KYIV, Ukraine - An adviser to the Mariupol mayor said Wednesday that Russian forces have blocked all evacuation routes out of the city.
The adviser, Petro Andriushchenko, said there were few apartment buildings fit to live in after the weeks of bombardment and very little food or drinking water.
Andriushchenko said some residents who have remained in the city are cooperating with the Russian occupying forces in exchange for food.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war if Russia will allow the badly injured fighters to be evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant.
Russian forces have surrounded the plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the southern port city.
Vereshchuk said no agreement has been reached but negotiations were underway. The fighters trapped in the plant have refused to surrender to the Russians, saying they fear being tortured or killed.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- Ukrainians make gains in east, stop Russian gas at one hub
- Wartime birth amid the air raid sirens in Ukraine hospital
- US, Western Europe fret over uncertain Ukraine war endgame
- Fighters appeal for evacuation of wounded from Mariupol mill
- House approves $40B in Ukraine aid, beefing up Biden request
- Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine’s 1st president, dies
- Ambassador nominee for Ukraine seeks quick embassy reopening
WASHINGTON - U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said a ban on sales of semiconductors and other technology to Russia by the U.S. and its allies is having a serious impact on Russia’s ability to manufacture military equipment.
“We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian equipment, military equipment, on the ground, it’s filled with semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators,” Raimondo said Wednesday during a Senate hearing, adding that she met a few weeks ago with Ukraine’s prime minister.
Raimondo said two of Russia’s tank manufacturing plants have shut and many of its auto makers have furloughed workers and closed down.
“And so the point is, we are having a very serious effect,” she said. “What we need to do in order to continue this is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.”
Raimondo said U.S. exports of technology to Russia are down nearly 70% since late February when the Biden administration, in coordination with European and Asian allies, imposed sanctions and export controls on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
The Senate’s top Republicans said Wednesday they expect strong GOP backing for the House-passed measure. That will signal a bipartisan, heightened commitment to helping thwart the bloody Russian invasion.
In his nightly video address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said funds from the aid bill will allow Ukraine to get more weapons and equipment plus help investigate war crimes by Russia.
The bill also would help regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by the war’s crippling of Ukraine’s normally robust production of many crops.
The new measure includes $6 billion to arm and train Ukrainian forces, $8.7 billion to restore American stores of weapons shipped to Ukraine and $3.9 billion for U.S. forces deployed to the area.
There’s also $8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $4 billion to help Ukraine and allies finance arms and equipment purchases and $900 million for housing, education and other help for Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.
BERLIN - The U.N. nuclear agency says it is again receiving remote data from the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine following an interruption caused by the Russian occupation of the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said late Wednesday that data transmission was re-established following a visit by its inspectors and technicians in April, after Russian forces withdrew.
The agency said it was the first time in two months that it has received remote data from all nuclear power plants and spent fuel storage facilities in Ukraine where monitoring systems are in place.
Its head, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said this was “a very important step for the IAEA to continue to implement safeguards in Ukraine.”
Grossi cautioned, though, that on-site verification at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant “continues to be challenging owing to the presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the site,” calling the situation “unsustainable.”
Grossi said he has proposed leading an expert visit to Zaporizhzhya “after the necessary consultations and at the earliest possible opportunity.”
MOSCOW - The governor of a Russian region near Ukraine says that at least one civilian has been killed and another six have been wounded in the Ukrainian shelling of a village close to the border.
Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said that the village of Solokhi came under shelling from the Ukrainian side late Wednesday. He said that the village residents will be evacuated.
Gladkov’s account couldn’t be independently verified. Russian authorities in the regions near Ukraine have repeatedly reported incidents when border areas came under Ukrainian shelling.
The ministry said in Wednesday’s commentary that the stealing of Ukrainian grain amounts to looting.
It warned countries that purchase Russian grain that some of its shipments could contain the grain stolen from Ukraine, making its buyers possible accomplices.
The ministry cited official estimates indicating that Russia already may have stolen 400,000-500,000 metric tons of grain that cost over $100 million. It charged that “practically all ships leaving Sevastopol with a load of grain are carrying the grain stolen from Ukraine.”
It urged the global community to toughen the sanctions against Russia.
TURIN, Italy – A Ukrainian band that’s competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest turned out in a Turin park for a rally with a few dozen of their compatriots to express solidarity for their war-ravaged homeland.
