Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 472

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:

Xi briefed on African peace mission to Ukraine, Russia

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has briefed Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping about an upcoming mission by African leaders to Russia and Ukraine to try and broker peace, Pretoria has said.

Ramaphosa announced last month that Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky had agreed to receive a six-member African delegation, expected to visit this month.

Ramaphosa “has briefed” Xi, the South African presidency said in a statement. The delegation will group the presidents of the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

His office did not specify when he spoke to Xi but said the Chinese leader “commended the initiative by the African continent and acknowledged the impact the conflict has had on human lives and on food security in Africa”.

5 dead and over 2,600 rescued from flooding in Ukrainian-controlled areas of Kherson: Officials

Five people have died and more than 2,600 people — including 160 children — have been evacuated from Ukrainian-controlled flooded areas after the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, according to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry.

“We are trying to continue evacuation activities, but the enemy is mercilessly shelling,” Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Klymenko said on Saturday.

In the hardest-hit southern Kherson region, a total of 2,588 people have been rescued from Ukrainian-controlled areas, head of Kherson region military administration Oleksandr Prokudin stated earlier on Saturday.

Water levels are receding, dropping 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) since Friday evening, according to Prokudin.

In the Kherson region, 47 settlements were flooded, while in the Mykolaiv region, 31 settlements were flooded, the minister noted. In the Dnipropetrovsk region, more than 89,000 customers in 26 settlements have no drinking water supply, Klymenko added.

The water level at the Nova Kakhovka reservoir “continues to decline,” Ukrainian Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Ruslan Strilets said on Saturday.

“As of the morning of June 10, 62% of its volume, or 12.24 cubic kilometers of water, has leaked out of the Kakhovka reservoir,” he continued, adding the water level in Kherson region’s national parks is “critical” and that 30% of the nature reserve and wildlife sanctuaries in the region is “under the threat of extinction.”

Ukraine’s main hydropower generating company Ukrhydroenergo announced in a statement Saturday that the water level dropped by 24 centimeters (more than 9 inches) in four hours.

The water level in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant’s cooling pool is “stable,” Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power company Energoatom noted on Saturday.

The plant sits in Russian-occupied territory along the Dnipro River.

Counteroffensive and defensive actions taking place in Ukraine: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated on Saturday that counteroffensive and defensive operations were taking place in Ukraine, but told reporters that he would not say what stage they were at.

Zelensky shrugged and raised his eyebrows dismissively at a press conference in Kyiv when asked to respond after Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Kyiv forces had certainly begun their much-vaunted counteroffensive.

Canada to be part of multinational effort to train Ukrainian fighter pilots: Trudeau

Canada will be part of a multinational effort to train Ukrainian fighter pilots, President Justin Trudeau has said.

Trudeau is on a visit to Ukraine during which he also announced £$500m in new funding for military assistance for Ukraine.

Trudeau meets with Zelensky in unannounced visit to Kyiv

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky during an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday.

“I welcome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and representatives of his team to Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a post on Telegram.

The two leaders issued a joint declaration after the meeting, which said, “The people of Ukraine can count on Canada to continue its political, financial, humanitarian and military support for as long as it takes – individually and through international cooperation within the G7, NATO, the United Nations and any other forum where Canada can bring its weight to bear.”

Since February 2022, Canada has committed over $8 billion in “wide-ranging” assistance to Ukraine, it added.

“Canada is providing unprecedented military support, including tanks, air-defence systems and artillery, and continues to develop new assistance measures based on Ukraine’s needs,” according to the joint declaration.

Ukrainian forces have made advances on parts of frontline near Bakhmut: Official

Counterattacking Ukrainian forces have advanced up to 1,400 metres at a number of sections of the front line near the eastern city of Bakhmut in the past day, a military spokesperson stated on Saturday.

The advance is the latest in a series of similar gains reported this week by Kyiv near Bakhmut, which Russia said it had fully captured last month after the bloodiest and longest battle since it began its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“We’re trying…to conduct strikes on the enemy, we’re counterattacking. We’ve managed to advance up to 1,400 metres on various sections of the front,” the spokesperson for the eastern military command said when asked about fighting near Bakhmut.

Serhiy Cherevaty stressed in televised comments that Russian forces were trying to counterattack but that they had not been successful.

Ukrainian forces, he added, had inflicted heavy Russian troop casualties and destroyed military hardware in the area.

Canada’s PM visits Kyiv in show of support

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kyiv on Saturday in a gesture of support as Ukraine braces for a major counter-offensive against Russian forces and grapples with regular air strikes.

Trudeau paid his respects at a memorial site in central Kyiv to Ukrainian soldiers who have been killed fighting pro-Russian forces since 2014.

