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Less than three months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war to take control of Ukraine and halt NATO's expansion near his country's borders, Russia's Nordic neighbor Finland is set to join the Western military alliance.
The Kremlin vowed "retaliatory steps" in the wake of the move, a significant shift in policy that Sweden is expected to follow in the coming days as Putin's troops are being pushed back in northeastern Ukraine and continue to hit Mariupol's last stronghold in an effort to take full control of the key port city.
Here's the latest:
- Finland's leaders back NATO bid "without delay."
- The Kremlin says Finland's move represents a threat to Russia and vows "retaliatory steps."
- Ukrainian forces reclaim territory around Kharkiv in the north.
- Russian forces are still bombarding Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant.
Ukraine claims it has struck a Russian logistics ship in the Black Sea
KYIV, Ukraine —Ukrainian officials say their forces took out another Russian ship in the Black Sea.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said late Thursday the Vsevolod Bobrov logistics ship was struck as it was trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island. He said the ship was badly damaged but was not believed to have sunk.
A spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration said the vessel caught fire after the strike. There was no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.
The British Ministry of Defense said this week that Ukraine has been targeting Russian air defenses and supply vessels on Snake Island in an effort to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to expand its control over the Black Sea coastline.
The Ukrainian military last month sank the Moskva cruiser, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. In March, the military destroyed the landing ship Saratov.
On nurses day, Zelenskyy accuses Russia of ‘barbarism’ for attacks on hospitals
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that Russian forces have destroyed more than 570 health care facilities in his country, including 101 hospitals.
“This is barbarism,” Zelenskyy said in an address on International Nurses Day.
The World Health Organization said this week that there have been “continuous attacks on health care” since Russia attacked and invaded the country on Feb. 24.
The WHO said it had verified 209 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine as of Wednesday, with 75 people killed. Fifty-five others have been injured.
U.S. and other officials have accused Russian forces of committing war crimes in what they have condemned as the unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine, citing indiscriminate attacks and attacks targeting civilians.
Zelenskyy said that 570 health care facilities have been destroyed and that “101 hospitals were completely destroyed.”
Rand Paul blocks quick passage of $40B aid package
WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., defied leaders of both parties Thursday and single-handedly delayed until next week the Senate’s approval of $40 billion more to help Ukraine and its allies withstand Russia’s three-month-old invasion.
With the Senate poised to debate and vote on the package of military and economic aid, Paul, a libertarian who often opposes U.S. intervention abroad, denied leaders the unanimous agreement they needed to proceed, saying he wanted language inserted into the bill, without a vote, that would have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending.
The bipartisan measure, backed by President Joe Biden, underscores U.S. determination to reinforce its support for Ukraine’s outnumbered forces. It has been approved overwhelmingly by the House and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Final passage is not in doubt.
Ukraine offers to exchange prisoners for 'severely wounded' Azovstal fighters
Negotiations with Russia to free “severely wounded” fighters from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant continue, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said Thursday.
Describing the talks as “difficult,” Iryna Vereshchuk said in a post on her Telegram channel that Ukraine had offered to exchange 38 fighters for 38 Russian prisoners.
She added the negotiations were being conducted on behalf of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Four House committee chairs ask Big Tech to archive evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
Four high-ranking congressional Democrats sent formal requests Thursday asking the CEOs of YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, to archive content that could be used as evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
“We write to encourage Meta to take steps to preserve and archive content shared on its platforms that could potentially be used as evidence as the U.S. government and international human rights and accountability monitors investigate Russian war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities in Ukraine,” said the letter that was sent to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The letters were signed by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the Oversight Committee; Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., chair of the Oversight and Reform subcommittee on national security; and William Keating, D-Mass, chair of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, energy, the environment and cyber.
They specifically ask the social media companies “to flag or mark content as containing potential evidence of war crimes and other atrocities.”
YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.N. sets up inquiry into Russia’s alleged rights abuses in Ukraine
The U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution by a strong majority Thursday to investigate allegations of rights abuses by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine formerly under their control.
The Geneva-based council passed the resolution through a vote of 33-2, with China and Eritrea voting no. There were 12 abstentions.
Russia was recently suspended from the 47-member council. It could still have joined the session as an observer but chose not to do so in protest of the resolution, which it said amounted to political score-settling.
Ukraine says it blew up Russian pontoon bridges over a key river — and units trying to cross it
Ukraine’s military says it blew up a key Russian crossing on the Siverskyi Donets River on its eastern front, inflicting heavy losses in a potentially significant blow to the Kremlin’s designs on the regions of Luhansk and Kharkiv.
Images shared by the Defense Ministry appeared to show a ruined pontoon crossing with dozens of destroyed or damaged armored vehicles on both banks.
“Artillerymen of the 17th tank brigade of the #UAarmy have opened the holiday season for [Russian forces],” the ministry said on Twitter. “Some bathed in the Siverskyi Donets River, and some were burned by the May sun.”
Kyiv’s strategic communications directorate tweeted images of smoking wreckage and two ruined bridgeheads and said the army’s 80th Separate Assault Brigade had “destroyed all attempts by the Russian occupiers to cross” the river.
