By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is set to announce plans Thursday to send additional military aid to help Ukraine fight back against the Russian invasion, according to a U.S. official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Biden will deliver a Thursday morning address at the White House detailing his plans to build on the roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance the administration has already approved for Ukraine.
The new package is expected to be similar in size to the $800 million package Biden announced last week. It includes much needed heavy artillery and ammunition for Ukrainian forces in the escalating battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said his country will send heavy artillery to Ukraine.
And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the Netherlands will send more heavy weapons, including armored vehicles.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Russia hits Ukrainian cities, pours more troops into war
— More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UN says
— Japan formally revokes Russia’s ‘most favored nation’ status
— Russia’s Chernobyl seizure seen as nuclear risk ‘nightmare’
— China looks to learn from Russian failures in Ukraine
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
LVIV, Ukraine — The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80% of the region, which is one of two regions 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% 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 seizing Kreminna, Haidai said the Russians now 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.
A senior U.S. defense official says training of Ukrainian personnel on American 155mm howitzers has begun in a European country outside of Ukraine, kicking off an effort to enable the Ukrainian army to use newly supplied U.S. artillery in the escalating battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. assessments of the war, said the first of 18 promised U.S. 155mm howitzers arrived on cargo flights to Europe on Wednesday and more are on the way.
The artillery systems are to be moved overland directly into Ukraine; the training of Ukrainian personnel is being done on other 155mm howitzers elsewhere in Europe, the official said.
The senior U.S. defense official also said that Russia in the past 24 hours has added another four battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, all but one in the Donbas region.
The official did not say how many of the groups are now in the Donbas, but on Tuesday the Pentagon said Russia had a total of 78 such groups in eastern and southern Ukraine.
__ AP Military Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is moving to strip citizenship from another four Russians who appear on the European Union’s updated list of sanctions imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Deputy government spokesperson Niovi Parisinou said Wednesday’s decision brings to eight the number of Russians whose Cypriot citizenship will be revoked. They’re among 1,091 people sanctioned by the EU. Parisinou said their family members also will lose their Cypriot citizenship.
The Russians received Cypriot passports under the country’s once lucrative citizenship-by-investment program that was scrapped in 2020 following an undercover TV report that allegedly showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful lawmaker suggesting they could skirt the rules to grant a passport to a fictitious Chinese investor supposedly convicted of fraud.
A 2021 report found that more than half of a total 6,779 passports were issued unlawfully to relatives of wealthy investors over the program’s 13-year run, and that another 770 people were wrongly granted citizenship mainly due to inadequate vetting.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President said he hasn’t seen any new Russian proposals for halting hostilities.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy was asked Wednesday about a Kremlin statement that Russia is waiting for Ukraine’s response to a draft document and “the ball is in their court.”
Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said earlier Wednesday that the Ukrainian side had received Russian proposals and was reviewing them. But Zelenskyy said it’s not so. He said he played football pretty well in peacetime, and the rules say there must be two teams and a ball. He says the Kremlin spokesman appears to be “playing with himself.”
Zelenskyy said he’s been ready for years to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin an end to Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine. He said they sent the same signals about talks before their large-scale invasion, so they are not ready for a peace settlement.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s president has challenged Russia to conduct an urgent round of talks in Mariupol.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators are ready for any format of negotiations to save lives of Mariupol defenders and civilians trapped in the city.
He tweeted that “we’re ready to hold a “special round of negotiations” right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two.”
Podolyak said that Ukraine is ready for talks without any conditions “to save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever.”
There was no immediate response from Russia to Podolyak’s offer.
Mariupol has faced a Russian siege and relentless bombardment for seven weeks, and the last remaining Ukrainian defenders are currently trapped at a giant steel mill encircled by the Russians. They have rejected the Russian ultimatum to surrender or get killed.
Zelenskyy said up to 1,000 civilians could be trapped at the Azovstal steel plant.
KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation in Ukraine’s east and south remains difficult with Russian troops pushing their attacks.
Speaking in a video address to the nation late Wednesday, Zelenskyy said “the occupiers aren’t abandoning their attempts to score at least some victory by launching a new, large-scale offensive.”
He said Ukraine’s Western allies have “come to understand our needs better,” so they’re receiving new shipments of Western weapons “now, when Russia is trying to step up its attacks, not in weeks or in a month.”
Zelenskyy also urged the West to keep ramping up the sanctions against Moscow and quickly implement a full ban on imports of the Russian oil and oil products.
KYIV, Ukraine — A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor has died in a basement in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol.
The Auschwitz Memorial announced the death of Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova.
The Jewish organization Chabad.org reported that her daughter shared the news after arriving with the rest of her family at a safe location, saying she died April 4, pleading for water in a freezing basement.
She was 10 years old when the Nazis occupied Mariupol and killed thousands of Jews in a single day, including her mother. She survived in a basement then, and died in a basement in the same city 81 years later.
