adept at attacking Russian command and control hubs and destroying large amounts of Russian equipment. On Monday, the Biden administration announced another round of support for Ukraine: $550 million in military aid, including more ammunition for 155-millimeter howitzer artillery pieces and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, that the United States has already provided.

But for all its sluggish or faltering progress in the war, Russia retains vast advantages in the size of its arsenal, and its military has shown a willingness and ability to strike all over the country, even as it focuses on gaining ground in eastern Ukraine. There, Russia has blanketed town after town with overwhelming artillery fire as it tries to reposition ground forces to press forward.

The strategy slowly gave Russia control of the eastern Luhansk Province, leaving many cities and villages in ruins. Russian forces have since moved to reinforce the south and to push into another eastern province, Donetsk.

“Their tactic remains much the same as it was during the hostilities in Luhansk region,” Serhiy Haidai, head of Ukraine’s Luhansk regional government, said on Monday.

He said the Russians were making daily attempts to mount an offensive on the city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk, but so far had failed to break through the main Ukrainian defensive lines.

Russian forces have also continued to shell residential and military areas in and around the city of Kharkiv in the northeast, putting pressure on Ukraine not to shift too many of its defenses from there.

In Chuhuiv, in the Kharkiv region and just 10 miles from Russian lines, residents were still recovering on Monday from missile strikes last week on the House of Culture, a building used since Soviet times for cultural events. In wartime, the building’s kitchens were used to prepare food for the needy, but members of the city government had also used it as a temporary office, possibly a reason for the attack.

The missiles killed three people sheltering in the basement and wounded several more, according to Oleh Synyehubov, the Kharkiv regional administrator. A volunteer cook was among the dead, residents said. His brother and several other people survived.

Two women were also killed, one of whom had been helping the cook, said a resident who gave only his first name, Maksim, wary of possible retribution. They were making an Uzbek rice dish, plov, for people in the neighborhood.

“She was just cleaning vegetables,” Maksim said.

Chuhuiv has come under increasing bombardment in recent days, as have the city of Kharkiv and other villages and towns in the province. Soldiers guarding the approaches to the city on Sunday said that artillery strikes had been steady much of the day, hitting an industrial area around the train station.

The Russians “are hitting lots of places like this, all the schools as well,” said Maksim. “They are doing it to make the people leave.”

People were getting the message, and the town was largely empty, he said. He was preparing to leave too, he said. He and his family had plans to emigrate to Canada.

“There is nothing left here,” he said.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall and Kamila Hrabchuk from Chuhuiv, Ukraine, Marc Santora from London and Alan Yuhas from New York.

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Russia prepares for next Ukraine offensive in face of new Western weapons

  • Russia shelling ‘along the entire front line’ – Ukraine military
  • Russia regrouping for offensive toward Sloviansk, Kyiv says
  • Moscow orders steps to prevent Ukrainian strikes in east
  • Zelenskiy fires top officials

KYIV, July 17 (Reuters) – Russia is preparing for the next stage of its offensive in Ukraine, a Ukrainian military official said, after Moscow said its forces would step up military operations in “all operational areas”.

As Western deliveries of long-range arms begin to help Ukraine on the battlefield, Russian rockets and missiles have pounded cities in strikes that Kyiv says have killed dozens in recent days.

“It is not only missile strikes from the air and sea,” Vadym Skibitskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, said late on Saturday. “We can see shelling along the entire line of contact, along the entire front line. There is an active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters.

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“Clearly preparations are now underway for the next stage of the offensive.”

The Ukrainian military said Russia appeared to be regrouping units for an offensive toward Sloviansk, a symbolically important city held by Ukraine in the eastern region of Donetsk.

The British defence ministry said on Sunday that Russia was also reinforcing defences across areas it occupies in southern Ukraine after pressure from Ukrainian forces and pledges from Ukrainian leaders to drive Russia out. read more

Ukraine says at least 40 people have been killed in Russian shelling of urban areas since Thursday as the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 intensifies.

Dozens of relatives and local residents attended the funeral of four-year-old Liza Dmytrieva in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Sunday. The girl was killed in a missile strike on central Vinnytsia on Thursday that killed 24 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.

