Ukraine News: Civilians Are Urged to Flee Russian-Occupied Areas in South

Credit…Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said during a surprise trip to Ukraine on Tuesday that a veteran prosecutor known for investigating former Nazis would lead American efforts in tracking Russian war criminals.

Mr. Garland’s visit, part of scheduled stops in Poland and Paris this week, was intended to bolster U.S. and international support in helping Ukraine identify, apprehend and prosecute Russians involved in war crimes and other atrocities.

His overseas travel comes at a particularly tense moment in his tenure at the Justice Department, on a day of dramatic congressional testimony about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that prompted many Democrats to renew their call for him to prosecute former President Donald J. Trump and his allies.

Mr. Garland met for an hour with Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, in the village of Krakovets, about a mile from the border with Poland, to discuss the technical, forensic and legal support that the United States could provide, department officials said.

“The United States is sending an unmistakable message” to those who have committed atrocities, Mr. Garland said: “There is no place to hide.”

“We will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable,” he added.

After the meeting, Mr. Garland said he was tapping Eli Rosenbaum, the former director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, to create a war crimes accountability team that would work with Ukraine and international law enforcement groups.

Mr. Rosenbaum, 67, is best known for his work for the World Jewish Congress in the 1980s investigating the hidden history of Kurt Waldheim, a former United Nations secretary general whose army unit was implicated in war crimes against Jews and Yugoslavian partisans during World War II.

His work, during a 36-year career in the department, and in stints outside government, earned him the nickname “Nazi hunter” from historians, a sobriquet he dislikes.

In the department’s criminal division, Mr. Rosenbaum has also been instrumental in the prosecution and deportation of Nazis living in the United States and Jews who committed atrocities against their own people in concentration camps. In recent years, his portfolio has taken on a broader mission, as former Nazis die off, and now includes a wider array of human rights cases, at home and abroad.

The new team will include Justice Department staff members and outside experts. In addition to offering assistance to Ukrainian officials, the department said in a statement that Mr. Rosenbaum would investigate “potential war crimes over which the U.S. possesses jurisdiction, such as the killing and wounding of U.S. journalists covering the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

This line of work is, in a sense, part of Mr. Rosenbaum’s family business. His father, Irving, escaped Dresden in 1938, the year of the Kristallnacht attacks against Germany’s Jewish population, joined the U.S. Army, eventually served in an intelligence unit that interrogated German soldiers — and collected information at the Dachau concentration camp.

Mr. Rosenbaum was set to retire before Mr. Garland asked him about a week ago to lead the new unit. He agreed immediately, according to a senior Justice Department official with knowledge of the exchange.

The department is also assigning additional personnel to expand its work with Ukraine and other partners to counter Russian use of illicit financial methods to evade international sanctions — detailing a Justice Department expert to advise Ukraine on fighting kleptocracy, corruption and money laundering, officials said.

“We will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable,” added Mr. Garland, whose own family immigrated to the United States after fleeing antisemitic pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

After stopping in Poland, Mr. Garland flew on to Paris, where he was scheduled to join the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, in a series of bilateral meetings with European counterparts to discuss efforts to combat terrorism and carry out a strategy of holding Russia accountable for its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Garland and Ms. Venediktova last met in May in Washington.

In April, Mr. Garland and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said they would work with investigators and prosecutors in Ukraine, a signal that the Biden administration intended to follow through on its public condemnation of atrocities committed by Russian forces that have been documented during the war.

His team has also been working with the State Department to provide logistical support and advice to Ms. Venediktova and the leaders of other ministries in Ukraine.

“We’ve seen and have determined that a number of war crimes have been committed by Russia’s forces,” Beth Van Schaack, the State Department’s ambassador at large for global criminal justice, said at a briefing in Washington last week.

“What we are seeing is not the results of a rogue unit,” she added, “but rather a pattern and practice across all the areas in which Russia’s forces are engaged.”

