Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 213

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:

Referendum voting in occupied regions continues

Voting continues in the Moscow-backed referendums in occupied Ukrainian areas, dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as a sham with no legal force.

In the five-day voting in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south that began on Friday, election officials accompanied by police officers carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations, citing safety reasons.

The votes are set to wrap up on Tuesday when balloting will be held at polling stations.

Europe should open to fleeing Russians: European Council president

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, has urged Europe to show an “openness to those who don’t want to be instrumentalised by the Kremlin”, according to Politico.

The remarks came following Michel’s address at the United Nations general assembly in New York on Friday, and come ahead of a key meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday within the framework of the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR).

“In principle I think that … the European Union [should] host those who are in danger because of their political opinions. If in Russia people are in danger because of their political opinions, because they do not follow this crazy Kremlin decision to launch this war in Ukraine, we must take this into consideration,” he said.

He added: “I agree on the idea that we should very quickly cooperate and coordinate because this is a new fact — this partial mobilisation.”

Queue at Russian border stretches 10km as people flee

Hours after the Kremlin shocked Russia by announcing the first mobilisation of at least 300,000 troops since the second world war has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country.

The line at the border between Russia and Georgia is approximately 10km long, according to the BBC, where people have reportedly been waiting more than 20 hours to cross.

Options to flee are limited, people fleeing previously told the Guardian.

Earlier this week, four of the five EU countries bordering Russia announced they would no longer allow Russians to enter on tourist visas.

“I will be driving across the border tonight,” said a 29-year-old sergeant in the Russian reserves, Oleg, on Thursday.

“I have no idea when I’ll step foot in Russia again,” he added, referring to the jail sentence Russian men face for avoiding the draft.

Russian deputy defence minister removed

Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov has been removed from office and transferred to “another post”, the Defence Ministry in Moscow has announced.

He is to be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who was seen as responsible for the heavy attacks on the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol which was captured by Russia at the end of May.

Zelensky urges people in Russian-controlled areas to help weaken occupation

The ongoing referendums in the Russian-occupied regions and Russian mobilization in those areas are crimes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address on Friday.

They “are not just crimes against international law and the law of Ukraine. These are crimes against specific people, against the nation,” he stated.

Four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine began voting in referendums on joining Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes of Moscow’s invasion seven months after fighting began.

“The world will react absolutely fairly to the pseudo-referenda — they will be unequivocally condemned, as well as to the criminal mobilization that the occupiers are trying to carry out in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine that they still control,” Zelensky added.

Ukraine’s president urged people in the Russian-run areas to help to weaken the occupation.

“If you do get into the Russian army, then sabotage any enemy activity, interfere with any Russian operations, pass us all important information about the occupiers — their bases, headquarters, ammunition depots. And at the first opportunity, join our positions. Do everything to save lives and help liberate Ukraine,” he continued.

Ukrainian forces have recaptured about 9,000 square kilometers of territory (3,500 square miles) “since the beginning of active actions in the east of our country,” Zelensky said.

“Nearly 400 settlements have been liberated. This tangible result has been achieved due to the fact that our people in the temporarily occupied territory help us. Please do everything to increase such assistance,” Zelensky added.

Biden says US will never recognize Russia’s referendums in Ukraine

President Joe Biden stated the United States will never recognize Russia’s referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine.

“The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. Russia’s referenda are a sham — a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter,” Biden said in a statement.

The American president noted the US will continue to work with allies to “impose additional swift and severe economic costs” on Russia.

“The United States stands with our partners around the world — and with every nation that respects the core tenets of the UN charter — in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia will announce,” the statement added.

Four Russian-occupied areas began voting Friday in referendums on joining Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes of Moscow’s invasion.

The referendums, which are illegal under international law and dismissed as a sham by Western governments and Kyiv, could pave the way for Russian annexation of the areas, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself.

Ukraine to ‘significantly reduce’ Iran diplomatic presence

Kyiv announced it has decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over “sending weapons to Russia”.