To the south, more than 50 Russian Grad rockets pounded the city of Nikopol on the Dnipro River, killing two people who were found in the rubble, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had used more than 3,000 cruise missiles to date and it was “impossible to count” the number of artillery and other strikes so far.

ZELENSKIY FIRES TOP OFFICIALS

Meanwhile, Zelenskiy fired the head of Ukraine’s powerful domestic security agency, Ivan Bakanov, and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who led the effort to prosecute Russian war crimes, saying many of their employees were collaborating with Russia.

Zelenskiy said more than 60 officials from their two agencies were now working against Ukraine in Russian-occupied territories, and 651 treason and collaboration cases had been opened against law enforcement officials.

“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … pose very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” Zelenskiy said in a Telegram post.

Kyiv and the West say the conflict is an unprovoked attempt to reconquer a country that broke free of Moscow’s rule with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Moscow calls the invasion a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour and root out nationalists, says it uses high-precision weapons to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered military units to intensify operations to prevent Ukrainian strikes on areas held by Russia, according to a statement from the ministry.

His remarks on Saturday appeared to be a direct response to what Kyiv says is a string of successful strikes carried out on 30 Russian logistics and ammunitions hubs, using several multiple launch rocket systems recently supplied by the West.

The strikes are causing havoc with Russian supply lines and have significantly reduced Russia’s offensive capability, according to Ukraine’s defense ministry.

Ukrainian officials say the new U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) they began receiving last month allow them to reach targets in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and other areas occupied by Russia.

“Good morning from HIMARS,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s president, wrote on Telegram on Sunday alongside a video showing a large explosion which he said was another destroyed Russian ammunition depot in southern Ukraine.

On Sunday, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said the refusal of Ukraine and NATO powers to recognise Moscow’s authority over Crimea represents a “systemic threat” for Russia, which has the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet there.

A spokesperson for the Odesa regional administration, Serhiy Bratchuk, said on Telegram late on Sunday that a “significant number” of Russian warships moved from Crimea to Novorossiyisk, along Russia’s Black Sea Coast.

Russian-backed separatists have said HIMARS rockets killed two civilians and damaged a bus depot and several other buildings in Alchevsk, east of Solviansk. Ukraine’s armed forces said they struck the bus depot because they had information it was being used to house Russian troops.

The Russian defence ministry said its forces had destroyed a launch ramp and reloading vehicle for one of the HIMARS systems deployed near the eastern city of Pokrovsk.

The head of Pokrovsk regional police, Ruslan Osypenko, said a residential area had been shelled by Russia with multiple rocket launchers and there were dead and wounded. It released video of damaged homes and residents describing the attack.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Philippa Fletcher and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Frances Kerry, Frank Jack Daniel and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Putin Aims to Shape a New Generation of Supporters, Through Schools

Starting in first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. They will be given a steady dose of lectures on topics like “the geopolitical situation” and “traditional values.” In addition to a regular flag-raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons celebrating Russia’s “rebirth” under President Vladimir V. Putin.

And, according to legislation signed into law by Mr. Putin on Thursday, all Russian children will be encouraged to join a new patriotic youth movement in the likeness of the Soviet Union’s red-cravatted “Pioneers” — presided over by the president himself.

Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government’s attempts at imparting a state ideology to schoolchildren have proven unsuccessful, a senior Kremlin bureaucrat, Sergei Novikov, recently told thousands of Russian schoolteachers in an online workshop. But now, amid the war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin has made it clear that this needed to change, he said.

end 30 years of openness to the West.

even a hockey player with suspect loyalties.

But nowhere are these ambitions clearer than in the Kremlin’s race to overhaul how children are taught at Russia’s 40,000 public schools.

militarize Russian society, building on officials’ ad hoc efforts after the invasion to convince young people that the war was justified.

“Patriotism should be the dominant value of our people,” another senior Kremlin official, Aleksandr Kharichev, said at last month’s workshop for teachers, which was hosted by the education ministry.

His presentation defined patriotism bluntly: “Readiness to give one’s life for the Motherland.”

