Ukraine news - live: Russia says EU sanctions that prompted transit ban ‘unacceptable’

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Moscow described the EU sanctions that led Lithuania to block the transit of some goods from mainland Russia to the exclave of Kaliningrad as “absolutely unacceptable” on Wednesday.

Lithuania has shut the route to steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do after Brussels green-lit further punitive action against Russia that took effect on Saturday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov branded the sanctions “illegal” and said that countermeasures were being prepared by Russia.

Meanwhile, a suspected “kamikaze” drone started a fire at a Russian oil refinery near the Ukrainian border on Wednesday, local officials have said.

Vasily Golubev, the governor of Russia’s Rostov region, confirmed that a blaze had broken out at the Novoshakhtinsk site, which is located 5 miles from Ukraine. The refinery’s operations were suspended on Wednesday as a result.

In other developments, the latest British military intelligence report suggest that Russia is suffering “extraordinary” losses in eastern Ukraine.

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the Kremlin’s proxy, said 2128 of its soldiers had been killed and another 8897 injured this year. This equates to more than 50 per cent of its original force, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

Key Points

  • Russia says EU sanctions that prompted Lithuania transit ban ‘absolutely unacceptable’

  • Suspected ‘kamikaze’ drone attack causes fire at Russian oil refinery

  • Russia suffering ‘extraordinary attrition’ in Donbas, claims British defence ministry

  • Ukraine set to become EU member on Thursday, diplomats say

  • Putin claims ‘Satan 2’ nuclear missiles will be ready to deploy by year’s end

  • Russian attacks to increase this week ahead of EU summit, says Zelensky

ISW on the battle for the Donbas

08:34 , Rory Sullivan

Russia’s air-defence systems in eastern Ukraine are stymieing the use of Ukrainian drones, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said.

In its latest update on the situation in Ukraine, the US think tank also has this detailed map of the battle for the Donbas:

Britons and Moroccan to appeal against death sentences in DPR

08:18 , Rory Sullivan

Two Britons and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists for fighting for Ukraine will appeal against their verdicts, one of their lawyers has said.

The development was reported by Russia’s Tass news agency.

A court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which is not internationally recognised, found Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Saadoun guilty of “mercenary activities” earlier this month.

The trial was condemned as a “sham” trial by British politicians including the foreign secretary Liz Truss.

Don’t underestimate Russian military, Estonian PM tells west

07:58 , Rory Sullivan

The west should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities, Estonia’s prime minister has warned.

Speaking to the Associated Press on Wednesday, Kaja Kallas said Moscow was in the war for the long haul.

“I’ve heard talks that, you know, there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they haven’t,” she said of the Russian military.

“They have plenty of troops still who can come (to fight) — They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don’t think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up,” she added.

As well as praising European unity against Russia, Ms Kallas said those guilty of committing war crimes in Ukraine must be punished.

 

Battle for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk reaching ‘fearsome climax’, says Kyiv

07:38 , Rory Sullivan

The battle for the east Ukrainian cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, one of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisers has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych made the comment as Ukrainian forces try to cling onto this part of Luhansk province despite fierce Russian attacks.

The Kremlin’s forces continue to make steady progress, after capturing Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.

‘Wind of change’ in Europe as Ukraine to receive candidacy status

07:24 , Rory Sullivan

European leaders will formally back Ukraine as a candidate to join the bloc, four months after Vladimir Putin invaded the country.

“History is on the march,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, ahead of a two-day summit.

“I am not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression,” she said. “I am talking about the wind of change that once again blows across our continent. With their applications, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are telling us that they want change.”

The process of joining the EU takes time, with countries including North Macedonia and Montenegro waiting for more than a decade so far.

Ukraine controls nearly 45 per cent of Donetsk, says official

07:05 , Arpan Rai

Ukrainian forces control less than 50 per cent of the Donetsk Oblast , regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Wednesday.

Ukraine remains in control of nearly half (45 per cent) of the heavily damaged eastern industrial city, which is backed by Moscow, Mr Kyrylenko said, talking to the Radio Free Europe, reported The Kyiv Independent.

The rest of the 55 per cent territory, including Mariupol and Volnovakha, is held by Russia and its proxies.

Russia captures two settlements near Ukraine’s Lysychansk

06:51 , Arpan Rai

Russian soldiers have gained control over two settlements in Ukrainian cities Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday morning.

The two settlements are Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka.

