Monday, 09 May 2022 06:24

What to know after Day 74 of Russia-Ukraine war

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More than 170 people have been evacuated from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol after weeks of shelling and fighting as Russia attempts to take over the port city.

That’s according to a Sunday statement by Osnat Lubrani, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.

The evacuees have been taken to Zaporizhzhia, a city in southeastern Ukraine. Lubrani says more than 600 people have now been evacuated from the Mariupol area.

The most recent evacuation was the latest effort to rescue people from tunnels beneath the Azovstal steel mine, where Ukrainian fighters are trying to hold off Russian attackers.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been coordinating the evacuations.

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U2 frontman Bono performed in a Kyiv subway station that serves as a bomb shelter on Sunday, showing his support for Ukrainians trying to fend off the Russian invasion.

The Irish singer has tweeted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “invited us to perform in Kyiv as a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and so that’s what we’ve come to do.”

Bono, alongside guitarist the Edge, sang the Ben E. King song “Stand By Me” in the Khreschatyk metro station. He was joined by another singer in Ukrainian military fatigues.

He also visited Bucha, a town outside Kyiv where hundreds of bodies were found after Russian troops withdrew last month. The town is considered a possible war crimes site.

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Leaders from the Group of Seven developed democracies pledged Sunday to phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil, as they met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for online talks to stress their support and to display unity among Western allies on Victory in Europe Day, which marks Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Cutting out Russian oil supplies “will hit hard at the main artery of (President Vladimir) Putin’s economy and deny him the revenue he needs to fund his war,” the G-7 countries, which include the U.S., Britain, Canada, Germany, France and Italy and Japan, said in a statement.

“We will ensure that we do so in a timely and orderly fashion, and in ways that provide time for the world to secure alternative supplies,” they added.

Casting a look back at World War II, the leaders stressed unity in their resolve that Putin must not win.

“We owe it to the memory of all those who fought for freedom in the Second World War, to continue fighting for it today, for the people of Ukraine, Europe and the global community,” they said.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s call with the G-7 leaders and Zelenskyy lasted about an hour.

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Italian Premier Mario Draghi told fellow G-7 leaders during a meeting via video call that a sixth package of sanctions must go forward against Russia.

His office shared details of the call in a Sunday evening statement. Draghi’s office says he told other world leaders “at the same time, we must make every effort to help reach as soon as possible a cease-fire and to give new thrust to peace negotiations.

He also pressed for continued commitment by the G-7 grouping to help poor countries at risk of a food crisis. Exports of grain from Ukraine and Russia cover much of the needs of other nations, especially in Africa. The war is threatening Ukraine’s grain production, and the fighting in and around Black Sea ports makes food shipments impossible.

The premier’s office says the G-7 leaders reiterated their committment to diversify energy sources to reduce dependent on Russian supplies. Italy, heavily dependent on Russian natural gas when the war began, has since secured several agreements for alternative gas supplies from other countries. But Hungary’s objections last week to proposed sanctions on Russian oil have complicated European Union efforts.

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The United States has announced new sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The penalties include cutting off Western advertising from Russia’s three biggest television stations, banning U.S. accounting and consulting firms from providing services to any Russian and more restrictions on Russia’s industrial sector. Those additional restrictions included cutting off Moscow from wood products, industrial engines, boilers, bulldozers and more.

The U.S. also says the Group of Seven leading industrialized powers have committed to phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil. The U.S. announced its own ban on Russian oil and energy products in March but the U.S. had few Russian energy imports compared to Europe.

The new round of sanctions will hit three of Russia’s most popular television stations — Channel One Russia, Russia-1 and NTV -- which the U.S. says have been forefront of spreading misinformation about Russia invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. says it has imposed some 2,600 visa restrictions on Russian and Belarusian officials and issued a new visa restriction policy that applies to Russian military officials and authorities suspected of human rights abuses or corruption.

The U.S. also sanctioned 27 executives from Gazprombank, a bank that facilitates sales by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom.

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The Ukrainian army said Sunday that Moscow was focusing its main efforts that day on destroying airfield infrastructure in eastern and southern Ukraine, in order to prevent Ukrainian air forces from operating effectively.

At least five explosions were heard in the key Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa on Sunday, according to reports in local news media. Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a cultural center of deep significance to both Ukrainians and Russians, has so far been largely spared in the ten-week-old war.

Multiple photos and videos appeared to show trails and clouds of smoke in the sky above the city. Local media also reported that at least one missile had been shot down. As of Sunday afternoon, there have been no reports of casualties, although one newspaper claimed that civilian infrastructure had been damaged.