Ukraine has chosen “to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv”, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday Kyiv claimed that one civilian was killed during a Russian attack with drones on the southern port city of Odesa and that one Iranian-designed unmanned vehicle was shot down by Ukrainian forces.

US prepared to impose more costs on Russia over referendums

The US is prepared to impose additional economic costs on Russia in conjunction with allies if Moscow moves forward with Ukraine annexation, the White House has stated.

“We know that these referenda will be manipulated,” noted White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

European Council president says Russia should be suspended from UNSC

European Council President Charles Michel called out the United Nations Security Council for allowing Russia to continue participating despite its invasion of Ukraine.

“When a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council starts an unprovoked and unjustifiable war, a war condemned by the UN General Assembly, its suspension from the Security Council should be automatic,” Michel said during his address to the UN General Assembly on Friday, adding that the Kremlin is trying to “mobilize the entire world against an imaginary enemy.”

“We are here in the United Nations, the house that brings the people of the world together. And we all know that a robust multilateral system requires mutual trust. … The use of the veto should be the exception, but it is becoming the rule,” he continued.

Michel urged reform, which he stated is “necessary and urgent.”

436 bodies exhumed from a mass burial site in Izium and most showed signs of violent death: Official

A total of 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in Izium, according to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration, who said the work was completed Friday.

Most of the bodies showed signs of violent death, and 30 had traces of torture, Syiehubov said in a post on Telegram.

“There are bodies with a rope around the neck, with hands tied, with broken limbs and with gunshot wounds. Several men had their genitals amputated. All this is evidence of the terrible torture to which the occupiers subjected the residents of Izium. Most of the bodies are civilians, 21 are military,” the post added.

Syniehubov vowed to find out the circumstances of each of the deaths “so that their relatives and friends know the truth and the killers are punished.”

He thanked the 200 people — forensic experts, police officers, and employees of the State Emergency Service — who had been working at the site in the Kharkiv region, which had been recently recaptured from Russian forces.

Syniehubov added that there were at least three more mass burial sites in other liberated areas of the Kharkiv region.

“All crimes of the occupiers will be documented, and the perpetrators will pay for what they have done,” Syniehubov said.

Izium was subject to intense Russian artillery attacks in April. The city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, became an important hub for the invading military during five months of occupation. Ukrainian forces took back control of the city on Sept. 10, delivering a strategic blow to Russia’s military assault in the east.

G7 condemns Russia’s ‘scam’ Ukraine referendums

The leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies have condemned Russia’s “sham” referendums, saying it was an attempt by Moscow to create a “phony” pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory.

“We will never recognise these referenda which appear to be step toward Russian annexation and we will never recognise purported annexation if it occurs,” they wrote in a joint statement sent by the German government spokesperson.

NATO promises more help for Ukraine in response to ‘sham’ votes

NATO will ramp up its help for Kyiv in response to Russia’s “sham” referendums in occupied territories of Ukraine, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

He spoke as Moscow launched the votes on the four regions joining Russia, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a ruse to annex the territories and escalate the seven-month-old war.

“Our answer, NATO’s answer, is to step up support,” Stoltenberg told CNN in an interview.

“The best way to end this war is to strengthen the Ukrainians on the battlefield further so they can, at some stage, sit down and reach a solution which is acceptable for Ukraine and that preserves Ukraine as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe,” he added.

The votes have raised fears that Moscow could incorporate the four areas and then portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself.

“That’s exactly what we need to be prepared for, that Russia will use these sham votes to further escalate the war in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg stated when asked about that scenario.

“But these votes have no legitimacy and of course, they don’t change anything. This continues to be a war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine,” he added.

Up to 1.6 million Ukrainians may have been deported: US envoy

A US envoy says Russia may have forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians, citing unnamed sources, and urged a UN-mandated commission of inquiry to investigate.

“We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances,” US Ambassador Michele Taylor told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, referring to a commission of inquiry into Ukraine.

“Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and/or forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens,” she added.

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