Russian officials accused Ukraine of targeting six Russian regions with drones early Wednesday in what appears to be the biggest drone attack on Russian soil since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine 18 months ago. Drones hit an airport in the western Pskov region and started a massive fire there, the governor and local media reported. More drones were shot down over Oryol, Bryansk, Ryazan, Kaluga and the Moscow region surrounding the Russian capital, according to the Defense Ministry. The strike in Pskov hit an airport in the region's namesake capital and damaged four Il-76 transport aircraft, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported, citing emergency officials. Pskov regional Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov ordered all flights to and from the airport canceled Wednesday so damage could be assessed during daylight. Russia says it has confirmed Prigozhin died in the plane crash Footage and images posted on social media showed smoke billowing over the city of Pskov and a large blaze. Vedernikov said there were no casualties, and the fire has been contained. Unconfirmed media reports said between 10 and 20 drones could have attacked the airport. Pskov was the only region where officials reported damage. Three drones were shot down over the Bryansk region, according to the Russian military, and two over the Oryol region, its Gov. Andrei Klychkov said. Two were downed over the Ryazan region, one more over Kaluga, and one more over the Moscow region, officials said. Kremlin denies role in plane crash believed to have killed Russian mercenary leader Prigozhin No damage or casualties were registered in those regions, although some Russian media cited residents of the Bryansk region as saying that they heard a loud explosion. UN Security Council, minus China and Russia, condemns Myanmar military's killing of civilians Also on early Wednesday, Russian-installed officials in the annexed Crimea reported repelling an attack of drones targeting the harbor of the port city of Sevastopol. Moscow-appointed governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozzhayev said it wasn't immediately clear how many of the drones have been destroyed. It wasn't immediately clear if the attack caused any damage.
President Joe Biden will head to Europe at week's end for a three-country trip intended to bolster the international coalition against Russian aggression as the war in Ukraine extends well into its second year. The main focus of Biden's five-day visit will be the annual NATO summit, held this year in Vilnius, Lithuania. Also planned are stops in Helsinki, Finland, to commemorate the Nordic country's entrance into the 31-nation military alliance in April, and Britain, the White House announced Sunday. US, NATO had no involvement in Wagner's 'short-lived' revolt in Russia: Biden Biden will begin his trip next Sunday in London, and will meet with King Charles III at Windsor Castle the next day, according to Buckingham Palace. The president did not attend Charles's coronation in May, sending first lady Jill Biden to represent the United States. In June, Biden hosted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the White House, where the two leaders pledged continued cooperation in defending Ukraine. Sunak's office said he looked forward to welcoming Biden and that their meeting would build on earlier visits. The NATO meeting comes at the latest critical point in the war. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says counteroffensive and defensive actions against Russian forces are underway as Ukrainian troops start to recapture territory in the southeastern part of the country, according to its military leaders. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary-general, visited the White House on June 13, where he and Biden made clear that the Western alliance was united in defending Ukraine. Biden said during that meeting that he and other NATO leaders will work to ensure that each member country spends the requisite 2% of its gross domestic product on defense. Just a day after Blinken’s Beijing visit to stabilize US-China relations, Biden calls Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’ "The NATO allies have never been more united. We both worked like hell to make sure that happened. And so far, so good," Biden said as he sat alongside Stoltenberg, who is expected to extend his term for another year. "We see our joint strength in modernizing the relationship within NATO, as well as providing assistance to defense capabilities to Ukraine. When Finland joined NATO in April, it effectively doubled Russia's border with the world's biggest security alliance. Biden has highlighted the strengthened NATO alliance as a signal of Moscow's declining influence. Sweden is also seeking entry into NATO, although alliance members Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move. Biden will host Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, at the White House on Wednesday in a show of solidarity as the United States presses for the Nordic nation's entry into NATO. Biden hosting Modi as US sees India as a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said Sweden is too lax on terrorist groups and security threats. Stoltenberg has said Sweden has met its obligations for membership through toughening anti-terrorist laws and other measures. Hungary's reasons for opposing Sweden have been less defined, complaining about Sweden's criticism of democratic backsliding and the erosion of rule of law. Hungary, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, has also sought to balance its relations between NATO and Russia. Budapest is heavily reliant on Russia for its energy requirements. After last weekend's abortive rebellion in Russia, the fate of some top generals is unknown All nations in the alliance have to ratify the entry of a new member country. The White House has stressed that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments to join NATO and has urged that it join the alliance expeditiously. Putin says the aborted rebellion played into the hands of Russia’s enemies