According to a Facebook post Sunday on the profile of Ukraine’s General Chiefs of Staff, Russia also ramped up “operational and tactical aviation activity” in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.

The Kharkiv regional administration says three people were killed in shelling of the town of Bogodukhiv, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a surprise visit to Ukraine amid Russia’s war on the country.

Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne and Irpin Mayor Olexander Markushyn announced Trudeau’s visit to Irpin, which had been damaged by Russia’s attempt to take Kyiv at the start of the war. Markushyn posted images of Trudeau on social media, saying that the Canadian leader was shocked by the damage he saw at civilian homes.

Trudeau is the latest Western leader to come to Ukraine to offer their support to the country. Later in the day he raised his country’s flag at Canadian Embassy in Kyiv.

His office later confirmed the visit, saying in a statement “the prime minister is in Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm Canada’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people.”

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Ukraine and Canada will return to work on expanding the Free Trade Area Agreement between them, with a view to finalize it “within weeks”, the Ukrainian economy ministry announced Sunday following an online meeting between top trade officials.

The meeting between Ukraine’s first deputy minister for the economy, Yulia Sviridenko, and Canada’s international trade minister, Mary Ng, coincided with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Kyiv on Sunday afternoon.

Ukraine’s Economy Ministry said Sviridenko expressed hope for Canada’s support in overcoming the food crisis sparked by the blocking of Ukrainian seaports. Sviridenko also said that the abolition of Canadian duties on Ukrainian goods — a step previously taken by the E.U. and the U.K. — would be an important move towards boosting the Ukrainian economy.

“This will help exporters increase the volume of produce leaving the country, and thereby strengthen the Ukrainian economy and the defense of our state,” the ministry statement quoted her as saying.

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U.S. first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with the nation’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, as Russia presses its punishing war in the eastern regions.

Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week-old conflict with Russia.

Her visit follows recent stops in the war-torn country by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint trip by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

The first lady traveled by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod from a Slovakian village that borders Ukraine.

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A U.S. official says the top American diplomat in Ukraine has temporarily returned to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the capital – an announcement tied to V-E Day.

The official says the return of the acting ambassador, Kristina Kvien, fulfills a pledge that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during the American’s recent visit to Kyiv with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The official says the return of select U.S. diplomats to the embassy “is a testament to Ukraine’s success, Moscow’s failure, and our effective and enduring partnership with the government and people of a sovereign, democratic, and free Ukraine.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the developments before an official announcement.

It’s not clear when the U.S. embassy will fully reopen. Video showed a convoy of American vehicles drive into the embassy on Sunday afternoon.

— AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington.

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Dozens of Ukrainians were feared dead Sunday after a Russian bomb flattened a school sheltering about 90 people in its basement, while Ukrainian troops refused to surrender at a besieged steel plant that Moscow’s invading forces sped to seize before Russia’s Victory Day holiday.

The governor of Luhansk province, one of two areas that make up the eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas, said the school in the village of Bilohorivka caught fire after Saturday’s bombing. Emergency crews found two bodies and rescued 30 people, he said.

“Most likely, all 60 people who remain under the rubble are now dead,” Gov. Serhiy Haidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Russian shelling also killed two boys, ages 11 and 14, in the nearby town of Pryvillia, he said.

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The Norwegian parliament speaker joined the slew of top Western officials meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and other leaders in Kyiv on Sunday.

According to a statement by the Ukrainian presidential press service, Zelenskyy thanked Masud Gharakhani, president of the Norwegian Storting, for Norway’s transfers of defensive weapons to Ukraine, as well as its financial support and humanitarian aid.

Speaking in Kyiv on VE Day, Gharakhani said:

“Today, my country celebrates the day when we managed to regain our democracy and independence after the Second World War. Unfortunately, your country is again facing aggression and violence.”

Gharakhani also joined his Ukrainian counterpart, Ruslan Stefanchuk, in laying flowers at the Kyiv memorials to those who died in World War II and the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.

In addition, he met with Ukraine’s premier Denys Shmygal, who later said on Twitter that the two had discussed “defense, energy support to Ukraine” and that the Norwegian proposed the joint creation of rehabilitation centers for veterans in Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s foreign minister says he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Dmytro Kuleba made the comment Sunday on Twitter.

