The US embassy in Russia this week was pressing the Kremlin to reveal the whereabouts of two Alabama men captured in Ukraine while defending the country from Russian invaders, according to the mother of one of the taken Americans.
Lois “Bunny” Drueke also said late Wednesday that her son, Alexander Drueke, and the other captured US military veteran, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, were not mercenaries but volunteers, pushing back on statements from a Kremlin spokesperson who said the American pair are facing execution.
Therefore, Drueke’s mother added, he and Huynh deserve the humane treatment mandated by the treaties collectively known as the Geneva conventions despite Russia’s claims that they do not apply to the Americans who are taking part in the conflict in Ukraine.
“Alex and Andy are prisoners of war and must be afforded protections and humane treatment accordingly,” Bunny Drueke said.
Her statements came a day after Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused Drueke and Huynh of being soldiers of fortune who had “threatened the lives” of military service members of Russia and its controlled, self-proclaimed peoples’ republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, has said Britain is willing to assist with de-mining operations off Ukraine’s southern coast and was considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tonnes of grain stuck in the country.
“There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks and other European friends and allies to see what we can do,” Johnson told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
London’s insurance market has placed the entire region on its high risk list meaning soaring costs for shipments.
Johnson said Britain was considering all options when asked whether the government could provide sovereign guarantees for shipping insurance.
“What the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea,” he said.
Asked if Britain was ready to help Ukraine de-mine the area, Johnson said:
Yes, I don’t want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help themselves protect that we are certainly talking to them at a technical level to help de-mine Odesa.”
It’s 1am in Kyiv. Here’s where thing stand:
- The European Union has approved the application of Ukraine to become a candidate country for admission to the 27-strong bloc. EU leaders meeting in Brussels have followed the recommendation of the European Commission, which was made on Friday 17 June. Ukraine has been seeking EU membership since the 2004 “orange revolution” and more emphatically since the 2013-14 Maidan protests.
- Over 150 cultural sites in Ukraine have been partially or totally destroyed, UNESCO announced on Thursday. The damage includes 70 religious buildings, 30 historical buildings, 18 cultural centres, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries.
- Ukraine is recording 200-300 war crimes committed by Russian forces on Ukrainian territory everyday, Ukrinform reports. In an interview broadcast by Ukrainian television channels, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said, “War crimes are our trouble. Every day we have 200-300 of them, and it’s not because we want or don’t want to start [an investigation] and move. It’s because we have a duty: when there is a crime, we have to start an investigation.”
- The United States is sending additional military assistance to Ukraine, the White House announced on Thursday. The $450 million shipment includes additional rocket systems to use against Russian invasion forces. “This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket systems,” White House spokesman John Kirby said.
- The regional governor of the eastern region of Donetsk said on Thursday that no town is safe for residents as fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops intensifies. “There is no place, no town in Donetsk region where it would be safe,” Pavlo Kyrylenko told Agence France-Presse, citing latest intelligence data.
- Ukraine, in a symbolic move, on Thursday said it had formally filed a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to end “the mass and gross human rights violations” by Moscow’s forces during the war in Ukraine. A Ukrainian justice ministry statement said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.
That’s it from me, Maya Yang, as I hand over the blog to my colleague in Australia, Samantha Lock, who will bring you the latest updates on Ukraine. Thank you and I’ll be back tomorrow.
Over 150 cultural sites in Ukraine have been partially or totally destroyed, UNESCO announced on Thursday.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 152 cultural sites have been partially or totally destroyed as a result of the fighting.
The damage includes 70 religious buildings, 30 historical buildings, 18 cultural centres, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries.
Three-quarters of the damages sites are in three region: the Donetsk region, where the fighting is still particularly intense – with 45 damaged cultural sites – the Kharkiv region – with 40 damaged sites – and the Kyiv region – with 26 damaged sites.
“These repeated attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop. Cultural heritage, in all its forms, should not be targeted under any circumstances. I reiterate my call for the respect of international humanitarian law, in particular the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.
Ukraine is recording 200-300 war crimes committed by Russian forces on Ukrainian territory everyday, Ukrinform reports.