Ahead of Wednesday night’s competition, the Kalush Orchestra posed for photos with some 50 Ukrainians who live in Italy.
Each of the rally’s participants put a hand to the heart in a sign of devotion to Ukraine.
Kalush Orchestra this week was one of the entrants advancing to the finals of the wildly popular European annual songfest, whose winner will be decided on Saturday.
The Ukrainians rallied behind a stage where free concerts by some of the musical groups from among the 35 nations sending entries are held nightly on the sidelines of the actual competition.
The upbeat entry by Kalush Orchestra for the competition is a song that was composed by the band’s front-man as a tribute to his mother.
The song quickly became a sentimental favorite for many of Eurovision’s fans.
SOFIA, Bulgaria - A pro-Russian nationalist party staged a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, on Wednesday, calling for the government to resign and accusing it of failing to tackle the economic crisis.
Several hundreds supporters of the Vazrazhdane party demanded that the centrist coalition of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov step down because “it draws Bulgaria into the war of the United States against Russia in Ukraine.”
Waving Bulgarian and some Russian flags, participants shouted antigovernmental slogans accusing the Cabinet of being more concerned about Ukraine instead of taking care of their own people.
Organizers insisted that Bulgaria should act as a conciliator, rather than arming one side and thus fueling the conflict. They urged the government to resign and clear the way for new elections which would allow their party to rule Bulgaria “in line with national interests.”
Later, the protesters marched to the nearby Sofia municipality, where they clashed with police as they tried to remove an Ukrainian flag from the building.
Bulgaria, which was among Moscow’s closest allies during Soviet times, is now a NATO and EU member state. Traditional bonds with Russia, based on common religion and cultural heritage are being harmed as many are horrified by the bloodshed caused by Russia’s aggression.
Still, many Bulgarians share strong pro-Russian sentiments that play in favor of populist leaders. Vazrazhdane has currently 13 legislators in the 240-seat National Assembly, who have been strong supporters of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov said at Wednesday’s briefing that the Russians harbor plans to take control over the southern Mykolaiv and Odessa regions to build a land corridor to the Transnistria separatist region of Moldova and also try to storm Kyiv.
Hromov said that Russia still hopes to capture more Ukrainian territories and call a sham vote to make them part of Russia. He added that such Russian plans will be foiled by the Ukrainian resistance.
The Russian forces tried to capture the Ukrainian capital in the first weeks of the invasion, but have pulled back after facing staunch Ukrainian defenses and shifted their focus on the country’s east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
When Russia first launched its invasion of Ukraine, “we thought there was a Goliath and a David,” Mario Draghi told reporters at a news conference in Washington. But “what seemed like an invincible power has proved” not to be, Draghi said, referring to Russian forces’ inability to overcome the defense mounted by Ukraine’s military, with heavy Western backing.
Draghi spoke after meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. Draghi says he urged Biden to push to get all key players, including the United States and Russia, into talks to end the war.
But any rush to close a peace deal that leaves Ukrainians angry and resentful risks a return to fighting, the Italian leader said Wednesday.
“We have to remove any thought that we can reach an imposed peace,” Draghi said. “That is a recipe for disaster.”
BERLIN - The German army says it has begun training Ukrainian soldiers to use a powerful artillery system that Germany and the Netherlands plan to supply to Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry said 18 crews are being trained to use the Panzerhaubitze 2000, an advanced, self-propelled howitzer.
“This is a clear sign of our solidarity,” the ministry said. “But Germany won’t become a party to the conflict because of the training or delivery” of the howitzers.
DONETSK - Separatists in Donetsk on Wednesday celebrated the eighth anniversary of self-proclaimed independence from Ukraine.
Constitution square in the city center was renamed after a Russian officer who was among the first Russian servicemen killed in the special military operation.
The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, and Engels Gadzhimagomedov, the father of the killed officer, installed a new street sign. Local residents who support the pro-Russian separatists came to lay flowers.
“The Day of Donetsk People’s Republic” was celebrated without the usual mass events this year due to security reasons.
BUCHAREST, Romania - Romania’s foreign ministry says that two Romanian journalists were detained Tuesday in the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transnistria in neighboring Moldova.
The two journalists were detained by security forces in Transnistria’s de facto capital of Tiraspol and released hours later after diplomatic efforts from both Romania and Moldova, the ministry said Wednesday in a statement.
“(The) Romanian diplomatic mission in Chisinau was not informed in advance about the intention of the two journalists,” it said, adding that the “so-called Transnistrian authorities” recently banned foreign journalists from entering the region.
