Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 499

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:

NATO prepares $545m aid package for Kyiv

NATO is preparing an additional 500-million-euro ($545m) aid package for Ukraine, its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, says.

“NATO countries are preparing a new emergency package of assistance to Ukraine, including fuel, spare parts, medical supplies, demining equipment and pontoon bridges, for 500 million euros,” Stoltenberg stated at a news conference in Brussels.

Stoltenberg added that the alliance has also provided Ukraine with “assistance in the construction of military hospitals”.

Next week’s summit should give Ukraine a clear path: Slovakia

NATO’s summit next week should give Ukraine a clear view of future membership in the alliance, Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said after hosting President Volodymyr Zelensky in Bratislava.

Caputova told a news conference alongside Zelensky that Ukraine’s membership was a question of “when”, not “if”.

Zelensky stated that he expects unity among NATO member states at next week’s summit in Vilnius.

He added that he wanted concrete steps in Ukraine’s path to joining the alliance.

Speaking at a joint news conference with the Slovak president, the Ukrainian leader said he also expects the NATO summit to discuss more defence packages for Kyiv and security guarantees.

Russia must not endager nuclear plant: UK

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Russia must not further endanger the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

“The IAEA must have full access to inspect the plant and ensure nuclear safety and security,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine welcomes cluster munitions: Senior official

A senior Ukrainian official said Ukraine would welcome the delivery of cluster munitions from the United States because they would have an “extraordinary psycho-emotional impact” on Russian forces.

“Undoubtedly, the transfer of additional volumes of shells to Ukraine is a very significant contribution to the acceleration of de-occupation procedures,” presidential political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the Reuters news agency.

“Especially if we are talking about cluster ammunition, which is undoubtedly capable of having an extraordinary psycho-emotional impact on already demoralised Russian occupation groups,” he added.

Earlier this week, three US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a weapons aid package that includes cluster munitions is expected to be announced as soon as Friday.

Human rights groups oppose the move.

Kremlin says will ‘closely follow’ Zelensky-Erdogan talks

The Kremlin says it will “closely follow” upcoming talks between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, describing their meeting in Istanbul as “important”.

“We will very closely follow the results of these talks,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“It will be interesting for us to find out what was discussed. It’s important,” he added.

Erdogan may meet with Putin after today’s talks with Zelensky

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin following talks with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, A Haber suggested.

According to the TV channel, the meeting will not necessarily take place in Turkey, but it will be held in person.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported earlier on Friday that, today, Erdogan will once again offer Zelensky his services as a mediator for a peace settlement between Moscow and Kiev at today’s meeting. The agenda will also include an exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine. The two leaders will also discuss extending the grain deal after it expires on July 17.

Ukrainian troops advance by more than 1km near Bakhmut

A Ukrainian military spokesperson says troops have advanced by more than a kilometre (0.62 mile) in the past 24 hours near Bakhmut.

“The defence forces continue to hold the initiative there, putting pressure on the enemy, conducting assault operations, advancing along the northern and southern flanks,” military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi told Ukrainian television.

“In particular, over the past day, they have advanced more than one kilometre [0.62 mile],” he added.

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian armed forces general staff stated that Ukrainian forces had “partial success” near the village of Klishchiivka, just southwest of Bakhmut.

Military analysts have said securing Klishchiivka would help Ukraine take back Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May.

Ukraine ends rescue operations in Lviv after Russian attack killed 10

Ukraine has halted rescue operations in the western city of Lviv and said the death toll had risen to 10 from a Russian missile strike on a residential building.

Regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi stated rescuers had worked through the night to clear debris despite heavy rain after a missile hit the building on Thursday in what he called the biggest attack of the war on civilian infrastructure in Lviv.

The city is only 70km (43 miles) from the border with Poland, a NATO and European Union member, and is far from the front lines of the war.

Germany opposes sending cluster munitions to Kyiv

Germany announced it opposes sending cluster munitions to Ukraine a day after US officials said Washington was planning to provide Kyiv with the weapons.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany, as one of 111 states party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), did as well.

Asked for a comment on what US officials had said, Baerbock told reporters at a climate conference in Vienna: “I have followed the media reports. For us, as a state party, the Oslo agreement applies.”