Mr. Novikov, the head of the Kremlin’s “public projects” directorate, said that with the invasion of Ukraine in February, teachers faced “a rather urgent task”: to “carry out explanatory work” and answer students’ “difficult questions.”

“While everything is more or less controllable with the younger ones, the older students receive information through a wide variety of channels,” he said, acknowledging the government’s fears about the internet swaying young people’s views. A poll last month by the independent Levada Center found that 36 percent of Russians aged 18 to 24 opposed the war in Ukraine, compared with just 20 percent of all adults.

published by the education ministry last month shows that Mr. Putin’s two decades in power are set to be enshrined in the standard curriculum as a historical turning point, while the teaching of history itself will become more doctrinal.

The decree says that Russian history classes will be required to include several new topics like “the rebirth of Russia as a great power in the 21st century,” “reunification with Crimea,” and “the special military operation in Ukraine.”

And while Russia’s existing educational standard says students should be able to evaluate “various versions of history,” the new proposal says they should learn to “defend historical truth” and “uncover falsifications in the Fatherland’s history.”

As government employees, teachers generally have little choice but to comply with the new demands — though there are signs of grass-roots resistance. Mr. Ken says the Alliance of Teachers, his union, has provided legal guidance to dozens of teachers who have refused to teach this spring’s propaganda classes, noting that political agitation in schools is technically illegal under Russian law. In some cases, he says, principals have simply canceled the classes, knowing they were unpopular.

“You just need to find the moral strength not to facilitate evil,” Sergei Chernyshov, who runs a private high school in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and has resisted promoting government propaganda, said in a phone interview. “If you can’t protest against it, at least don’t help it.”

Come September, such resistance could become more difficult, with schools directed to add an hour of class every Monday promoting the Kremlin’s version of patriotism. Virtual guest speakers in those classes will include Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal strongman leader of the Chechnya region, and Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church who has called the invasion a righteous fight, according to a presentation at last month’s workshop.

schedule of the weekly classes posted by the education ministry. In October, fifth graders and up will have a session apparently meant to discourage emigration; its title: “Happiness is being happy at home.”

Also beginning in September is the Kremlin’s new youth movement, an idea endorsed by Mr. Putin in a televised meeting in April and enshrined in legislation he signed on Thursday.

A co-sponsor of the legislation, the lawmaker Artyom Metelev, said the creation of a new youth movement had long been in the works, but that the West’s online “information war” targeting young people amid the fighting in Ukraine made that measure more urgent.

“This would have also all appeared without the military operation,” Mr. Metelev, who is 28 and a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, said in a phone interview. “It’s just that the military operation and those, let’s say, actions being carried out in relation to our country have accelerated it.”

Moscow’s propaganda infrastructure aimed at children remains far more limited than it was during the Soviet era — a time when young people actively sought out underground cultural exports smuggled in from the West. Mr. Chernyshov, the Novosibirsk school director, believes that the Kremlin’s attempts to sell its militarism to children will now also eventually run up against the young mind’s common sense.

“A 10-year-old child is much more of a humanist than the typical Russian citizen,” he said. “It’s simply impossible to explain to a child in plain language why, right now, some people are killing others.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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Ukraine raises flag on recaptured island, but loses key supporter in UK’s Johnson

  • Ukraine hoists flag on recaptured Black Sea island
  • Russia carries out air strike on island
  • UK PM and staunch Ukraine supporter Johnson resigns
  • Russia shells and probes new territory it seeks

KYIV/BAKHMUT, Ukraine, July 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces raised their national flag on a recaptured Black Sea island on Thursday in a defiant act against Moscow, but Kyiv lost a main international supporter after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would step down.

Russian forces also shelled potential conquests in eastern Ukraine ahead of an expected new offensive.

Moscow did not conceal its delight at the political demise of Johnson, a leader whom it has long criticised for arming Kyiv so energetically. read more

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“The moral of the story is: do not seek to destroy Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “Russia cannot be destroyed. You can break your teeth on it – and then choke on them.”

