Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine intensified with the bombing of houses and other civilian buildings in the last couple days, including a strike of a cultural center Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “absolute evil.”
A Russian missile struck the Palace of Culture in Lozova on Friday, injuring an 11-year-old child, Zelenskyy said.
A video on Zelenskyy’s social media channel showed a fiery explosion at the cultural center, which housed an auditorium, lecture hall, dance halls and a gym. Seven people were reported injured.
“The occupiers identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies,” Zelenskyy wrote. “What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity.”
In his nightly address Thursday, Zelenskyy said the situation in the Donbas region “hell.” Russia has refocused its attacks in an attempt to capture the Donbas region.
“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible,” Zelenskyy said. He also warned of “constant strikes” in the Odesa region and central Ukrainian cities and added, “Donbas is completely destroyed.”
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►British defense intelligence update said an unknown number of Ukrainian troops remain in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol. Once Russians have fully seized the city, their troops are likely to redeploy to reinforce the fighting in the Donbas, which can be a “lengthy process,” the British Defense Ministry said.
►The Group of Seven countries are set to agree to more than $18 billion in aid for Ukrainian defense, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said Friday.
►Twelve people were killed and dozens were wounded in attacks on Severodonetsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday.
Russia claims it has entirely taken over Mariupol
Russia claimed to have captured Mariupol on Friday in what would be its biggest victory yet in its war with Ukraine, after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the strategic port city to a smoking ruin, with over 20,000 civilians feared dead.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol has been “completely liberated” from Ukrainian fighters.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying that a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at Azovstal have laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16, including 531 on Friday.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign legislation providing $40 billion in additional aid to Ukraine while traveling in Asia, according to Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser.
The Senate cleared the legislation Thursday, to avoid a gap in funding. The final drawdown of $100 million of previously approved funding occurred Thursday, Sullivan said.
“We will have the kind of continuity of support that we asked for,” Sullivan said. “For that, we are grateful to the bipartisan backing that we’ve gotten from the Congress, who stepped up and did this in a timely fashion.”
– Bart Jansen
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and months of combat have reduced air quality, polluted lakes and rivers and ruined crops, threatening the ecosystem of Eastern Europe, according to a Ukraine government environmental task force.
The State Ecological Service of Ukraine has recorded about 300 environmental crimes and estimated more than $6.8 billion in losses from the fighting, and says that the damage is likely to lower Ukrainian life expectancy, the New Voice of Ukraine media outlet reported Friday.
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Task force Chairman Oleksiy Obrizan told New Voice of Ukraine that most of the damage has come from the destruction of industrial sites, which has led to environmental pollution, deforestation, and unbalanced ecosystems.
More than 70 scientists from around the world are working with the task force, Obrizan said, documenting the damage linked to Russia’s invasion with the hope of someday holding it accountable at various international courts and tribunals.
– Josh Meyer
After touring a semiconductor plant in South Korea, President Joe Biden said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spotlighted the need to protect the supply of critical goods such as cars.
Biden said the three-month-war illustrates how the U.S. economy and national security should not be “dependent on countries that don’t share our values.”
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His comments came as a semiconductor shortage sparked a shortfall in consumer products, including cars. Biden seeks to bolster ties with Asian democracies including South Korea and Japan against authoritarian regimes such as Russia.
“We’re standing at an inflection point in history where the decisions we make today will have far-reaching impacts on the world we leave to our children tomorrow,” Biden said. “This vibrant democracy has become a powerhouse of global innovation by investing in educating its people.”
– Bart Jansen
Finland’s state-owned utility Gasum announced Friday that Russia would cut off its supply of natural gas on Saturday, but company executives said the move wouldn’t create disruptions for customers during the summer.
Russia’s move came as Finland and Sweden have applied to become part of NATO, to bolster defenses after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian company Gazprom Export told Gasum that supplies would halt Saturday at 7 a.m. local time. Gasum said it would supply customers through the Balticonnector pipeline through Estonia.
“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement. “However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months.”
But Gasum Vice President Olga Väisänen told CNN on Friday the winter season will be “challenging.”
– Bart Jansen
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
More than 1,700 Ukrainian troops have surrendered in recent days after weeks of defending the port city of Mariupol, Russian authorities said, with some taken to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Now, some are voicing fears that Russians may inflict retribution on the troops.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to register the Ukrainian troops as prisoners of war, gathering personal information from hundreds of soldiers, as part of its role in ensuring the humane treatment of POWs under the Geneva Conventions.
Amnesty International said in a tweet that the Ukrainian soldiers are now prisoners of war and as such “must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment.”
Ukrainian officials have expressed hope for a prisoner exchange, but Russian authorities have threatened to investigate and put on trial some of the soldiers for war crimes, calling them Nazis and criminals.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Russia is weaponizing food “to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.”
Blinken told the U.N. Security Council that the war has halted maritime trade in large areas of the Black Sea, creating dangerous navigation and trapping Ukrainian agricultural exports.
Russian naval operations have attempted to block Ukrainian ports which the United States assesses to be “a deliberate effort” to block safe passage and shut down shipping, he said.
The executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, David Beasley, said the growing worldwide hunger as a result of the war will add at least 47 million people to the 276 million “marching to starvation” even before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Contributing: The Associated Press