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Netherlands says Russian spy caught seeking war crimes court internship

  • Russian agent accused of posing as intern to infiltrate court
  • ICC is investigating allegations of war crimes in Ukraine
  • False Brazilian ID included tastes for trance music, bean stew

AMSTERDAM, June 16 (Reuters) – The Dutch intelligence service said on Thursday it had uncovered a Russian military agent attempting to use a false identity to infiltrate the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is investigating accusations of war crimes in Ukraine.

Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov created an elaborate cover story dating back years to try and enter the Netherlands as a Brazilian national for an internship at the Hague-based ICC in April, the agency’s head told Reuters.

“This was a long-term, multi-year GRU operation that cost a lot of time, energy and money,” said Dutch intelligence agency chief Erik Akerboom, using the acronym for Russia’s military intelligence service.

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No GRU representative could be immediately reached for comment, though President Vladimir Putin’s government has in the past frequently denied spying accusations as a Western smear campaign against Moscow.

The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) said in a statement that the man, who went by the alias Viktor Muller Ferreira, was picked up at a Dutch airport. He was declared an undesirable alien and put on the next flight back to Brazil, it added.

Brazil’s federal police said Cherkasov was taken into custody and is being prosecuted for the use of false documents.

“It clearly shows us what the Russians are up to – trying to gain illegal access to information within the ICC. We classify this as a high-level threat,” Akerboom added, saying the ICC had accepted him for an internship.

There was no immediate comment on the case from the Russian government, or the ICC.

‘WELL-CONSTRUCTED COVER’

The Dutch agency said it had taken the unusual step of releasing detailed information on the case to expose the workings of Russian intelligence and threat to other international institutions.

It distributed a four-page document outlining what it said was Cherkasov’s invented cover story. That included a supposed troubled family history and details from a club where he liked to listen to electronic trance music and his favourite restaurant in Brasilia where he would eat cheap brown bean stew.

“Cherkasov used a well-constructed cover identity by which he concealed all his ties with Russia in general, and the GRU in particular,” the statement said.

Brazilian police said Cherkasov entered Brazil in 2010 and assumed the false identity of a Brazilian whose parents had died. Passing for a Brazilian, he lived in Ireland and the United States for several years, the police statement said, and had returned to Brazil to prepare his move to the Netherlands.

The ICC, a permanent global war crimes tribunal with 123 member states, opened an investigation in Ukraine just days after Putin sent his troops in on Feb. 24. It is examining allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The Dutch have expelled more than 20 Russians accused of spying in recent years.

They include four people accused in 2018 of hacking the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), two accused of spying in the corporate, high-tech sector in 2020, and 17 suspected operatives accredited as diplomats who were thrown out after this year’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has denied all the charges and responded to the latest expulsions by also kicking out 15 Dutch embassy and consulate staff from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Reporting by Anthony Deutsch;
Additional reporting by Anthony Boadles in Brasilia; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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What Happened on Day 99 of the War in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine approaches its 100th day, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country, a blunt acknowledgment of the slow but substantial gains that Moscow has made in recent weeks.

Though battered, depleted and repulsed from their initial drive to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Russian troops have used their superior artillery power to grind closer to their goal of taking over the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas, where Kremlin-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014.

Mr. Zelensky said Russia had expanded its control of Ukrainian territory from an area roughly the size of the Netherlands before the invasion began to an area now greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined. Seizing that swath of land could give President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia huge leverage in any future talks to end the war, as well as a base of operations to launch further attacks inside Ukraine.

Yet momentum in the war can shift quickly and unpredictably. As Russia has pounded targets in the east, Ukrainian forces have regained control of 20 small towns and villages in a counteroffensive in the south of the country, a regional official, Hennadiy Lahuta, said on national television.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Fighting was raging, Mr. Zelensky said, along a roughly 620-mile-long, crescent-shaped front that stretches from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the outskirts of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, in the south.

