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Russia pushed for a crucial early victory in its new eastern offensive Wednesday, pressuring the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol to surrender as its forces sought to advance in the Donbas industrial heartland.
The push came as Russia said it had test-launched its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.
As his country’s invaders take the war into a decisive new phase, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said attacks in the east had increased significantly and called the situation in Mariupol “extremely severe.”
He urged no delay in the supply of heavy weapons that Kyiv has said could ultimately decide the fate of the battle for the Donbas — a request that looks set to be met by his allies.
The U.S. is expected to announce another package of military aid, multiple officials said, while other Western countries have also moved to shore up Ukraine’s defenses for a fight that is expected to look very different from the war’s first two months.
German animal park renames Putin the pig
MEHLMEISEL, Germany — An animal park in Bavaria that had named one its wild boars Putin due to its Russian genetic heritage held a ceremony on Tuesday to rechristen the hairy hog with a German name following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Eckard Mickish, operator of the park just outside the town of Mehlmeisel, said he named the boar after Russian President Vladimir Putin three years ago upon its arrival given it had been bred from pure-race boar from Russia.
At nearly 441 pounds, the hog weighed around three times as much as those typically found in Germany, he said.
But lately whenever Mickish had to do a roll call of the boar for visitors, a shiver went down his spine when mentioning Putin given the war unfolding just west. He also worried how Ukrainian visitors would feel.
He soon came to the conclusion that no pig deserved this name so the park announced on social media a search for a new name. About 2,700 suggestions poured in, and Eberhofer — the name of a policeman from a popular Bavarian book series — won the vote.
The boar was rechristened on Tuesday in a ceremony that included a marzipan and biscuit cake decorated with five pink smiling pigs.
Russia controls 80 percent of Luhansk region, governor says
LVIV, Ukraine — The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80 percent of the region, one of two that make up the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
One of Russia’s stated goals is to expand the territory in the Donbas under the control of Moscow-backed separatists.
Before Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the Kyiv government controlled 60 percent of the Luhansk region.
Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, who renewed their offensive this week in eastern and southern Ukraine, have strengthened their attacks in the Luhansk region.
After they seized Kreminna, Haidai said, the Russians are threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna, and he has urged all residents to evacuate immediately.
The Donetsk region, also part of the Donbas, has seen extremely heavy fighting, as well — particularly around the port city of Mariupol.
Biden set to discuss Russia, Ukraine from White House on Thursday
President Joe Biden will make remarks about Russia and Ukraine on Thursday at the White House.
U.S. officials have said the Biden administration is preparing another military aid package for Ukraine.
Biden on Wednesday called the attack and invasion of Ukraine “Putin’s brutal and unjustified war,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He made the comments before a meeting with Defense Department officials.
Last week the Biden administration announced $800 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, which includes howitzers, artillery ammunition, radar systems and helicopters.
Zelenskyy says situation in east, south ‘remains very tough'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the situation in his country’s east and south “remains very tough” amid Russian attacks and a new offensive focus on the region.
Russian forces “do not give up on trying to win at least some victory for themselves via the new expansive offensive,” Zelenskyy said in a video address Wednesday.
He again called for Russia to be labeled a state sponsor of terrorism.
Zelenskyy says Russia must be called out as ‘the state sponsoring terrorism’April 21, 202201:34
Zelenskyy said that the European Union is preparing a sixth round of sanctions. He met Wednesday with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, in Kyiv.
Michel visited Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv, and said that he witnessed evidence of Russian atrocities there.
“These are atrocities. These are war crimes,” Michel said. “It must be punished. It will be punished.”
Residents of the devastated village have described apartment buildings’ being bombed and Russian soldiers’ shooting anyone who tried to help those trapped inside.
Ukrainian presidential adviser willing to hold negotiations with Russia in Mariupol
An adviser to Ukraine’s president said Wednesday that he and others are ready to meet for talks in the besieged city of Mariupol without conditions.
There was no apparent response from Russia to Mykhailo Podolyak’s statement on Twitter.
“Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol,” Podolyak tweeted in part.
Podolyak wrote that the goal was “To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone.”
Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia had also said he and Podolyak were ready to go to Mariupol to hold talks about the evacuation of the military garrison and civilians.
Mariupol has been beleaguered and devastated by Russian strikes. A Ukrainian commander in the city said his soldiers were down to their last days or hours unless they get help. Civilians are also reported to be trapped.
U.S. expands sanctions against Russians, including against crypto miner
The U.S. announced sanctions Wednesday against Russians and entities involved in attempts to evade previously imposed sanctions.