Blinken to travel to Europe for NATO meeting
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Germany for an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss the war in Ukraine, the State Department said in a news release Thursday.
The meeting in Berlin on Saturday will also include a discussion about the leaders’ summit, which is set to take place in the Spanish capital, Madrid, next month, the release said.
Blinken will then travel to Paris for a U.S. and European Union Trade Council meeting, it added.
Ukraine an emotional favorite to win this weekend's Eurovision song contest
Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra looks set to ride a wave of public sympathy to win the Eurovision Song Contest when performers take to the stage in the Italian city of Turin on Saturday night.
Kalush Orchestra’s entry, "Stefania," which is sung in Ukrainian and fuses rap with traditional folk music, is a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.
Bookmakers have the group as a clear favorite for the annual contest, which normally draws a television audience of nearly 200 million.
While the contest is official nonpolitical, Russia was excluded after it invaded Ukraine in February.
The contest is decided by a combination of votes from the official jury and viewers from participating countries.
U.N. human rights chief details violations in Ukraine that 'may amount to war crimes'
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet raised the alarm Thursday about civilian deaths in areas of Ukraine previously held by Russian forces, as well as allegations of rape and enforced disappearances. She said her office continues to investigate violations, “many of which may amount to war crimes.”
In a statement addressed to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Bachelet said her monitoring mission last week visited 14 towns and villages in the northern Kyiv and Chernihiv regions previously controlled by Russian armed forces. They collected firsthand accounts of relatives’, neighbors’ and friends’ being killed, injured, detained and “disappeared,” Bachelet said.
“To date, over 1,000 civilian bodies have been recovered in the Kyiv region alone,” she said. Some of the people were killed in hostilities, Bachelet added, but others appear to have been summarily executed or to have died because of stress to their health caused by hostilities and the lack of medical aid.
“The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv is shocking,” she said. “While we have information about 300 such killings, the figures will continue to increase as new evidence becomes available."
Bachelet’s office has also been looking into allegations of sexual violence, and it has verified a dozen cases across the country, she said.
Humanitarian efforts in Kharkiv
Leaders of NATO member states welcome Finland's announcement
Several leaders of NATO countries have welcomed Finland's announcement of the country's intention to join the military alliance.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said it was good news for the security of Europe.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called it a historic moment and promised "full support."
'Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps': Russian foreign ministry on Finland
The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow will be forced to take "retaliatory steps" after Finland announced Thursday its plans to join NATO in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move,” the ministry said in a statement, according to a NBC News translation.
"Finland’s accession to NATO will cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations, maintaining stability and security in the Northern European region," the ministry's statement added. "Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security arising in this regard.”
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Finland's move presents "a threat" to Russia.
Tank survival training in Kryvyi Rih
Finland's accession process to NATO would be smooth and swift, chief Stoltenberg says
A NATO membership of Finland would strengthen both the Western military alliance and Finland, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
“Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift,” Stoltenberg said after Finland announced it would apply to join NATO “without delay.”
Siemens becomes latest company to leave Russia
Siemens will quit the Russian market due to the war in Ukraine, it said Thursday, taking a $630 million hit to its business during the second quarter, with more costs to come.
The German industrial and technology group became the latest multinational to announce losses linked to its decision to leave Russia following the Feb. 24 invasion.
Siemens Chief Executive Roland Busch described the conflict as a “turning point in history.”
“We, as a company, have clearly and strongly condemned this war,” Busch told reporters.
The Munich company employs 3,000 people in Russia, where it has been active for 170 years. It first went to Russia in 1851 to deliver devices for the telegraph line between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The country now contributes about 1 percent of Siemens’ annual revenue, with most of the present day business concerned with maintenance and service work on high-speed trains.
Finland's move to join NATO a threat for Russia, Kremlin says
Finland’s entry into NATO represents a threat to Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, according to the state news agency Tass.
This was the Kremlin's first reaction to Finland's leadership announcing the country's intention to join the alliance "without delay" in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“Another expansion of NATO does not make our continent more stable and secure," Peskov was quoted as saying by Tass.
Homes destroyed as Ukrainian village is liberated
Multiple Ukrainian regions report extensive shelling
The leaders of several Ukrainian regions in the north, east and center of the country reported strikes Thursday morning.
The regional administration in the northern Chernihiv region reported several airstrikes on critical infrastructure in the city of Novhorod-Siversky. It said there were dead and wounded, without providing additional details.
In the northeastern Sumy region, head of the regional administration Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said about 20 heavy artillery rounds struck the village of Novi Vyrky, killing one person. Zhyvytskyy said the strikes came from Russia’s territory.
Officials in the central Zaporizhia region also reported Thursday morning that a Russian cruise missile was launched at the city of Zaporizhzhia, setting a building on fire. There was no immediate information about casualties.
In the eastern Kharkiv region, regional administration chief Oleh Sinehubov said although the region’s capital Kharkiv has been relatively quiet, towns and villages in the region have been hit by shelling Thursday. One person died and three others were injured, he said.
