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Russia strikes Kyiv during UN chief's visit, Biden asks for $33 billion for Ukraine

Joshua Melvin, Dmytro Gorshkov - Agence France-Presse
Russia strikes Kyiv during UN chief's visit, Biden asks for $33 billion for Ukraine
A photograph shows smoke above Kyiv after strikes on April 18, 2022, on the 64th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian strikes slammed into Kyiv on April 28, 2022 evening as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting, in the first such bombardment of Ukraine's capital since mid-April, the mayor and AFP correspondents said.
AFP / SERGEY VOLSKIY

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces bombarded Ukraine's capital late Thursday during a visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who decried the "absurdity" of war in the 21st century, as US President Joe Biden asked for $33 billion more to support Kyiv.

At least three people were wounded in the strikes in the western part of the city, which were the first in the capital in nearly two weeks, and came after Guterres toured Bucha and other suburbs where Moscow is alleged to have committed war crimes.

Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha, where dozens of bodies in civilian clothes were found after Moscow's retreat, and had identified more than 8,000 alleged war crimes cases.

Those cases involve "killing civilians, bombing of civilian infrastructure, torture" and "sexual crimes" reported during Russia's occupation of various parts of Ukraine, prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova told a German TV channel.

In Washington, Biden urged US lawmakers to approve his huge aid package, as well as proposed new laws to allow using luxury assets stripped from Russian oligarchs to compensate Ukraine for damage inflicted since Moscow invaded on February 24.

"The cost of this fight is not cheap. But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen," Biden said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed Biden's proposal as an "important step" and "necessary."

'Shocking'

In a residential part of Kyiv, AFP correspondents saw one building in flames and black smoke pouring into the air.

"I heard the sound of two rockets and two explosions. It was a sound similar to a flying plane, and then two explosions with an interval of three to four seconds," Oleksandr Stroganov, 34, told AFP.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said there had been "two hits in the Shevchenkovsky district", with one hitting "the lower floors of a residential building". Three people were taken to hospital, but the extent of their injuries was not immediately clear.

"It is a war zone but it is shocking that it happened close to us," Saviano Abreu, spokesman for the UN's humanitarian office who was travelling with Guterres, told AFP, adding that the delegation was safe.

Zelensky said the strikes, immediately after his talks with Guterres, were an attempt by Russia "to humiliate the UN and everything that the organisation represents."

A Russian military spokesman told reporters that Moscow's army had conducted air strikes against 38 military targets, destroying seven munitions depots, but made no immediate mention of Kyiv or the wider region around the capital.

Guterres, who arrived in Kyiv after talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, called the war "evil" after visiting Bucha and demanded that the Kremlin cooperate with an International Criminal Court investigation into the accusations.

Prosecutors said the 10 servicemen under investigation are suspected of "premeditated murder", cruel treatment and other violations of the laws and customs of war during their occupation of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, in March.

At a joint press conference with Zelensky, Guterres admitted the UN Security Council had "failed to do everything in its power to prevent and end this war."

"This is the source of great disappointment, frustration and anger", he added.

'Idle comments'

In Washington, Biden pushed back against increasingly heated claims by Russian officials and state media that Moscow is fighting the entire West, rather than only Ukraine.

"We're not attacking Russia. We are helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression," Biden said.

The US leader also blasted Moscow for "idle comments" on the possible use of nuclear weapons.

The $33 billion package sought by Biden is a significant increase on previous requests.

The bulk — $20 billion — would be weapons and other security assistance, while $8.5 billion will be economic aid to help Ukraine's government respond to the crisis.

Russia has targeted Western-supplied arms, as the United States and Europe increasingly heed Zelensky's call for heavier firepower, despite their misgivings about being drawn into a conflict with Moscow.

The German parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favour of providing Kyiv with heavy weapons, a major shift in policy.

In its economic standoff with the West, Russia on Wednesday cut gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland, both European Union and NATO members. Both are now receiving gas from EU neighbours.

On Thursday, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov urged Europe to be "stronger" and wean itself off Russian gas as he also visited Ukraine, arguing "everybody in Europe should be able to".

Biden said the West would not allow Russia "to use their oil and gas to avoid consequences for their aggression".

'One hope'

With the war claiming thousands of lives, Kyiv has admitted Russian forces are making gains in the east, capturing a string of villages in the Donbas region.

The first phase of Russia's invasion failed to reach Kyiv or overthrow Zelensky's government after encountering stiff Ukrainian resistance reinforced with Western weapons.

The Russian campaign has since refocused on seizing the east and south of the country while using long-range missiles against west and central Ukraine.

Guterres said the United Nations was doing everything possible to evacuate civilians from the "apocalypse" in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

A Russian official meanwhile said Thursday that the ruble will soon be introduced in areas of Ukraine under Moscow's control, despite Russia earlier insisting it was not seeking to occupy captured territory.

Ukraine's ombudsman condemned the move as "act of annexation" and "gross violation" of UN Charter articles.

Nearly 5.4 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the invasion, according to the United Nations, and more than 12 million others are displaced internally.

"We feel bad, we shouldn't be standing here," Svitlana Gordienko, a nurse forced to relocate to the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, told AFP as she queued for food at a humanitarian hub.

"We're left with only one hope: to return home," added pensioner Galina Bodnya.

CONFLICT

RUSSIA

UKRAINE

UKRAINE-RUSSIA CRISIS

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 30, 2022 - 3:01pm

President Vladimir Putin says he hopes that Moscow and the West could find a solution to the raging security crisis over Ukraine, but also accused Washington of using Kyiv as a "tool" against Russia.

"I hope that in the end we will find a solution, although it will not be simple," Putin says, indicating he was ready for more talks with the West, which has accused Moscow of massing more than 100,000 troops on the border and plotting to invade Ukraine.

"It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine... but its main task is to contain Russia's development," Putin says. — AFP

June 30, 2022 - 3:01pm

A ship carrying 7,000 tonnes of grain has sailed from Ukraine's port of Berdyansk, currently controlled by Russian forces, the region's Moscow-appointed official said on Thursday.

"After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tonnes of grain are heading toward friendly countries," Evgeny Balitski, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram. — AFP

June 30, 2022 - 8:46am

Britain pledges another $1.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia's invasion, including air-defense systems and drones.

The fresh funds will bring Britain's total military support to Kyiv since the start of the war in late February to £2.3 billion, Downing Street says in a statement. — AFP

June 28, 2022 - 8:16am

A Russian missile strike on a crowded mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk killed at least 16 people, the head of emergency services says early Tuesday, sparking international outrage.

"The Russian strike today on the shopping centre in Kremenchuk is one of the most brazen terrorist acts in European history," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening broadcast posted on Telegram.

"As of now, we know of 16 dead and 59 wounded, 25 of them hospitalised. The information is being updated," emergency services chief Sergiy Kruk says. — AFP

June 27, 2022 - 1:20pm

A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a "crime" not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.

To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from travelling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.

But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

"You're walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying 'no swimming' — but you see someone drowning. It's a crime not to help. That's how I see it," he told AFP.

Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a "patriot", he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defence consultancy.

"I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help," he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea's passport law to leave as equivalent to a "traffic violation". — AFP

June 26, 2022 - 2:40pm

Indonesian President and G20 chairman Joko Widodo set off on Sunday to Europe where he said he plans to visit Russia and Ukraine and meet with the countries' leaders to urge peace talks. 

Widodo departed for Germany to attend as a guest for the G7 summit from June 26 to 27, and he will then go to the Ukraine capital Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

"The mission is to ask... President Zelensky to open a dialogue forum for peace, to build peace because the war has to be stopped," he told a press conference in Jakarta. 

The two leaders will also discuss the food supply chain "that needs to be reactivated" soon, Widodo said. From Kyiv, Widodo is scheduled to visit Moscow and meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin. 

The visit to Moscow is planned for June 30, Indonesian authorities said earlier. — AFP

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