Russian forces have continued strikes across Ukraine in a bid to seize the Donbas, but their progress has been slower than expected, according to Western officials.
A senior U.S. Defense official, speaking to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said that Ukraine’s strong defensive efforts have stalled Russia’s advance by “at least several days.”
“We also assess that because of this slow and uneven progress, again, without perfect knowledge of every aspect of the Russian plan, we do believe and assess that they are behind schedule in what they were trying to accomplish in the Donbas,” the official said.
The British military also said in a tweet on Friday: “Due to strong Ukrainian resistance, Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost to Russian forces.”
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►Ukraine Red Cross’ office in Dobropillia, a city located in Donetsk region in war-torn eastern Ukraine, was bombed and destroyed Saturday, the organization posted on Twitter, making the eighth Ukraine Red Cross office to be damaged or destroyed since Russia invaded.
►Former U.S. marine Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was killed while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine, his family told CNN. It is the first known death of an American citizen while fighting in the war against Russia.
►A Russian missile strike targeting Kyiv killed at least one person following a meeting between U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called the attack an attempt to “humiliate” the U.N. Vira Hyrych, a journalist for the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe, died in the attack.
►The United Nations General Assembly will hold a vote next month on a country to replace Russia on its human rights council after suspending the nation for its actions in Ukraine.
Another mass grave has been found in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the scene of alleged mass executions of civilians before its recapture by Ukrainian forces in early March, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force said Saturday.
“On April 29, a pit with the bodies of three men was found in the Bucha district,” regional police chief Andriy Nebytov wrote on Facebook. “The victims were tortured for a lengthy period of time. Bullet wounds were found on the extremities of their bodies. In the end, each of the men was shot through the ear.”
“This is another mass burial made by the occupiers in the Bucha district, the long-suffering district where more than a thousand civilians have been killed and tortured,” Nebytov added.
According to Nebytov’s post, the burial site was found in the forest near the village of Myrotske, 6 miles northwest of the town of Bucha. Nebytov said the three bodies were being sent for a forensic examination, following a preliminary inspection by the Kyiv regional police.
Zelenskyy spokesperson Serhiy Nikiforov said on Friday that about 900 corpses have been found in the Kyiv region.
Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister says Russian forces are seizing vast amounts of grain in territory they hold.
“Today, there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” minister Taras Vysotsky told Ukrainian television on Saturday.
Ukraine is one of the world’s major grain producers and the Russian invasion has curtailed exports, pushing up world grain prices and raising concerns about severe grain shortages in importing countries.
Ukraine is also facing fuel shortages as Russia destroys its fuel infrastructure and blocks its ports, Zelenskyy said Friday night.
Fuel shortages have been reported in Kyiv, Dnipro and other cities. Vehicles can be seen lining up at gas stations and drivers in most places can purchase only 2.6 gallons of fuel at a time.
Zelenskyy promised that officials would find a fuel supply system within a week or two to prevent a deficit but called it a “difficult task” after the refinery at Kremenchuk was hit by a Russian missile.
But, Zelenskyy said, “there are no immediate solutions.”
Seven Ukrainian military members and seven civilians were returned home Saturday in a prisoner exchange with Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram.
One of the 14 Ukrainians released is five months pregnant, Vereshchuk said.
“For me, this exchange is special: one of the military women (is) in the fifth month of pregnancy,” she said. “God bless you!”
Five other prisoner exchanges have taken place in April, according to Ukrainian Pravda. The most recent was held April 28, where 45 Ukrainians were released from Russian captivity. Eight exchanges have occurred in total.
In another blow to the U.S. economy, diesel fuel prices are skyrocketing to new records in reaction to Russia’s move against its European neighbors.
The cost of a gallon of diesel fuel in the U.S. topped $5.25 a gallon Saturday, up 7 cents in a single day and 18 cents in a week, AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report shows. That easily smashed the previous record of $5.13 a gallon set March 12.
The price rise is being driven by the fallout from Russia’s decision to use its natural gas exports as an economic weapon against Ukraine’s allies. It announced it will cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, apparently in retribution for the two nation’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.
As diesel prices skyrocket, gasoline prices have moderated, falling more than 2 cents a gallon for the week to an average of $4.12 a gallon. The Biden administration ordered more oil pumped from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve recently after an outcry about high gasoline prices.
The price spread between diesel and gasoline has widened. Diesel cost 20 cents more a gallon a year ago when the oily fuel averaged $3.08 a gallon. On Saturday, the difference between the two was $1.13 and rising.
– Chris Woodyard
The identity of a fighter pilot dubbed the “Ghost of Kyiv,” whose single-handed conquests against Russian forces made the then-unnamed pilot the stuff of legends, was made known Friday – more than a month after he was reportedly killed in combat.
The pilot was identified as Major Stepan Tarabalka, 29, by British newspaper The Times. He was killed when the MiG-29 he was flying was shot down on March 13, the Times reported.
“Tarabalka ‘went to heaven’ during an air battle with overwhelming forces of the Russian invaders,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said, according to the Kyiv Post.
According to some estimates, Tarabalka shot down 40 Russian aircrafts since Feb. 24, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kyiv Post and other Ukrainian media outlets wrote.
On March 19, Zelenskyy posthumously awarded Tarabalka with the Order of the Golden Star, Ukraine’s top medal for bravery in combat, and the Hero of Ukraine title.
A matter of hours, not days: Mariupol residents ‘begging to get saved’
The situation in Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city that has been under siege by Russian attacks, is like a “Russian concentration camp among the ruins,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Residents and Ukrainian fighters left in Mariupol have been under constant threat of attack and of starvation, as they hold out in a massive steel mill. They are running out of food, water and medicine, according to Mayor Vadym Boichenko on Friday.
People in the Avozstal steel plant, the last holdout still under Ukrainian control in the city, are protected to an extent by underground bunkers in the Soviet-era facility. But Russians have been dropping “bunker buster” bombs, making the situation more dire.
“Locals who manage to leave Mariupol say it is hell, but when they leave this fortress, they say it is worse,” Boichenko said, according to a translator. “They are begging to get saved.”
He added: “There, it’s not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours.”
Zelenskyy: Russia trying to destroy Donbas
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to destroy the Donbas and all who live there.
“The constant brutal bombardments, the constant Russian strikes on infrastructure and residential areas show that Russia wants to empty this territory of all people. Therefore, the defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life,” he said late Friday in his nightly video address to the nation.
He said the cities and towns of the Donbas will survive only if Ukraine remains standing.
“If the Russian invaders are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stones. As they did with Mariupol,” he said.
Ukrainians using cheap drones against Russian forces
Consumer-grade drones, costing about $1,000 and modified to drop explosives on Russian troops and fighting vehicles, have been taking center stage in Ukraine’s resistance against the Russian invasion.
Videos of such attacks are widely available on Twitter, proudly shared by Ukrainian fighters and their supporters. Unlike the sophisticated drones that many militaries use, the drones are widely available at stores like Best Buy, easily modified and hacked to turn them into lethal weapons.
And experts say such drones are opening up a new front for both warfare and terror attacks. Now, the Biden administration is renewing efforts to protect domestic infrastructure from potential drone attacks. Read more about the use of drones in the war, and its implications in the U.S.
Contributing: The Associated Press