Sunday, April 14, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 253

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:

G7 foreign ministers to discuss further support for Ukraine

Foreign ministers from the G7 countries are meeting in Germany today to discuss further support for Ukraine, with the focus on Russia’s recent attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.

Other topics on the agenda will address pressing global challenges such as the climate crisis, global food security and democratic resilience in Africa and the Indo-Pacific.

Reuters has reported that as well as counterparts from the participating G7 members, according to the British foreign ministry, Germany has also invited Ghana, Kenya and the African Union to join the G7 meeting for various discussions.

Last month, a joint statement from the G7 on Ukraine condemned the attacks on civilian infrastructure and lives, holding Russian President Vladimir Putin to account.

“We call upon all countries to unequivocally reject these violations of international law and demand that Russia cease all hostilities and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its troops and military equipment from Ukraine,” the statement said, adding that they reaffirmed their unequivocal support to Ukraine and its independence.

No commitment to extending grain deal: Russia

The Kremlin announced it has not committed to extending the Black Sea grain deal beyond its current expiry date of November 19.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia needed to assess how the deal was working before deciding on its future involvement.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also urged the United Nations to increase its efforts to ensure the West eases its restrictions that hinder Moscow’s agricultural and fertiliser exports.

Emergency power outages across Ukraine amid Russian attacks on infrastructure

Emergency power outages and restrictions to limit electricity use were put in place across Ukraine on Thursday, according to national energy company Ukrenergo, amid Russia’s attacks against critical infrastructure.

“In Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kirovohrad regions, the schedules of emergency power outages are still in use. Power supply restrictions are applied to all categories of consumers,” Ukrenergo said in a Facebook post.

“For consumers in the city of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Poltava regions, hourly power outage schedules are in use,” it noted.

Ukrenergo added that the restrictions were in place to balance Ukraine’s power system, following repeated attacks on its grids by Russian missiles and drones.

Ukraine has faced a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October.

This week alone, attacks on critical infrastructure in the regions of Kyiv, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia have left millions without electricity and water intermittently.

Blackouts in Kyiv leave hospitals without running water

Medical facilities across Ukraine have been setting up generators to cope with the routine Russian bombardment that has been degrading the country’s power grid. But when Russia targeted Ukraine’s electrical facilities on Monday, it interrupted another essential utility: water.

For the first time since the start of Russia’s invasion in February, four of the Ukrainian capital’s biggest hospitals were left without running water for most of a day.

The Kyiv Regional Clinical Center was among the facilities impacted. Doctors and nurses scrambled to transfer the most urgent cases to functioning hospitals. Surgeries were canceled and life-saving treatments like dialysis were postponed, leaving lives in the balance.

“We need to be prepared for the worst scenario. Russia is even talking about nuclear weapons so we must be prepared for the most difficult challenges,” Vice Governor of the Kyiv Region Vitaliy Vlasyuk told CNN.

Russian forces have pounded Ukraine’s critical infrastructure for weeks, severely damaging its electrical grid and forcing many towns and cities across the country to impose scheduled hours-long blackouts.

Hospitals had so far been spared because they rely on back-up generator power during outages. But Monday’s attacks were so severe that the city’s water pumps stopped working, leaving some 1,500 patients across the city in limbo.

“We are ready for emergency situations every day, and we are prepared for power cuts, but the lack of water was absolutely catastrophic for us,” said Daryna Melnyk, the medical director at the Kyiv Regional Clinical Hospital.

The hospital had over 50 surgeries scheduled that day, but with staff unable to clean their surgical tools without running water, the hospital’s sterilization rooms fell quiet and those awaiting non-emergency procedures told to go home.

“Russia wants to deprive us of critical components of social life. If our people are not killed by bombs, they may be deprived of water, electricity and medical care,” Melnyk added.

Kyiv’s water system back to functional, but hospital staff are already preparing evacuation plans for the next time that Russia strikes.

7 grain ships leave Ukrainian ports after revival of Black Sea corridor

Seven ships carrying food left Ukrainian ports on Thursday following the revival of the Black Sea grain deal, according to Oleksandr Kubrakov, the Ukrainian minister of Infrastructure.

Shipments of grain from Ukraine had been in jeopardy after Russian suspended its participation in the initiative at the weekend. It resumed its role on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure announced the ships are loaded with 290,000 metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural products, and had left the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny.

The vessels are headed to Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Oman, and three to China.

The Russian Federation delegation resumed work at the Joint Coordination Centre Thursday and joined vessel inspections, according to the United Nations Secretariat. On Wednesday, inspections on five outbound vessels were conducted by United Nations and Turkish inspectors.

