A Ukrainian combat tank drives past Severodonetsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 18, 2022 (AFP/Yasuyoshi CHIBA)
The US Congress on Thursday issued a massive $40 billion package to arm and support Ukraine, as Moscow scored a symbolic victory with images of hundreds of Ukraine’s up-and-coming fighters, the haggard, from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol where they had been holed up under bombs for weeks. .
Within this massive aid package, $6 billion in particular should allow Ukraine to equip itself with armored vehicles and strengthen its anti-aircraft defense at a time when fighting rages in the east and south of the country. Moscow decided to focus its efforts there in recent weeks after failing to move Kyiv and Kharkiv to the north.
Group of Seven finance ministers, meeting in Germany, on Thursday began calculating the billions of euros, pounds and dollars that each country could quickly spend to support Ukraine’s economy and its military efforts.
The bill now only needs to be approved by President Joe Biden.
In mid-March, Congress had already released nearly $14 billion for the Ukraine crisis, but for several weeks Joe Biden had been calling for a significant budget extension in order to support Ukraine in the new phase of the conflict.
A photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry on May 18, 2022, shows Ukrainian soldiers being searched by pro-Russian soldiers after leaving the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol (Russian Defense Ministry/Statement)
The important announcement, which has been eagerly awaited in Kyiv, comes as Russia announced on Thursday that nearly 800 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the bowels of the gigantic Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol have surrendered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,730. Since Monday.
Moscow has released photos showing groups of men in combat gear, some with crutches or bandages, after a long battle that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion in Mariupol, the city of martyrs that destroyed 90% in the southeast of the country. The country is where at least 20 thousand people died, according to Kyiv.
And the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in a press statement that these soldiers, including 80 wounded, “made themselves prisoners.”
Kyiv has not spoken of surrendering and Ukrainian officials decline to comment at this point. But President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday spoke of an “evacuation” aimed at protecting the lives of these Ukrainian “heroes” through international mediation.
On Thursday, the United Nations called on Russia and Ukraine to resume talks in order to “end this war”, implicitly confirming the version of a negotiated solution, as was the case under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate civilians previously from Mariupol.
“I like to believe that the fact that this cooperation has been relatively successful, and in any case much better than previous weeks, is something we can build on,” said the UN emergency chief. State of emergency, Martin Griffiths during a press conference in Geneva.
The evacuees were trapped for weeks in a maze of underground galleries dug during the Soviet era beneath giant steel mills, which were heavily bombed by the Russians.
Denis Pushlin, the pro-Russian separatist leader, said on Wednesday that the leaders had not yet surrendered and said there were initially “more than 2,000 people” at the site.
– ‘War of Independence’ –
Map of the situation in Ukraine as of May 19 at 7 am GMT (AFP /)
Svyatoslav Balamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, confirmed in a video released Thursday evening that he is still at the plant with the rest of the command, refusing to reveal the details of the ongoing “operation”.
However, their fate is not decided: Ukraine wants to organize an exchange of prisoners of war, but Russia has repeatedly declared that it considers at least some of them not soldiers, but “neo-Nazi” fighters.
Despite this sequence of primarily symbolic value for Russia, which has almost completely controlled the city for several weeks, President Zelensky announced Thursday that his people remained “strong, indestructible, brave and free,” in a video marking Vychevanka Day, the traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt He famously wore it for the occasion.
“This war for us is undoubtedly a war of independence,” he said in a speech to the students, stressing that Russia “may always remain a threat.”
– “Forgive me” –
A sequence this time with a high symbolic value for Ukraine, the first trial of a Russian soldier accused of war crimes resumed Thursday in Kyiv.
“I know you will not be able to forgive me, but I beg your pardon,” Sergeant Vadim Chichimarin, 21, with a young face, told the widow of the 62-year-old accused of killing him. On February 28 in the north-east of Ukraine, while a column of armored vehicles was under attack, he tried to join his people.
Life imprisonment was requested for the young soldier, who pleaded guilty.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the accusations against Russian forces as “fake or bogus”.
However, another war crimes trial began Thursday in northeastern Ukraine: the trial of two Russian soldiers accused of firing missiles at civilian infrastructure in the Kharkiv region.
Russian bombing continues to cause casualties. It left 12 dead and 40 wounded Thursday in Severodonetsk in the (eastern) Lugansk region, according to local governor Sergio Gaidai. He said that most of the shots hit apartment buildings and that the death toll could rise.
An AFP team immediately noted that for several days this industrial city had turned into a battlefield and was crushed by artillery fire.
“I don’t know how long we can continue,” said Neela Kachina, 65, a former municipal employee, now retired.
– ‘Absolutely firm’ –
Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk form the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Lugansk region. The Russians now encircle these two areas, separated only by a river, and bombard them relentlessly to wear down the resistance and prevent the arrival of reinforcements.
According to a daily report of the Ukrainian army, the enemy “intensified its attacks and offensive attempts to improve its tactical positions” in Donbas, the Russian-speaking eastern region that has been partially controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists and which Moscow has not been able to do. Taking Kyiv and the rest of the country, he wants complete control.
The US Department of Defense (Pentagon) warned Thursday that despite the successes achieved by Ukrainian forces in the north, the Russian army is succeeding in tightening its grip on Donbass and the south of the country, which means that the conflict may continue.
“We are absolutely determined to do everything in our power to help the Ukrainians defend themselves,” a senior US defense official told reporters.
A picture of the G7’s money, May 19, 2022 near Bonn, Germany (AFP/Ina Fassbender)
For the first time since the start of the war, the US and Russian chiefs of staff, Generals Mark Milley and Valery Gerasimov, spoke by phone Thursday, the Pentagon also noted.
On the economic front, major money makers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations gathered in Germany on Thursday and Friday, in support of Ukraine and to discuss the worldwide consequences of the war that Moscow started nearly three months ago.
On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed a “new macro-financial assistance” to Ukraine for this year in the amount of “up to €9 billion”.
To varying degrees, the entire world economy is affected by this attack and the resulting sanctions against Moscow.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned, on Wednesday, of “the specter of a global food shortage in the coming months,” calling on Russia to liberalize Ukrainian grain exports, and to open the West’s access to Russian fertilizers to world markets.