Saturday, April 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 381

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 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:

3 people killed by Russian shelling in Kherson: Ukrainian official

Three people were killed and two others were wounded by Russian shelling in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine Saturday, a regional leader said.

The attack happened on the Mykolaiv highway, according to a Telegram post from Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson region’s military administration.

Fragments of Russian ammunition apparently hit a car on the road, Prokudin added. Rescuers, medics and police were working at the scene

Ukraine turned Bakhmut into a “killing field,” but Russian forces control most of city’s east: UK

Forces fighting for the Russian government have now taken control of most of the eastern part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where intense fighting has raged for months, according to the latest intelligence update from the UK Defense Ministry posted on Twitter.

The ministry said the river in the town center now marks the front line of the conflict.

Ukrainian forces still hold the west of Bakhmut. By demolishing key bridges and taking firing positions in fortified buildings, Ukraine’s military has made it difficult for Russian-aligned troops to move forward — even turning one strip of open ground into a “killing zone,” the ministry added.

However, the British assessment said Ukrainian supply lines still remain vulnerable to attacks.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a key aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stated Russia appears to be changing tactics in Bakhmut.

Russia “has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies,” Podolyak told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper

Troops from the Russian mercenary group Wagner have been heavily involved in the fight for Bakhmut.

Podolyak added Kyiv is fighting in Bakhmut, a city largely already abandoned and destroyed, to eliminate and bog down Russian troops

Power to infrastructure in Kharkiv has been fully restored, but 15,000 customers are still without power

Engineers in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region continue to work on restoring the power system damaged by Thursday’s massive Russian attack, Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, stated Saturday.

Power was restored Friday night to all private households in the city Kharkiv, and work is underway to fix the city’s electric public transportation system, according to Synehubov.

Synehubov said 15,000 customers in Vovchansk, Stary Saltiv, and Slatyne in the region of Kharkiv are still without electricity, but “power companies will restore the power supply there in the near future.”

On Friday, Synehubov noted nearly half a million consumers were without power in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

National energy company Ukrenergo announced Saturday that the entire power system in the city of Kharkiv is still being restored. One of the thermal power plants in Kharkiv has been partially restored after emergency repairs, and one of the trunk power grid facilities of Ukrenergo is back online, the company added.

Ukrenergo did not disclose how many households remain without power, but it said the city’s critical infrastructure is fully powered. Work continues to restore the full power supply to the city and the region, the company said.

Russia has for months been trying to cripple Ukraine’s power network, but as we have previously reported, the efforts have failed.

Biden and EU chief discuss continued support for Ukraine during White House meeting

US President Joe Biden and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine, among other topics, during a meeting at the White House Friday.

The United States and European Union pledged “security, economic, and humanitarian support” to Ukraine for as long as it needs, the two leaders stated.

“We remain committed to providing and mobilizing international support,” including from the private sector, to ensure Ukraine’s economic stability, Biden and von der Leyen said in a joint statement.

They added that military aid and training will also continue.

The leaders outlined initiatives aimed at helping Ukraine rebuild and highlighted efforts — including sanctions — to “further degrade Russia’s capacity to wage its illegal war and its military-industrial system,” according to the statement.

The statement touted the success of a US and EU partnership put in place a year ago to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel, something the leaders said they continue doing.

“Vladimir Putin thought that he would divide us, and yet we are more united than ever. We stand together in our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the statement read.

UN experts call recruitment of prisoners by Russia’s Wagner Group “alarming”

The recruitment of prisoners serving sentences in Russian correctional facilities by the Russian private military company Wagner is “alarming,” a group of UN experts said in a joint statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday.

Members of the Wagner group are reportedly “offering pardons for criminal sentences” and “a monthly payment” to the prisoners’ relatives of those who agree to join, the experts said.

Wagner has allegedly recruited both Russian and foreign nationals serving sentences in correctional facilities, they stressed, adding that in some cases, Wagner used threats, intimidation and pressure tactics to recruit.

Recruited prisoners “have been involved in a range of activities – including providing military services, rebuilding infrastructure, and taking direct part in hostilities on the side of the Russian forces,” the statement read.

The experts say they “have information that several recruits have been executed for attempting to escape and, in other cases, seriously injured in public as a warning to other recruits. Such tactics constitute human rights violations and may amount to war crimes.”