In July, following months of negotiations, ministers from both Ukraine and Russia signed the grain deal brokered by the UN and Turkey. Russia pledged to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds — some of Ukraine’s most important exports.

According to Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry on Thursday, the country has exported more than 10 million metric tons of grain on 430 ships since August 1.

Switzerland provides $100 million to help Ukraine through winter

The Swiss government has agreed to provide $100 million in aid to Ukraine as winter approaches the conflict-torn country.

In a statement, the Swiss Federal council said it has “adopted an action plan to mitigate the impact of the coming winter on the people of Ukraine.” The Swiss government said it will in particular help to provide drinking water and rehabilitate Ukraine’s damaged energy infrastructure as winter approaches.

Some 18 million people in Ukraine – around 40% of the population – are already dependant on aid since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the statement noted, adding ”with the onset of winter, this number threatens to increase to 24 million” and ”as around a third of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure had been damaged.”

Switzerland’s President Ignazio Cassis and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting in Kyiv last month had discussed how best to provide help to those affected by the war as winter approached.

”The humanitarian situation of the war-affected population in Ukraine has become even more precarious in recent weeks due to targeted attacks on energy infrastructure and basic supply systems,” the statement warned.

Switzerland is calling for the international community to step up with additional aid to help with what it calls an urgent situation in Ukraine.

Moscow calls on UN to ease Russian exports

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted Russia has called on the United Nations to help fulfil part of the Black Sea grain deal that would ease its food exports.

Lavrov was speaking at a news conference in Jordan a day after Russia said it would resume its participation in the deal after announcing on Saturday that it was pulling out due to a drone attack on its fleet.

Russia and Ukraine to hand over 107 captured soldiers each

Moscow and Kyiv will each hand over 107 captured fighters.

“Today we are returning 107 of our fighters from Ukrainian dungeons. We are giving Ukraine the same number of prisoners, mostly VES soldiers, again,” Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed administrator of the Donetsk region, said on Telegram.

“Of the total number of those released, 65 were from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Soon they will be able to hug their loved ones,” he added.

Ukraine says no new commitments made beyond existing grain export deal

Ukraine has made no new commitments that go beyond the terms of a deal signed in July to free up grain exports from its Black Sea ports following Russia’s invasion, a foreign ministry spokesman stated.

Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that Ukraine had never used the Black Sea grain “corridor” for military purposes, and had never intended to do so.

Russia says it prevented Ukrainian ‘terrorist’ attack on Zaporizhzhia plant

A senior Russian official said Russia had prevented a Ukrainian attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Ukrainian forces “continue to shell the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant with Western weapons which could lead to a global catastrophe”, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, noted.

Patrushev added that Russian special services had prevented what he said was a “terrorist attack” on the plant.

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant while denying the other side’s claims.

Zelensky: Kremlin demanding security guarantees from Ukraine shows Russian aggression has failed

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia demanding security guarantees from Ukraine demonstrates the failure of its invasion after eight months of fighting.

In his nightly address on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader stated, “252 days ago, Russia demanded security guarantees from the United States of America. After eight months of Russia’s so-called ‘special operation,’ the Kremlin is demanding security guarantees from Ukraine. These are indeed striking changes.”

“It shows both the failure of Russian aggression and how strong we are when we remain united,” Zelensky added.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia resumed its participation in the UN-brokered grain deal that it had left days earlier, saying it had received written security guarantees from Ukraine on demilitarizing the maritime corridor.

In televised comments, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed, “having received the necessary guarantees from the Ukrainian side that the humanitarian route will not be used for military purposes, Russia resumes the implementation of the grain deal.”

Ukraine warns Iran to stop supplying weapons to Russia or expect “absolutely ruthless” actions in response

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated Iran has been informed through diplomatic channels of the consequences of Tehran sending new weapon deliveries of attack drones and ballistic missiles to Russia.

Kuleba said at a news conference in Kyiv that “the threat is real” of reported new weapon deliveries from Iran.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine, according to officials from a Western country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program.

“I have said and will repeat again that when it comes to the complicity of any country in Russian aggression and the killing of our citizens, we will be absolutely ruthless in our actions in response, because it is about the protection of our state and our citizens,” Kuleba noted.

“A much wiser decision for Iran would be to completely curtail its military cooperation, supply to Russia of any weapons used against Ukraine,” Kuleba added.

Iran has repeatedly denied sending weapons to Russia.

Ukraine claims it hit significant Russian military systems in Kherson

Ukrainian officials say that the military has struck an important target in the southern region Kherson, as the pro-Russian authorities continue to press civilians to leave.