In an interview broadcast by Ukrainian television channels, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said, “War crimes are our trouble. Every day we have 200-300 of them, and it’s not because we want or don’t want to start [an investigation] and move. It’s because we have a duty: when there is a crime, we have to start an investigation.”
“Very often we do not have access to territories or people at all. However, this does not mean that we should not start an investigation. We will always do it,” she added.
According to Venediktova, there are currently 623 suspects in the main case regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We are talking, in particular, about the three most important crimes committed during the war – war crimes, genocide, the investigation into which we began from the first days of the [all-out] war, and, of course, aggression. As for the crimes of aggression, we have more than 20 of cases. As for genocide, we already have two suspects who called for genocide,” she said.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy hails decision for Ukraine EU candidacy status – video
The United States is sending additional military assistance to Ukraine, the White House announced on Thursday.
The $450 million shipment includes additional rocket systems to use against Russian invasion forces.
“This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket systems,” White House spokesman John Kirby said.
Other military equipment includes tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition as well as patrol boats.
The rocket systems known as HIMARS are at the top of Ukraine’s wish list as it attempts to fight off Russian forces advancing through the east of the country with the help of a significant advantage in heavy artillery.
An initial four units of the rocket system have already been delivered, kicking off the training program required for Ukrainian soldiers to operate the sophisticated and highly accurate weaponry.
With the latest shipments, the US contribution to Ukraine’s military will amount so far to $6.1 billion, Kirby said.
European Union approves Ukraine as an EU candidate country – video
The regional governor of the eastern region of Donetsk said on Thursday that no town is safe for residents as fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops intensifies.
“There is no place, no town in Donetsk region where it would be safe,” Pavlo Kyrylenko told Agence France-Presse, citing latest intelligence data.
“It is extremely dangerous for residents to stay in any places of the region,” he added, given the current scale of fighting around the towns of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.
Kyrylenko added that the priority was to prevent Russian forces from advancing into Slovyansk and Kramatosk some 80 kilometres away further west. He said around 45,000 people remained in the latter city – about one third of the pre-war population.
He also said that civilian evacuations were ongoing with 251 people taken out Wednesday from the area. According to him, deliveries of foodstuffs were continuing throughout the Donetsk region despite power outages and intermittent cuts to supplies of water and gas.
The European Union has approved the application of Ukraine to become a candidate country for admission to the 27-strong bloc. EU leaders meeting in Brussels have followed the recommendation of the European Commission, which was made on Friday 17 June.
Ukraine has been seeking EU membership since the 2004 “orange revolution” and more emphatically since the 2013-14 Maidan protests. In the expectation of a positive outcome Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had said: “This is like going into the light from the darkness.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, had said the move would mark “is a signal to Moscow that Ukraine, and also other countries from the former Soviet Union, cannot belong to the Russian spheres of influence.”
The move comes just one day short of the four month anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering his troops into Ukraine for what Russia has insisted is not a war, but a “special military operation”.
The accession process to the EU can be lengthy. Until today the official list of candidate countries included Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Turkey gained candidate status in 1999, the Republic of North Macedonia in 2005.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Thursday, “Today is a good day for Europe.”
“This decision strengthens us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, in the face of Russian imperialism. And it strengthens the EU,” she added, referring to the approvals of Moldova and Georgia’s applications for membership candidacy.
Ukraine, in a symbolic move, on Thursday said it had formally filed a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to end “the mass and gross human rights violations” by Moscow’s forces during the war in Ukraine.
The bid has no chance of substantive success, given that on June 7 the Russian parliament approved two bills ending the court’s jurisdiction in Russia.
A Ukrainian justice ministry statement said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The Court will be invited to find that Russia has been guilty of the most flagrant, serious and sustained violations of the Convention ever placed before the Court, and to award just satisfaction on an equally unprecedented scale,” it said.
The filing covers the first period of the war, from Feb. 24 until April 7, the date Russia effectively withdrew its ground forces from around Kyiv and other northern cities. Subsequent filings would cover later events, the ministry said.
Moscow has denied allegations by Ukraine and Western governments of human rights violations during the war.
In March, the United Nations’ top court for disputes between states ordered Russia to stop military operations, saying it was profoundly concerned by Moscow’s use of force. The International Court of Justice was responding to a case filed by Ukraine shortly after the war started.