The Treasury Department’s sanctions arm also for the first time announced a designation against a “virtual currency mining company,” it said.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control designated the Russian bank Transkapitalbank and people and organizations connected to Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, the Treasury Department said. Malofeyev was added to the sanctions list in 2014 for allegedly providing financial support to Russian separatists in Crimea.
The department also said it was targeting Bitriver AG, the holding company for the cryptocurrency mining company Bitriver, as well as 10 of its subsidiaries in Russia.
“Treasury can and will target those who evade, attempt to evade, or aid the evasion of U.S. sanctions against Russia, as they are helping support Putin’s brutal war of choice,” Brian E. Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
The State Department also announced visa restrictions on more than 600 people, including lawmakers who it said have been involved in repressing independent media.
Ukrainian commander in Mariupol pleads for help against RussiaApril 20, 202201:59
G7 finance ministers pledge additional $24B for Ukraine
WASHINGTON — Finance ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations said they have provided and pledged, along with the international community, additional support to Ukraine exceeding $24 billion for 2022 and beyond, adding that they were prepared to do more as needed.
In a statement, the ministers said they regretted Russia’s participation in international forums, including the Group of 20 industrial and emerging nations and the International Monetary Fund and meetings of the World Bank this week.
“International organizations and multilateral fora should no longer conduct their activities with Russia in a business-as-usual manner,” the ministers said.
Russia’s Navalny accuses Le Pen of Kremlin ties before French vote
PARIS — Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stepped abruptly into France’s tight presidential campaign Wednesday, urging voters to back incumbent Emmanuel Macron and alleging that far-right challenger Marine Le Pen is too closely linked to Russia.
Le Pen has faced scrutiny before over a $9.7 million loan that her party received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank.
Questions about Le Pen’s ties to Moscow arose during her presidential bid five years ago, which she lost to Macron, and they have emerged again in Russia's war in Ukraine. She reiterated in a debate with Macron on Wednesday that the Feb. 24 Russian invasion was “inadmissible.”
The tweet by Navalny’s team threatened Le Pen’s relatively smooth ride toward Sunday’s runoff against Macron.
During the debate, Macron attacked Le Pen as being dependent on Russia.
“You are speaking to your banker when you speak of Russia. That’s the problem, Madame Le Pen,” Macron said.
Le Pen bristled at the suggestion she is beholden to the Kremlin, saying she was a “totally free woman.”
Earlier in the campaign, she dismissed questions about the loan to her National Front party, which has been rebranded as the National Rally. The bank has since been dissolved.
U.S., Ukraine officials walk out of G-20 meeting to protest Russia
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Ukraine’s Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko walked out of a Group of 20 meeting Wednesday as Russia’s representative started talking.
Several finance ministers and central bank governors also left the room, and some ministers and central bank governors who attended virtually turned their cameras off, according to an official familiar with the meetings.
The brutal effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine have taken center stage at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings.
President Joe Biden has said that Russia should not remain a member of the G-20, which promotes cooperations between the world’s biggest economies.
Railway workers risk their lives to help Ukrainians flee war
Train operators help evacuate millions of Ukrainians to safetyApril 20, 202203:50
TERNOPIL, Ukraine — Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more than 5 million Ukrainians have fled their country, many by train as conductors and attendants risk putting themselves in harm’s way to help their compatriots.
A total of 95 railway workers have been killed and 103 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, according to Alexander Kamyshin, head of Ukraine’s national rail system. Another four were held hostage, he said.
On April 8, two missiles hit the Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine, where thousands of civilians were trying to evacuate. At least 59 people were killed, including seven children, according to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.
Despite all this, railway workers continue to show up for work each day.
Putin issues veiled threat as Russia tests new long-range missileApril 20, 202201:07
Mariupol evacuation corridor 'did not work as planned,' Ukraine’s deputy PM says
An agreed humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steelworks in the besieged southern city of Mariupol “did not work as planned,” Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said Wednesday.
Russian forces “were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire,” Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement posted to her Telegram channel and translated by NBC News.
Russian-organized buses failed to deliver evacuees on time to the point where Ukrainian buses and ambulances were waiting, she added.
Ukrainian officials estimated that about 1,000 civilians were sheltering underneath the vast Azovstal steel plant, which is the last Ukrainian stronghold in the southeastern port city.
Ukraine boosts aircraft thanks to spare parts, Pentagon says
Ukraine’s military has increased the size of its fleet of fixed-wing aircraft after receiving spare parts and repairing damaged aircraft, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.