“If you look at the entire front line, and it is, of course, not straight, this line is more than a thousand kilometers,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address to the Parliament of Luxembourg. “Just imagine! Constant fighting, which stretched along the front line for more than a thousand kilometers.”

Amid intense battles and heavy losses suffered by both the Russian and Ukrainian armies, the arrival of more sophisticated and powerful weapons from Western nations could alter the dynamic on the battlefield.

President Biden this week promised to send Ukraine advanced rocket systems that can target enemy positions from nearly 50 miles away, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany pledged to ship a sophisticated air defense system and a tracking radar capable of pinpointing Russian artillery.

For now, Moscow’s main military target is Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region that is not in Russian hands. Russian forces have shelled the area for weeks, reducing much of the city to depopulated rubble.

Russia controls about 70 percent of the city, although a regional official said on Thursday that Ukrainian troops had forced Russian soldiers back from several streets amid fierce urban combat.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Russian forces have renewed assaults to the west of the city in an effort to sever a Ukrainian supply line along a highway and side roads that the Ukrainians have called the “road of life,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in an assessment.

“The Russian army is trying to break through the defenses of the armed forces of Ukraine,” Serhiy Haidai, the military governor of the Ukrainian-controlled portions of the Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram.

“Now, the main goal for them is Sievierodonetsk, but they had no success overnight,” he wrote.

Military analysts have viewed the Ukrainian army’s decision to hold out in the city as a risky maneuver. It allows the Ukrainians to inflict casualties on Russian troops but could also result in heavy losses for Ukrainian soldiers, who have been besieged by relentless artillery fire.

Mr. Zelensky said that more than 14,000 Ukrainian civilians and service members had been killed in conflict with Russia since 2014, when it seized Crimea. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced since Russia’s invasion in February, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries as refugees, according to the United Nations.

In his nightly address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that more than 200,000 children had been deported since the invasion began. He called the deportations “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.”

“These are orphans from orphanages. Children with parents. Children separated from their families,” Mr. Zelensky said. “The Russian state disperses these people on its territory, settles our citizens, in particular, in remote regions. The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make deportees forget about Ukraine and not be able to return.”

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Russia has denied that people are being forced to leave Ukraine, saying that the 1.5 million Ukrainians now in Russia were evacuated for their own safety. On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that over the past 24 hours, 18,886 people had been evacuated from eastern Ukraine, including 2,663 children.

American officials have rejected Russia’s claims that it has been offering Ukrainians humanitarian relief by moving them to Kremlin-controlled territory.

“As many eyewitness accounts have described in detail, Russia is subjecting many of these civilians to brutal interrogations in so-called filtration camps,” Michael Carpenter, the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a speech this month in Vienna.

Raising the issue again this week, he said: “Local residents who try to escape Russia’s reign of fear and brutality risk abduction and forced deportation to Russia or Russia-held areas.”

Russia has not released casualty figures for its troops since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had died. Mr. Zelensky said Ukrainian officials believe that at least 30,000 Russian troops have been killed. In late March, NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed.

In an effort to isolate and punish Mr. Putin and his allies for having launched the invasion, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a new set of sanctions aimed at freezing the shadowy network of international assets that Mr. Putin and members of his inner circle use to hide their wealth.

Among the targets were four yachts linked to the Russian leader: the Shellest, the Nega, the Graceful and the Olympia. Mr. Putin has used some of the vessels for ocean excursions, including one outing last year on the Black Sea with Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Belarus, who has supported the invasion of Ukraine, the administration said.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The sanctions also targeted several prominent members of the Russian elite, including Sergei Roldugin, a cellist, conductor and artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, whom the administration called a close Putin associate, godfather to one of Mr. Putin’s daughters and custodian of the Russian president’s offshore wealth.

Mr. Roldugin was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in late February, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has been described as “Putin’s wallet.”

