The U.S. will send an additional $40 billion in support to Ukraine after President Joe Biden signed a bill while traveling in Asia. The money is intended to get Ukraine through September as the Russian invasion approaches its fourth month.
Congress cleared the legislation with bipartisan support earlier in the week to avoid a gap in funding, after the final drawdown of $100 million in previously approved funding occurred Thursday.
The package includes more than $20 billion for the Pentagon to provide weapons, intelligence and training, and nearly $14 billion for the State Department for food aid, refugee assistance and other diplomatic programs.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Friday that Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital and business it destroys, and urged allies to seize Russian properties under their jurisdictions and use them to create a fund for the Ukrainian victims of the war.
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►Ukraine’s ambassador to neighboring Poland says his nation is grateful for the welcome that Poles have given to millions of Ukrainian refugees, but he hopes the European Union will soon release billions of euros to Poland so that the assistance does not come “at the cost of the Polish people.”
►Delegates from the United States and four other nations staged a walkout Saturday when a representative from Russia began his opening remarks at a meeting of trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group.
►Russia cut off Finland’s supply of natural gas on Saturday after the Finns refused to pay for it in rubles, days after the Nordic country announced it wanted to join NATO. Company executives at Finland’s state-owned utility Gaum said the move wouldn’t create disruptions for customers during the summer.
►A topless woman with the words “stop raping us” painted across her chest stormed the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet Friday to protest the alleged rapes of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers, according to reports.
►The Group of Seven leading economies agreed Friday to provide $19.8 billion in economic aid to Ukraine to help keep tight finances from hindering its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.
Russians forced out of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, left thousands of destroyed buildings in their wake, according to Mayor Ihor Terekhov.
About 30% of the city’s 8,000 residential high-rise buildings are “more or less destroyed,” Terekhov said, according to a Telegram post by Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security on Saturday.
“In addition, the city has more than a hundred destroyed schools, 69 kindergartens, hospitals, maternity hospitals, substations, transport and roads,” the post reads.
Russian forces began withdrawing from Kharkiv last weekend after weeks of heavily bombarding the city.
Terekhov has said officials are working to restore services to Kharkiv residents “towards the normalization of life in Kharkov.” He said that because so many Ukrainians have lost their jobs and incomes due to the war, public transportation would be free for two weeks “until we restart the economy of Kharkiv.”
Russian soldiers who want to surrender can call a hotline created by Ukraine, the nation’s Security Service said Saturday.
“Here’s a tip for the invaders who want to stay alive: call 2402 and surrender,” the Security Service wrote on Facebook, noting the hotline works for Ukrainian and Russian phone numbers.
The Ukrainian Security Service said that Russian service members in the Donetsk People’s Republic are looking for ways to escape the war. It released a phone call allegedly between a Russian soldier and his wife, which it said was intercepted by Ukraine. In the call, one service member reportedly compares service in the Russian military to slavery.
“This hotline is specifically designed for such cases,” the Security Service’s Facebook post reads. “They will help you.”
Russian troops have captured some 235 medical institutions and more than 200 medical teams in Ukraine since the start of the war, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said Saturday.
But what the ministry describes as the “biggest problem now” isn’t the occupation, it’s the blocking of medically necessary resources by Russian forces.
“For more than a week now, the aggressor country has been blocking the supply of medicines, including vital ones, from the territories controlled by Ukraine, where an attempt is being made to establish an occupation regime” the ministry wrote in a release, calling the blockage of supplies “another of the many crimes against humanity committed by terrorists from the Russian Federation in Ukraine.”
Two new land routes to deliver food exports from Ukraine have been established, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Saturday.
“Russia puts millions of people at risk of hunger by blocking our ports,” Kuleba said. “Together with partners, Ukraine has established two alternative land routes to deliver food exports and save Africa and other regions from hunger. Russia must end its blockade to allow full and free export.”
Ukraine exported over $4 billion in goods to Africa in 2020, much of which was food, according to the International Political Sociology journal.
President Joe Biden said earlier this month in Kankakee, Ilinois, that America is fighting on “two fronts:” helping Ukrainians defend democracy and ensuring other nations don’t starve due to slowing exports of Ukrainian crops, according to CNN.
“If those tons don’t get to market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death because they are the sole supplier of a number of African countries,” Biden said.
More than 900 American public servants, researchers and activists have been permanently banned from entering Russia in response to the United States’ sanctions on the nation and its support for Ukraine.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday released a list of 963 Americans who can no longer enter the country. It includes President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with a number of other current and former senior White House officials, like former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Affairs and a senior advisor to the president.
Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI who oversaw the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was banned as well, plus a number of researchers and activists from groups like the Atlantic Council, the Wilson Center and the National Democratic Institute.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is also on the list. While at least 200 Republican lawmakers are listed, former President Donald Trump is not.
Some 29,000 tons of humanitarian aid was delivered to Ukraine in the last week, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office.
The aid spanned from food, clothing and medicine to furniture, cars and generators, Tymoshekno said at a briefing Friday, later shared to his Telegram page.
The total aid imported to Ukraine amounts to about 360,000 tons, he said. Kyiv, the nation’s capital, and the Lviv region have received the most aid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy believes the war between Russia and Ukraine can be solved with diplomacy, despite stalled peace talks.
The conflict between the two nations “will be bloody,” Zelenskyy said, but “the end will definitely be in diplomacy.”
“I’m sure of that,” he added.
Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine paused Tuesday, with each side placing blame on the other, Reuters reported.
Zelenskyy suggested reaching a peace agreement would be challenging because “we want to return everything, and the Russian Federation wants not to give everything – in other words, not to give anything.”
Human trafficking, often in the form of commercially exploiting women and children for sex, is one of the largely hidden tragedies of Russia’s war in Ukraine, authorities and experts told USA TODAY.
The scope of the problem is unknown, in part due to the clandestine nature of sex trafficking and the unprecedented flow of people from Ukraine to as far away as Asia and the United States. But there has been a skyrocketing increase in all forms of illegal trafficking of women and girls in the region – and also boys – including forced sex and labor, prostitution, pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, authorities and experts said.
“Collectively, the international community is starting to see indications that traffickers are preying on or attempting to prey on Ukrainians, and others that are fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine,” Kari Johnstone, the State Department’s top anti-human trafficking official, said in an exclusive interview. Read more here.
– Josh Meyer
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Russian officials on Friday claimed their forces have “completely liberated” the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces, in what would be its biggest victory yet in its war with Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia now has full control of Mariupol.
The last 531 Ukrainian fighters surrendered to Russian forces on Friday, according to Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti. A Russian state TV correspondent said on Telegram that among those surrendering Friday was Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov regiment.
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Prokopenko said earlier Friday that the defenders of Mariupol received an order to “cease the defense of the city” in order to “save lives and health of the servicemen of the garrison.”
The Russian claims were not confirmed by Ukrainian officials.
For weeks, Russian forces have been trying to seize Severodonetsk, a key site in the Donbas that’s outside the territory separatists have held for several years. They stepped up attacks there and in Lysychansk on Friday.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Friday that Russian forces now have control of 90% of the Severodonetsk region.
Three adults were killed in a Friday attack on a school where about 200 people, including many children, were taking shelter in Severodonetsk, Haidai said on Telegram. In another attack, 60 houses were destroyed and 12 people killed, Hadai said. But, Hadai also said that the “the Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated.”
Haidai said on Telegram that Russian forces “just want to destroy the city.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press