Live Russia-Ukraine updates: Victory Day plans, US sends military aid – USA TODAY

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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, the United States has committed to sending more military aid to help Ukrainian troops.

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. 

But he said the latest round of aid has “nearly exhausted” the amount approved by Congress for Ukraine, and urged the passage of an additional $33 billon in military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

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Latest developments: 

►The UN 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,” World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said.

►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.

►Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said Friday that 41 more Ukrainians were released that day in a prisoner swap with Russia. Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram that the 41 people who’ve been returned include 28 military personnel and 13 civilians.

Taiwan official: We hope the world will show same resolve if China attacks  

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 mount strong counteroffensive near Kharkiv

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. 

US diplomat huddles with EU counterparts on new Russia sanctions

Wendy Sherman the State Department’s No. 2 official, met on Saturday in Paris 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.

“The participants coordinated on plans for additional sanctions and other measures to hold the Russian Federation accountable,” said Ned Price, the State Department’s chief spokesman.  

Governor reports more shelling in Kharkiv Oblast

More rounds of shelling have hit the Kharkiv Oblast area, the northeast part of the 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 visits Romanian school hosting Ukrainian children

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.

Romania is the second-ranking destination for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, and more than 850,000 people have come through the country, according to the United Nations. Many move on to other countries after reaching Romania.

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 killed or injured

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.

Another super yacht blocked, this time in Italy

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.

One of Russia’s advanced tanks destroyed in combat, UK says

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 UK assessment does not specific when or how the tank was destroyed. About 100 of the tanks are in service with Russia’s most advanced units, including those fighting in Ukraine, UK defense ministry’s May 7 statement says.

Russia prepares for Victory Day parade 

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.

50 more evacuated from steel plant

Another evacuation mission Friday brought an 50 more civilians out of the Azovstal steel plant, the last Ukrainian holdout in the otherwise Russian-controlled city of Mariupol. Officials said the effort will continue Saturday.

Russian troops have increased their shelling on the plant. While Ukrainian troops and potentially hundreds more civilians remain holed up in the underground bunkers at the plant, Russian forces have breached the mill’s compound in recent days.

The U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross have completed two successful evacuations so far, but many more civilians have remained behind. Some who left the plant chose to stay in Mariupol to search for loved ones, while others including the elderly were physically unable to leave the bunkers.

UN Security Council releases first statement on ‘dispute,’ avoids Russian veto

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted its first statement since Russia’s military action began Feb. 24, expressing “strong support” for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ efforts to find a peaceful solution to the “dispute” in Ukraine.

The short statement adopted at a brief meeting Friday does not mention a “war,” “conflict” or “invasion” as many council members call Russia’s ongoing military action, or a “special military operation” as Moscow refers to it. Russia, which holds veto power in the council, has blocked all previous attempts to adopt a statement or resolution.

Instead, the statement “expresses deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine” and “recalls that all member states have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligation to settle their international disputes by peaceful means.”

Contributing: The Associated Press