Following a drop in Russian oil exports caused in part by Western sanctions, a group of oil-producing nations known as OPEC Plus agreed on Thursday to raise production levels in July and August. The agreement followed months of lobbying by the White House, but analysts said it was too slight to ease high gas prices that have posed a political challenge for Democrats in the midterm elections.

OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers, announced the plan to increase production just days after the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, imposing a harsh penalty on Moscow that also threatened to drive European energy costs higher.

As E.U. negotiators finalized the details of the oil embargo and other sanctions against Russia, they made a change at the insistence of Hungary, removing from the sanctions list Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, who has been accused of offering spiritual cover for the invasion of Ukraine.

Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Julian E. Barnes, Michael Forsythe, Stanley Reed and Andrew E. Kramer.

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What Happened on Day 96 of the War in Ukraine

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Monday agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, the harshest economic penalty yet imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and potentially the biggest sacrifice by Europe, itself.

The deal is the latest and most far-reaching demonstration that over more than three months of war, in reaction to mounting Russian aggression and atrocities, European leaders have grown willing to take steps they considered too extreme when the invasion began. They have already barred imports of Russian natural gas, cut off Russian banks from global financial networks, frozen Russian assets and sent advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

After weeks of intense wrangling, E.U. leaders meeting in Brussels endorsed an embargo on Russian oil delivered by tankers, the primary method, with commitments to reduce imports by pipeline, according to a draft agreement seen by The New York Times. The deal was announced in a late-night tweet by Charles Michel, president of the European Council, though many details remain to be hashed out.

The endorsement came as a multipronged Kremlin assault closed in on the easternmost Ukrainian-controlled city, Sievierodonetsk. Russian forces continued their pattern of bombarding cities and towns, including civilian areas, reducing them to depopulated wastelands before attempting to seize control.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

At the same time, Ukraine’s military mounted a counteroffensive to retake the strategic southern city of Kherson. And a car bombing in another Russian-held city, Melitopol, hinted at the kind of fierce resistance the occupiers may face.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s war machinery is financed by Russia’s sales of crude and refined petroleum and natural gas, which account for most of the country’s export revenue, collected primarily by state-controlled energy companies. With the war driving up prices, the European Union countries alone have been paying $23 billion a month for Russian oil.

Analysts say that Russia, offering discounts compared to the prices on world markets, will continue to find some buyers for its oil, but that sales volume and profits are likely to drop significantly once the embargo takes effect.

Europe relies heavily on Russian fuels — 27 percent of the crude oil imported to the European Union comes from Russia — and while E.U. countries are scrambling for alternatives, officials have warned that the financial cost to them will be high. Other sources are expected to be more expensive, if they can be arranged; gas and oil shortages are a real possibility.

The debate over an oil embargo has also exposed the potential vulnerability of the European bloc, just as Sweden’s and Finland’s requests to join NATO have shown fractures within that alliance. Diplomats express confidence that such differences can be resolved, but they offer reminders that the unity the United States and its allies have shown so far in opposing Russia is not guaranteed.

Hungary’s strongman leader, Viktor Orban, whose country depends more than Western Europe on Russian energy, had held up any agreement on an oil embargo, calling it an “atomic bomb” to the Hungarian economy.

The dispute illustrates how the E.U. practice of requiring unanimity among the 27 member nations for major decisions can become a weakness — particularly if Mr. Orban, who has a friendly relationship with Mr. Putin, is called on to take further steps to isolate Russia.

Credit…Johanna Geron/Reuters

The limited embargo that European leaders endorsed was tailored to win Mr. Orban’s support. Prohibiting Russian oil deliveries aboard tankers would eliminate two-thirds of E.U. imports, while having no effect on Hungary, a landlocked nation. Arriving at the E.U. summit meeting on Monday, Mr. Orban said of the pipeline exemption, “It’s a good approach.”

Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany, which also receive Russian oil by pipeline, were expected to commit to weaning themselves from that source; Hungary is not expected to give any such assurance.

