Ukraine slams Russian campaign in Donbas ‘hell’, US readies US$40 billion in aid
BIDEN BACKS FINLAND, SWEDEN
Ukraine’s allies, led by the United States and the European Union, have given billions of dollars in assistance – including military equipment – to Kyiv since the Russian invasion began on Feb 24.
The US Congress on Thursday approved a huge weapons and aid package worth US$40 billion, and the White House said President Joe Biden would sign it during his trip to Asia.
The bundle includes US$6 billion for Ukraine to enhance its armoured vehicle inventory and air defence system.
Biden has cast the Ukraine war as part of a great US-led struggle of democracy against authoritarianism.
At the White House on Thursday, he offered “full, total, complete backing” to Finland and Sweden in their bid to join NATO, giving the leaders of the Nordic neighbours a red-carpet welcome at the White House.
Finland and Sweden had historically kept a distance from the alliance to avoid angering Russia but changed course – despite warnings from the Kremlin – as the brutal invasion shocked Europe.
But all 30 existing NATO members need to agree on expanding the alliance, and Turkey has voiced misgivings about the new applicants, accusing them of what it describes as leniency towards armed Kurdish groups.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that remark, saying: “I’m very confident that as this process moves forward, there will be a strong consensus for bringing both countries under the alliance.”
In Finland, a brewery produced a special NATO beer.
It tastes of “security, with a hint of freedom”, brewer Petteri Vanttinen said.
‘I ASK YOU FOR FORGIVENESS’
In southern Ukraine, 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered this week at the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, Russia said Thursday.
The Russian defence ministry released a video appearing to show exhausted Ukrainian soldiers trudging out of the sprawling steelworks, after a weeks-long siege forced the defenders and civilians to huddle in tunnels, enduring dire shortages of food, water and medicine.
Russian troops patted down those surrendering and inspected their bags as they left, signalling the effective end of what Ukraine’s government had called a “heroic” resistance.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered “hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war” from the plant in Mariupol, which has been obliterated by Russian shelling.
Ukraine is hoping to exchange the Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners.
But pro-Kremlin authorities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said some of them could be put on trial.
Kyiv has started trying captured Russian troops for alleged war crimes with prosecutors detailing 12,595 counts – including the horrific bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol.
The first Russian soldier to go on trial in Ukraine begged for forgiveness Thursday.
Vadim Shishimarin has admitted shooting dead Oleksandr Shelipov, an unarmed 62-year-old man.
“I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness,” the 21-year-old sergeant said to Shelipov’s widow.
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