Mr Gaidai said that the Ukrainian forces were continuing to defend Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka.

On Wednesday evening, the governor had said that Russian soldiers were mounting their reserves in the key city of Donbas as they tried to encircle Ukrainian troops.

But he had said that the “battles are continuing” and rejected Russian charges that its military has gained control of the city.

Russia increasing pressure in Donbas but efforts stalled in Donetsk, says British MoD

06:24 , Arpan Rai

The British defence ministry said that the Russian fighters are increasing their grip in Ukraine’s eastern cities Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk but the efforts appear stalled in other parts.

“Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sieverodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance around the fringes of the built-up area,” the British MoD said in its latest intelligence update on Thursday.

It added that the Russian “efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled”.

According to the ministry, in the last four days, “Russian forces have highly likely advanced over 5km towards the southern approaches of the Donbas city of Lysychansk”.

“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled. Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” the ministry said.

Russia claims it has captured village in Sievierodonetsk

05:16 , Arpan Rai

Pro-Moscow separatists said they have captured another village outside Sievierodonetsk, their latest territorial gain in Ukraine’s eastern region, reported Russian news agency Tass.

Officials in Kyiv have not confirmed the loss of territory to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Russian forces continued their military assault on Ukraine’s second biggest city Kharkiv.

Kharkiv’s governor Oleh Synehubov said: “There is no letup in the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers.

“This is evidence that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure,” he said.

Kharkiv has witnessed a spike in shelling and strikes from Russian forces, which comes just a month after Ukrainian troops had regained control on the city after pushing Moscow’s troops out.

Massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas

04:57 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of wanting to destroy Ukraine’s eastern region “step by step” and wanting to turn the besieged cities into Mariupol.

“In Donbas there are massive air and artillery strikes. The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same - they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step. Entire. Lysychansk, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk - they aim to turn any city into Mariupol. Completely ruined,” Mr Zelensky said in his late night address.

He added that the Russian forces rained seven missiles at Mykolaiv, a city near the Black Sea.

The president said that no one was killed but five people were injured.

“There were strikes in the Kharkiv region as well. There are casualties. There were strikes at the borders of the Chernihiv and Sumy regions,” the wartime president said in his nightly address.

Reiterating Ukraine’s demand for weapons supply from allies, Mr Zelensky added: “That is why we repeatedly emphasise the acceleration of weapons supplies to Ukraine.”

Parity is needed on the battlefield as soon as possible to stop this devilish armada and move it beyond the borders of Ukraine, Mr Zelensky said.

Zelensky says expecting ‘key European decision’ tonight

04:38 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has said he is expecting a “key European decision” on Thursday night, ahead of anticipated clearance of Ukraine’s candidacy in the European Union, as he addressed the citizens in his nightly address.

He added that he spoke with 11 European leaders in a telephone marathon for a “positive decision on the candidacy for Ukraine”.

“Tomorrow I will continue this marathon - we must provide maximum support to our state. We expect a key European decision tomorrow night,” Mr Zelensky said late on Wednesday.

Mr Zelensky thanked the leadership of Bulgaria, Latvia, Greece, Sweden, Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia,

Moldova and Lithuania as he extended bilateral support from Ukraine to the nations and invited the leaders to visit the battle-marred country.

Mexican scientist turned Russian spy sentenced to four years

Wednesday 22 June 2022 22:02 , Joe Middleton

A Mexican scientist has been sentenced to four years and one day in prison after becoming a Russian spy.

Hector Cabrera Fuentes, 37, pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent in February and was sentenced in Miami on Tuesday. He has already served more than two years.

Cabrera was detained on 16 February 2020 by FBI agents at Miami International Airport while he was on his way back to Mexico.

Two days previously, Cabrera had been seen attempting to conduct surveillance on an FBI informant alongside his wife.

Gustaf Kilander reports.

Mexican scientist turned Russian spy sentenced to four years

Wednesday 22 June 2022 21:30 , Joe Middleton

Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine continues to rage following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of his “special military operation” against the country in the early hours of 24 February, the Russian leader declaring, groundlessly, a need to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” the neighbouring state after eight years of fighting in the Donbas.

As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky leads by example from the streets of Kyiv, tirelessly rallying the international community for support, his people mount an impressive resistence, holding back Russia’s armed forces as best they can.

The aggressor meanwhile continues to employ brutal siege warfare tactics, surrounding the country’s cities and subjecting them to intense shelling campaigns, a strategy previously seen in Chechnya and Syria.

But what are the key issues behind the conflict, where did it all begin and how might the crisis unfold?

Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

ICYMI: Ukraine visa scheme ‘problematic’, says engineer who fled war-torn nation to UK

Wednesday 22 June 2022 21:00 , Joe Middleton

ICYMI: Europe warned to prepare for ‘total shutdown’ of Russian gas exports before winter

Wednesday 22 June 2022 20:24 , Joe Middleton

European countries should prepare for a “total shutdown” on Russian gas supplies ahead of winter, the International Energy Agency has warned.

The agency said governments should take preparatory action, including keeping aging nuclear power stations online.

“Europe should be ready in case Russian gas is completely cut off,” said the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol.

Harry Cockburn reports.

Europe warned to prepare for ‘total shutdown’ of Russian gas

Conflict in Ukraine has ‘sounded an alarm for humanity’, says Xi Jinping

Wednesday 22 June 2022 19:53 , Joe Middleton

The conflict in Ukraine has “sounded an alarm for humanity”, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said as China continues to assume a position of neutrality while backing its ally Russia.

China has refused to criticise Russia’s war in Ukraine or even to refer to it as an invasion in deference to Moscow, while also condemning US-led sanctions against Russia and accusing the West of provoking Moscow.

“The Ukraine crisis has again sounded the alarm for humanity. Countries will surely end up in security hardships if they place blind faith in their positions of strength, expand military alliances, and seek their own safety at the expense of others,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Mr Xi as saying.

Mr Xi, who did not propose any solutions, was speaking at the opening of a virtual business forum of the “BRICS” countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

In other comments, Mr Xi said imposing sanctions could act as a “boomerang” and a “double-edged sword”, and that the global community would suffer from “politicising, mechanising and weaponising” global economic trends and financial flows.

EU candidacy status for Ukraine will set example, says Belarus opposition leader

Wednesday 22 June 2022 19:25 , Joe Middleton

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said that the European Union “must” grant candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine.

In an interview with Euronews, Ms Tsikhanouskaya stated that the historic decision could set an “example” for Belarus as well as other European countries.

“Who deserves it more than Ukraine? They are paying with their lives for Europe”, said the nation’s exiled opposition leader.

“We want to have such a perspective for the future... Belarus was, is, and will be part of Europe.”

EU candidacy status for Ukraine will set example, says Belarus opposition leader

My role models are ordinary Ukrainian citizens, says Zelensky

Wednesday 22 June 2022 19:00 , Joe Middleton

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday his role models were ordinary Ukrainians who resisted invading Russian forces and he compared Russia to the fictional arch-villain Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter books.

Zelenskiy, dressed in a military uniform, was answering questions via videolink from students at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

Asked by one student who his role models were, Zelenskiy said: “The people of Ukraine... and there are very many of them.”

“An ordinary Ukrainian farmer who could take his tractor and close off a road to Russian tanks, an ordinary woman who would go out and stop armoured vehicles with her bare hands... Those are the people I look up to,” he said via an interpreter.

The student noted that Zelenskiy has been compared by his supporters to former British prime minister Winston Churchill and to Harry Potter, the fictional boy wizard who finally defeats Lord Voldemort.

“Thank you for these kind of comparisons. Harry Potter is better than Voldemort, and we know who is Voldemort in this war, and who is Harry Potter, so we know how the war will end,” Zelenskiy said, smiling.

Ukrainian journalist ‘executed and possibly tortured by Russian soldiers’, report says

Wednesday 22 June 2022 18:43 , Joe Middleton

A veteran Ukrainian journalist was “executed in cold blood” by Russian soldiers after possibly being tortured, according to a new investigation.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Maks Levin, an experienced freelancer who frequently contributed to the news agency Reuters, went missing on 13 March with his friend Ukrainian soldier Oleksiy Chernyshov, around a forest north of the capital Kyiv.

Russian forces were occupying part of the area at the time.

After searching the location where the two bodies were discovered, the press freedom group said investigators found material evidence that an execution had taken place – possibly after interrogation and torture.

Bel Trew reports.

Ukrainian journalist ‘executed by Russian soldiers’, report says

US should play more active role in confronting Russian propaganda, says EU official

Wednesday 22 June 2022 18:21 , Joe Middleton

The United States should play a more active role in combating Russian propaganda and online disinformation because of the threat to democracy, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova will say on Wednesday.

