Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 445

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:

Berlin will continue to support Ukraine to ensure Russia is “held accountable”: Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday reaffirmed Berlin’s support for Ukraine “for as long as it is necessary” in its fight against Russia’s invasion and stressed that those responsible for the war “must be held accountable.”

“No city in the world is allowed to invade another country, commit murder and plunder it. Therefore, we support our partner to ensure that Russia is held accountable for its crimes,” said Scholz while speaking at a joint press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is visiting Berlin for the first time since Russia’s invasion began.

“Our support is not only humanitarian but also political, financial and of course also with weapons. I have often said this, and I will repeat it here: We will support you for as long as it is necessary,” he added.

Scholz also stated he was looking forward to traveling with the Ukrainian leader to the German city of Aachen later on Sunday, where Zelensky will collect the International Charlemagne Prize, awarded for work done in service of European unification.

“Who, if not the Ukrainians, deserve the prize this year?” Scholz continued.

“This terrible war has had horrific geopolitical consequences. Our solidarity is strong. The years-long relationship between our two countries has only grown stronger in the face of this conflict,” he said.

Zelensky thanks Germany for weapons and support

Speaking in Berlin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his country’s support in the fight against Russia, saying that Kyiv would always be grateful.

It is the Ukrainian leader’s first visit to Germany since the war began.

“I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs help [in] its defense, defense of life, protection of lives of our people in cities and villages everywhere, which helps to protect lives, in particular your defense system,” Zelensky told reporters.

Zelensky added that “Germany leadership can make the world safer, the more cooperation will have among us for the peace, the more Germany will become a leader in protection of the peace, the more stability we will have in international relations.”

Zelensky said that “Germany [is] on the second spot after the US supporting Ukraine,” and in his meeting they discussed “the ability of our troops to return freedom to our people.”

The Ukrainain president stated that they discussed being part of “European and Euro-Atlantic structures. We agreed on that. We agreed on our program of developing cooperation and relations.”

On Saturday, Germany announced a $3 billion military aid package for Ukraine in its largest show of support for the country since the war began. This followed the US’ announcement of a $1.2 billion aid package on Tuesday.

Zelensky arrives in Berlin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Twitter post early on Sunday that he had arrived to Germany’s capital Berlin.

“Already in Berlin,” he wrote.

Germany’s N-TV television news chanel reported earlier that the Ukrainian president was scheduled to visit the country on May 13. His plane was supposed to land in the military section of Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt.

According to the report, Zelensky will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. After that, he will travel to the city of Aachen to receive the Charlemagne Prize.

Germany will provide Ukraine with additional military aid worth almost $3bn, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition, the government has announced.

First steps in Ukrainian counteroffensive “will be taken soon”: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated the “first important steps” of a highly anticipated military counteroffensive against Russian forces “will be taken soon.”

“We are preparing very seriously, and there will definitely be very serious steps,” Zelensky said in a conversation with top editors of Italian media in Rome on Saturday.

“I know that we are all motivated, and not only those who know this plan, but our people … I cannot tell you (when). But you will definitely see it, and Russia will definitely feel it,” he continued, adding, “… We believe in victory and believe that the first important steps will be taken soon.”

Ukrainian forces have begun “shaping” operations in advance of the expected counteroffensive, a senior US military official and senior Western official told CNN.

Shaping involves striking targets such as weapons depots, command centers and armor and artillery systems to prepare the battlefield for advancing forces. It’s a standard tactic made prior to major combined operations.

Zelensky said on Thursday that his country still needs “a bit more time” before it launches a counteroffensive, in order to allow some more of the promised Western military aid to arrive.

2 killed, several wounded in Russian shelling of eastern city of Kostiantynivka: Regional authorities

Two people have been killed – including a 15-year-old girl – and several others wounded as a result of Russian shelling on the eastern city of Kostiantynivka on Saturday, the Donetsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office said in a Telegram post.

“The occupation forces of the Russian Federation once again fired on Kostiantynivka,” it said.

“As a result of the occupiers’ attack on the settlement, two residents were killed, including a 15-year-old girl. Ten people also sustained injuries of varying severity, including two teenagers aged 15 and 16. They were taken to a hospital for qualified medical care,” according to the post.

