Thursday, May 30, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 417

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:

Ukraine counteroffensive could succeed because of ‘lazy Kremlin elite’: Russian mercenary chief

Ukraine’s counteroffensive will likely smash through Russia’s defences because Russia’s “decadent elite” has undermined the Kremlin’s war machine, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has stated.

His comments are the most forthright assessment yet from a top Russian commander that the Kremlin’s armies will fail to repel the major Ukrainian attack expected in the coming weeks.

“The Ukrainian army will launch a counteroffensive and somewhere will be able to break through the defences,” he said in an essay published online.

‘Unprecedented’ bloody fighting over Bakhmut: Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian armed forces are fighting extraordinarily bloody battles in the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut, but pro-Kyiv forces are still holding on, Ukraine’s military says.

Reuters reported that Russia’s defence ministry said earlier on Saturday that fighters from the Wagner mercenary group had captured two more areas of Bakhmut, the main target of Moscow’s offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told the 1+1 television channel, “Bloody battles unprecedented in recent decades are taking place in the middle of the city’s urban area.”

“Our soldiers are doing everything in bloody and fierce battles to grind down [the enemy’s] combat capability and break its morale. Every day, in every corner of this city, they are successfully doing so,” he added.

‘Great Easter’ prisoner exchange has taken place: Ukrainian official

Some 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released and returned home in a “great Easter exchange”, a senior Ukrainian presidential official has said on Sunday, the day of Orthodox Easter.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have held regular prisoner exchanges during Moscow’s invasion, now in its 14th month, Reuters reported.

“We are bringing back 130 of our people. It (the exchange) has been taking place in several stages over the past few days,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear how many Russians were sent back the other way.

Yermak added those returning home included military, border guards, national guard members, sailors and employees of the state border guard.

The exchange was the second large prisoner swap in the past week. On Monday, Russia and Ukraine announced they carried out a major prisoner swap with 106 Russian prisoners of war being freed in exchange for 100 Ukrainians.

Russian mercenaries seize more ground in Bakhmut

Fighters of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group have captured two more areas of the eastern city of Bakhmut, Russia’s Defence Ministry announced on Saturday.

Wagner has spearheaded Russia’s attempt to take Bakhmut since last summer in what has been the longest and deadliest battle of the war for both sides.

Both Wagner and Ukraine have disputed each other’s territorial claims in Bakhmut, with Ukraine saying it controls more than 20 per cent and the Wagner Group saying it had seized more than 80 per cent.

If the Defence Ministry’s claims are true, they will likely embolden the Group whose leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has portrayed his men as playing an outsized role in the war while the Kremlin’s war machine has sputtered as a result of a “decadent elite”.

Prigozhin stated on Saturday the Kremlin’s armies will fail to repel a major Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Zelensky denounces Russia for “brutally shelling” apartment

President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Russia for “brutally shelling” residential buildings and “killing people in broad daylight”.

The death toll from a Russian strike on a block of flats in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk climbed to 11 on Saturday.

Journalists on Friday saw rescue workers digging for survivors on the top floor of the typical Soviet-era housing block, and black smoke billowing from homes on fire across the street.

The street below – including a playground – was covered in concrete dust and debris, including torn pages from school books and children’s drawings.

Toddler among 11 dead in Russian missile strikes

Russia shelled a block of flats in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, killing 11 people, authorities confirmed on Saturday, including a two-year-old boy who was rescued from the rubble but died on his way to hospital.

Friday’s strike on the quiet neighbourhood came as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that will make it easier to mobilise citizens into the army and block them from fleeing the country if drafted.

Sloviansk lies in a part of the Donetsk region that is under Ukrainian control. According to Kyiv, it was struck by seven missiles which hit five buildings, five homes, a school and an administrative building.

Brazil president says US should “stop encouraging war” in Ukraine

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Saturday that the United States should “stop encouraging” the war in Ukraine.

“The United States needs to stop encouraging war and start talking about peace; the European Union needs to start talking about peace so that we can convince Putin and Zelensky that peace is in the interest of everyone and that war is only interesting, for now, to the two of them,” Lula told reporters in Beijing.

Lula also revealed that during his talks with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, he also discussed the idea of forming a group of leaders “willing to find a way to make peace.”

“I have a theory that I have already defended with (French President Emmanuel) Macron, with Olaf Scholz of Germany, and with Biden, and yesterday, we discussed at length with Xi Jinping. It is necessary to constitute a group of countries willing to find a way to make peace,” Lula added.

The White House has so far been skeptical of China’s attempt at to play peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine, and has focused its efforts on supporting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the war.

Early in March, the US announced a new security assistance package for Ukraine worth up to $400 million. Later that month, it announced an additional $350 million in security aid.

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