In 2008, 111 states signed an agreement at the Convention of Cluster Munitions in Oslo banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions.

Human Rights Watch also called on Russia and Ukraine to stop using cluster munitions and urged the US not to supply them.

Ukraine, Turkey to discuss grain deal and prisoner swaps

The presidents of Ukraine and Turkey will discuss the Black Sea grain deal and a possible prisoner exchange between Moscow and Kyiv, a senior Turkish official said ahead of Friday’s talks.

A key element of Volodymyr Zelensky’s talks in Istanbul with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be the fate of the grain deal brokered last year by Turkey and the United Nations.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to leave the deal once it expires on July 17 after it said obstacles to its fertilizer and grain exports are yet to be removed.

Turkey has retained cordial relations with Russia and Ukraine during the conflict.

Zelensky will meet the Turkish leader as part of a tour of NATO capitals to encourage them to take concrete steps toward’s Kyiv’s membership at next week’s summit.

EU discussing ways to use frozen Russian assets: Czech PM

The European Union is discussing ways to use frozen Russian assets to help with Ukraine’s reconstruction, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.

“This is not a simple topic, either from a legal or other points of view, but intensive negotiations are also taking place here precisely so that we can also use these frozen assets to help Ukraine,” Fiala said after meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Prague.

Zelensky said during his visit to the Czech Republic that Kyiv needs long-range weapons to fight Russian forces.

“Without long-range weapons it is difficult not only to carry out an offensive mission but also to conduct a defensive operation,” he told a joint press conference with Fiala.

“First of all, we are talking about long-range systems with the United States and it depends only on them today,” he added.

Ukraine’s future is in the European Union and the NATO military alliance, according to Fiala.

The Czech Republic has been a strong backer of Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, and Fiala stated on Friday more support would come, including the donation of more military helicopters.

Zelensky says Ukraine’s offensive is not moving fast — but it is moving forward

Ukraine’s offensive is not moving quickly, but “we are moving forward,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.

Zelensky, speaking at a news conference in Prague with the President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel, stated that things are going in the right direction.

“We are advancing, we have the initiative now. The offensive is not fast, that’s a fact, but nevertheless, we are moving forward and not moving backward, and that’s why I see it as a positive thing,” he added.

Allies must do “everything we can” to help Ukraine succeed in its counteroffensive, Pavel said.

Pavel added it is not realistic to expect that Ukraine would be able to launch another counteroffensive in several weeks or months, “so we must do everything we can for Ukraine to be successful in this counteroffensive”.

US expected to announce new military aid package for Ukraine that will include cluster munitions

The United States is expected to announce a new military aid package for Ukraine on Friday that will include cluster munitions for the first time, defense officials told CNN.

US President Joe Biden’s administration is considering approving the transfer of the controversial weapons to Ukraine, as the Ukrainians have struggled to make major gains in its weeks-old counteroffensive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed also concerns about ammunition shortages.

Changing battlefield conditions inside Ukraine over the last two weeks prompted US officials to give the cluster munitions renewed and serious consideration, officials told CNN.

Cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries because they scatter “bomblets” across large areas that can fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines. The US and Ukraine are not signatories to that ban, however.

The US has a stockpile of cluster munitions known as DPICMs, or dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, that it no longer uses after phasing them out in 2016.

Both the Ukrainians and the Russians have used cluster bombs since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and more recently, Ukrainian forces have begun using Turkish-provided cluster munitions on the battlefield.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, declined to comment Thursday on reports that the US Defense Department was preparing to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, but said considerations from the department do not include older variants

Zelensky says 200,000 Ukrainian children are missing since Russia’s invasion

About 200,000 Ukrainian children are missing due to Russia’s full-scale invasion, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Just imagine, we don’t know where 200,000 children are now,” Zelensky said during a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday.

“Some of them are deported, some are in the occupied territories, and we don’t know who is alive,” he continued.

Moscow has been accused of forcibly and unlawfully transferring Ukrainian children from occupied territories to Russia. In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova Belova for their responsibility in the alleged forced deportations.

The Russian government doesn’t deny taking Ukrainian children and has made their adoption by Russian families a centerpiece of propaganda.