The owner of the Wagner private military contractor made his most direct challenge to the Kremlin yet on Friday, calling for an armed rebellion aimed at ousting Russia’s defense minister. The security services reacted immediately by calling for the arrest of Yevgeny Prigozhin. In a sign of how seriously the Kremlin was taking the threat, security was heightened in Moscow and in Rostov-on-Don, which is home to the Russian military headquarters for the southern region and also oversees the fighting in Ukraine. While the outcome of the confrontation was still unclear, it appeared likely to further hinder Moscow's war effort as Kyiv's forces were probing Russian defenses in the initial stages of a counteroffensive. Prigozhin claimed early Saturday that his forces had crossed into Russia from Ukraine and had reached Rostov, saying they faced no resistance from young conscripts at checkpoints and that his forces “aren’t fighting against children.” “But we will destroy anyone who stands in our way,” he said in one of a series of angry video and audio recordings posted on social media beginning late Friday. “We are moving forward and will go until the end.” He claimed that the chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, scrambled warplanes to strike Wagner’s convoys, which were driving alongside ordinary vehicles. Prigozhin also said his forces shot down a Russian military helicopter that fired on a civilian convoy, but there was no independent confirmation. Ukraine’s president tells other countries to act before Russia attacks nuclear plant And despite Prigozhin’s statements that Wagner convoys had entered Rostov-on-Don, there was no confirmation of that yet on Russian social networks. Videos showed heavy trucks blocking highways leading to the city, long convoys of National Guard trucks were seen on a road outside Rostov-on-Don and armored vehicles were roaming the streets. Prigozhin said Wagner field camps in Ukraine were struck by rockets, helicopter gunships and artillery fire on orders from Gerasimov following a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, at which they decided to destroy Wagner. The Wagner forces have played a crucial role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, succeeding in taking the city where the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place, Bakhmut. But Prigozhin has increasingly criticized Russia’s military brass, accusing it of incompetence and of starving his troops of weapons and ammunition. What to know about India's ties with Russia Prigozhin, who said he had 25,000 troops under his command, said late Friday his troops would punish Shoigu in an armed rebellion and urged the army not to offer resistance. “This is not a military coup, but a march of justice,” Prigozhin declared. The National Anti-Terrorism Committee, which is part of the Federal Security Services, or FSB, has charged him with calling for an armed rebellion, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The FSB urged Wagner's contract soldiers to arrest Prigozhin and refuse to follow his “criminal and treacherous orders.” It called his statements a “stab in the back to Russian troops” and said they amounted to fomenting an armed conflict in Russia. President Vladimir Putin has been informed about the situation and “all the necessary measures were being taken," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Heavy military trucks and armored vehicles were seen in several parts of central Moscow early Saturday, and soldiers toting assault rifles were deployed outside the main building of the Defense Ministry. The area around the presidential administration near Red Square was blocked, snarling traffic. But even amid the heightened military presence, downtown bars and restaurants were filled with customers. At one club near the headquarters of the FSB, people were dancing in the street near the entrance. Biden ready to welcome Modi, looking past human rights record and ties to Russia Prigozhin, whose feud with the Defense Ministry dates back years, had refused to comply with a requirement that military contractors sign contracts with the ministry before July 1. In a statement late Friday, he said he was ready to find a compromise but “they have treacherously cheated us.” “Today they carried out a rocket strike on our rear camps, and a huge number of our comrades got killed,” he said. The Defense Ministry denied attacking the Wagner camps. Prigozhin claimed that Shoigu went to the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don personally to direct the strike and then “cowardly” fled. “This scum will be stopped,” he said of Shoigu. “The evil embodied by the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” he shouted, urging the army not to offer any resistance to Wagner as it moves to “restore justice.” Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian group of forces fighting in Ukraine, urged the Wagner forces to stop any move against the army, saying it would play into the hands of Russia's enemies, who are "waiting to see the exacerbation of our domestic political situation.” Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst, predicted this would be the end of Prigozhin. “Now that the state has actively engaged, there’s no turning back,” she tweeted. “The termination of Prigozhin and Wagner is imminent. The only possibility now is absolute obliteration, with the degree of resistance from the Wagner group being the only variable. Surovikin was dispatched to convince them to surrender. Confrontation seems totally futile.” Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alexeyev, a top military officer, denounced Prigozhin’s move as “madness” that threatened to unleash a civil war. “It’s a stab in the back to the country and the president,” he said. “It’s impossible to imagine a stronger blow to the image of Russia and its armed forces. Such a provocation could only be staged by enemies of Russia.” The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine's military was concentrating troops to launch an attack around Bakhmut to take advantage of “Prigozhin’s provocation.” It said Russian artillery and warplanes were firing on Ukrainian forces as they prepared to start an offensive in the area. In Washington, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Adam Hodge, said: "We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.” In other developments in the Ukraine war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on other countries to heed warnings that Russia may be planning to attack an occupied nuclear power plant to cause a radiation disaster. Members of his government briefed international representatives on the possible threat to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whose six reactors have been shut down for months. Zelenskyy said he expected other nations to “give appropriate signals and exert pressure” on Moscow. The Kremlin’s spokesman has denied the threat to the plant is coming from Russian forces. The potential for a life-threatening release of radiation has been a concern since Russian troops invaded Ukraine last year and seized the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station. The head of the U.N.’s atomic energy agency spent months trying to negotiate the establishment of a safety perimeter to protect the facility as nearby areas came under repeated shelling, but he has been unsuccessful. The International Atomic Energy Agency noted Thursday that “the military situation has become increasingly tense” while a Ukrainian counteroffensive that got underway this month unfolds in Zaporizhzhia province, where the namesake plant is located, and in an adjacent part of Donetsk province. Although the last of the plant’s six reactors was shut down last fall to reduce the risk of a meltdown, experts have warned that a radiation release could still happen if the system that keeps the reactors’ cores and spent nuclear fuel cool loses power or water. During months of fighting, Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over which side was increasing the threat to the plant. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of mining the plant’s cooling system, already under threat from a dam collapse that drew down water in a reservoir used by the power station.
Some 110 million people have had to flee their homes because of conflict, persecution, or human rights violations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says. The war in Sudan, which has displaced nearly 2 million people since April, is but the latest in a long list of crises that has led to the record-breaking figure. "It's quite an indictment on the state of our world," Filippo Grandi, who leads the U.N. refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva ahead of the publication Wednesday of UNHCR's Global Trends Report for 2022. Also Read: Record 108.4 mln people forcibly displaced by end of 2022: UNHCR Last year alone, an additional 19 million people were forcibly displaced including more than 11 million who fled Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in what became the fastest and largest displacement of people since World War II. "We are constantly confronted with emergencies," Grandi said. Last year the agency recorded 35 emergencies, three to four times more than in previous years. "Very few make your headlines," Grandi added, arguing that the war in Sudan fell off most front pages after Western citizens were evacuated. Also Read: UN agencies warn of starvation risk in Sudan, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali, call for urgent aid Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Myanmar were also responsible for displacing more than 1 million people within each country in 2022. The majority of the displaced globally have sought refuge within their nation's borders. One-third of them - 35 million - have fled to other countries, making them refugees, according to the UNHCR report. Most refugees are hosted by low to middle-income countries in Asia and Africa, not rich countries in Europe or North America, Grandi said. Also Read: Sudan military ruler seeks removal of UN envoy in letter to UN chief, who is 'shocked' by the demand Turkey currently hosts the most refugees with 3.8 million people, mostly Syrians who fled the civil war, followed by Iran with 3.4 million refugees, mostly Afghans. But there are also 5.7 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across countries in Europe and beyond. The number of stateless people has also risen in 2022 to 4.4 million, according to UNHCR data, but this is believed to be an underestimate. Also Read: Thousands of exhausted South Sudanese head home, fleeing brutal conflict Regarding asylum claims, the U.S. was the country to receive the most new applications in 2022 with 730,400 claims. It's also the nation with the largest backlog in its asylum system, Grandi said. "One of the things that needs to be done is reforming that asylum system so that it becomes more rapid, more efficient," he said. The United States, Spain and Canada recently announced plans to create asylum processing centers in Latin America with the goal of reducing the number of people who trek their way north to the Mexico-U.S. border. Also Read: UN: Sudan conflict displaces over 1.3 million, including some 320K to neighboring countries As the number of asylum-seekers grows, so have the challenges facing them. "We see pushbacks. We see tougher and tougher immigration or refugee admission rules. We see in many countries the criminalization of immigrants and refugees, blaming them for everything that has happened," Grandi said. Also Read: War in Ukraine, disasters left 71mn people internally displaced in 2022: Report Last week European leaders renewed financial promises to North African nations in the hopes of stemming migration across the Mediterranean while the British government insists on a so-far failed plan to ship asylum-seekers to Rwanda, something UNHCR is opposed to. But there were also some wins, Grandi said, pointing to what he described as a positive sign in the European Union's negotiations for a new migration and asylum pact, despite criticism from human rights groups. Also Read: Sudan's government declares UN envoy ‘persona non grata’ Grandi also celebrated the fact that the number of refugees resettled in 2022 doubled to 114,000 from the previous year. But he admitted this was "still a drop in the ocean."
