Polish and Baltic presidents visit Ukraine in show of support

KYIV, Ukraine — The presidents of four countries on Russia’s doorstep traveled to Ukraine on Wednesday to show their support for the beleaguered country, after Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to continue his bloody offensive until its “completion.” complete”.

The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – all NATO countries fearful of facing a Russian attack in the future if Ukraine falls – traveled by train in Kyiv to meet Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In one of the most pivotal battles of the war, Russia said more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops had moved into the besieged port of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces were holding out in pockets of the city. The request could not be verified.

Russia invaded on February 24 with the aim, according to Western officials, of taking kyiv, overthrowing the government and installing a favorable one for Moscow. In the seven weeks since the ground advance halted, Russia has potentially lost thousands of fighters – and the war has forced millions of Ukrainians to flee. The war has also shaken the global economy, threatened global food supplies and shattered the post-Cold War balance in Europe.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday called Russia’s actions in Ukraine for the first time “genocide”, saying “Putin is simply trying to eliminate the very idea of ​​being a Ukrainian.”

Zelenskyy praised Biden’s use of the word, saying “calling things by their proper names is essential to resisting evil.”

“We are grateful for the American assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities,” he added in a tweet.

European leaders visiting Ukraine planned to deliver “a strong message of political support and military assistance”, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said.

Nauseda, Estonian President Alar Karis, Polish Andrzej Duda and Latvian Egils Levits also planned to discuss investigations into alleged Russian war crimes, including the massacre of civilians. Nauseda said the leaders visited Borodyanka, one of the towns near Kyiv where evidence of atrocities was found.

“This is where the dark side of humanity showed its face,” he wrote on Twitter. “The brutal war crimes committed by the Russian military will not go unpunished.”

An expert report commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe revealed “clear patterns of violations (of international humanitarian law) by Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities”. The report was written by experts selected by Ukraine and released on Wednesday by the Vienna-based organization that promotes security and human rights.

The report said there were also violations by Ukraine, but concluded that those committed by Russia “are far greater in scale and nature.”

Ukraine has previously acknowledged there may be “isolated incidents” of violations and said it would investigate.

Putin, however, denied his troops had committed any atrocities and insisted on Tuesday that Russia ‘had no choice’ but to invade, saying the offensive was aimed at protecting residents of some areas. parts of eastern Ukraine and to “ensure Russia’s own security”. He swore that it would “continue until its complete completion and the fulfillment of the tasks which have been set”.

He insisted that Russia’s campaign was going according to plan despite a major withdrawal after his forces failed to take the capital and suffered heavy casualties.

Following these setbacks, Russian troops are now preparing for a major offensive in the eastern region of Donbass, where Moscow-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. . Military strategists say Moscow believes local support, logistics and terrain in the region favor its larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing Russia to turn the tide in its favor.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that “the failure to ensure coherence and coordination of military activities has so far hampered the invasion of Russia.” Western officials say Russia recently appointed a new top general for the war, Alexander Dvornikov, to try to rein in its campaign.

A key part of this campaign is Mariupol, which is in Donbass and which the Russians have besieged and bludgeoned since almost the start of the war. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak tweeted that the city’s defenders were running out of supplies but were “fighting under bombs for every meter of the city”.

The spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major General. Igor Konashenkov said 1,026 soldiers from the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade went to a metal factory in the city. It was not known when the surrender took place or how many forces were still defending Mariupol.

According to the BBC, Aiden Aslin, a Briton fighting in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol, called his mother and a friend to tell her that he and his comrades had run out of food, ammunition and other supplies and that they would surrender.

Russian state television on Wednesday aired footage it said came from the port city showing dozens of men in camouflage uniforms walking with their hands in the air and carrying others on stretchers or in chair wedges. A man held a white flag on a stick in one hand and the handle of a stretcher in the other. In the background was a large industrial building with its windows shattered and roof missing, identified by the broadcaster as Iliich’s metallurgy.

Another Zelenskyy adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, did not comment on the surrender demand, but said in a Twitter post that elements of the same brigade had managed to join other Ukrainian forces in the city at the following a “risky maneuver”.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the country was investigating an allegation that a drone dropped a toxic substance on the city. She said it was possible that phosphorus ammunition was used in Mariupol.

Phosphorus munitions aren’t formally classified as chemical weapons, but they cause horrific burns, and deliberately firing them into an enclosed space could violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, said Marc-Michael Blum, a former lab chief at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. .

In Washington, a senior US defense official said the Biden administration was preparing another military aid package for Ukraine to be announced in the coming days, up to $750 million.

While Biden has used the word “genocide” about Russia’s actions, he said it would be up to lawyers to decide whether the country’s conduct met the international standard for genocide.

French President Emmanuel Macron declined to use the word but said “it is established that war crimes were committed by the Russian military”.

“We must find those responsible and bring them to justice,” he told France-2 television.

An International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes is underway in Ukraine, including atrocities uncovered after Moscow’s withdrawal from the Kyiv region, where Ukrainian authorities say more than 720 people were killed, with 403 bodies found in the town of Bucha alone.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who visited Bucha, said in a tweet on Wednesday that Ukraine “is a crime scene” and that the court must “pierce the fog of war” to determine what that happened.

Residents of Yahidne, a village near the northern city of Chernihiv, said Russian troops forced them to stay for nearly a month in a school basement, did not allowing outside only to go to the toilet, cook on an open fire – and bury those who died in a mass grave.

In one of the rooms, the residents wrote the names of those who perished during the ordeal. The list had 18 people.

“An old man died near me, then his wife died afterwards,” said resident Valentyna Saroyan. “Then a man died who was lying there, and then a woman sitting next to me. … She died too. Another old man looked so healthy, he was doing exercises, but then he s sat and fell. That was it.”

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