Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ukraine war: Russian ‘looting’ in Kherson; Mariupol mass graves; Sean Penn in Kyiv

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1. Russian troops looting and destroying in Kherson, says Ukraine military

The Ukrainian military has accused Russian troops of continuing to loot and destroy infrastructure in the southern city of Kherson, where a showdown has been looming for weeks in the only regional capital Russia has captured intact since its invasion.

Russian artillery hit more than 30 settlements in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, a Ukrainian military statement said on Tuesday night.

“The village of Novovoskresenske in Kherson region was destroyed by Russians last night. They hit a residential building, as a result, one person was killed and one person was injured,” the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Telegram.

A Russian-installed mayor in the town of Snihurivka, east of Mykolaiv, was cited by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying on Tuesday that residents had seen Ukrainian tanks and that fierce fighting was going on.

Russian-installed authorities were forcing residents in Zaporizhzhia region to accept Russian passports after seizing their Ukrainian documents, Ukraine’s military said.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces estimates, in a Twitter post, that a further 780 Russian troops were killed over the last day — bringing the total number of Russian personnel killed to 77,950 since the February 24 invasion. 

The Ukrainian claims cannot be independently verified.

In the eastern Donetsk region — where the focal points of the conflict are around the towns of Bakhmut, Soledar and Avdiivka — President Zelenskyy has said his forces will not yield “a single centimetre” in battles for control. 

2. Crimea bridge ‘not fully operational until September 2023’ — UK intelligence

The Crimean Bridge — damaged in a powerful blast a month ago — is unlikely to be fully operational until at least September 2023, according to the UK’s latest defence intelligence update.

It says the attack on the bridge — which links the occupied peninsula to Russia — has disrupted Russian logistics supplies, reducing Moscow’s ability to move equipment and troops into Crimea and southern Ukraine by rail or road.

“The damage to the bridge, the recent attack on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and the probable withdrawal from Kherson all complicate the Russian government’s ability to paint a picture of military success,” the UK bulletin says.

3. ‘No need to evacuate cities’ says PM as countries plan for refugees

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday he saw no need at present to evacuate Kyiv or any other cities that are not near the front lines in the war against Russia.

He made his comments at a cabinet meeting following Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy system, and after the mayor of Kyiv told residents to consider everything including a worst-case scenario where the capital loses power and water completely.

“Right now, the situation is far from (needing to) announce an evacuation,” Shmyhal said. “We must say that to announce the evacuation of any city not near the front lines, especially the capital, would not make any sense at present.”

Some eastern European countries are anticipating a possible fresh surge in Ukrainian refugees as winter looms and Russia targets Ukraine’s power grid and heating plants.

Slovakia’s contingency plan reckons as many as 700,000 people could cross onto its territory over three months due to tumbling temperatures and continued heavy fighting.

Charities say there are now signs of increased movement across the borders and are stepping up preparations. There are plans to reopen reception centres and restock food supplies.

“An increase in numbers is being felt, and is expected. It is currently up 15%,” said Roman Dohovic, an aid coordinator for the eastern Slovak city of Kosice. “We are being called by people who are already staying in Kosice and looking for accommodation for family members and acquaintances who are still in Ukraine.”

Kosice has provided accommodation for about 60 people daily in recent weeks but is preparing to raise that to 1,000 within 48 hours if needed.

In Hungary, Zsofia Dobis-Lucski of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid — an NGO working at the border — said the number of daily arrivals at the Zahony frontier train station had jumped tenfold to around 300-500 since Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities intensified.

Data from the UN refugee agency UNHCR shows some 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees currently registered under various protection schemes across Europe, many of them in the EU states bordering Ukraine — Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Some 6.9 million people are believed displaced internally within Ukraine, often living in very tough conditions. 

4. Italy ‘planning new arms package’ for Ukraine

The Italian government is preparing a new arms package for Ukraine including a variety of air defence systems and Stinger missiles, according to a coalition official. The quantity being offered and the delivery date for any shipment are unclear.

Western nations have been delivering more air defence hardware to Ukraine since President Zelenskyy asked G7 leaders for help to stop Russian missiles raining down on Ukrainian cities.

Giorgia Meloni’s newly installed right-wing coalition government is preparing a sixth round of supplies, the first of which was approved in late February under the national unity government of Mario Draghi. 

Meloni is a staunch supporter of Ukraine despite the ambivalence of her coalition allies, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, who both have historically close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rome has never disclosed details of the arms it has sent to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, but Italian and Ukrainian media have said previous shipments included multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), Pzh2000 howitzers and armoured vehicles.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s “Ukraine Support Tracker“, Italy has pledged €150 million in military aid for Kyiv, out of a total aid package of €692 million. This makes Italy the world’s 8th largest contributor, although proportionate to GDP it sits outside the top 20.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week that Rome pledged to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion for “as long as necessary”, a statement said.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending weapons.

On Monday, Kyiv said it had received its first delivery of NASAMS air defence systems from the United States. French President Emmanuel Macron also pledged last week to boost Kyiv’s anti-air defences.

5. European Commission proposes €18 billion in loans for Ukraine

The European Commission has proposed a support package for Ukraine worth €18 billion in the form of loans for 2023.

The financial assistance of €1.5 billion per month “will help Ukraine maintain essential state functions, ensure macroeconomic stability and rehabilitate critical infrastructure,” the Commission said in a tweet on Wednesday.

6. Satellite photos show rapid cemetery expansion near Mariupol

Satellite photos analysed by The Associated Press show a rapid expansion of a cemetery in southern Ukraine in the months after Russian forces seized the port city of Mariupol.

The images from Planet Labs PBC highlight the changes in the cemetery in Staryi Krym, an occupied town located northwest of the city. Comparing images from March 24, when Mariupol was under attack by the Russians, to one taken on October 14, months after the city’s fall, shows significant growth to the cemetery’s southern fringes.

An area of some 1.1 square kilometres appears to have been freshly dug over that period in the cemetery’s southwestern corner. Another area of just over half a square kilometre was dug in the southeast corner.

It remains unclear how many people were buried in the cemetery during the roughly seven-month period.

The Center for Information Resilience, a London-based nonprofit that specialises in digital investigations and has monitored the Staryi Krym cemetery, estimated that more than 4,600 graves have been dug since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

7. Sean Penn gives one of his Oscars to Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with American actor and director Sean Penn in Kyiv, who gave him his Oscar statue as a symbolic gesture of support.

“When you win, bring it back to Malibu,” Penn joked. “I feel much better knowing there is a piece of me here.” 

Zelenskyy said he will keep Penn’s Oscar statue, saying it’s “such a great honour, but until we win.”

He then presented Sean Penn with the Order of Merit, honouring Penn’s contribution to supporting Ukraine.

Penn was one of the first people who visited Ukraine after Russian troops moved into the country.

The square includes plaques with the world leader who have supported Ukraine throughout its war with Russia.

Numisteamone

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