He added: “New stiff U.S. sanctions on Russia are coming. Discussed ways to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ensure global food security.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with the German parliament speaker during her visit to Kyiv on Sunday, discussing further defense assistance as well as sanctions against Russia, Zelenskyy’s press office said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

According to the statement, Zelenskyy told Bärbel Bas, the President of the Bundestag, that Ukraine expects “strong and confident leadership from Germany” when it comes to helping Kyiv beat Russian aggression.

He noted the recent adoption by the Bundestag of a resolution calling on the German government to expand and accelerate the provision of heavy weapons to Ukraine. He also expressed confidence in Berlin’s official support for granting Ukraine E.U. candidate status.

“We really appreciate that on the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation itself, and in what for us is such a trying time of war, the President of the German Bundestag Bärbel Bas came to support Ukraine,” said a post published Sunday afternoon on Zelenskyy’s Telegram channel.

The Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for those who died in World War II, marked on May 8 and 9, is an annual international day of remembrance designated by a 2004 U.N. resolution.

In an interview with the German newspaper Rheinische Post, Bas called her meeting with Zelenskyy “very good and friendly,” adding that she had come to Ukraine because she felt it “was important to me to personally express Germany’s solidarity with Ukraine” to him.

She added that Germany will do everything in its power to support Ukraine, including backing its efforts to join the European Union and providing aid to help with rebuilding.

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To demonstrate success in time for Russia’s key Victory Day holiday on Monday, the Russian military worked Sunday to complete its takeover of the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which has been under relentless assault since the start of the war.

The sprawling seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were making a last stand is the only part of the city not under Russian control.

All the remaining women, children and older civilians who were sheltering with the fighters in the Azovstal plant were evacuated Saturday. The Ukrainian troops rejected deadlines given by the Russians who said the defenders could leave with their lives if they laid down their arms.

Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian National Guard battalion holding the steel mill, told an online news conference Sunday that the site was targeted overnight by three fighter jet sorties, artillery and tanks.

“We are under constant shelling,” he said, adding that Russian infantry tried to storm the plant -- a claim Russian officials denied in recent days – and to lay landmines. Palamar said there was a “multitude of casualties” at the plant.

Lt. Illya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov Regiment, said there were a “couple of hundred” wounded soldiers at the plant.

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Sparks fly as a circular saw slices into metal, while welders nearby work feverishly to the sound of blaring heavy metal. Upstairs, sewing machines clatter as women mark patterns on cloth being shaped into bulletproof vests.

An old industrial complex in the southeastern Ukrainian riverside city of Zaporizhzhia has become a hive of activity for volunteers producing everything from body armor and anti-tank obstacles to camouflage nets, portable heating stoves and rifle slings for Ukrainian soldiers fighting Russia’s invasion. One section specializes in vehicles, armor-plating some, converting others into ambulances. Another organizes food and medical deliveries.

With front lines all across Ukraine, some sections of the operation, such as the stitching of bulletproof vests, are working around the clock in shifts to meet demand. Crowdfunding has brought in enough money to buy steel from Sweden, Finland and Belgium, which is lighter than local steel, organizers say, a crucial quality for body armor.

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After rescuers evacuated the last civilians from the besieged steel mill in Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that work would continue Sunday on securing humanitarian corridors for residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.

The Ukrainian government has reached out to international organizations to try to secure safe passage for the fighters remaining in the plant’s underground tunnels and bunkers.

The Ukrainian leader was expected to hold online talks Sunday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. President Joe Biden and leaders from other Group of Seven countries. The meeting is partly meant to display unity among Western allies on Victory in Europe Day, which marks Nazi Germany’s 1945 surrender.

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Explosions echoed again Sunday across the major Black Sea port of Odesa, which Russia struck with six cruise missiles on Saturday, while rocket fire damaged some 250 apartments, according to the city council.

Ukrainian leaders warned that attacks would only worsen in the lead-up to Victory Day, the May 9 holiday when Russia celebrates Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945 with military parades. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to want to proclaim some kind of triumph in Ukraine when he addresses the troops on Red Square on Monday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video address Sunday marking the day of the Allied victory in Europe 77 years ago, drawing parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism.

The black-and-white video, published on social media, showed Zelenskyy standing in front of a ruined apartment block in Borodyanka, one of the Kyiv suburbs pummeled before Russian troops withdrew from the capital region weeks ago.

“Every year, on May 8, along with the whole civilized world, we pay our respects to everyone who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II,” Zelenskyy said, adding that prior generations of Ukrainians understood the significance of words “Never again,” a phrase often used as a vow to never allow a repeat of the horrors of the Holocaust.

 

AP


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