Russian forces fired cruise missiles at the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa overnight and shelling destroyed homes in the eastern Donetsk region early Wednesday, killing at least six people and injuring more than a dozen others, regional officials said. A Ukrainian military spokesman said Russian forces have stepped up aerial strikes in their more than 15-month war against Ukraine, just as the country's troops have reported limited gains in an early counteroffensive. Also Read: Ukraine recaptures village as Russian forces hold other lines, fire on fleeing civilians elsewhere In the east, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram that at least three people died after shelling destroyed seven homes and damaged dozens more in the cities of Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka. In Odesa, three employees of a food warehouse were killed and seven others injured in a strike that damaged homes, a warehouse, shops and cafes downtown, he regional administration said on Facebook. Another six people — guards and residents of a neighboring house — were injured. Searchers were looking for possible survivors under the rubble, it said. Also Read: Ukraine's dam collapse is both a fast-moving disaster and a slow-moving ecological catastrophe The attack on the port city, launched from the Black Sea, involved four Kalibr cruise missiles, three of which were intercepted by air defenses, the administration said. Andriy Kovalov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's General Staff, said Russian forces have increased missile and aerial strikes on Ukraine. In a briefing, he said strikes on the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kirovohrad regions, in addition to the Odesa region, involved Kh-22 cruise missiles, sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles, and Iranian-made Shahed drones. Nine were intercepted. Kovalov said Ukrainian forces made advances on several fronts of the roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line, and fighting was continuing in or near at least two settlements in the eastern Donetsk region. Russia has occupied and controls nearly one-fifth of Ukrainian territory. Also Read: Top UN court allows a record 32 countries to intervene in Ukraine's genocide case against Russia Britain's Ministry of Defense, which has regularly issued updates on the conflict, wrote on Twitter that southern Ukraine "has often been more permissible for Russian air operations" compared with other parts of the front. Separately, the mayor of the central city of Kryvyi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hometown, said the death toll from a Russian strike a day earlier that hit an apartment building had risen to 12.
The mayor of the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih said 10 people have died following Russian missile strikes overnight that hit civilian sites including a residential building. Oleksandr Vilkul said 28 other people had been wounded and at least one person was believed to be under the rubble. In an early afternoon update Tuesday, Vilkul wrote on the Telegram app that a dozen injured people had been rushed to city hospitals. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below. At least six people were killed when Russian missiles hit civilian buildings in an overnight attack Tuesday in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, regional officials said, as rescuers scrambled to retrieve people believed to be trapped under the rubble. The strike involving cruise missiles hit a five-story residential building, which was engulfed in fire, Gov. Serhiy Lysak of the Dnipropetrovsk region wrote on Telegram. Also Read: Ukraine recaptures village as Russian forces hold other lines, fire on fleeing civilians elsewhere After initial reports of three dead, Kryvyi Rih mayor Oleksandr Vilkul wrote on the social media app that the death toll had risen to a least six, and seven people were feared trapped under the rubble. Authorities initially said at least two dozen people were wounded. The devastation in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hometown is the latest bloodshed in Russia's war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022, as Ukrainian forces are mounting counteroffensive operations using Western-supplied firepower to try to drive out the Russians. Images from the scene relayed by Zelenskyy on his Telegram channel showed firefighters battling the blaze as pockets of fire poked through multiple broken windows of a building. Charred and damaged vehicles littered the nearby ground. Also Read: Top UN court allows a record 32 countries to intervene in Ukraine's genocide case against Russia "More terrorist missiles," he wrote. "Russian killers continue their war against residential buildings, ordinary cities and people." The aerial assault was the latest barrage of strikes by Russian forces that targeted various parts of Ukraine overnight. Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, was attacked with Iranian-made Shahed drones, and the surrounding region was shelled, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram. The shelling wounded two civilians in the town of Shevchenkove, southeast of Kharkiv. The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, separately reported early Tuesday that the drone strike damaged a utilities business and a warehouse in the city's northeast. Neither Terekhov nor Syniehubov referenced any casualties within Kharkiv. Also Read: A dam collapses and thousands face the deluge — often with no help — in Russian-occupied Ukraine The Kyiv military administration reported that the capital came under fire as well on Tuesday, but the incoming missiles were destroyed by air defenses and there were no immediate reports of any casualties there. Air defenses overnight shot down 10 out of 14 cruise missiles and one of four Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russian forces, Ukraine's General Staff said on its Facebook page. Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's ground troops said the country's forces were "moving forward" outside the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Oleksandr Syrskyi wrote on Telegram that Russian forces are "losing positions on the flanks," while Ukrainian troops were conducting "defensive" operations in the area. For weeks, Ukrainian officials have been reporting small gains west of Bakhmut, which was largely devastated in the war's longest and bloodiest battle before Moscow's forces took control last month. Also Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a video showing what it said was a German-made Leopard 2 tank and U.S.-made Bradley fighting vehicle captured from Ukrainian forces. According to the ministry, the video was shot by Russian soldiers after fierce fighting in the southern Zaporizhzhia, and a soldier is seen pointing at the immobilized vehicles. It wasn't immediately possible to verify the video's authenticity. Like the Bakhmut area, battle zones in Zaporizhzhia are one of several places along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line where Ukrainian forces have been intensifying their counteroffensive operations. On Monday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the country's troops recaptured a total of seven villages spanning 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of eastern Ukraine over the past week — small successes in the early phases of a counteroffensive. Russian officials didn't confirm those Ukrainian gains, which were impossible to verify and could be reversed in the to-and-fro of war. The advance amounted to only small bits of territory and underscored the difficulty of the battle ahead for Ukrainian forces, who will have to fight meter by meter to regain the roughly one-fifth of their country under Russian occupation.