Johnson said Britain’s support for Ukraine would continue regardless but his resignation comes at a time of domestic turmoil in some other European countries that support Kyiv amid doubts about their staying power for what has become a protracted conflict.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, thanked Johnson, saying he had been someone who had “began to call a spade a spade from the beginning”.

Moscow was fast to respond to Ukraine’s defiant flag-raising ceremony on Snake Island, located about 140 km (90 miles) south of the Ukrainian port of Odesa.

Its warplanes struck the strategic island shortly afterwards and destroyed part of the Ukrainian detachment there, it said.

Russia abandoned the Snake Island at the end of June in what it said was a gesture of goodwill – a victory for Ukraine that Kyiv hoped could loosen Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Images released by Ukraine on Thursday showed three Ukrainian soldiers raising the blue and yellow national flag on a patch of ground next to the remains of a flattened building.

Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, suggested the moment was one that would be repeated across Ukraine in the coming months.

“The flag of Ukraine is on Snake Island. Ahead of us are many more such videos from Ukrainian cities that are currently under temporary occupation,” he wrote on Telegram.

Russia’s missile strike on the island’s new residents had caused significant damage to its dock, Odesa regional administration spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said.

In Moscow, the Russian defence ministry said several Ukrainian troops had landed on the island before dawn.

“An aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces immediately launched a strike with high-precision missiles,” ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bend to Russia’s will early in the war after Ukrainian forces stationed there delivered a salty riposte when asked by the commander of a Russian ship to surrender.

BURNING FIELDS

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine meanwhile kept up pressure on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the line along the northern borders of the Donetsk region, in preparation for an anticipated wider offensive against it.

After taking the city of Lysychansk on Sunday and effectively cementing their total control of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, Moscow has made clear it is planning to capture parts of the neighbouring Donetsk region which it has not yet seized. Kyiv still controls some large cities.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who has complained of intense Russian shelling in recent days, said that seven civilians had been killed by Russia in the region over the last 24 hours.

The mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk said Russian forces had fired missiles at the city centre in an air strike on Thursday and that there were casualties.

Reuters could not independently verify those assertions. Russia’s defence ministry says it does not target civilians and uses high precision weapons to eliminate military threats.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were moving more units into the Luhansk region in order to consolidate Moscow’s control there.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials had said that fighting was underway on the northern border between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as Russian forces tried to make new inroads.

But after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted troops involved in capturing the Luhansk region to rest, a full offensive has yet to materialise.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia did not appear to have taken any new territory since its capture of Lysychansk on Sunday.

It assessed that “Russian forces are conducting an operational pause while still engaging in limited ground attacks to set conditions for more significant offensive operations”.

In the frontline city of Bakhmut, smoke rose from nearby hills where Ukrainian forces fired off artillery rounds, drawing Russian volleys in response.

People walked quickly between market stalls, but barely reacted to the frequent loud blasts.

Olena Kandeluk, 53, said shelling had increased in recent days as the fighting moved closed after the fall of Lysychansk.

“We have crops to harvest. Some fields have burned,” she said, explaining why she had stayed.

Some fields had been charred by Ukrainian rocket launches and others by incoming Russian fire, she said.

Putin launched his invasion on Feb. 24, calling it a “special military operation”, to demilitarise Ukraine, root out what he said were dangerous nationalists and protect Russian speakers in that country.

Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an imperial-style land grab, starting the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Michael Perry and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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As Russia Chokes Ukraine’s Grain Exports, Romania Tries to Fill In

Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.

“Another 10 days to two weeks,” he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.

Mr. Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russians’ bloody creep into Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine. With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for new suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.

barge that had sunk in World War II.

Rain was not as plentiful in Prundu as Mr. Corbea would have liked it to be, but the timing was opportune when it did come. He bent down and picked up a fistful of dark, moist soil and caressed it. “This is perfect land,” he said.

67.5 million tons of cargo, more than a third of it grain. Now, with Odesa’s port closed off, some Ukrainian exports are making their way through Constanta’s complex.

Railway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.

During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.

But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.

Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.

Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.

Over the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.

Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.

When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.

Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.

That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.

“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”

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Russia’s Blockade of Ukraine Is ‘War Crime,’ Top E.U. Official Says

LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.