Serhii Khlan, member of the Kherson Regional Council, said that Ukrainian forces hit Russian air defense systems close to the stadium in Kherson city. Those systems have also been used to shell Mykolaiv, sometimes with devastating effect.

Khlan posted a photograph purportedly showing the “remains of the equipment.”

Khlan added there had also been further hits in the area of the Antonivskyi bridge, where Russian forces and the pro-Russian administration have been operating ferries and pontoon bridges to resupply the west bank, where thousands of Russian troops remain.

He stated that in the city of Kakhovka —on the east bank of the river Dnipro — the three streets closest to the river were being forcibly evacuated. He said the Russians “in the city are digging in, setting up concrete trenches.”

Khlan noted the Russians “are digging in on the east bank, preparing for defense, thinking that this make our offensive impossible. But the resistance movement and the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to fight.”

Khlan repeated what other Ukrainian officials have asserted: that the Russian-backed authorities have left the city of Kherson — which is on the west bank — to set up office in the city of Skadovsk, much closer to Crimea.

“As for the urgent and mandatory “evacuation” called for by the Russians, our people are not going to go anywhere. If the locals did not have the opportunity to go to the de-occupied [Ukrainian-held] territory or decided to stay at home, they definitely do not want to go to Russia,” Khlan continued.

Ukraine’s first lady urges West to keep up support

Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, warns that her country would be in trouble if the West turns its attention away and stops helping.

“I don’t want to believe that support [for Ukraine] is fading. I believe it won’t diminish,” Zelenska told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of Europe’s largest tech event, Web Summit, held in Lisbon.

Her comment comes as a deepening economic crisis, triggered by the war, is sweeping through Europe. Some fear the record-high inflation along with the energy crisis are testing the solidarity of Ukraine’s Western allies.

“I believe common sense, empathy, human emotions and relations will win”, she added, urging people to think about the world they want to live in in the future.

“If that’s wrong, we are in trouble. If someone thinks that aggression can be justified … this person is under the influence of propaganda,” Zelenska said, noting, “The more the financial pressure and sanctions are put on the aggressor, the less opportunities they will have to wage a war against Ukraine. We hope this will work.”

Erdogan and Zelensky discuss sending grain to African countries

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated he and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky discussed sending grain to African countries after Putin proposed sending grain to countries like Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan first.

Erdogan told Zelensky that the ability of Ukraine and Russia to sell grain was of critical importance for the whole world, Erdogan’s office has announced.

Speaking after Russia said it would resume its participation in a deal freeing up grain exports from war-torn Ukraine, Erdogan stated diplomatic efforts should be increased to end the war with a just solution, his communications directorate added.

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster ATV, Erdogan noted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had changed his stance and was now saying common ground must be found with President Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky, via Twitter, has thanked Erdogan “for his active participation in preserving the grain deal, for his steadfast support of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

Kyiv region shutting down power supplies after use spike

Authorities in the Kyiv region have started emergency shutdowns of the power generating system after a spike in consumption, the Kyiv regional administration has announced.

The move was necessary to “avoid major accidents with power equipment”, read a statement by the administration.

Russian drone and missile attacks have badly damaged the electricity grid in and around the capital.

Russia says it will only use nuclear weapons as a defensive response to an attack threatening its existence

Russia on Wednesday announced its nuclear doctrine will only permit the use of atomic weapons in a way that is defensive in nature and that the strict guidelines “pursue solely defensive goals.”

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation said the Russian military is “strictly and consistently guided by the tenet that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“Russian doctrinal approaches in this sphere are defined with utmost accuracy” and do not allow room for “expansive interpretation,” the ministry noted.

“These approaches allow for Russia to hypothetically resort to nuclear weapons exclusively in response to an aggression involving the use of weapons of mass destruction or an aggression with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy,” it added.

The statement comes amid a recent increase in concern among United States and Western officials that Russia was considering using a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukraine.

On Wednesday, CNN reported that Russian military officials have discussed how and under what conditions Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine, according to a US intelligence assessment described to CNN by multiple sources who have read it.

The Russian foreign ministry in its statement said that it reaffirms its commitment to a joint statement signed on Jan. 3 by China, Russia, France, the UK and the US on preventing nuclear war and arms races.

“We urge other states of the ‘nuclear five’ to demonstrate in practice their willingness to work on solving this top-priority task and to give up the dangerous attempts to infringe on vital interests of each other while balancing on the brink of a direct armed conflict and encouraging provocations with weapons of mass destruction, which can lead to catastrophic consequences,” the ministry added.

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