In NATO, which also operates by consensus, Turkey has blocked the admission of Finland and Sweden, which have been sufficiently alarmed by Russia’s war on Ukraine to abandon their long-held neutrality. Western diplomats predict that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has been as contentious a partner to NATO as Mr. Orban has been to the European Union, will wring concessions from the allies but ultimately accede.

On the battlefields of the eastern Donbas region, where Russia is focused on seizing more territory, the most intense combat is around the battered, adjacent cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, among the most important remaining pockets of Ukrainian control. After weeks of shelling, Russian forces have fought their way into “the northeastern and southeastern outskirts” of Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainian defense ministry said in a statement, adding that Russia had funneled still more war matériel from Russia into the Donbas.

Fighting across Donbas reached “maximum intensity,” said Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, the defense ministry spokesman. He added, “Russian invaders shelled the entire front line, trying to hit our deep defensive positions with artillery fire.”

Amid reports of Russian war crimes against civilians, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, issued a call to residents of Russian-occupied territory to flee however they can to Ukrainian-controlled areas, as millions already have. It is hard and dangerous, she conceded, but “ultimately, it is a question of your safety and that of your children.”

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

A French journalist was killed on Monday near Lysychansk when a shell exploded near the evacuation bus he was riding in, according to Ukrainian and French officials, and his employer, the television news channel BFM TV. The journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, suffered a lethal shrapnel wound to the neck, said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, who said the shell was fired by Russian forces.

At least seven other journalists have been killed while covering the conflict, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The sheer weight of Russia’s military and the brutality of its tactics have yielded territorial gains in the east, but it has suffered heavy losses, and Western analysts say it is running short of ready resources.

“Russia has likely suffered devastating losses amongst its mid and junior ranking officers,” the British defense ministry said on Monday in the latest intelligence update it has made public. Battalions that the Russians are cobbling together “from survivors of multiple units are likely to be less effective.”

Perhaps most ominous for Moscow, the British cited “multiple credible reports of localized mutinies amongst Russia’s forces.”

Hoping to spread Russian forces thinner than they already are, Ukraine over the weekend launched a counteroffensive more than 300 miles away from Sievierodonetsk, aimed at retaking Kherson, a strategic port on the lower Dnipro River in south-central Ukraine. It was the first major city to fall to the Russians, less than a week after the invasion.

Credit…Associated Press

“The Ukrainian counterattack does not appear likely to retake substantial territory in the near term,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said in an assessment released on Sunday, but it will disrupt Russian operations across the south, “and potentially force Russia to deploy reinforcements to the Kherson region, which is predominantly held by substandard units.”

In Melitopol, the Kremlin-appointed regional administration said a car bombing had injured two aid workers and called it “a terrorist attack aimed at destabilizing the peaceful life of the city.” People have protested the occupation in Melitopol, where Russian forces have kidnapped local officials and replaced them.

Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of Melitopol — who was abducted by Russian forces and then returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap — said he did not know who was responsible for the bombing, but predicted that “the ground will burn” in Melitopol until Russians leave the city.

Russian forces have held onto most of the areas they conquered in the south early in the war. But one band of fighters held out for weeks in a steel mill complex in the southern city of Mariupol, tying down significant Russian forces before the survivors surrendered this month.

And in the first weeks of the war, Russian offensives in the north aimed at Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, became hopelessly bogged down. Moscow gave up on those campaigns, at least temporarily, to concentrate on Donbas, and Ukrainians have retaken some of the lost territory.

The failure of those offensives and the resistance in Mariupol contributed to a shift in Russian tactics to a slower, more grinding approach, with little apparent concern for civilian casualties or physical destruction.