The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.

Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.

arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.

The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.

considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.

NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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Death in Ukraine: A Special Report

A little boy blown up by a mine at the beach. A young mother shot in the forehead. A retired teacher killed in her home. Soldiers killing and dying every day by the hundreds. Older people and young people and everyone in between.

A war can be measured by many metrics. Territory won or lost. Geopolitical influence increased or diminished. Treasure acquired or resources depleted. But for the people suffering under the shelling, who hear the whistling of incoming missiles, the crack of gunfire on the streets and the wails of loss out of shattered windows, the death toll is the most telling account of a war.

Many of the articles on this page contain graphic images that readers may find difficult to view.

In Ukraine, no one is quite sure exactly what that toll is, except that many many people have been killed.

An “endless caravan of death,” said Petro Andryushchenko, an official for the devastated city of Mariupol.

In its latest updates, the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said 4,509 civilians had been killed in the conflict. But it is clear that many thousands more have been killed. Ukraine’s chief of police, Ihor Klymenko, said this past week that prosecutors had opened criminal proceedings “for the deaths of more than 12,000 people who were found, in particular, in mass graves.”

And in Mariupol, the Black Sea city flattened by Russian bombardment, Ukrainian officials in exile have said that examinations of mass graves using satellite imagery, witness testimony and other evidence have led them to believe that at least 22,000 were killed — and possibly thousands more.

The casualty figures exclude the thousands believed killed in territories held by Russian forces. And even where Ukraine has regained control, Mr. Klymenko said, it was premature to calculate the dead in mass graves, as more are found every week.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Indeed, finding and identifying the dead is such a daunting challenge, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said in a statement on Saturday, that it required global coordination beyond Ukraine’s national efforts. The prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said she had met with the International Commission on Missing Persons, based in The Hague, to develop avenues for cooperation.

International and Ukrainian authorities have little access to embattled cities to take accurate counts, and the urban targets, the constant artillery fire and the static nature of the fighting in the contested south and east only adds to the death and horror.

“People are killed indiscriminately or suddenly or without rhyme or reason,” said Richard H. Kohn, a professor emeritus of history and peace, war and defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He said the incessant artillery fire “kills and maims people.”

“It creates enormous psychological stress on populations,” Mr. Kohn said, “as it does on the combatants,” and “it lasts for a very long time.”

The Russians, eager to preserve an aura of competence, underreport their battlefield losses. The Ukrainians, desperate to maintain morale as the shells fall, do the same. Civilian casualties are an unknown variable, multiplied by grisly factors like collapsing buildings and the unreported victims of occupied towns.

Children are not protected from the indiscriminate violence. The United Nations’ agency for the protection of children in emergency situations has estimated that at least three children have died each day since the war started in February. That is only an estimate.

Mariupol — the city that has become symbolic of Ukraine’s resistance, Russia’s unrelenting shelling and the war’s savagery — is still burying corpses.

“In our city, there are a lot of mass graves, a lot of spontaneous graves, and some bodies are still in the street,” Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, said last Monday.

Credit…Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

That toll has heightened dread about the losses in the 20 percent of Ukraine now under Russian occupation. Some places, like Sievierodonetsk, have been basically reduced to rubble by advancing Russian forces.

Early in the war, as Russia tried, and failed, to take the capital, Kyiv, its forces added to the death toll with shocking brutality. In Bucha, they shot civilians dead in their cars, homes and gardens, left corpses in the street and even burned them and dumped them in a parking lot. And when the Russian armored columns retreated, they left more dead in their wake.

At least 1,500 civilians were killed in the Kyiv region alone, according to Mr. Klymenko. They included two sisters in Bucha — one a retired teacher and the other disabled.

“Why would you kill a grandma?” asked Serhiy, a neighbor of the sisters.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The Ukrainian army is taking heavy losses. By the government’s own estimates, as many as 200 soldiers are dying every day. In towns and cities across the country, even those far from the front lines, military funerals take place nearly daily for Ukrainian soldiers killed in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where the fighting is now heaviest.

The dead are often buried quickly, and in shallow graves.