The group has expressed its concerns to the Wagner Group and the Russian government.

It has also urged Moscow to protect detainees from “violence, exploitation and intimidation,” according to the statement.

Canada bans Russian aluminum and steel imports

Canada has banned the import of all Russian aluminum and steel products in a move that Ottawa said was aimed at denying Moscow the ability to fund its war against Ukraine.

“Ukraine can and must win this war. We continue to do everything we can to cut off or limit the revenue used to fund Putin’s illegal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.

Ukrainian military spokesperson: 3rd wave of Wagner fighters being replaced by Russian army in Bakhmut area

The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is still “the hottest spot on the front line” and continues to be the target of some of the heaviest direct Russian fire, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military told CNN.

“Bakhmut is still the hottest spot on the front line, with 20 of the 188 attacks of the entire Bakhmut direction this day coming directly at the town of Bakhmut,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Cherevatyi also added a third wave of fighters from the Wagner private military company fighting in the area are being replaced by Russia’s regular army.

“The first wave, which began last February, consisted of professional military, people associated with the FSB and the Interior Ministry. The second wave of Wagner consisted of those mobilized from prisons, who were almost all wiped out during the so-called ‘meat assaults,’ when Wagner tried to break through the defenses with live fire,” he said.

“Now we see the replacement of Wagner’s group by the regular army. This is probably due to Prigozhin’s conflict with the leadership of the Russian army,” he added.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin has publicly attacked the Russian Defense Ministry, blaming it for not supplying his fighters with enough ammunition to prevent their deaths.

Cherevatyi also stated he cannot confirm the status of the village of Dubovo-Vasilyevka, located north of Bakhmut, which Prigozhin claimed to have been captured by his fighters on Wednesday.

Prigozhin’s Telegram post was accompanied by a video that purported to show several Wagner fighters standing next to the group’s flag, one of them playing an accordion

Switzerland rejects calls to transfer arms to a third country

Switzerland’s government says it will not allow the transfer of Swiss-made arms to a third country despite growing pressure from fellow European nations to send them to Ukraine.

“The Federal Council is committed to the values of Swiss neutrality and will continue to work to ensure the benefits of neutrality are realised,” it said in a statement.

However, it added it would continue to monitor the debates and make a further statement if necessary.

Calls for Switzerland to change its neutral status have been growing internally and externally since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.

In January, two parliamentary committees recommended that the rules be eased. However, the cabinet rejected the call.

G7 renew pledge to support Ukraine’s energy sector

The Group of Seven (G7) and other organisations renewed their pledge to support Ukraine’s energy sector, Japan’s foreign ministry said after the group convened.

Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi stated Japan intends to provide about 10 autotransformers and 140 units of power-related equipment to Ukraine, according to a statement released by the Japanese foreign ministry.

During the meeting, which was co-hosted by Hayashi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Hayashi also praised Ukraine for overcoming “the harsh winter despite repeated Russian attacks on energy infrastructure”.

On Thursday, Russia launched missile attacks across Ukraine, killing at least six civilians and forcing a nuclear power plant off the grid.

Russia sees no chance for talks with Ukraine given Kiev’s position: FM

Russia currently sees no opportunity to engage with Ukraine because of Kiev’s position, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Friday.

“We have been saying that we are not dodging negotiations not because we have been imploring them to negotiate. At the moment, we see no chance for holding talks, but we have simply been underscoring this amid a non-stop wave of statements to the effect of `how bad it is that Russia is reluctant to engage’,” Russia’s top diplomat said in an interview with the “Bolshaya Igra” (“The Great Game”) public affairs program on Channel One television.

“Has anyone read what [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky has been saying? Does anyone remember the decree he signed back in September banning any talks?”, Russia’s top diplomat wondered as he referred to Zelensky’s refusal to negotiate with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“You must have heard the latest statements. (CIA Director) Bill Burns for some reason said yesterday that Russia shows no signs of backing down. Well, is Zelensky showing signs of backing down?”, Lavrov asked rhetorically.

According to the Russian foreign minister, Zelensky stated simultaneously with Burns that he would never sit down at the negotiating table with Putin, that Ukraine would have its victory no matter what, and that he had allies elsewhere and other venues where he would decide his country’s future.

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