Ukrainian forces were preparing for a potential increase in Russian attacks this weekend as Russia plans to celebrate Victory Day, the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
As Russia has intensified its attacks in eastern Ukraine, a top Ukrainian official said more vulnerable civilians had been successfully evacuated from the besieged steel plant in Mariupol.
Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the city of Odesa and bombarded other regions, but Ukrainian troops mounted a strong resistance in key areas.
Meanwhile on Friday, President Joe Biden announced an additional $150 million in aid, to include 25,000 155mm artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, jamming equipment, and field equipment and spare parts.
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►Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s No. 2 official, on Saturday in Paris met with her counterparts from France, Germany and other allied countries to discuss Ukraine’s military needs and the growing threat to global food security caused by Russia’s invasion.
►At least one of Russia’s most advanced tanks – the T-90M – has been destroyed in the fighting, according to an assessment released Saturday by the United Kingdom’s defense intelligence agency.
►The U.N. called for the reopening of ports in Odesa so that food produced in Ukraine can help fill shortages in countries that depend on imports of grain. “Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation,” said David Beasley, World Food Program executive director.
►President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders will hold a virtual meeting Sunday morning with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, including potential new sanctions on Russia.
Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy prime minister for Ukraine, said Saturday that “all women, children, and elderly people have been evacuated” from the Azovstal steel plant, the last Ukrainian holdout in the otherwise Russian-controlled city of Mariupol.
“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed,” Vereshchuk posted in a message on Telegram at about 7 p.m. local time.
Russian troops have increased their shelling on the plant in recent days. It was not immediately clear how many Ukrainian troops or civilians remained holed up in the plant’s underground bunkers.
Taiwan’s foreign minister said Saturday that if China invades his country, he hopes world leaders will respond as aggressively as they have to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In the future, if we are threatened with force by China, or are invaded, of course we hope the international community can understand and support Taiwan, and sanction these kinds of aggressive behaviors,” the Taiwanese diplomat, Joseph Wu, told reporters on Saturday according to Reuters.
Taiwan has been on edge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – fearing that China will be emboldened to do the same to its neighbor. Taiwan functions as an independent democracy but Beijing views the island as a breakaway province.
Ukrainian forces have been making gains against Russian forces and may be able to push them out of artillery range of Kharkiv in the coming days, the Institute for the Study of War said in an assessment released Friday evening.
The Ukrainian military has evolved from localized counterattacks against Russian forces to a broader counteroffensive, the report said, that has led to gains north and east of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million about 26 miles from the Russian border.
“Ukrainian forces are notably retaking territory along a broad arc around Kharkiv rather than focusing on a narrow thrust, indicating an ability to launch larger-scale offensive operations than we have observed so far in the war,” the institute said.
Ukraine has dedicated the necessary forces for this counter offensive near Kharkiv as opposed to sending them to eastern Ukraine, which “indicates the Ukrainian military’s confidence in repelling ongoing Russian operations,” its assessment states.
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More rounds of shelling have hit the Kharkiv Oblast area, the northeast part of Ukraine that borders Russia, the region’s governor said.
Oleh Sinegubov said Saturday morning in a Telegram post there had been three shellings in the past 24 hours, including one that hit the roof of a museum dedicated to the works of Hryhoriy Skovoroda, a Cossack philosopher who was born 300 years ago.
“The occupiers can destroy the museum where Hryhoriy Skovoroda worked for the last years of his life and where he was buried,” Sinegubov said. “But they will not destroy our memory and our values!”
The philosopher’s most valuable exhibits had been moved in advance to a safe place, but the shelling injured 35-year-old man who was supervising the grounds, the governor said.
First lady Jill Biden visited a Romanian school on Saturday morning where Ukrainian children who fled the war with their families are trying to continue their education. Biden is in the region to learn about the refugee crisis caused by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden asked how teachers were preparing to handle the trauma that children are facing, according to a pool report from journalists traveling with the first lady. School officials said they need more counselors and have been providing trauma training to teachers.
“The Romanian people are amazing to welcome all these refugees into their homes and offer them food and clothing, shelter and give them their hearts,” Biden told school leaders.
Biden also met with students, who were tracing their handprints onto the images of Ukrainian and Romanian flags.
Almost 7,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the war in Ukraine started in February, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The office has recorded 6,802 civilian casualties, including 3,309 killed and 3,493 injured through midnight local time on Thursday. The office said the actual figures are “considerably higher” because of delayed reporting.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the United Nations said in a news release.
Italian officials moved on Friday to stop a mega-yacht from leaving a Tuscan port after a probe found it is linked to “prominent elements of the Russian government.’’
Some reports have suggested the newly blocked yacht – called the Scheherazade – belongs to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pressed Italy to freeze assets of Russian oligarchs and officials – and he specifically cited the Scheherazade.
There have been fears that the 459-foot long yacht, which has been in dry dock in the port of Marina di Carrara, was preparing to sail out of Italian waters soon. Based on the Italian investigation, Minister Daniele Franco adopted a “freezing decree’’ regarding the yacht, which flies the flag of the Cayman Islands and which had “long been under the attention of the authorities,’’ the statement said.
Russia held a dress rehearsal on Saturday for the military parade to commemorate Victory Day on May 9, when the country marks the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II.
Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the Victory Day holiday to make an announcement about the war in Ukraine — either declaring a victory or escalating the conflict.
In Moscow on Saturday, an RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile rolled through Red Square as part of the rehearsal, with warplanes and helicopters flying overhead, troops marching in formation and self-propelled artillery vehicles rumbling past.
Contributing: The Associated Press