“I feel numb,” said Antoniy, a morgue worker in Lviv, in western Ukraine. “Even when someone is telling me a joke that I know is funny, I can’t laugh.”

Regardless of when or how the war ends, Professor Kohn said, trauma, loss, displacement and fear all become “part of the culture of a country.”

Many of the Russians ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin to invade Ukraine under the false pretenses of liberating the country from Nazis are not coming home, either. In April, Western countries estimated that Russia had lost about 15,000 soldiers in Ukraine; on Friday, Ukraine put the estimate at 33,000.

The true toll is unknown, and will not be coming from Moscow: Its last announcement, on March 25, said that a total of 1,351 Russian soldiers had died.

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

In the months after the invasion began, local news websites across Russia compiled “memory pages” that listed the names of hometown soldiers who had died. Then, this month, they deleted them: A court ruled that such lists were state secrets.

“We apologize,” said the site 74.ru in Chelyabinsk in Siberia, “to the mothers and fathers, wives and children, relatives and friends of the servicemen who have died during the special military operation in Ukraine.”

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Europe steps up support for Ukraine as Russia presses offensive

  • Ukraine EU candidacy signals major shift in European geopolitics
  • ‘Europe can create a new history of freedom’ Zelenskiy says
  • Battle for Sievierodonetsk grinds on
  • Ukraine claims strike on Russian tugboat

BRUSSELS/KYIV, Ukraine, June 17 (Reuters) – The European Union gave its blessing on Friday for Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova to become candidates to join, in the most dramatic geopolitical shift to result from Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine applied to join the EU just four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. Four days later, so did Moldova and Georgia – smaller ex-Soviet states also contending with separatist regions occupied by Russian troops.

“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” the EU’s executive Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels. She made the announcement wearing Ukrainian colours, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt.

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President Voloymyr Zelenskiy thanked von der Leyen and EU member states on Twitter for a decision he called “the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer”.

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu hailed a “strong signal of support for Moldova & our citizens!” and said she counted on the support of EU member states.

“We’re committed to working hard,” she said on Twitter.

While recommending candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the Commission held off for Georgia, which it said must meet more conditions first.

Von der Leyen said Georgia has a strong application but had to come together politically. A senior diplomat close to the process cited setbacks in reforms there.

Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest – Germany, France and Italy – had signalled their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, along with the president of Romania.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Germany’s Olaf Scholz said after meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Ukraine and Moldova will still face a lengthy process to achieve the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Nor is membership guaranteed – talks have been stalled for years with Turkey, officially a candidate since 1999.

But launching the candidacy process, a move that would have seemed unthinkable just months ago, amounts to a shift on par with the decision in the 1990s to welcome the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe.

“Precisely because of the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous. All three hopefuls are far poorer than any existing EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest, Bulgaria.

All have recent histories of volatile politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organised crime, and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming sovereignty over territory protected by Moscow’s troops.

PORT BLOCKADE

President Vladimir Putin ordered his “special military operation” officially to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. One of his main objectives was to halt the expansion of Western institutions which he called a threat to Russia.

But the war, which has killed thousands of people, destroyed whole cities and set millions to flight, has had the opposite effect. Finland and Sweden have applied to join the NATO military alliance, and the EU has opened its arms to the east.

Within Ukraine, Russian forces were defeated in an attempt to storm the capital in March, but have since refocused on seizing more territory in the east.

The nearly four-month-old war has entered a punishing attritional phase, with Russian forces relying on their massive advantage in artillery firepower to blast their way into Ukrainian cities.

Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk, site of the worst fighting of recent weeks, on the east bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. It was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside a chemical plant, the regional governor said.

In the surrounding Donbas region, which Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies, Ukrainian forces are mainly defending the river’s opposite bank.

Near the frontline in the ruins of the small city of Marinka, Ukrainian police made their way into a cellar searching for anyone who wanted help to evacuate. A group of mainly elderly residents huddled on mattresses in candlelight.

“There’s space down here, you could join us,” joked one man as the officers came in. A woman named Nina sighed in the darkness: “There is nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere to go. All the houses have been burnt out. Where can we go?”

