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A protest in Germany against Russia's invasion of Ukraine Alamy Stock Photo
russian invasion

Russia vows bigger Ukraine assault as UN documents killings

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said today that it has detailed a “horror story” of violations perpetrated against civilians.

RUSSIA TODAY SAID it intended a full-bore assault to carve out a sizeable slice of Ukraine, but Kyiv pledged to fight to save the country, as the UN documented dozens of civilians killed in one town.

Ukraine’s government, emboldened by an influx of Western weaponry, said its beleaguered forces were still holding out inside a sprawling steelworks in the razed port city of Mariupol.

The Kremlin has claimed the “liberation” of Mariupol, the control of which is pivotal to its war plans nearly two months after President Vladimir Putin ordered the shock invasion of Russia’s Western-leaning neighbour.

“Since the start of the second phase of the special operation… one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine,” Major General Rustam Minnekaev said.

“This will provide a land corridor to Crimea,” he added, referring to the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Minnekaev’s comments were the clearest articulation yet of Russia’s goals in the invasion’s “second phase”, which was forced on the Kremlin after Ukraine’s Western-backed resistance around the capital Kyiv.

In his regular evening address, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “This only confirms what I have already said multiple times: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a beginning.”

“We will defend ourselves as long as possible… but all the nations who, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us.”

Zelenskyy said the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to deter attacks by Russian troops in the east and south of the country.

“The Izyum direction, Donbas, Azov, Mariupol, Kherson region are the places where the fate of this war and the future of our state is being decided,” he said.

“In Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, in Donetsk region in general, in Popasna and in Luhansk region in general, in Kharkiv, in the surrounding areas, the occupiers are trying to achieve a primitive goal – to kill as much as possible and destroy everything they see.”

No truce over Orthodox Easter

Seeking a way to end the bloodshed, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres will meet Putin in Moscow next week, and could also visit Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Talks between Russia and Ukraine have stalled again, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today.

“On Tuesday, 26 April, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will arrive in Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA Novosti.

“He will also be received by Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

According to the UN, Guterres will seek to spur dialog to end the conflict in Ukraine.

Putin has not taken Guterres’s phone calls, or had any contact with him, since the UN chief stated that Russia’s military campaign violated the UN charter.

In a phone call to Putin, EU chief Charles Michel appealed for humanitarian access to Mariupol during the Orthodox Christian Easter this weekend.

But Zelenskyy said Russia had rejected a proposed truce over the holiday, while Putin accused Kyiv of refusing to allow its troops to surrender in Mariupol.

Ukrainian officials had hoped to evacuate more civilians out of the city today, but called off the operation because of “insecurity” on the roads.

On Thursday, three school buses carrying evacuees arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia after leaving Mariupol and crossing through Russian-held territory.

“I don’t want to hear any more bombing,” said Tatiana Dorash, 34, who arrived with her six-year-old son Maxim.

She said all they wanted now was a quiet night and “a bed to sleep in”.

Summary executions

Russia’s change of strategic focus to southern and eastern Ukraine saw invading forces leave behind a trail of indiscriminate destruction and civilian bodies around Kyiv, including in the commuter town of Bucha.

A United Nations mission to Bucha documented “the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of some 50 civilians there”, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.

Its spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said Russian forces had “indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may amount to war crimes”.

The UN mission was sent on 9 April, a week after an AFP team found bodies of people in civilian clothing lining the streets of Bucha, after the town had been under Russian occupation for over a month.

Ukrainian officials say the bodies of more than 1,000 civilians have been retrieved from areas around Kyiv.

Forensic experts are now examining the bodies, said Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of the Kyiv regional military administration.

“But what we saw was hands tied behind the back, their legs tied and shot through the limbs and in the back of the head,” he told reporters.

US satellite imagery company Maxar released photos it assessed showed a mass grave on the northwestern edge of Mangush, west of Mariupol.

‘Horror story’

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said today that the UN has detailed a “horror story” of violations perpetrated against civilians.

The extent of the devastation to many cities was revealed in recent weeks as Russian troops withdrew from around Kyiv.

“Over these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not merely been ignored but seemingly tossed aside,” Bachelet said.

Almost every resident in Bucha our colleagues spoke to told us about the death of a relative, a neighbour or even a stranger. We know much more needs to be done to uncover what happened there and we also know Bucha is not an isolated incident.

The UN mission has received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in areas around Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy that were under Russian control until early March.

It “has also documented what appears to be the use of weapons with indiscriminate effects, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects, by Ukrainian armed forces in the east of the country”.

From the start of the war on 24 February to midnight on 20 April, the UN mission has documented and verified 2,345 civilians have been killed and 2,919 wounded.

“We know the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in areas of intense fighting, such as Mariupol, come to light,” Bachelet said.

The UN has received 75 allegations of sexual violence by Russian forces, including against children.

“First and foremost, this senseless war must stop,” Bachelet said.

“But as the fighting shows no sign of abating, it is vital that all parties to the conflict give clear instructions to their combatants to strictly respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she said.

Referendum warning

Zelenskyy accused Moscow of laying the groundwork for a referendum to cement control of separatist areas in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, urging locals to avoid giving personal data to Russian forces.

“This is aimed to falsify the so-called referendum on your land,” he warned.

Ukraine’s leader also welcomed the latest promises of Western military aid, including howitzers, armoured vehicles and tactical drones from the United States.

“I am grateful to all our partners who finally heard us, who convey to us exactly what we asked for. Because we know for sure that with these weapons, we will be able to save the lives of thousands of people, and we can show the occupiers that the day when they will be forced to leave Ukraine is approaching,” he said. 

After the latest US pledge of $800 million of equipment, including heavy weapons, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had ordered anti-tank missiles and self-propelled howitzers for Ukraine.

The UK government said Ukrainian soldiers had travelled to Britain for training in operating UK-supplied armoured vehicles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain was joining other European countries in reopening its embassy in Kyiv, but he warned that the conflict could drag on until the end of next year.

Russia has said one crew member died and 27 were missing after the Moskva missile cruiser sank last week – Moscow’s first admission of the losses in the incident that it blames on a fire.

Ukraine and the United States say the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was hit by Ukrainian cruise missiles, and the death toll is uncertain.

© AFP 2022

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