The incident follows a series of mysterious attacks in the Russia-backed region in recent weeks that have alarmed officials in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau.
In late April, grenades were launched at the region’s state security office, and a day later two large broadcast antennas were downed. Last week, police in Transnistria said explosive devices were dropped from a drone near a village. No one was injured in the incidents.
Transnistria, a thin strip of land that borders Ukraine and has a population of around 470,000, broke away after a short civil war in the early 1990s. An estimated 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed there.
WARSAW, Poland – Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt says that the U.N. Security Council should adopt a resolution protecting grain shipments from the Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
Bildt was speaking to Poland’s TVN24 during the Impact’22 congress about energy and technology prospects, in Poznan, western Poland.
“Will Russia dare to stop shipments of grain” under U.N. protection?, Bildt asked, stressing the escort initiative is worth discussing.
The Security Council is to be briefed Thursday on humanitarian issues in Ukraine as it is fighting Russian invasion, and that may open an opportunity for discussing protection of the grain exports.
Ukraine is one of the world’s top producers of corn and wheat, and is called Europe’s bread basket. The lack of millions of tons of its grain on world markets is already leading to hikes in the prices of grain products.
PRAGUE - Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces to help them fight Russian aggression.
Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies which is a crime punishable by a prison term of up to five years.
Those 103 belong to a total of some 400 Czechs who have applied for an exemption from the ban, according to the Defense Ministry. The authorities still have to process most of the requests.
It’s not clear how many Czech have already been fighting on the Ukrainian side against invading Russian troops.
The president’s approval has to be co-signed by Prime Minister Petr Fiala who said through his spokesman he would sign all requests that have been approved by the Czech authorities.
A spokeswoman for the Energy Ministry said Wednesday that Germany is currently receiving a quarter less gas through Ukraine after Ukrainian authorities shut down a pipeline saying it no longer controls a key compressor station that’s in Russian hands.
Annika Einhorn, the ministry spokeswoman, said the shortfall is being partly compensated for through increased supplies from Norway and the Netherlands.
Germany has pledged to end imports of Russian natural gas by 2024 at the latest.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council who served as president in 2008-2012 when Vladimir Putin shifted to prime minister’s position due to term limits, said Wednesday on a messaging app that the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine approved by the U.S. Congress was driven by a desire to “inflict a heavy defeat on our country, restrict its economic development and political influence in the world.”
He described the aid package as part of the U.S. “proxy war” against Russia and predicted that the United States will fail while the goals of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine will be fulfilled.
In another statement Wednesday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, accused the United States of using the aid package to “drive Ukraine deeper into debt” and try to take control of the country’s grain reserves.
With Finland and Sweden moving toward joining the alliance, he said, “These countries want to be protected from Russia” because their people see what’s happening in Ukraine and want “to live in security, in their own house, and spend time calmly with their family.”
Speaking Wednesday to French university students via video link, Zelenskyy also proposed “preventive sanctions” against Russia and any countries that threaten to use nuclear weapons. He also called for international debate about nuclear disarmament.
He urged more unity in European policy, as the EU’s 27 members haggle over a sixth round of sanctions that include an oil embargo.
Asked how the war could end, he said, “The war will end when we restore our unity and territory…when we get back what belongs to us.”
LVIV, Ukraine - Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show that a Russian ship believed to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain has docked in Syria.
The photo taken Tuesday by Planet Labs PBC showed the Russian-flagged Matros Pozynich at dockside in Latakia, Syria.
The ship seen in the photo matched known characteristics of the bulk carrier, as well as its dimensions.
The ship turned off its transponders nearly a week ago off the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Samir Madani, the co-founder of the online research firm TankerTrackers.com, also told the AP that he believed the ship docked in Latakia was the Matros Pozynich, based on its dimensions and last-known position.
Ukraine has alleged that the ship had 27,000 tons of grains Russia stole from the country. It alleged Russia initially tried to ship the grains to Egypt, which refused to take the cargo. Ukrainian diplomats had been asking nations not to accept the grain.
The ship’s registered owners, Crane Marine Contractor LLC of Astrakhan, Russia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Russian bombing campaign and support from Iran beat back insurgents who nearly toppled Syrian President Bashar Assad after the 2011 Arab Spring. Russia still maintains a navy and air base in Syria, though it has reportedly rotated forces out of the country to aid its war on Ukraine.
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