Russian-appointed authorities in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson announced plans Wednesday to seek annexation – and the Ukraine response was that those officials might as well ask to join ”Mars or Jupiter.”
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian regional military-civilian administration, also said that, by the end of May, a bank for converting money to Russian rubles will start operating in the region and ultimately will be integrated into the Bank of Russia. He said there were no plans to create a separate republic such as those sought in the eastern Donbas region.
“There will be no referendums,” Stremousov said of the annexation. “It will be a decree based on an appeal from the Kherson regional leadership to the Russian president.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it would be “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, which would be closely evaluated by experts to make sure its legal basis is “absolutely clear.”
Kherson, a Black Sea port city of almost 300,000, is one of a few major Ukraine cities to be under Russian control. Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak dismissed the annexation plan.
“The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter,” he tweeted. “The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what games with words they play.”
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►United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he does not see the possibility of an immediate peace deal in Ukraine. Guterres, speaking after a meeting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, suggested countries concentrate diplomatic efforts on providing humanitarian aid.
►Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of the first 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces. Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies, but about 400 Czechs have applied for an exemption. The rest of the requests are still being processed, the government said.
►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, visiting Sweden, pledged his country’s support should Sweden or Finland come under attack. Both nations are expected to announce this week whether they will seek membership in NATO.
►World Unite for Ukraine announced it will stream a benefit concert June 16 featuring music by Pink Floyd, AJR, Crash Test Dummies and other bands. Organizers hope to raise $10 million toward easing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
►The Senate will take up a House-passed a package of about $40 billion in aid for Ukraine, $7 billion more than President Joe Biden initially requested from Congress. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the U.S. and said the money would be used for weapons, equipment and to investigate war crimes by Russia.
Russia blocks escape routes from Mariupol, Ukrainian official says
Russian forces have blocked evacuation routes out of the embattled city of Mariupol, where food and supplies have been scarce, an adviser to the city’s mayor said.
Petro Andriushchenko said some residents still there are cooperating with the Russian forces to get badly needed food.
The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has been evacuated of civilians over the last several days, but some wounded and soldiers remain. Ukrainian Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar, who is still in the bunkers beneath the steel plant, told CNN on Wednesday that civilians “that we knew about” had evacuated, but it was unknown whether some may have been left behind.
“I cannot tell you for sure, maybe there’s someone else further down in the territory because no international organization at any point came or had access to come and assess the situation,” he said.
The Azov Regiment said on social media that Russian forces carried out 38 airstrikes in the previous 24 hours at the steel plant.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine is attempting to strike a deal with Russia to allow injured fighters to evacuate from the plant, offering to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange.
US: Sanctions preventing Russia from making more weapons
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.
Civilian killed by Ukrainian shelling, Russian official claims
The governor of a Russian region near the border of Ukraine said Wednesday that shelling from the Ukrainian side killed one civilian and injured six.
Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said that the residents of the village of Solokhi qill be evacuated after the shelling late Wednesday.
His claims could not be verified and Ukrainian officials have not commented on Gladkov’s claims, or claims of other recent incidents in border areas.
Finland’s president and prime minister are likely to officially announce their support for joining NATO on Thursday, the country’s minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, said Wednesday. That will be followed by a debate in Finland’s parliament early next week and a vote that is almost sure to be “strongly in favor of membership,” Tuppurainen told USA TODAY while she was in Washington attending a high-level security conference.
“We want to defend our freedom and our equality,” she said. “This is not only about territories and borders. This war is also about values and ideology.”
Noting that Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia, Tuppurainen said she hopes her country’s application would be approved swiftly. NATO members adhere to a collective defense that views an attack on one as an attack on all. But that security guarantee would not apply while Finland’s bid is under consideration.
Tuppurainen said her country is acutely aware of the threats Russian officials have made against Finland if it goes ahead with the NATO bid.
“We know our neighbor … We’ve seen what Putin is capable of,” she said.
First lady Jill Biden, who visited Ukraine on Mother’s Day, says no one can go into a war zone and not come away unchanged. Biden, in an opinion piece published by CNN, says you don’t have to “see the sorrow with your eyes because you can feel it with your heart.”
Biden also visited Ukrainian refugees in Romania and Slovakia. She said the mothers she spoke with told her about the horrors of bombs that fell night after night as they sought to find refuge during journeys out of their homeland. Many had to live days without food and sunlight, harbored in basements underground, Biden wrote. Border guards in Slovakia told stories of thousands of people with few belongings scrambling to escape the carnage.
“Kahlil Gibran once wrote, ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain,'” Biden said. “My hope is that this is true for the mothers I met. But that can only happen when this war ends. Mr. Putin, please end this senseless and brutal war.”
A 21-year-old Russian soldier alleged to have killed an unarmed civilian who was riding a bike in a village in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine on Feb. 28 will become the first person to stand trial for war crimes since the start of the war, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova announced Wednesday.
Vadim Shishimarin, a prisoner of war, is accused of firing a Kalashnikov machine gun through the open window of a car at a 62-year-old resident in the village of Chupakhivka. If found guilty of premeditated murder, Shishimarin could face a sentence of up to life in prison. A trial date is expected to be announced this week, Venediktova’s office told USA TODAY. Ukrainian authorities unveiled their first war crimes charges late last month connected to alleged incidents in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, in March.
The wives of two Ukrainian soldiers holed up in a Mariupol steel mill met with Pope Francis on Wednesday, asking him to help arrange evacuation of the troops before Russian soldiers overrun the sprawling plant.
Yuliia Fedusiuk, who met with the pope at the conclusion of his weekly general audience in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, said food and water were running out in the mill, that some soldiers were injured and dead and that the survivors were ready to lay down their arms. But they want to be evacuated to a third country, concerned that they would be tortured and killed if they surrendered to the Russians.
“You are our last hope. We hope you can save their lives,” said Kateryna Prokopenko, who wept as she greeted Francis. “Please don’t let them die.”
Sanctions that prevent Russia from obtaining electronic parts have taken a “bite” out of its ability to replenish precision-guided weapons, a Pentagon official said. The official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence assessments, said there are signs that Russian supplies of precision weapons are dwindling, forcing the Russians to rely on older bombs that are not guided to their targets with satellites or lasers.
So-called “dumb bombs” are being dropped in Mariupol, causing hundreds of civilian deaths and devastation to homes and businesses.
The United States, the European Union and Britain collectively blamed Russia for a cyberattack on Ukraine that happened only one hour before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion Feb. 24. The cyberattack disrupted satellite communications used by Ukraine’s military and also affected European countries, according to a statement from the EU released Tuesday.
“Cyberattacks targeting Ukraine, including against critical infrastructure, could spill over into other countries and cause systemic effects putting the security of Europe’s citizens at risk,” the statement said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Tuesday the cyberattack was only one in a series that began in mid-January. Russia’s digital attacks on Ukraine included stolen and deleted data, disrupted telecommunications and attempts to knock out power.
Contributing: The Associated Press