NATO member Canada, which has one of the world’s largest Ukrainian diasporas, has supplied military and financial assistance to Ukraine during the full-scale invasion launched by Russia in February 2022.

Russian strikes kill three and injure 26 in Odesa: Ukrainian officials

Russia attacked the Odesa region in southern Ukraine in the early hours of Saturday with missiles and drones, according to the Odesa region military administration.

“At night, the enemy attacked Odesa region with Shahed-136/131 attack UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Air defense forces destroyed all the UAVs. The wreckage of one of the drones hit a 9-storey apartment, causing a fire,” the Odesa region military administration said.

Three people were killed and 26 others, including three children, were injured, according to the Odesa region military administration, adding that three remain in serious condition.

In addition, the coast of the Odesa region was hit by a missile attack in the early hours of Saturday, the Southern Command’s spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk said, speaking on national TV Saturday.

“Two missiles were destroyed, and one hit (the target). As a result of the flying fragments and blast wave, residential buildings were damaged, and 3 people were injured,” Humeniuk stated.

Russia also attacked the Poltava region with drones and ballistic and cruise missiles, causing “damage to the airfield infrastructure and equipment” at the Myrhorod military airfield, said Dmytro Lunin, head of Poltava region military administration.

Western allies are unlikely to invite Ukraine to join NATO during the war but are still negotiating language to signal their long-term commitment to Kyiv, the US ambassador to the alliance told POLITICO.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been imploring NATO leaders in recent weeks to put Ukraine on a concrete path to accession, threatening not to attend the alliance’s annual summit in Vilnius next month if they can’t deliver.

But in an interview with POLITICO at the alliance’s headquarters, US Ambassador Julianne Smith conceded that allies can’t invite Kyiv to join NATO at the moment.

“I think the allies now are in agreement that a proper invitation is unlikely while they’re engaged in a full-scale war,” she said.

But she insisted NATO still wants Ukraine to get the message that it is with the war-torn country for the long haul — and is trying to find a way to show that in Vilnius.

“We want to signal to President Zelensky — if he comes in person — we care deeply about having a longer-term relationship with Ukraine and looking for ways to acknowledge, you know, all they’ve accomplished and that our support isn’t going to fade away or that we’re not going to get distracted,” she added.

Zelensky says “a lot of problems” persist as rescue operation continues after dam collapse

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that “there are a lot of problems” as rescue operations in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions continue following the Nova Kakhovka dam collapse.

“But we are working to overcome them at all possible levels,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. He did not elaborate on the issues.

Amid reports of intensified fighting in the south of the country, Zelensky noted, “For our soldiers, for all those who are in particularly tough battles these days. We see your heroism, and we are grateful to you for every minute of your life.”

The president also thanked the United States for a new security assistance package of support worth more than $2 billion. He added the package will ensure “missiles for the Patriots and other air defense systems, strengthening our defense on the ground, strengthening the strength of all our soldiers.”

UN delegation visits areas of Ukrainian-controlled Kherson region to provide flood assistance

A United Nations convoy met with Ukrainian authorities in Kherson to discuss the provision of further humanitarian assistance, officials said Friday, as the southern region reels from devastating floods caused by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam earlier this week.

“Drinking water, food packages, materials for housing repairs and medicines are being sent to the Bilozerka community and Kherson city,” the Kherson region military administration posted on Telegram.

“The delegation met with Oleksandr Prokudin, Head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, and representatives of the military administration,” the post continued, adding, “They discussed the needs of the region and the next aid deliveries.”

Speaking in Bilozerka, on the Ukrainian-controlled west bank of the Dnipro River and one of the worst-affected areas, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown warned the number of people suffering will continue to rise past the initial estimates of 17,000 in Ukrainian-controlled areas alone, according to a UN news release.

“The disaster has also impacted people in areas under Russian control, but the UN currently has no access to this part of the country,” the release noted.

Ukrainians are relying on water handouts in flooded areas

Ukrainians living in areas flooded by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam are “completely reliant” on handouts for clean drinking water, the nongovernmental organization World Central Kitchen told CNN on Friday.

“Roads and bridges have been flooded out and so food cannot move (into the area),” World Central Kitchen coordinator Yuliya Konovalova said, adding, “Water is offline and so people are now completely reliant on water provided by us and others.”

The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine has flooded entire villages, destroyed homes, and left tens of thousands of people without power or clean water.

Humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger’s field coordinator in the region, Phil Oldham, told CNN that the lack of clean drinking water in the area could mean that even those people whose homes have not been directly impacted by the flood will have to leave.

“We can see the possibility that there will be a much larger displacement as a result of the lack of drinking water,” Oldham said, adding, “Now even some of the wells in the area above the (area flooded by the) dam are running dry. … That could create additional displacements far beyond the level we’re seeing now directly from the flood zone.”