KYIV, Ukraine — A top Ukrainian official said Wednesday’s planned evacuation of civilians from Mariupol has failed because of the Russian failure to observe a cease-fire.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said “the humanitarian corridor didn’t work as planned” on Wednesday. She added that “the occupiers have failed to ensure a proper cease-fire die to the lack of control over its own military.”
Vereshchuk also charged that “due to the sloppiness” of the Russian military, it has failed to timely deliver those who were willing to evacuate to an area where Ukrainian buses were waiting for them.
She said that efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol will resume Thursday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said about 120,000 people remain under siege in the city.
WASHINGTON — Pentagon press secretary John Kirby is downplaying Russia’s launch of a new intercontinental ballistic missile that the Kremlin is counting on as the center of its nuclear strategy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the Sarmat missile uniquely capable of penetrating anti-missile defenses. And Russia’s space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin provocatively called Wednesday’s test flight “a present to NATO.”
But Kirby said “Russia properly notified the United States under its New START obligations that it planned to test this ICBM. Such testing is routine. It was not a surprise. We did not deem the test to be a threat to the United States or its allies.”
KYIV, Ukraine — About 1,000 civilians are trapped at a steel mill in Mariupol along with Ukrainian soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday.
“Behind the backs of our guys in Mariupol there are around a thousand civilians, including women and children,” he said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel.
Zelenskyy added that Russia has stonewalled Ukraine’s attempts to negotiate a safe exit for them. “We are open to different formats of exchange of our people for Russian people, Russian military that they have left behind,” he said.
Ukraine also has tried to get Russia to agree on a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the 120,000 people who Zelenskyy said remain under siege in Mariupol.
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, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event was not public.
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.
— AP writer Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed to this story.
PANAMA CITY, Panama — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expressing concerns about a humanitarian corridor Ukraine is trying to set up to evacuate people trapped by Russian forces in Mariupol.
“Of course, we want to see people who are in harm’s way, if they are able to, to leave it safely and securely,” Blinken said Wednesday. The U.S. is sharing its assessments, but the Ukrainian government and the people themselves must decide whether to take the risk..
“What gives pause is the fact there have been agreements on humanitarian corridors established before that have fallen apart very, very quickly, if not immediately, principally because the security has been violated by Russian forces. And so people leaving, believing that they could do so safely and securely, were fired on.”
Blinken said the world witnessed “death and destruction and atrocities” after the Russians retreated from Bucha, and “we can only anticipate that when this tide also recedes from Mariupol we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine.”
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military officer has urged world leaders to help evacuate hundreds of soldiers and civilians from a steel mill in Mariupol, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the city.
The officer identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade defending the giant Azovstal steel mill. He posted a video plea on Facebook Wednesday saying “we have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.”
“We ask you to provide us safety on the territory of a third state,” Volynskyy said in the video message, which couldn’t be independently verified.
“This may be our last appeal. We may have only a few days or hours left,” he added.
Ukrainian officers have said Russian forces have been dropping heavy bunker-busting bombs on the steel mill, where people have taken shelter in underground tunnels and chambers.
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.
Guterres asked by letter Tuesday for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in their respective capitals, aiming “to discuss whatever urgent steps can be taken to stop the fighting,” spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
As of Wednesday, Dujarric said the U.N. has gotten no response.
MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry reported the first launch of its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. President Vladimir Putin said this weapon is unique and will make those who threaten Russia “think twice.”
The ministry said the missile was launched Wednesday from the Plesetsk launch facility in northern Russia and its practice warheads hit designated targets at the Kura firing range on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Sarmat is a heavy missile, intended to replace the Soviet-made Voyevoda missile which was code-named Satan by the West. Putin said it can penetrate any prospective missile defense.
Putin called this “a big, significant event” for Russia’s defense industry. He said the Sarmat will ensure Russia’s security from external threats and “make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice.”
Russia relies on land-based ICBMs as the core of its nuclear deterrent, and is counting on the Sarmat for decades to come. The U.S. has its own nuclear-capable ICBMs, but recently called off a test to avoid escalating tensions.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the state Roscosmos agency that oversees the missile factory building the Sarmat, described Wednesday’s test as a “present to NATO” in a comment on his messaging app channel.
LONDON — 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 announced Wednesday.
Prominent players affected by the ban include reigning U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who recently reached No. 1 in the ATP rankings and is currently No. 2; men’s No. 8 Andrey Rublev; Aryna Sabalenka, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2021 and is No. 4 in the WTA rankings; Victoria Azarenka, former women’s No. 1 who has won the Australian Open twice; and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the French Open runner-up last year.
Wimbledon begins on June 27. Russian athletes have been banned from competing in many sports following their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus has aided Russia in the war.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked Bulgaria to align with international efforts to support his country with military aid.