The UK government has issued an update to the list of goods that are banned from being exported to Russia. The new details include:
- Prohibitions on the export to, or for use in Russia of jet fuel and fuel additives.
- Prohibitions on the export to, or for use in, Russia, of Sterling or EU denominated banknotes; as well as prohibitions on the making available, supply, or delivery of such banknotes to a person connected with Russia.
- Prohibitions on the provision of technical assistance, financial services, funds, and brokering services relating to iron and steel imports.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, Ukraine’s governor of Donetsk, has also posted a short evening update to Telegram. In his message he says that “on 23 June, the Russians killed six civilians in Donetsk: three in Pryshib, two in Avdiivka and one in Chasiv Yar. Five more people were injured today.”
The message continues “it is currently impossible to determine the exact number of Russian victims in Mariupol and Volnovakha.”
The claims have not been independently verified.
Reuters reports that US sources have told them that the United States is expected to provide an additional $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including more long-range rocket systems, in a package due to be announced later today.
The officials told Reuters that details on the package could change at the last minute, but it is expected to include four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or “Himars”.
Earlier today Ukraine’s minister of defence announced the arrival of some of the precision-guided missile launchers on Twitter.
“Himars have arrived to Ukraine,” Oleksii Reznikov wrote. “Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them.”
Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, has posted what he described as “a short evening report” to Telegram. He writes:
Fighting continues in all directions. Many defensive structures have already been destroyed in the Sievierodonetsk industrial zone, we do not rule out the possibility of retreating to new, more fortified positions.
Lysychansk under heavy shelling. We continue to support the life of the city … the “quiet” evacuation continues – today about 40 people left.
In the event of the occupation of Sievierodonetsk, people hiding in the shelters of “Nitrogen” [the Azot chemical plant] will become hostages of racists. Access will be only to the occupied part of Luhansk region.
In the newly occupied territories, the racists [Haidai’s term for the pro-Russian forces] have already begun so-called “filtering”. Activists and people involved in military affairs are being hunted, and relatives of such categories of people are also in sight. Men are forced to go to war against Ukraine, used as “cannon fodder”
The claims within his update have not been independently verified.
Former British Ambassador to Russia, Roderic Lyne, was interviewed earlier by Sky News in the UK about the prospect of the decision to invite Ukraine to be a candidate country for European Union membership. He told viewers:
This will be a watershed in the life of independent Ukraine. Over the past 30 years, Ukraine has made itself vulnerable to Russian pressure, because it’s been rather poorly governed.
With candidate status for the European Union, Ukraine has a very clear incentive to smarten up its act. It will be set all kinds of tough conditions and milestones. This will provide a much needed discipline towards building a really robust democracy.
If Ukraine had not been so weak, it would have been much harder for Russia to attack. So this is really a big turning point.
Asked what he felt Vladimir Putin’s response would be, Lyne said:
We’ve already had the response a week ago. He said he didn’t care because the EU wasn’t a military organisation. I think he does care, but he didn’t want to show that in public. This is another defeat for Putin.
Daniel R DePetris and Rajan Menon, who are both defence and security academics, write for us today to say that the war in Ukraine has entered a new, and more difficult, phase:
How has Russia learned from its errors in the initial stage of the war? First, instead of trying to attack all of Ukraine from multiple angles, a gambit that strained supply lines and left troops exposed to attacks from the rear, it has focused its campaign on Ukraine’s east, using long-range artillery, air and missile strikes on a massive scale against a smaller range of targets. The Russians have also been willing to destroy large parts of towns in order to seize or surround them. The agile urban fighting that the Ukrainian army excelled at is minimised in the Donbas, whose relatively flat terrain favours armoured warfare, airpower and missiles. These weapons, as well as the ratio of soldiers there, favor Russia by a wide margin.
In Sievierodonetsk, Russian tactics – which often destroy entire urban districts before sending in ground troops – have presented Ukrainian commanders with a conundrum: retreat and live to fight another day, or stand their ground and possibly see some of their best troops killed or captured. The outlook for Ukraine in Sievierodonetsk looks grim at best and preordained at worst. About 70% of the city is now under Russian control, and US defence officials assess that Russia could take all of Luhansk within weeks.