Russia piles under pressure as ‘hell’ in Ukraine’s Donbass, warns Zelensky
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region, the focus of recent Russian invasions, has been decimated, President Volodymyr Zelensky said as some of the world’s richest countries pledged to fortify Kyiv with billions of dollars.
Since breaking away from Ukraine’s capital, Russia has been using massive artillery and armor to try to capture more territory in the Donbass, including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
“The occupiers are trying to create even more pressure. It’s hell — and that’s no exaggeration,” Zelensky said in his address late Thursday.
“(There) are constant attacks on the cities of central Ukraine on the Odessa region. The Donbass is completely destroyed,” he said.
Moscow called its invasion a “special military operation” to free Ukraine from fascists, a claim Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless excuse for an unprovoked war.
As the invasion neared the three-month mark, the US Senate approved nearly $40 billion in new aid for Ukraine, the largest US aid package to date.
The Group of Seven rich countries also agreed to give Ukraine $18.4 billion. Ukraine said the money would accelerate victory over Russia and was just as important as the “weapons you provided”.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters: “The message was, ‘We stand behind Ukraine. We are going to pull this together with the resources they need to get through this.
Officials said the White House is working to deliver advanced anti-ship missiles to Ukrainian fighters to help them defeat Russia’s naval blockade.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using food as a weapon by supplying “hostage” to not only Ukrainians, but millions of people around the world.
The war has pushed up global prices for grain, cooking oil, fuel and fertilizer.
In another sign of Western action hurting the Russian economy, five foreign vice presidents of Russia’s Rosneft have resigned over EU sanctions barring European citizens or Russians living in the EU from working at the oil company. It has been done, the sources said.
The European Union said it was exploring ways to use the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to rebuild Ukraine, while the United States did not rule out imposing sanctions on countries buying Russian oil.
But divisions within NATO are also visible in opposition to Sweden and Finland joining an alliance with Turkey, a move that would reverse generations of military non-alignment in the biggest European security shake-up in decades.
Ankara accused the two Nordic states of harboring Kurdish militants, but US President Joe Biden and European leaders said they were confident Turkey’s concerns could be addressed.
Biden, who is hosting Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Souli Niinisto at the White House, told reporters: “I think we are going to be fine.”
Niinisto said Finland was committed to Turkey’s security, adding: “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it.”
In the past week, Russia scored its biggest victory since the offensive began, with Kyiv announcing that it had ordered its garrison to stand at the steelworks in Mariupol, after a protracted siege.
However, Russian forces have been pushed back this month from the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city. Ukraine says it has recaptured 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the past two weeks.
In Mariupol, the end result of the bloodiest battle in Europe for decades has remained unclear, with uncertainty over the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders.
Moscow said on Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters, including 771, had surrendered in the past 24 hours.
Ukrainian officials, who have demanded a prisoner swap, declined to comment, saying it could jeopardize rescue efforts.
Late Thursday, the deputy chief of the Azov regiment defending the steelworks, Svyatoslav Palmar, released an 18-second video in which he said he and other commanders were still in the area of the plant.
“There is a definite operation going on, the details of which I will not disclose,” he said.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of prisoners at a plant near Russia, but did not give exact numbers.
The leader of the Russian-backed separatists in control of the area said that about half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks.
He said that the injured were given medical treatment, while those who were fit were taken to the penal colony and were being treated well.