Kirby had said on Tuesday that Ukraine had received additional aircraft as well as parts, but clarified on Wednesday that no fixed-wing aircraft had been provided so far to Ukraine’s military.
“They have not received whole aircraft from another nation,” he said. “I had been given to understand that an offer made by another nation in the region had actually been affected and offered by another nation to provide whole fixed wing aircraft to Ukraine. I had been given to understand that that had actually been affected, it has not.”
“That said, the Ukrainians have received through United States coordination and provision, enough spare parts and additional equipment such that they have been able to put in operation more fixed wing aircraft in their fleet than they had even two to three weeks ago,” he added.
U.N. Secretary-General seeks meeting with Putin and Zelenskyy
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wants to meet with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine in Moscow and Kviv to press for peace.
He made the request by letter Tuesday to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking to “discuss whatever urgent steps can be taken to stop the fighting.”
As of Wednesday, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. has gotten no response.
Guterres called Tuesday for a four-day “humanitarian pause” in hostilities from Thursday through Sunday, the Orthodox Easter holiday to allow for evacuating civilians and providing aid.
The U.N. leader has faced questions about whether he would get involved personally. His spokesman said Guterres “has been doing what he thinks is most practical and the best way forward.”
Dozens of bodies recovered in Kharkiv, State Emergency Service says
Dozens of bodies have been removed from 40 sites in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
It said that 59 people had been rescued by teams working in the city and 112 bodies had been recovered. NBC News has not been able to independently verify the numbers.
Rescuers were also working to dismantle high-rise buildings in the Homostel region of Kyiv as well as sites in the Sumy and Chernihiv regions.
Wimbledon bans tennis players from Russia, Belarus over Ukraine war
Tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to play at Wimbledon this year because of the war in Ukraine, the All England Club said in a statement Wednesday.
“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships,” the statement said.
“It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”
Among the prominent players affected by the ban are reigning U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who recently reached No. 1 in the ATP rankings and is currently No. 2.
Aryna Sabalenka, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2021 and is No. 4 in the WTA rankings, Victoria Azarenka, a former women’s No. 1 who has won the Australian Open twice; and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the French Open runner-up last year, will also be banned from the tournament.
Russia tests new intercontinental ballistic missile
Russia said Wednesday that it had test-launched its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.
President Vladimir Putin was shown on state TV being briefed by the military that the missile had been launched from Plesetsk in the country’s northwest and hit targets in the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east.
Putin said the new strategic weapon had no analogues elsewhere and would provide food for thought for those who try to threaten Russia.
Germany rejects assertion by Ukraine that they could spare more fighting vehicles
BERLIN -- The German government and military are rejecting an assertion by Ukraine’s ambassador that the country could spare armored fighting vehicles and deliver them to Kyiv.
Ambassador Andriy Melnyk, who has frequently criticized perceived German slowness on weapons deliveries and other issues, argued that Germany’s Bundeswehr uses about 100 Marder vehicles for training and they could be handed over to Ukraine immediately.
But Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said Wednesday that Germany needs the vehicles for deployments on NATO’s eastern flank and for training. He said that “a delivery from Bundeswehr stock of ‘heavy material’ … is not foreseen.”
He spoke after the German military’s deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, told ZDF television that the military has “wide commitments” and needs the weapons systems it has.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday that Germany is reaching the limits of possible weapons deliveries from its own stocks and will finance Ukrainian purchases of equipment from a list drawn up by the German defense industry. That didn’t satisfy critics who have called for direct German deliveries of heavy weapons such as tanks.
Estonia tightens rules for May 9 Victory Day
Estonia says it is prohibiting public meetings where people display Russian flags and military symbols during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which is traditionally celebrated by the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian population to mark the end of World War II.
“The Estonian state has so far been tolerant of the events of May 9, but Russia’s current activities in Ukraine preclude public meetings in Estonia expressing support for the aggressor state and displaying war symbols,” Police and Border Guard chief Elmar Vaher said Wednesday.
Police said Wednesday that commemorating those killed in World War II wasn’t forbidden in the country but “it’s not to be used to incite violence and hatred between people.”
5 million people have fled Ukraine, says U.N Refugee Agency
The number of Ukrainian refugees has topped 5 million, more than a tenth of its pre-war population, according to the latest figures by UNHCR.
More than half of the refugees arrived in Poland since the beginning of the Russian invasion, with hundreds of thousands reaching neighboring countries of Romania and Moldova.
The data also showed that more than half a million refugees have reached Russia.