Describing the constant shelling of Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a video posted online on Sunday night, “They don’t care how many lives they will have to pay.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, Cassandra Vinograd and Stanley Reed from London, Carlotta Gall from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Ukraine says all women, children now evacuated from Mariupol steel mill

  • Women, children and elderly evacuated, deputy PM says
  • Not clear if other civilians remain
  • Russian forces try to storm Azovstal, Ukraine military says
  • CIA director says Putin ‘doubling down’ on conflict
  • WHO documents 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine

KYIV, May 7 (Reuters) – All women, children and elderly civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, after a week-long effort rescued hundreds of people during an ongoing Russian assault at the plant.

“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

The Soviet-era steel mill, the last holdout in Mariupol for Ukrainian forces, has become a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week-old war.

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Under heavy bombardment, fighters and civilians have been trapped for weeks in deep bunkers and tunnels criss-crossing the site, with little food, water or medicine.

Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery tried again on Saturday to storm Azovstal, seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city on the Azov Sea, Ukraine’s military command said.

Weeks of Russian bombardment have left Mariupol in ruins. The steel mill has been largely destroyed. During pauses in fighting, evacuations of civilians began last weekend, brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address that more than 300 civilians had been rescued from the plant. Authorities would now focus on evacuating the wounded and medics, and helping residents elsewhere in Mariupol and surrounding settlements to safety, he said.

Russian-backed separatists have also reported a total of 176 civilians evacuated from the plant. It was not clear if civilian men were still there.

Ukrainian fighters in the plant have vowed not to surrender. It was unclear how many remained, and Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces want to wipe them out by Monday, when Moscow commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. read more

In Washington, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced “doubling down” on the conflict will improve the outcome for Russia.

“He’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns said at a Financial Times event.

Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant sealed off and called for Ukrainian forces inside to disarm. Russia later resumed its assault. read more

Moscow calls its actions since Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

In Kyiv on Saturday, the World Health Organization said it had documented 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine, the latest allegations of war crimes by Russian forces. Russia has denied attacking civilian targets. read more

Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean Peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russia-backed separatists that year, is key to linking the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine aimed to establish full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and maintain the land corridor between these territories and Crimea.

Ukrainian armed forces fighting in the two eastern regions controlled by Russian-speaking separatists said in a Facebook post they fought off nine enemy attacks on Saturday, destroying 19 tanks and 24 other armoured vehicles as well as downing a helicopter.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russia dropped a bomb on a school in the village of Bilohorivka, where about 90 people were sheltering. Around 30 have been rescued so far, he said on Facebook.

The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the alleged bombing.

Zelenskiy in his address expressed outrage over Russian shelling overnight that destroyed a museum dedicated to the 18th century philosopher and poet Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the village of Skovorodynivka near Kharkiv. read more

Other Russian attacks near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, blew up three road bridges to slow counter-offensive actions, the Ukrainian military’s general staff said.

Russia’s defence ministry said it destroyed a large stockpile of military equipment from the United States and European countries near the Bohodukhiv railway station in the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces hit 18 Ukrainian military facilities overnight, including three ammunition depots in Dachne, near the southern port city of Odesa, the ministry said.

Reuters could not independently verify either side’s statements about battlefield events.

Russia’s lower house of parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, which he said amounted to direct U.S. involvement in military action against Russia. read more

U.S. officials have said the United States has provided intelligence to Ukraine to help counter the Russian assault, but have denied this intelligence includes precise targeting data.

Washington and European members of the transatlantic NATO alliance have supplied Kyiv with heavy weapons, but say they will not take part in the fighting.

A senior Russian commander said last month Russia planned to take full control of southern Ukraine to improve Russian access to Transdniestria, a breakaway region of Moldova.

Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said Transdniestria was hit four times by suspected drones overnight near the Ukrainian border. read more

Ukraine has repeatedly denied any blame for the incidents, saying it believes Russia is staging the attacks to provoke war. Moscow, too, has denied blame. read more

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Reuters bureaus; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by William Maclean, Frank Jack Daniel and Simon Lewis
Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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