Ukraine's military on Sunday reported recapturing a southeastern village as Russian forces claimed to repel multiple attacks in the area, while a regional official said three people were killed when Moscow's troops opened fire at a boat evacuating people from Russian-occupied areas to Ukrainian-held territory along a flooded front line far to the south. The battlefield showdown in the southeast and chaotic scenes from inundated southern Ukraine marked the latest upheaval and bloodshed in Russia's war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month. Also Read: Ukraine's dam collapse is both a fast-moving disaster and a slow-moving ecological catastrophe Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the Kherson region, said on his Telegram account that a 74-year-old man who tried to protect a woman was among those who died in the attack on evacuees, which wounded another 10. An Associated Press team on site saw three ambulances drop off injured evacuees at a hospital, one of whom was splattered with blood and whisked by stretcher into the emergency room. The Kherson region straddles the Dnieper River and has suffered heavy flooding since last week's breach of a dam that Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of causing. Russian forces occupy parts of the region on the eastern side of the river. Many civilians have said Russian authorities in occupied areas were forcing would-be evacuees to present Russian passports before taking them to safety. Since then, many small boats have shuttled from Ukrainian-held areas on the west bank across the river to rescue desperate civilians stuck on rooftops, in attics and other islands of dry amid the deluge. Also Read: Top UN court allows a record 32 countries to intervene in Ukraine's genocide case against Russia To the northeast, nearly half-way up the more than 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line, Ukrainian forces said they drove out Russian fighters from the village of Blahodatne, in the partially occupied Donetsk region. Ukraine's 68th Separate Hunting Brigade posted a video on Facebook that showed soldiers installing a Ukrainian flag on a damaged building in the village. Myroslav Semeniuk, spokesman for the brigade, told The Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian troops after entering several buildings where some 60 soldiers were holed up. "The enemy keeps shelling us but this won't stop us," Semeniuk said. "The next village we plan to reclaim is Urozhayne. After that, (we'll proceed) further south." Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian troops in the area had advanced up to 1.5 kilometers (about a mile) and had taken control of another village, Makarivka. Also Read: A dam collapses and thousands face the deluge — often with no help — in Russian-occupied Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday that Ukrainian counteroffensive actions were underway. But while the recapture of Blahodatne pointed to a small Ukrainian advance, Western and Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly cautioned that efforts to expel Russian troops more broadly are expected take time. Russia has made much of how its troops have held their ground elsewhere. The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday continued to insist that it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the area. It said in a statement that Ukrainian attempts at offensive operations on the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia axes of the frontline over the past 24 hours had been "unsuccessful." Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, insisted that Blahodatne and two other villages in the region were in a "gray area" in terms of who controls them. However, Rogov said in a Telegram post that Russian fighters had been forced to leave the village of Neskuchne in the Donetsk region. In a video, fighters identifying themselves as members of a Ukrainian volunteer force claimed to have taken the village. Russian President Vladimir Putin has asserted that that Ukraine's counteroffensive had started, and said Ukrainian forces were taking "significant losses." Also Read: UN aid chief says Ukraine faces `hugely worse' humanitarian situation after the dam rupture In other developments: Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine's hydropower generator, said Sunday that water levels on a reservoir above the ruptured Kakhovka dam continued to decline — at 9.35 meters (30 feet, 6 inches) on Sunday morning, marking a drop of more than seven meters since the dam break on Tuesday. Meanwhile, below the dam, Prokudin said water levels on the Ukrainian-held west bank were receding, even if more than 32 settlements remained flooded. He said conditions were worse on the Russian-occupied eastern bank, which sits at a lower elevation and where water levels were slower to drop back down. Also Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking — albeit unsuccessfully — one of its ships in the Black Sea. According to Russia's Defense Ministry, the attempted attack took place when six unmanned speedboats targeted Russia's Priazovye reconnaissance vessel that was "monitoring the situation and ensuring security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the southeastern part of the Black Sea." All the speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military, and the ship didn't sustain any damage, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment. Ukraine and Russia reported exchanging scores of prisoners of war on Sunday; Russia said 94 of its soldiers were freed and Yermak said 95 Ukrainians were released. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has signed a decree ordering all Russian volunteer formations to sign contracts with the ministry by July 1, according to his deputy Nikolai Pankov. The move would give the formations legal status and allow them to receive the same state benefits as contract soldiers. Observers say the move likely targets the Wagner private military company. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has a long-running feud with the Russian military, said Sunday that the group would not sign such contracts "precisely because Shoigu cannot manage military formations normally."
