Ukrainian officials on Friday were warning about a potential offensive before Russia’s Victory Day on Monday.
The day marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, sparking worries the Russian military may increase attacks over the weekend.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko warned in a social media post Friday there is a “high probability” of rocket fire across Ukraine in the coming days. There were no plans for a curfew but street patrols would be reinforced, Klitschko added. Zaporizhzhia’s mayor said there would be a curfew through Tuesday afternoon there.
Officials from Ukraine’s national security council also warned about the potential for more shelling, urging residents not to ignore air raid sirens in a Facebook post from the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine’s Center for Counteracting Disinformation.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would be open to negotiating with Russia only if its military retreated to its position from before its invasion.
Zelenskyy made the comment during a meeting Friday at London’s Chatham House think-tank. Ukrainian and Russian officials have previously held peace talks during the war, but negotiations have largely stalled in recent weeks.
If the Russian military returned to its position from Feb. 23, the day before the invasion began, “we will be able to start discussing things normally,” Zelenskyy said.
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►The European Union is planning to add Alina Kabaeva, a woman romantically linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, to its sanctions list, CNN and the Guardian reported.
►First lady Jill Biden will be in Romania on Friday to begin her solo trip to Europe. She plans to meet with refugees Sunday in a small Slovakian village on the border with Ukraine.
►Germany will provide Ukraine with seven powerful self-propelled howitzers as the country steps up its aid of heavy weaponry, the German defense minister said Friday.
►Russia’s military has fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine and 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
US funding for Ukraine ‘nearly exhausted’ with new round of aid
President Joe Biden on Friday announced an additional $150 million in military aid for Ukraine, which he said “nearly exhausted” the funding Congress has authorized to Biden’s office during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Biden called on Congress to “quickly” pass an additional $33 billon in military, economic and humanitarian assistance that the White House requested last month.
“For Ukraine to succeed in this next phase of war its international partners, including the U.S., must continue to demonstrate our unity and our resolve to keep the weapons and ammunition flowing to Ukraine, without interruption,” Biden said in a statement.
The latest round of aid includes 25,000 155mm artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, jamming equipment, and field equipment and spare parts, according to the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has tied additional Ukraine aid to a COVID-19 relief package to try to force both through. Congress was unable to pass COVID-19 relief funds before heading out to recess earlier this month. But Republicans have balked at linking the two spending items together.
President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual meeting Sunday morning with G7 nations to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, including potential new sanctions on Russia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The meeting, which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will chair, will also include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It’s set for one day before Russia’s “Victory Day,” a holiday the U.S. expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to use to falsely claim victory in his war in Ukraine.
“He expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv,” Psaki said of Putin. “That’s obviously not what is going to happen.”
Biden on Monday will also sign into law the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, which will allow the U.S. to lend or lease military equipment to Ukraine.
— Joey Garrison
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called recent reports that the U.S. provided “specific-targeting” intelligence to help Ukraine take down the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet an “inaccurate overclaiming of our role.”
“We did not provide Ukraine with specific-targeting information for the Moskva,” Psaki said, referring to the ship struck by Ukrainian forces last month. “We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or the operation they carried out. We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intention to target the ship.”
The New York Times, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported Thursday that U.S. intelligence helped lead to the sinking of the Moskva “as part of a continuing classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine.” Other media outlets including NBC News reported similar accounts.
Psaki said the U.S. does provide intelligence to help Ukraine understand the Russian threat in the Black Sea, but that Ukraine has a “greater level of intelligence.”
“And so, on this specific report, it’s just not an accurate depiction of how this happened,” Psaki said.
— Joey Garrison
About 50 additional civilians were able to evacuate Friday from the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged port city of Mariupol, said Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office.
The Russian Interdepartmental Humanitarian Response Center said the 50 civilians included 11 children.
The latest humanitarian operation comes as Russian troops have intensified shelling at the plant in recent days, Ukrainian officials have said. Asked Friday about the siege, Zelenskyy said: “Mariupol will never fall. I’m not talking about heroism or anything … There is nothing there to fall apart. It is already devastated.”
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk said the evacuation of civilians from Azovstal will continue Saturday.
A senior leader in the Russian political party affiliated with President Vladimir Putin said Friday during an appearance in Ukraine, “Russia is here forever.”
Andrei Turchak, secretary of the General Council of United Russia, visited the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, which Russia has occupied since March, and met with the region’s head administrator, Volodymyr Saldo, said Russian state news agency TASS.
“I want to say again — Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past,” Turchak said, according to TASS.
An official from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization on Friday said there is “anecdotal evidence” that Russian troops were stealing grain from Ukraine.
The accusation comes amid concerns about a growing food crisis due to the war.
About 700,000 tons of grain have disappeared in Ukraine, Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s markets and trade division, said Friday.
“There’s anecdotal evidence that Russian troops have destroyed storage capacity and that they are looting the storage grain that is available,” he said. “They are also stealing farm equipment.”
Ukrainian forces have repelled at least 11 attacks in the Donbas region, destroying Russian tanks and vehicles in the process, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in a statement Friday.
Fighting continues in the region, and Russian forces are aiming to take full control of Popasna and resume offensives in Lyman and Siversk, the Ukrainian military said.
However, Ukrainian defense chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi on Thursday announced a planned counteroffensive to repel Russians from Kharkiv and Izyum. Ukrainian troops have already pushed Russian forces east from Kharkiv in recent days.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday decried the European Union’s proposed ban on Russian oil, comparing the move to dropping an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy.
Orban said his country was willing to negotiate on the latest round of economic sanctions against Russia, but including an embargo on Russian oil could not be accepted.
Hungary relies heavily on Russia for its energy, with about 85% of gas and 60% of oil coming from Russia. Switching to other sources of oil would be too burdensome on Hungary’s economy, Orban said.
“We cannot accept a proposal that ignores this circumstance because in its current form it is equivalent to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy,” he added.
Former President George W. Bush said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, calling him “the Winston Churchill of our time.”
“I thanked the President for his leadership, his example, and his commitment to liberty, and I saluted the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Bush said in a Twitter post, which included photos of the two men speaking by video link.
“President Zelenskyy assured me that they will not waver in their fight against Putin’s barbarism and thuggery. Americans are inspired by their fortitude and resilience. We will continue to stand with Ukrainians as they stand up for their freedom.”
Contributing: The Associated Press