Some of the children have ended up thousands of miles and several time zones away from Ukraine. According to Lvova-Belova’s office, Ukrainian kids have been sent to live in institutions and with foster families in 19 different Russian regions, including Novosibirsk, Omsk and Tyumen regions in Siberia and Murmansk in the Arctic.

Lvova-Belova dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her, saying it was “great” that the international community appreciated her work for children, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia’s Lviv attack violated the World Heritage Convention by hitting protected building: UNESCO

Russia’s attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv violated the World Heritage Convention by hitting a historic building in a protected area, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The bombing hit a historic building located in the buffer zone of Lviv’s “Ensemble of the Historic Centre,” which is a World Heritage Site, UNESCO said. Buffer zones are areas that add an additional layer of protection to World Heritage sites.

The attack was the first to take place in an area protected by the convention since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the agency added.

“UNESCO recalls the obligations of States Parties under these widely ratified normative instruments,” it said, adding that States Parties should not take “any deliberate measures which might damage the cultural and natural heritage situated on the territory of other States Parties.”

In March 2022, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay sent a letter to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “to remind him of these obligations and to specify the coordinates of the World Heritage sites in Ukraine,” the agency said.

The death toll in Thursday’s Russian attack has risen to at least six people, with at least 36 people injured, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

Officials said the missile attack destroyed more than 30 houses, more than 250 apartments, at least 10 dormitories, two university buildings, an orphanage and a school. It also damaged one substation in Lviv.

UNESCO offered condolences to the families of the victims, as well as support for those injured and the Lviv community.

The city of Lviv is a “UNESCO creative city for literature” and will host a UNESCO cultural center that would become a national hub for Ukrainian artists, the agency announced.

Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners of war

Ukraine and Russia have carried out another prisoner of war swap, both sides reported on Thursday.

“We managed to bring home 45 soldiers from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the National Guard, the State Border Guard Service and two civilians,” the head of the office of the Ukrainian President said on Telegram on Thursday.

“Among them are two officers, 41 privates and sergeants, a civilian employee of Azovstal and a self defense unit member from Kherson,” Andrii Yermak stated.

“We are bringing back the defenders of Mariupol and Azovstal. There are wounded servicemen. There are also military men from Donetsk, including Bakhmut, Zaporizhzhya and Kharkiv directions,” Yermak continued, adding, “Each of them is a hero.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense also announced the swap, and said those released have been provided with the necessary medical and psychological assistance.

This is the 47th prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine since the war began, according to Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament commissioner for human rights

Death toll rises to 6 in attack on Ukrainian city of Lviv

The death toll has risen to six in the Russian attack on a neighborhood in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a local official said.

Rescuers found an additional body as they searched the rubble of a residential building hit during Thursday’s bombardment, the head of the region’s military administration, Maksym Kozytskyi, stated in an update on Telegram.

“While clearing the rubble in Lviv, rescuers found another body. It is a woman. Our condolences to the family and friends of the victim,” he continued, adding, “70% of the destruction has already been cleared. The services will work throughout the night.”

Officials noted the missile attack destroyed more than 30 houses, more than 250 apartments, at least 10 dormitories, two university buildings, an orphanage and a school. It also damaged a power substation.

In addition to those killed in the attack, it left dozens of people wounded, according to Ukrainian authorities.

West looks upon Ukraine as colony: Russian diplomat

Plans to relocate religious relics from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery to the West make it clear that Ukraine is looked upon as a colony, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Thursday.

“It’s a tradition for colonial powers to behave like bandits toward the national and cultural heritages of the countries they view as their colonies. Undoubtedly, they consider Ukraine to be their colony, not just their fiefdom,” she pointed out.

According to Zakharova, stealing national valuables is typical of the West’s dealings with diverse regions around the world, and Western museums have turned into “repositories for stolen items.”

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) announced earlier that the Kiev authorities and UNESCO officials had reached an agreement to relocate Christian relics from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to museums in the Vatican, Germany, Italy and France, citing the need “to save them from Russian missile attacks.” According to the SVR, an inventory of church property has been taken and funds have been allocated to transport the items to Europe. Special motor vehicles have been prepared, some of which are equipped with refrigerated climate-controlled units.

Counteroffensive going “according to the plan”: Ukraine’s top general tells US

The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, told US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley that his country’s counteroffensive is going as expected.