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “hugely worse” than before the Kakhovka dam collapsed, the U.N.'s top aid official warned Friday. Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths said an “extraordinary” 700,000 people are in need of drinking water and warned that the ravages of flooding in one of the world’s most important breadbaskets will almost inevitably lead to lower grain exports, higher food prices around the world, and less to eat for millions in need “This is a viral problem,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But the truth is this is only the beginning of seeing the consequences of this act.” The rupture of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam and emptying of its reservoir on the Dnieper River on Wednesday added to the misery in a region that has suffered for more than a year from artillery and missile attacks. Ukraine holds the Dnieper’s western bank, while Russian troops control the low-lying eastern side, which is more vulnerable to flooding. The dam and reservoir, essential for fresh water and irrigation in southern Ukraine, lies in the Kherson region that Moscow illegally annexed in September and has occupied for the past year. Griffiths said the United Nations, working mainly through Ukrainian aid groups, has reached 30,000 people in flooded areas under Ukrainian control. He said that so far Russia has not given access to areas it controls for the U.N. to help flood victims. Also read: A dam collapses and thousands face the deluge — often with no help — in Russian-occupied Ukraine Griffiths said he met with Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, on Wednesday to ask Russian authorities “for access for our teams in Ukraine to go across the front lines to give aid, to provide support for … Ukrainians in those areas.” “We're providing them with details as we speak, to enable Moscow to meet what we hope will be a positive decision on this,” he said. “I hope that will come through.” The emergency response is essential to save lives, he said, “but behind that you’ve got a huge, looming problem of a lack of proper drinking water for those 700,000 people” on both the Ukrainian-controlled and Russian-controlled sides of the river. There is also the flooding of important agricultural land and a looming problem of providing cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which had been supplied from the dam, he added. In addition, Griffiths noted that waters also have rushed over areas with land mines from the war “and what we are bound to be seeing are those mines floating in places where people don’t expect them,” threatening adults and especially children. Also read: Drone footage of collapsed dam shows ruined structure, devastation and no sign of life “So it’s a cascade of problems, starting with allowing people to survive today, and then giving them some kind of prospects for tomorrow,” he said. Griffiths said that because of the wide-ranging consequences “it’s almost inevitable” that the United Nations will launch a special appeal for more aid funds for Ukraine to deal with “a whole new order of magnitude” from the dam’s rupture. But he said he wants to wait a few weeks to see the economic, health and environmental consequences before announcing the appeal. Griffiths said he and U.N. trade chief Rebeca Grynspan are also working to ensure the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Turkey and the U.N. brokered with Ukraine and Russia last July to open three Black Sea ports in Ukraine for its grain exports. More than 30,000 metric tons of wheat and other foodstuff has been shipped under the deal, leading to a decline in global food prices that skyrocketed after Russia's Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine. It has been extended three times and is due to expire July 17. Also read: Ukrainian dam breach: What is happening and what's at stake Part of the deal was a memorandum signed by Russia and the U.N. aimed at overcoming obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer shipments that Moscow has repeatedly complained are not being fulfilled. A key Russian demand has been the reopening of a pipeline between the Russian port of Togliatti on the Volga River and the Black Sea port of Odesa that has been shut down since Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It carried ammonia, a key ingredient of fertilizer. “Opening that pipeline and delivering ammonia across the Black Sea to the global south is a priority for all of us,” Griffiths said. “Ammonia is an essential ingredient for global food security.” A rupture in the pipeline was reported from shelling late Tuesday, but Griffiths said the U.N. couldn’t confirm it because the pipeline is in the middle of a war zone. “We, of course, are very, very strongly of the view that we need that repaired as quickly as possible,” he said. “So let’s hope it’s not too badly damaged.” He said the Ukrainians have told the U.N. they will get to the pipeline, which is on their territory, “as soon as they can.” Griffiths said the Ukrainians see opening the pipeline as part of a package that would also include Russian agreement to open a fourth Black Sea port at Mykolaiv to export more grain. Negotiations have been taking place in recent weeks, including at a meeting Friday in Geneva between U.N. trade chief Grynspan and Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin. “We're not there yet,” Griffiths said. “I hope that we'll make it.”
For days, the Ukrainian teenager has waited in the attic, just down the street from the cemetery of her flooded town, marking time with her 83-year-old grandfather and two other elderly people and hoping for help to escape the deluge of a catastrophic dam collapse. But help is slow in coming to Oleshky, a Russian-occupied town across the Dnieper River from the city of Kherson with a prewar population of 24,000, according to those stranded and their desperate Ukrainian rescuers. Russian forces are taking rescuers' boats, they say. Some say the soldiers will only help people with Russian passports. Also Read: Drone footage of collapsed dam shows ruined structure, devastation and no sign of life "Russian soldiers are standing at the checkpoints, preventing (rescuers) from approaching the most-affected areas and taking away the boats," said one volunteer, Yaroslav Vasiliev. "They are afraid of saboteurs, they suspect everyone." So 19-year-old Yektarina But and the three elderly people with her simply wait, along with thousands of others believed to be trapped by floodwaters spread across 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of the Kherson region. About two-thirds of the flooded areas are in territory occupied by Russia, officials said. The group in the attic have no electricity, no running water, no food. The battery on But's cellphone is dying. "We are afraid that no one will know about our deaths," she said in a brief cellphone interview, her voice trembling. "Everything around us is flooded," she said. "There is still no help." Her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke, was running out of medicine, she said. One woman with her, a neighbor's grandmother, could not move on her own. Others have been turned away from rescue. Also Read: Zelenskyy visits area flooded by destroyed dam as five reported dead in Russian-occupied town Viktoria Mironova-Baka said she has been in touch from Germany with relatives stuck in the flooded region. "My relatives said that Russian soldiers were coming up to the house today by boat, but they said they would only take those with Russian passports," she told The Associated Press. Her grandmother, aunt and more than a dozen other people are taking shelter in the attic of a two-story house. Details of life in Russian-occupied Ukraine are often unclear. The AP could not independently verify reports of boat seizures or that only Russians were being evacuated, but the account is in line with reporting by independent Russian media. It's a sharp contrast to Ukrainian-controlled territory flooded by the dam collapse. Authorities there have aggressively evacuated civilians and brought in emergency supplies. On Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to the area to assess the damage. Russian President Vladimir Putin "has no plans at the current moment" to visit affected Moscow-occupied areas, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. also read: Ukrainian dam breach: What is happening and what's at stake This region has suffered terribly since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, enduring sometimes-relentless artillery and missile attacks. The latest disaster began Tuesday, when the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) upstream from Oleshky, collapsed, sending torrents of water down the Dnieper River and across the war's front lines. Officials say more than 6,000 people have been evacuated from dozens of inundated cities, towns and villages on both sides of the river. But the true scale of the disaster remains unclear for a region that was once home to tens of thousands of people. At least 14 people have died in the flooding, many are homeless, and tens of thousands are without drinking water. The floods ruined crops, displaced land mines, caused widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term electricity shortages. Ukraine says Russia destroyed the dam with explosives. Russia accuses Ukraine of destroying it with a missile strike. A drone flown Wednesday by an AP team over the dam's wreckage revealed none of the scorch marks or shrapnel scars typical of a bombardment. The bulk of the dam itself is now submerged, and The AP images offered a limited snapshot, making it difficult to rule out any scenario. The dam also had been weakened by Russian neglect and water had been washing over it for weeks. It had been under Russian control since the invasion in February 2022. Compounding the tragedy, Russia has been shelling areas hit by the flooding, including the front-line city of Kherson. On Thursday, Russian shelling echoed not far from a square in Kherson where emergency crews and volunteers were dispensing aid. Some evacuation points in the city were hit, wounding nine people, according to Ukrainian officials. The floodwaters have irrevocably changed the landscape downstream, and shifted the dynamic of the 15-month-old war. Oleshky Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk said that by Thursday afternoon water levels were beginning to fall, but roughly 90% of the city remained flooded. Ryshchuk fled after Russian forces tried to force him to collaborate, but he remains in close contact with people in and around the city. Russia says it is helping the region's civilians. Moscow-appointed regional Gov. Vladimir Saldo claimed over 4,000 people had been evacuated from the flood zones. He shared a video showing empty beds in shelters prepared for