“The Bulgarian government and Parliament know very well what the Ukrainian requests are … When you fight a war, you need everything — from bullets to fighter jets. We gave the same list to all NATO member states,” Kuleba said Wednesday after meetings with Bulgarian officials.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has warned against supplying weapons to Ukraine, citing the dangers of involving his country more directly in the war.
The ruling coalition in Sofia is blocked by the Socialist party which opposes any military aid to Ukraine, leaving Bulgaria as the only EU member, besides Hungary, that has so far been reluctant to send weapons to Kyiv.
“I have to have in mind the political situation in your country and leave the matter to the government of Bulgaria,” Kuleba said. He warned, however, that those who choose not to help Ukraine “in fact support the Russian aggression and the murder of our citizens.”
HELSINKI — Estonia says it is prohibiting public meetings where people display Russian flags 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.
Among the banned symbols are the flags of the Soviet Union and Russia, USSR military uniforms and the black-orange Ribbon of Saint George worn in Russia to mark the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in WWII.
Ethnic Russians make up about 25% of Estonia’s 1.3 million population and they traditionally gather to lay flowers on May 9 at Tallinn’s Bronze Soldier statue commemorating the fallen Red Army troops in WWII battles in Estonia.
MOSCOW — Russia will “act consistently” to make sure that life in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland “normalizes,” President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Speaking at a meeting with members of a state-funded non-profit group, Putin pledged that “we will act consistently and make sure (that) life in Donbas normalizes.”
Putin said that hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014, prompted Russia to launch a military operation.
“All these eight years, bombing, artillery strikes and hostilities continued there. And of course, it was very, very hard for people,” Putin said. “The goal of the operation is to help our people living in Donbas.”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russia has presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands as part of peace talks and is now awaiting a response from Kyiv.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said Kyiv was reviewing the proposals.
Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Russia has passed on a draft document containing “absolutely clear, elaborate wording” to Ukraine and now “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.”
Peskov didn’t give further details. He blamed Ukraine for the slow progress, claiming Kyiv constantly deviates from confirmed agreements. “The Ukrainians do not show a great inclination to intensify the negotiation process,” he said.
Ukraine presented Russia with its own draft last month in Istanbul. Moscow has long demanded, among other things, that Ukraine drop any bid to join NATO. Ukraine has said it would agree to that in return for security guarantees from a number of other countries.
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.
BERLIN — The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million.
More than half of the total, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. Although many have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled onward. There are few border checks within the European Union.
UNHCR said on March 30 that 4 million people had fled Ukraine. The exodus was somewhat slower in recent weeks than at the beginning of the war.
In addition to the refugees, the U.N. says that more than 7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million.
KYIV, Ukraine — Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko is urging residents to leave the city.
Boychenko appealed Wednesday to people who had already left Mariupol to contact relatives still in the city and urge them to evacuate. He said 200,000 people had already left the city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000.
“Do not be frightened, and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia, where you can receive all the help you need — food, medicine, essentials — and the main thing is that you will be in safety,” he wrote in a statement issued by the city council.
Boychenko said buses would be used for the evacuation and there will be three pickup points, one of them near the Azovstal steel mill which has become Ukrainian forces’ last stronghold in the city. Many previous evacuation efforts relied on civilians being able to leave in private cars after efforts to bring buses from Ukraine-held territory into the city failed.
Mariupol, Ukraine’s tenth-largest city, came under attack from Russian forces almost immediately after the invasion began in late February. The port city has strategic value as a link between territories in the south and east of Ukraine which are held by Russian forces or Russia-backed separatists.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is donating about 100 air defense systems to Ukraine with the Scandinavian country’s defense minister saying that “the country is depending on international support to resist Russian aggression.”
Bjørn Arild Gram said Norway had donated French-made Mistral short-range missile systems which currently are being phased out by the Norwegian Armed Forces, “but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great benefit to Ukraine,” Arild Gram said.
The weapons have already left Norway which previously has donated 4,000 anti-tank missiles, protective equipment and other military equipment to Ukraine, he added.
LONDON — Britain’s defense ministry says the Russian military is expanding its presence on Ukraine’s eastern border as fighting in the Donbas region intensifies.
In an intelligence update released Wednesday morning, the ministry says Russian attacks on cities across Ukraine are an attempt to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcements and weapons to the east.
While Russian air operations in northern Ukraine are likely to remain at a low level following the withdrawal of forces from the Kyiv region, there is still a risk of “precision strikes against priority targets throughout Ukraine,” the ministry says.
In a briefing released late Tuesday, the ministry said Ukrainian forces had repelled “numerous attempted advances” by Russian troops as shelling and attacks increased along the line of control that has separated Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces in the Donbas region for the past eight years.
“Russia’s ability to progress continues to be impacted by the environmental, logistical and technical challenges that have beset them so far, combined with the resilience of the highly motivated Ukrainian armed forces,” the ministry said.
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