A glimpse of the situation in Mariupol
Biden to host meeting with top U.S. military leaders
President Biden is set to host an annual defense policy meeting with top military officials at the White House Wednesday. Biden is scheduled to meet in the Cabinet Room with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the deputy secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders.
He and first lady Jill Biden will also host a dinner for them and their spouses in the White House Blue Room.
The events come as the U.S. continues to boost assistance to Ukraine. U.S. officials are also working closely with European leaders to ensure NATO is united in its strategy to respond to Russia's invasion into Ukraine.
Kremlin says it’s 'waiting for an answer' from Ukrainian negotiators
The Kremlin is "waiting for an answer" from Ukrainian authorities after it submitted a draft document on negotiations, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
Peskov's statement comes amid broad skepticism over whether Russia is negotiating in good faith, after both U.S. and U.K. said that the Russian forces were "repositioning" instead of scaling back from Kyiv.
Ukraine constantly departs from agreements and words, Peskov said. "The dynamics of the work of the Ukrainian side leaves much to be desired," he said, which has negative consequences in terms of negotiations.
The draft document includes "clear wording," according to Peskov. "We are waiting for an answer," he said.
‘Facing our last days’: Mariupol commander pleads for help as Russian forces close in
The commander of the last remaining Ukrainian troops holding the besieged city of Mariupol has said that his forces are outnumbered and may only have hours to live.
Maj. Serhiy Volyna said there were about 500 wounded troops and many civilians with them at the Azovstal steel plant, which has become the last stand for Ukrainians in the port city against Russia’s advance.
Ukrainian commander in Mariupol issues desperate plea for helpApril 20, 202201:13
In a video shared with NBC News and other media outlets that was also posted to what appeared to be his own Facebook page Wednesday, Volyna outlined the desperate situation facing the fighters and asked foreign leaders for help getting them to safety.
Zelenskyy calls situation in Mariupol ‘extremely severe,’ urges no delay in weapons from allies
Ukraine aims to open humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol
Ukraine will focus its humanitarian efforts in eastern Ukraine on launching an evacuation corridor out of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced on Telegram.
“Given the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Mariupol, it is in this direction that we will focus our efforts today,” she said Wednesday.
Authorities also hope to send 90 buses to evacuate 6,000 civilians out of Mariupol on Wednesday, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said in an interview with the Parliamentary TV channel.
An evacuation column, typically made up of vehicles, is expected to move toward Zaporizhzhia via Berdyansk, allowing only women, children and the elderly to evacuate.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly accused Russia of hampering aid delivery and violating cease-fires during evacuations from the besieged port city.
Daily life in Mariupol
Ukraine says 12 settlements in Donetsk shelled by Russia
Russian troops have shelled 12 settlements in the eastern region of Donetsk over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian National Police said Wednesday.
In a Telegram post, the police said the shelling wounded and killed an unknown number of civilians. NBC News has not verified the claims.
The affected areas included the encircled port city of Mariupol and Kramatorsk, it said.
Chinese diplomats visit Eastern Europe amid tensions
A Chinese delegation is visiting central and Eastern Europe for the first time since the Ukraine invasion, amid tensions over Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia’s aggression.
Wang Lutong, the Chinese foreign ministry’s director general for European affairs, said on Twitter that the delegation would visit the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Poland. The delegation is led by Huo Yuzhen, China’s special representative to a group called China-Central and Eastern Europe Cooperation that promotes business and investment ties between China and 16 other member countries.
Most members of the group have expressed strong opposition to Russia’s military actions, and their relations with China have been strained by Beijing’s professions of neutrality in the conflict. Earlier this week, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Moscow “no matter how the international landscape may change.”
Devastation in Zaporizhzhia
European Council president visits Kyiv
Russia 'continues to build' military presence around eastern Ukraine, U.K. says
Russia’s military presence along the eastern border of Ukraine "continues to build,” as Moscow launches its new offensive in the region, the British defense ministry has said.
In an intelligence update published early Wednesday, the ministry said that while Russian air activity is likely to remain low since its withdrawal from the north of Kyiv, the risk of precision strikes against “priority targets” in Ukraine persists.
“Russian attacks on cities across Ukraine show their intent to try and disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weaponry to the east of the country,” it added.
Canada set to send heavy artillery to Ukraine
OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will send heavy artillery to Ukraine.
Trudeau said he has been in close contact with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and that Canada is very responsive to what Ukraine needs. He said there will be more details about the pledge in the days to come and that Ukrainians have “fought like heroes.”
Canada’s government has also hit 14 more Russians with sanctions for their close ties with President Vladimir Putin, including his two adult daughters.