Oldham stated that those who’ve been displaced will likely be out of their homes for months, even as the water recedes.

Others in the area will try to stay in their homes no matter what, Konovalova told CNN.

“Many have resisted evacuation because they do not want to leave their homes in a war for the uncertainty of evacuation sites and relocation,” she said.

Christian Aid’s Ukraine Response Director Iryna Dobrohorska told CNN that the possibility of water-borne illnesses exists as well.

“Water contamination from dead animals and sewage is likely to have an impact on the rise of health dangers, (with) cholera being one of key risks in the affected areas,” Dobrohorska added.

For those who have chosen to stay, Dobrohorska said urgent medical help is needed – and not just physical help.

“The affected populations are equally in need of immediate psychosocial support,” she said, adding, “… Coupled with stress and shock from flooding, the people require close medical attention.”

“The people we are seeing are the elderly and the poor — that is the horror of the front line,” Konovalova said, adding, “People are scared, people have lost everything, people are clinging to the little they have left.”

Pentagon announces new $2.1 billion security assistance package for Ukraine

The Pentagon on Friday announced a new $2.1 billion security assistance package for Ukraine that it said includes “critical air defense and ammunition capabilities,” according to a press release.

“This USAI (Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative) package illustrates the continued commitment to both Ukraine’s critical near-term capabilities as well as the enduring capacity of Ukraine’s Armed Forces to defend its territory and deter Russian aggression over the long term,” the statement said.

According to the Pentagon, the package includes:

  • Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems
  • HAWK air defense systems and missiles
  • 105mm and 203mm artillery rounds
  • Puma unmanned aerial systems
  • Laser-guided rocket system munitions
  • Support for training, maintenance and sustainment activities

With the new package announcement, the US has committed more than $40.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $39.7 billion since the beginning of the war in February 2022.

Putin claims Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun, but without success

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Friday that the Ukrainian counteroffensive had begun, but it has not been successful.

“It can be stated with absolute certainty that the counteroffensive has begun,” Putin said on the sidelines of a conference in Sochi on Friday, claiming it is “evidenced by the use of strategic reserves.”

“It can be stated that all counteroffensive attempts made so far have failed. But the offensive potential of the Kyiv troops regime still remains,” Putin stated in video shared on Telegram from Russian state media.

Putin said “the Ukrainian troops have not achieved the tasks assigned to them in any of the main sectors. This is an absolutely obvious thing,” adding that the last two days have been “very intense.”

Ukrainian forces appear to have stepped up activities along the front line to the southeast of the city of Zaporizhzhia. But it is still too early to get a true picture of what is unfolding and the extent that Ukraine really is attempting a major push forward. Kyiv has been largely mum on a potential counteroffensive, but officials have previously said that it would not be announced.

The Russian leader’s comments are the latest in a series of upbeat Russian characterizations of events along the front line between the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Thursday Ukraine’s 47th Mechanized Brigade had suffered heavy losses of personnel and arms in four separate attempts to break through Russian lines. All attempts had failed, he said.

Ukrainian officials remain tight-lipped about how fighting is progressing. In his address Thursday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky described “very tough battles.”

“There is a result, and I am grateful to everyone who ensures the result,” he added, though it is quite possible he was referring to fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which is along a very different part of the front line and where Ukrainian forces have made limited gains recently.

Information emerging from the battlefields of the Zaporizhzhia region is not all sunny for the Russians. On Friday morning, Russian pro-Kremlin blogger Semyon Pegov, who blogs under the alias WarGonzo reported that Ukraine’s armed forces had made gains south of Orikhiv toward the town of Tokmak in Russian-held territory. The situation facing Russian forces was very serious, he said.

But a local Ukrainian commander leading troops along the same front line rejected the suggestion Ukraine had begun its big attempt to recapture territory. Instead, the commander characterized the pushes as “reconnaissance in force” – operations designed to probe the enemy’s defenses for weak spots and to test its combat readiness.

UN nuclear watchdog launches assistance program to Ukraine in response to dam flooding

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, on Friday launched a program to assist Ukrainians after the Nova Kakhovka dam collapsed earlier in the week, according to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi.

Grossi will lead an assistance mission to Ukraine “in the coming days,” he said, where he will present the plan to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The measures come in response to Kyiv’s recent pleas for international assistance for flood-affected areas, acknowledged by Grossi in a video message on Twitter.

The IAEA chief will also pay another visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, he said, which receives cooling water – which is critical for safety – from a nearby thermal plant that is fed upstream from the reservoir adjacent to the breached dam.

“Through the use of nuclear technologies, we will determine the effects on potable water, human health and soil and water management, and assess the integrity of critical infrastructure,” Grossi said in the short video clip.

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