evacuees. Ryshchuk dismisses such talk. He said some people trying to leave flooded areas were forced back by Russian soldiers who accused them of being "waiters" — people waiting for Ukraine to reclaim control of the region. Others, who called the Russian-controlled emergency services, were told they would have to wait for help, he said. "That's it," he said. "Yesterday, some Russians came in the morning, took a few people off the roofs, filmed a video, and left. That's everything they have done as of today." The help that made it through has been scattered. Ukrainian military footage, for instance, showed their forces dropping a bottle of water from a drone to a boy trapped with his mother and sister in the attic of their home near Oleshky. Ukrainian soldiers later evacuated the family and their pets to the city of Kherson, National Police reported. Much of the help is being organized by volunteers communicating on the encrypted app Telegram. Messages about stranded people, often trapped on the roofs of their houses, appear in these groups every few minutes. Most are posted by relatives in safer areas. Just one of these volunteer groups has a map showing over 1,000 requests to locate and rescue people, mostly in Oleshky and the nearby town of Hola Prystan. A woman helping with one of the groups, who spoke on condition her name not be used for fear of reprisals from the Russian occupiers, shared a message with an AP journalist. "We were looking for a person named Serhii Borzov," the message read. "He was found. Unfortunately, dead. Our condolences to the relatives."
A top Ukrainian diplomat called Russia a "terrorist state" Tuesday as he opened his country's case against Moscow at the United Nations' highest court and accused Russia of blowing up a major dam in southern Ukraine. Anton Korynevych was addressing judges at the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Kyiv against Russia linked to Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and arming of rebels in eastern Ukraine in the years before Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. Ukraine wants the world court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in the regions, including for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down by Russia-backed rebels on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. ALso Read: Ukraine accuses Russia of destroying major dam near Kherson, warns of ecological disaster Korynevych said that with Moscow unable to beat Ukraine on the battlefield, "it targets civilian infrastructure to try to freeze us into submission. Earlier today, just today, … Russia blew up a major dam located in Nova Kakhovka, causing significant civilians evacuations, harsh ecological damages and threatening the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia's actions are the actions of a terrorist state, an aggressor." Four days of hearings in the court's ornate, wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice are opening against a backdrop of Europe's deadliest conflict since World War II. Ukraine and Russia are trading accusations of blame for the damage to the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, which are located in a part of Ukraine that Moscow controls. Meanwhile, in The Hague, lawyers for Kyiv were presenting legal arguments to support their case Tuesday, followed by Russia on Thursday. Each side has another opportunity next week to present evidence. Judges are expected to take months to issue a judgment. "The Russian Federation has contempt for international law," Korynevych said. "Over the last 16 months, the world has woken up to this dark reality." The case is one of several legal proceedings against Russia linked to Ukraine. Also Read: Russia launched 'largest drone attack' on Ukrainian capital before Kyiv Day; 1 killed In a separate case brought by Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of Russia's illegal invasion, the world court issued a preliminary order calling on Russia to stop hostilities — a legally binding ruling that Moscow ignored. In that case, Kyiv is arguing that Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. Moscow argues that the court does not have jurisdiction. A few kilometers (miles) away at the International Criminal Court, judges have issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of deporting and illegally transferring children from Ukraine. Russia is not a member of the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction. Meanwhile, a Dutch domestic court last year convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian for their roles in downing MH17 and sentenced them in their absence to life imprisonment. Ukraine also has another case against Russia at the International Court of Justice over its invasion last year, and the Netherlands and Ukraine are suing Moscow at the European Court of Human Rights over MH17. Also Read: Russia says drones damage Moscow buildings in pre-dawn attack, blames Ukraine Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a Soviet-era missile over eastern Ukraine. Tuesday's hearing is in a case Kyiv brought in 2017 related to Russia arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and restricting the rights of ethnic Tatars and other minorities following its annexation of Crimea in 2014. In a preliminary ruling, the court ordered Russia to stop limiting "the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions."