Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 410

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:

Pope Francis prays for peace in Ukraine and ‘light of Easter’ to be shed upon people of Russia

Pope Francis appeared to ask Russians to seek the truth about their country’s invasion of Ukraine in his Easter message to the world, in which he called for an end to all conflict.

Francis, 86, presided over the solemn Easter day Mass in St Peter’s Square and delivered his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message and blessing from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.

Addressing a crowd, the Vatican estimated to be at about 100,000, he spoke of “the darkness and the gloom in which, all too often, our world finds itself enveloped”, and prayed to God for peace, Reuters reported.

Francis added, “Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Francis has regularly referred to Ukraine and its people as being “martyred” and has used words such as aggression and atrocities to describe Russia’s actions.

He asked God to: “… comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families.”

“Open the hearts of the entire international community to strive to end this war and all conflict and bloodshed in our world,” he said.

Paris denies presence of French soldiers in Ukraine

The French defence ministry has denied the presence of French soldiers in Ukraine, as allegedly revealed in documents attributed to the Pentagon and leaked to Russian networks midweek.

A spokesperson for the minister of the armed forces, Sébastien Lecornu, said, “There are no French forces engaged in operation in Ukraine. The documents cited do not come from the French armies. We do not comment on documents whose source is uncertain.”

Top secret Pentagon documents, reportedly containing charts and details about anticipated weapons deliveries, battalion strengths and other sensitive information, were spread on Twitter and Telegram last week.

One slide suggested that a small contingent of less than a hundred special operations personnel from NATO members France, America, Britain and Latvia were already active in Ukraine.

According to military analysts, the papers have been altered in certain parts to overstate American estimates of Ukrainian war dead and understate estimates of Russian troops killed.

Kyiv has announced the leaked files contain “fictitious information”.

Kremlin seeks to portray situation in annexed territories as normalised: UK Intelligence

The UK Ministry of Defence has issued its intelligence update, saying Russian president Vladimir Putin chaired a full security council session on 5 April, the first since 2022.

The update posted to Twitter outlined the details of the event:

  • The main report was presented by Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, and discussed reconstruction, law enforcement and public order in the illegally-annexed areas of Ukraine.
  • The choice of Kolokoltsev as the main speaker is likely an attempt by the Kremlin to portray the situation in those territories as being normalised.
  • In reality, much of the area remains an active combat zone, subject to partisan attacks, and with extremely limited access to basic services for many citizens.

Russia has hit Ukraine’s power grid with over 1,200 missiles and drones: Energy company

Russian forces have used over 1,200 missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s energy system, according to a statement from the Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo.

Ukrenergo did not indicate a specific time period in its statement.

Since October, Moscow’s forces have launched hundreds of missiles and drones at energy infrastructure far from the front line, temporarily cutting off electricity, heat and water to millions.

Of the 1,200 missiles, 250 hit Ukrenergo sites, causing damage to 43% of Ukraine’s main power grid, according to the utility. All thermal and hydroelectric power plants sustained varying degrees of damage, the company said.

“During the coldest six months of the year, the enemy has been trying to take away power and heat from us by destroying our energy infrastructure,” Ukrenergo said.

The cost of emergency repairs to the energy grid will reach more than $1 billion, the statement said, citing an estimate by the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme.

Ukrenergo added it has received almost 500 units of replacement equipment, and more is set to be manufactured and sent to Ukraine

20,000 kids have been forcibly removed by Russia: Ukrainian official

Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s head of the Office of the President, held an online conversation with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to discuss protecting Ukrainian children and holding Russia accountable for its alleged crimes against them, according to a statement released by the presidency Saturday.

“According to official data alone, at least 20,000 children have been forcibly removed by the Russian military from the temporarily occupied territories (of Ukraine), separated from their parents and forcibly transferred to Russian families,” Yermak said in a Telegram post, adding “their own parents have no idea where their children are or what happened to them.”

Yermak stated he emphasized the “importance of getting all the deported Ukrainian children back to their homeland and punishing the Russian criminals.” Going forward, he said Kyiv would develop new methods for protecting children’s rights and preventing future attempts to harm them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government is accused of deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia and operating a network of camps where the kids underwent “political reeducation.” The alleged scheme is the subject of International Criminal Court arrest warrants for Putin and another Moscow official.

Clooney also reaffirmed her support for Ukraine, according to the presidency’s statement. The Clooney Foundation for Justice — which the human rights lawyer co-founded with her husband, American actor George Clooney — announced it would “work to promote accountability and deliver justice for victims of international crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian official thanked Clooney for the support, referencing a speech she gave at the United Nations Security Council shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022.

“People in Ukraine know about your support and appreciate it a lot. Many people heard your speech and everything you said about the war and Ukrainians. This is extremely important indeed,” Yermak was quoted as saying.

Pentagon and US Justice Department investigating apparent leak of classified documents about Ukraine

Both the Pentagon and US Department of Justice are investigating leaks of a trove of apparent US intelligence documents that were posted on social media in recent weeks.

The investigation comes as new documents surfaced Friday covering everything from US support for Ukraine to information about key US allies, widening the fallout from an already alarming leak. The Pentagon announced Thursday it was looking into the matter as reports emerged.

The additional leaked documents that open-source intelligence researchers surfaced Friday appear to have been posted online in the past few weeks. The documents appear to contain classified information on a range of topics, including:

  • The mercenary Wagner Group’s operations in Africa
  • Israel’s pathways to providing lethal aid to Ukraine
  • Intelligence about the United Arab Emirates’ ties to Russia
  • South Korean concerns about providing ammunition to the US for use in Ukraine

They are similar to a tranche of classified documents about Ukraine that have been circulating online in recent weeks, according to reports.

Much like those documents, Friday’s discoveries were photos of printed-out, wrinkled documents. All bore classified markings, some top secret – the highest level of classification. They also all appear to have been produced between mid-February and early March.

It is unclear who is behind the leaks and where, exactly, they originated.

“The Department of Defense is actively reviewing the matter, and has made a formal referral to the Department of Justice for investigation,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said Friday.

A Justice Department spokesperson told CNN the department has “been in communication with the Department of Defense related to this matter and have begun an investigation,” declining to comment further.

Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, stated on his Telegram channel he believes Russia is behind the purported leak.

Podolyak added the documents that were disseminated are inauthentic, have “nothing to do with Ukraine’s real plans” and are based on “a large amount of fictitious information.”

Images of some of the documents – which include estimates of Russian casualties and a list of Western weapons systems available to Ukraine – were posted to the social media platform Discord in early March.

Ukrainian children return home after being taken illegally to Russia: Kyiv organization

Thirty-one children are back in Ukraine after they were taken illegally to Russia, according to Save Ukraine, a Kyiv-based humanitarian organization.

The children — pulling suitcases and bags of belongings, with some clutching stuffed animals — accompanied by family members, were embraced by volunteers after crossing the border into Ukraine by foot. They then boarded a coach to continue their journey.

“Children abducted by Russians from Kherson and Kharkiv regions have finally crossed the border with their families and are now safe,” Mykola Kuleba, the founder of Save Ukraine, said in a Telegram post.

“Both the children and their parents have psychological and physical recovery ahead of them. And we will continue to take care of them until the families are back in their homes,” Kuleba added.

Save Ukraine’s Olha Yerokhina told CNN this was the fifth rescue mission arranged by the organization.

A group of 13 mothers had left Ukraine a little over a week ago, many of them granted power of attorney which allowed them to collect other parents’ children in addition to their own, she said.

The party crossed into Poland before traveling through Belarus, Russia and finally entering Russian-occupied Crimea, where they were reunited with 24 of the children. The other seven children were collected in Voronezh, Rostov and Belgorod, all inside Russia, she said.

Yerokhina stated facilitating the rescue missions was difficult because Save Ukraine has no official contact with anybody in Russia. Instead, the organization received crucial help from volunteers in different locations.

Remember: Allegations of widespread forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia form the basis of war crimes charges brought against Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior official, Maria Lvova-Belova, by the International Criminal Court last month.

Ukraine has said there are more than 16,000 such cases under investigation.

Russia has denied it is doing anything illegal, saying it is bringing Ukrainian children to safety.

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