Multi-story and private houses, a gas station, a pharmacy and shops were “damaged or destroyed,” the regional authorities added, noting that “pre-trial investigations are ongoing.”

Zelensky thanks Pope Francis for his “personal attention” to war in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Pope Francis for giving “personal attention” to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, after meeting with the pontiff in Rome for the first time on Saturday.

“I emphasized there are tens of thousands of deported children, we must make every effort to bring them home,” Zelensky said in a statement posted across his social media pages.

“In addition, I asked him to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine. There can be no equality between victim and aggressor,” he added.

The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

Zelensky also spoke to the Pope about his 10-point peace plan, saying it is “the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace.”

After the meeting, Zelensky told top editors of the Italian media in Rome that the Vatican sent a signal of support for the plan.

“This is important, and we are also supported by the Italian government, and many different countries,” he continued.

He added that Ukraine doesn’t need a mediator in any potential talks with Russia.

“With all due respect to his Holiness … the issue is that we don’t need a mediator between Ukraine and an aggressor-country that has occupied our territories,” he said, noting, “We need to come up with an action plan to develop a fair peace in Ukraine and then we will invite the Vatican as one of the leaders to this format.”

Pope Francis assures “his constant prayer” for peace during meeting with Zelensky: Vatican

The Saturday meeting between Pope Francis and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ended, according to a statement from the Vatican Press office.

During the 40-minute meeting, Zelensky and Pope Francis spoke about the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war, the Vatican said.

“The Pope has assured his constant prayer, witnessed by his many public appeals and continuous invocation to the Lord for peace, since February of last year,” the Vatican press office announced.

“Both agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts to support the population,” it added.

Pope Francis also stressed the need for “human gestures” toward victims of the war, according to the statement.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between Zelensky and the Pope since Russia’s full-scale invasion began. The pontiff has been outspoken in his support for an end to the conflict.

Italian prime minister pledges continued support for Ukraine to join NATO following meeting with Zelensky

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni pledged unwavering support to Ukraine, saying Italy was ready to support its partnership with NATO, after what Meloni described as a “long and fruitful” meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky at Rome’s Palazzo Chigi on Saturday.

“We are ready to support a further intensification of Ukraine’s partnership with NATO, we will discuss it in Vilnius at the July summit; it will probably be the central theme,” Meloni said.

“For as long as needed, and beyond, our nation will continue to provide bilateral and multilateral assistance, and there will be our staunch adherence to sanctions enforcement arrangements and our support for peace, provided it is a just peace,” she added.

Meloni stated she believes Ukraine will win the war and will be “reborn stronger” and “more prosperous than before.”

The prime minister went on to blame Russia in some of the strongest language her government has delivered on the conflict. She said peace will only come when “Russia ceases hostilities,” calling on Moscow to withdraw its troops.

“We are in favor of a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” Meloni continued, adding, “We support President Zelensky’s 10-point peace formula. And we recognize the legitimate European aspirations of Ukraine, an outpost of security for the entire European continent.”

She added that she was happy Zelensky visited Pope Francis, and concluded her speech by emphasizing Italy’s continued support to Ukraine.

“We’re betting on Ukraine’s victory,” she said.

Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian population that had gathered in the streets waving Ukraine’s flag and invited Italian political leaders and representatives to visit his country.

Zelensky discusses the “importance of Ukraine’s victory” with Italy’s president during visit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Italian President Sergio Mattarella about “the war and the importance of Ukraine’s victory” on Saturday, according to Zelensky’s chief of staff.

“In Rome, despite the rain, there are a lot of people on the streets, and we feel a lot of support for Ukraine,” Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said on Telegram.

“Much attention was also paid to the issue of abductions of Ukrainian children by Russia. This must be stopped, the children must be returned home, and the Russians must be punished,” he added.

Zelensky arrived in Italy on Saturday to meet Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Rome.

The Ukrainian president is also set to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican.

In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior official, Maria Lvova-Belova, were charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court on allegations of widespread forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

Ukraine recently estimated the total number of children forcibly removed from their homes is at least 20,000. Kyiv has said thousands of cases are already under investigation.

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

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