The head of the administration in the central Dnepropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, also reported shelling on the Zelenodolsk community, killing one person and wounding another, early Thursday.
Meanwhile, the head of the Luhansk region in the country’s east said there was “almost no surviving critical infrastructure” left.
“Some power lines can still be repaired, but it is now impossible due to constant shelling,” Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app Thursday.
Haidai said towns and villages of his region were fired at 26 times Wednesday.
Zelenskyy applauds Finland NATO push
In Berlin, Ukraine’s Kuleba welcomes positive changes in Germany’s position
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba praised Germany’s response to the war with Russia during his visit to Berlin on Thursday, saying that the country had now taken a leading role following tensions in Berlin-Kyiv relations.
In an interview with German broadcaster ARD, Kuleba said there had been positive changes, after Germany decided to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine and back a proposed E.U. embargo on Russian oil following pressure from its allies.
During the top Ukrainian diplomat’s visit, which will also include an appearance at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting on the German Baltic Sea coast, Kuleba said he plans to lobby for Ukrainian E.U. membership, as well as further sanctions on Russia and a response to food scarcity threatened by the conflict.
Hockey pals once, Finland and Russian presidents now worlds apart
They shared an ice rink and a cordial relationship once, but as Finland announced Thursday its intention to join NATO “without delay,” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto could not be further apart.
Finland’s move in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine is bound to redraw Europe’s security map and upset Putin, who cited NATO’s expansion on Russia’s doorstep as one of the existential threats for his nation before he launched the war.
Now the Nordic nation, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, is expected to be given rapid accession to join the alliance.
There has been no immediate reaction from the Kremlin.
Huge explosion rocks Azovstal steel plant as Russian bombardment continues
Ukrainian fighter trapped in Mariupol steel plant asks Elon Musk for help
One of the fighters holed up in a steelworks besieged by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol has appealed to SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk to help evacuate them.
Many civilians were rescued from the sprawling Azovstal plant last week under an agreement with Russia, but no deal has been reached with Moscow on allowing out hundreds of fighters, some of whom are wounded, after weeks of bombardment.
“@elonmusk people say you come from another planet to teach people to believe in the impossible. Our planets are next to each other, as I live where it is nearly impossible to survive,” marine commander Serhiy Volina wrote on Twitter.
“Help us get out of Azovstal to a mediating country. If not you, then who? Give me a hint.”
Musk, the world’s richest man, owns rocket company SpaceX and electric car maker Tesla, and is planning to buy Twitter. It was not immediately clear whether Musk had seen Volina’s tweet.
How Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy became a global phenomenon
He’s been described as heroic, inspirational and a “champion” for the democratic world.
Three months ago, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy was an increasingly unpopular leader of one of Europe’s poorest countries. Today, he’s become a symbol of the battle between democracy and authoritarianism — one who continues to push the world to keep its attention on a war that has already killed thousands and has no easy end in sight.
At the outset of the war, as it became apparent Ukrainians were resisting the Russian military might against all odds, Zelenskyy became a hero not only for Ukrainians, but also for many in the West, who saw him as a fighter for freedom and the beleaguered liberal order.
“Many people in the West see that Ukrainians are not only defending their country, but democratic values and ideals as well,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst and the head of the Ukrainian think tank Penta. “Zelenskyy has become a symbol of that fight.”
Ukrainian flags fly at national soccer game
Finland must make bid to join NATO ‘without delay,’ its leaders say
Finland’s leaders announced Thursday their intention for the country to join NATO “without delay,” a move that would bolster the Western military alliance’s strength in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and redraw Europe’s security map.
The Nordic nation, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, is expected to be given rapid accession to join the alliance and neighboring Sweden looks set to follow with its own bid in the coming days.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement early Thursday.
Ukraine retakes areas near Kharkiv as Russian forces retreat east, U.K. says
Ukrainian forces have retaken some areas north of Kharkiv, where they continue counter-attacks as Russian forces retreat east, according to the ministry of defense in the U.K.
"Despite Russia's success in encircling Kharkiv in the initial stages of the conflict, it has reportedly withdrawn forces from the region to reorganize and replenish its forces following heavy losses," the ministry wrote. Russian forces have reportedly been pushed east of the Siverskyi Donets River.
Locals in some areas of the Kharkiv region that remain under occupation have been cut off from electricity, water and cellular service, the Ukrainian defense ministry said.
A cyberattack took down one of Russia’s largest video platforms for days
One of Russia’s largest video streaming websites was rendered inoperable for three days after it was the target of a cyberattack.
RuTube, designed as a Kremlin-friendly counterpart to YouTube, came back online Wednesday afternoon after it went dark Monday. RuTube said in messages on its official Telegram channel that it had been the target of the “largest cyberattack” it had ever seen.
The site still loads slowly, and it’s unclear when full service will be restored.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a near-constant stream of low-level cyberattacks on websites in both countries. Ukraine’s government has even given the “IT Army,” a group of so-called hacktivists, approval to launch almost daily attacks at targets it wants to overwhelm with web traffic.