Russia-Ukraine war: US President Joe Biden announced an $800 million military aid package for Ukraine on Wednesday as international prosecutors declared the war-torn Western ally a “crime scene” amid fears of a massive revamped Russian assault.
The US President said in a statement after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “as Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”
“Will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said.
“These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds and armored personnel carriers. I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters,” he said, adding that the United States will continue to facilitate the transfer of significant capabilities from its allies and partners around the world.
This comes at a time when United States committed 1.7 billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia began its “special military operation.” Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Moscow has added 398 members of the United States Congress to its travel ban list.
“In response to another ‘wave’ of anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the administration of (US President) Joe Biden on March 24 of this year against 328 lawmakers of the State Duma … which … constitutes almost its entire composition, ‘mirror’ sanctions are introduced against 398 members of the House of Representatives of the US Congress,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Russian media.
‘Permeated with pain’
Officials in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha — now synonymous with scores of atrocities — say more than 400 people were found dead after Moscow’s forces withdrew, with 25 reported rapes.
“We’re here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are being committed,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan said on a visit to the town.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda made his own trip to the town of Borodyanka, a half hour drive further northwest, calling the area “permeated with pain and suffering.”
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Russia had engaged in “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations.”
Before the latest military aid package, the United States had supplied or promised Ukraine 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 5,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles, several thousand rifles with ammunition and a range of other equipment.
But Ukrainian forces have struggled even with that support to hold the key southern port of Mariupol, where Zelensky has estimated “tens of thousands” of civilians have died.
Russia’s defense ministry said Wednesday more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Mariupol, as air strikes targeted the city’s huge Azovstal iron and steel works.
The plant’s maze-like complex has been a focus of resistance in Mariupol, with fighters using a tunnel system below the vast industrial site to slow Russian forces down.
But the city is part of an apparent Russian push to create an unbroken corridor from occupied Crimea to Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Leonid Pasechnik, a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine, said up to 90 percent of territory of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic was now under rebel control.
He told reporters separatist troops would “liberate” the rest of the territory and then decide whether to support Russian troops in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
Britain said Wednesday it would sanction 178 Russian separatists and the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as six more oligarchs and their families.
Counting the dead
In a desperate attempt to flee what Ukrainian authorities warn will be a bloody new clash in the east, more than 40,000 people have left the country in the past 24 hours, the United Nations said, bringing those displaced abroad to 4.6 million since the conflict began.
But Kyiv halted humanitarian corridors in several parts of the country Wednesday, deeming them “too dangerous” for evacuations.
Underscoring the risk to civilians, Ukrainian prosecutors on Wednesday accused Russian troops of shooting six men and one woman the day before in a home in the occupied southern village of Pravdyne.
US private satellite firm Maxar Technologies published images Wednesday it said showed Russian ground forces moving towards the border with Ukraine.
But even as the military focus shifted eastward, the grim work of accounting for the civilian dead continued in areas recently abandoned by Russia’s army.
North of Bucha in Gostomel, locals exhumed the body of Mayor Yuriy Prylypko, whom authorities said was shot while “handing out bread to the hungry and medicine to the sick.”
Up to 400 people are unaccounted for in the town, said regional prosecutor Andiy Tkach. AFP witnessed dozens of body bags filling a refrigerated lorry trailer, as two others awaited more corpses.
“Our citizens are murdered and we must bury every person in the right way,” said Igor Karpishen, loading the truck.
“I don’t have any words to express these feelings.”
The United Nations has asked for a ceasefire as it awaits a Russian response to concrete proposals for evacuating civilians and delivering aid.
“That was our appeal for humanitarian reasons but it doesn’t seem possible,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference.