in 2020, the ministry announced.

Ukraine war risks spread of drugs, human trafficking: EU official

The European Union must work with Ukraine and Moldova to contain criminal and security risks that the Russian invasion has created, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has warned.

“We have seen it before trafficking of firearms, trafficking of human beings, trafficking of drugs, [and the] risk of the infiltration of terrorists,” Johansson said in a press conference, after an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Prague.

Leader of Russian-occupied Ukrainian town killed by car bomb

The Russian-appointed administrator of a small town in the Russian-occupied east of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region has been killed by a car bomb presumed to be the work of Ukrainian saboteurs, the regional occupation authorities have said.

The pro-Moscow military-civilian administration stated Yevgeny Yunakov, chief administrator of Velikyi Burluk, had been killed by a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

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