In the south, Ukraine has mounted a counter-offensive, claiming to have made inroads into the biggest swath still held by Russia of the territory it seized in the invasion. There have been few reports from the frontline to confirm the situation in that area.

Ukraine claimed its forces had struck a Russian tugboat bringing soldiers, weapons and ammunition to Russian-occupied Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost.

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Additional reporting by Abdelaziz Boumzar in Marinka and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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What Happened on Day 105 of the War in Ukraine

Even as Russia hammers eastern Ukraine with heavy artillery, it is cementing its grip on the south, claiming to have restored roads, rails and a critical freshwater canal that could help it claim permanent dominion over the region.

The extension of Russian infrastructure into the occupied south could allow Moscow to fortify a “land bridge” between Russia and Crimea and build on efforts to claim control through the introduction of Russian currency and the appointment of proxy officials.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said on Tuesday that the military, working with Russian Railways, had repaired about 750 miles of track in southeastern Ukraine and set the conditions for traffic to flow from Russia through Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to occupied territory in Kherson and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu also said that water was once again flowing to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal — an important source of freshwater that Ukraine cut off in 2014 after the Kremlin annexed the peninsula. Mr. Shoigu claimed that car traffic was now open between “continental” Russia and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu’s claims of restored roads and rails could not be immediately verified.

Satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times showed that water was flowing through the parts of the canal in Crimea that were dry until March. Russian engineers blew open a blockage in the canal in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

The North Crimean Canal, a 250-mile-long engineering marvel built under the Soviet Union, had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid Crimean Peninsula until President Vladimir V. Putin seized it in 2014.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

After Crimea’s annexation, Ukraine dropped bags of sand and clay into the canal to prevent the Russian occupiers from benefiting from the valuable freshwater.

Instead of flowing to Crimea, the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards in Ukraine’s Kherson region to the north.

Ukrainian officials said that cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to inflict pain on Russia without using military force.

For the Kremlin, the blockage represented a vexing and expensive infrastructure challenge, with Crimea’s residents suffering chronic water shortages and occasional shut-offs at the tap.

When Mr. Putin massed troops on Ukraine’s border last year, some analysts speculated that the canal was one of the prizes the Kremlin wanted.

Even as Russia sought to entrench its control in the south this week, a clandestine battle has emerged inside the occupied regions, involving Kremlin loyalists, occupying Russian forces, Ukrainian partisans and the Ukrainian military.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian media posted video of what they said was an explosion at a cafe in the occupied city of Kherson that had served as a gathering place for people collaborating with Russian forces. Russian state media described it as an act of “terror.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Russian supporters and proxies. It came amid reports — most impossible to independently verify — of Ukrainian guerrillas blowing up bridges, targeting rail lines used by Russian forces and killing Russian soldiers on patrol.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said that there was a focused guerrilla movement operating in the south. “Partisans are fighting very actively,” he said on his YouTube channel.

In the east, where both armies are fighting for control, Ukrainian officials were weighing whether to withdraw their forces in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region.

Sievierodonetsk has been blasted by weeks of Russian shelling, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to the city and its neighbor, Lysychansk, on Monday as “dead cities,” physically destroyed and nearly empty of civilians.

“Fighting is still raging and no one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said on Ukrainian television, according to Reuters.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Moscow’s announcement that it was extending its ties to the occupied south seemed certain to be greeted in Ukraine as further evidence of Russia’s determination to break Ukraine apart and pillage its natural resources.

“Russia is trying to build infrastructure for military supply,” said Mykhailo Samus, deputy director for international affairs at the Center for Army Studies, Conversion and Disarmament, a research group in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“Maybe they try to steal the agriculture, food products from occupied territories,” he added.

The Russian authorities said that the first train had traveled from the occupied city of Melitopol to Crimea carrying grain — freight that Ukrainian officials say was stolen from Ukrainian farmers forced to hand over their crops for a pittance or nothing at all.

Russia has blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the start of the war, trapping more than 20 million tons of grain meant for export and deepening a global food crisis. Dimming the long-term outlook, grain silos in Ukraine are still about half full, the Ukraine Grain Association said on Wednesday, raising the possibility that much of this year’s crop could be left in the fields.

On Wednesday, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers held talks focused on allowing Ukraine’s grain to reach global markets through the Black Sea.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

But the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, minimized the issue, suggesting that a global food catastrophe caused by a Russian blockade was a Western exaggeration.

“The current situation has nothing to do with the food crisis,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships and vessels.”

He blamed Ukraine, saying that its naval mines and refusal to use humanitarian corridors offered by Russia in Black Sea shipping lanes were stalling exports.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, disagreed, saying that there was a global problem, but that it involved both Russian and Ukrainian products.

“The food crisis in the world is a real crisis,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that Russia and Ukraine together supply about one-third of the world’s grain products.

Mr. Cavusoglu said that a mechanism was needed to get not just agricultural products from Ukraine out through the Black Sea, but also Russian fertilizer, which is vital for global agriculture.

He suggested that the answer lay in a United Nations proposal that the international community provide guarantees for the shipments that addressed security concerns on both sides.

Ukraine was not invited to the talks in Ankara, and its government and Russia’s each blame the other for the lack of exports.

The two countries normally supply about 40 percent of wheat needs in Africa, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian officials are deeply skeptical of a promise by Mr. Putin, which Mr. Lavrov repeated, that if harbors were demined, Russia would not exploit them to dispatch an invasion fleet. Russian warships have also been patrolling Black Sea shipping lanes.

Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Our position on the supply of grain is clear: security first.” He accused Russia of “artificially creating obstacles to seize the market and blackmail Europe over food shortages.”

The United States has cited satellite imagery of cargo ships to accuse Russia of looting Ukrainian wheat stocks that it exported, mostly to Africa, echoing Ukrainian government allegations that Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tons of wheat, worth $100 million, since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Wheat is not the only Ukrainian resource prompting alarm. As Ukraine braces for what promises to be a difficult winter, Mr. Zelensky said that the country would not sell its gas or coal abroad. “All domestic production will be directed to the internal needs of our citizens,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, Malachy Browne, Neil MacFarquhar, Safak Timur and Anushka Patil.

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Fierce street fighting in Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk, a pivotal battle for Donbas

  • Fierce street fighting for key eastern industrial city
  • Ukraine troops outnumbered, will not surrender-Zelenskiy
  • Eastern front under constant shelling
  • Efforts to evacuate thousands

KYIV/DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine, June 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops battled Russians street-to-street in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, trying to hold onto gains from a surprise counter-offensive that had reversed momentum in one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

The fight for the small industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle in eastern Ukraine, with Russia focusing its offensive might there in the hope of achieving one of its stated war aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city centre. Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.

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“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an overnight video address, describing fierce street fighting in the city. Earlier, he told reporters at a briefing the Ukrainians were outnumbered but still had “every chance” of fighting back.

Before Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.

But following the counter-offensive, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.

REFOCUS

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia’s main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or to encircle the Ukrainians.

In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donbas and Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities, using artillery and air strikes.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

“Please help, we need materials for the roof, for the house, there are people without shelter,” shouted Nelya, outside her home where the roof had been shredded. “My niece, she has two small children, she had to cover one of her children with her own body.”

Nearby, Nadezhda picked up a children’s pink photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.

“I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what it calls a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory.

CONSTANT SHELLING

Britain’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that Russia was still trying to cut off Sievierodonetsk by advancing from the north near Izium and from the south near Popasna. It said Russia’s progress from Popasna had stalled over the last week, while reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggested Moscow was preparing a new offensive there.

“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” it said.

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television there was constant shelling along the front line, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.

Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under attack day and night, including Sloviansk where about 24,000 residents, around a quarter of the population, still remains.

“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.

Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating risk of global famine by shutting Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, and that these would be the best way to break a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Moscow denies blame for the food crisis, which it says was caused by Western sanctions.

Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, stormed out of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday as European Council President Charles Michel, addressing the 15-member body, accused Moscow of fueling the global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine. read more

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western deliveries of long-range weapons by pushing Ukrainian forces further back from Russia’s border.

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Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Peter Graff
Editing by Gareth Jones
Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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