“I’ve carried out a telephone conversation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley,” Zaluzhnyi said in a Facebook post on Thursday.

“I informed him about the operational situation at the frontline. The Ukrainian servicemen continue to conduct active offensive actions,” he continued.

“The situation is developing according to the plan, the initiative is in our hands,” he added.

Zaluzhnyi also thanked Milley for the United States’ continued support for Ukraine and conveyed his military’s needs in terms of military assistance.

“We’ve also discussed the urgent needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in terms of weapon and ammunition for the continuation of the liberation of Ukrainian territory from the Russian invaders,” he said, adding, “I expressed my gratitude for the support and assistance, as well as congratulated the American people on the Independence Day of the United States, which had been celebrated just recently.”

NATO, led by the US, plans, manages Ukraine’s military action against Russia: Official

NATO, led by the US, coordinates Kiev’s military operations against the Russian Army, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev said Thursday.

“Neo-Nazis grabbed power in Ukraine after the bloody coup, organized by the US and its satellites. Pursuing their selfish goals, the US carries out an undeclared war against Russia, using territory and population of Ukraine,” he said during a meeting on national security in the Southern Federal District Thursday.

“Today, NATO states, led by the US, continue to fund the terrorist regime in Ukraine, pump it with weapons, provide intelligence, train Ukrainian troops, plan and coordinate military operations against the Russian Army,” the official stated.

Kiev seeks to draw NATO directly into Ukrainian conflict: Moscow

Moscow urges the US-led West to stop the Kiev authorities from carrying out a terrorist attack on the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) as Kiev seeks to draw NATO directly into the conflict, Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said on Thursday.

“We call on the curators of the Kiev regime to exercise responsibility and exert influence on their ‘wards’ in order to avoid a large-scale catastrophe. Western ruling elites should understand that the failures on the battlefield make Kiev eager to create a pretext for the deployment of the NATO contingent to Ukraine, thereby to inflate a regional conflict into World War III. American and European citizens are hardly ready to march in orderly rows to hell, into which the [Volodymyr] Zelensky government is dragging the entire planet,” the envoy stated, commenting on the Ukrainian government’s allegations about Russia’s plans to blow up the ZNPP. The Russian Embassy posted Antonov’s key remarks on its Telegram channel.

“Statements that Russia is preparing a provocation against the nuclear power plant it controls are absurd. Russian citizens work at the facility. IAEA experts, who cannot but know who is shelling the ZNPP, are present there on a rotational basis, too,” the Russian ambassador pointed out.

“News reporters continue to pretend not to notice the obvious: from the very beginning of the special military operation, all the accusations of the Zelensky regime against us turned out to be sabotage operations of Kiev itself. Suffice it to say what happened to the Kakhovka dam, Bucha and Kramatorsk. This time stakes have grown substantially: Europe’s nuclear security is at risk,” Antonov stressed.

According to him, “observers are actually playing along with the criminal intentions of the Ukrainian authorities ahead of the NATO summit.” “The criminal intentions are: to use a terrorist attack in order to slander Russia as a ‘nuclear terrorist;’ to divert attention from the failed counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in which the West has invested enormous resources; to use the provocation so as to draw the Alliance directly into the conflict,” the diplomat specified.

“The reactors are protected. However, besides power units there are more vulnerable infrastructure facilities: cooling systems, storage sites for fresh fuel and nuclear waste. Any projectile hit is extremely dangerous as radiation contamination of vast territories can follow,” Antonov added.

Ukraine can count on Prague’s support: Czech president

Ukraine can count on the Czech Republic’s further support as it defends itself against Russia’s aggression, Czech President Petr Pavel has said after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Thursday, Pavel also expressed support for Ukraine’s bid to join NATO and the European Union.

Romania to host training for Ukrainian F-16 pilots

Romania has said it would launch a regional hub to train pilots including Ukrainians to fly US-made F-16 fighter jets, which Kyiv has said the country needs to fight off Russia’s invasion.

“Together with other allies and the company designing this fighter jet, a regional hub will be created in Romania for training pilots who will fly these planes,” read a press release issued after a meeting of Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defence.

“Romanian pilots operating F-16 aircraft will be trained here, and the facility will later be opened to pilots from NATO allies and partners, including Ukraine,” it added.

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