Ms Jourova said information manipulation was a grossly underestimated weapon.

“Most of the time, it is quieter. It rarely makes a blast. And it is potentially even more dangerous, especially for democracies,” she will say in a speech to be delivered at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Ms Jourova said she wants to extend a hand to the United States to cooperate with Europe, according to the text of the speech seen by Reuters.

“I think that for the United States, as a cradle for both democracy 200 years ago and for the ‘dot com’ or tech revolution some 20 years ago, the time for no action is over,” Jourova will say.

“In the past, people said democracy dies in silence. Today, democracies may die in noise and cacophony.”

She will add that the US and Europe should co-create a response to Russia’s propaganda, going beyond their cooperation in the G7 and the Trade and Technology Council, a newly set-up forum initially seen as a transatlantic counterweight to China, but now also focused on Russia.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin to consider invite to visit Ukraine

Wednesday 22 June 2022 17:59 , Joe Middleton

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has not ruled out visiting Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky invited him to travel to the war-torn country.

Mr Martin said he will keep the invitation, in what would be the first State visit from Ireland, under review.

Mr Zelensky invited the Fianna Fail leader to the eastern European country during a phone call between the two leaders on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian president also thanked the Taoiseach for Ireland’s support to Ukraine.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin to consider invite to visit Ukraine

All EU members will back Ukraine, says Zelensky

Wednesday 22 June 2022 17:32 , Joe Middleton

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday he believed all European Union members would back a proposal to grant Ukraine EU candidate status at a summit later this week.

“I do believe that all 27 European Union countries will support our candidate status,” Zelenskiy said, speaking via a video link with students at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto.

“This is like going into the light from the darkness,” he added.

Ukrainian drone strikes major Russian oil refinery

Wednesday 22 June 2022 17:24 , Joe Middleton

UK fully supports Lithuania decision to ban transit of Russian goods

Wednesday 22 June 2022 16:58 , Joe Middleton

UK fully supports Lithuania’s decision to ban the transit of Russian goods sanctioned by the European Union through its territory, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday.

Russia has warned Lithuania that unless the transit of goods to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea was swiftly restored then Moscow would take undisclosed measures to defend its national interests.

“The UK fully supports Lithuania stopping sanctioned goods from Russia travelling through their country. We must stay strong in the face of Russian aggression and challenge these unjustified threats,” Ms Truss said on Twitter.

Russia forces shell Kharkiv, kill at least 20

Wednesday 22 June 2022 16:38 , Joe Middleton

Russian forces pounded Ukraine‘s second largest city Kharkiv and surrounding countryside with rockets, killing at least 20 people. in what Kyiv called a bid to force it to pull resources from the main battlefield to protect civilians from attack.

The Russian strikes on Kharkiv, throughout Tuesday and continuing on Wednesday morning, were the worst for weeks in the area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Russian forces back in a major counter-offensive last month.

“It was shelling by Russian troops. It was probably multiple rocket launchers. And it’s the missile impact, it’s all the missile impact,” Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters amid the ruins of cottages struck on Tuesday in a rural area on the city’s outskirts.

Medical workers carried the body of an elderly woman out of the rubble of a burnt-out garage and into a nearby van.

“She was 85 years old. A child of the war (World War Two). She survived one war, but didn’t make it through this one,” said her grandson Mykyta. “There is nowhere to flee to. Especially grandmother herself, she didn’t want to go anywhere from here.”

Ukrainian authorities said 15 people were killed and 16 wounded on Tuesday in the Kharkiv region, and regional governor Oleh Sinegubov described shelling incidents on Wednesday morning that had killed at least another five.

“Russian forces are now hitting the city of Kharkiv in the same way that they previously were hitting Mariupol - with the aim of terrorising the population,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address.

“And if they keep doing that we will have to react -- and that is one way to make us move our artillery,” he said. “The idea is to create one big problem to distract us and force us to divert troops. I think there will be an escalation.”

Russia vows retaliation after US bans diplomat flight

Wednesday 22 June 2022 16:21 , Joe Middleton

Russia will take counter-measures in response to the US decision not to allow a Russian aircraft to pick up Russian diplomats and their families from the United States, the foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

“The American side continues to systematically destroy bilateral relations that are already in a lamentable state,” Maria Zakharova said in the statement.

What is Russia’s Satan 2 intercontinental nuclear missile?

Wednesday 22 June 2022 16:09 , Joe Middleton

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has issued a fresh warning that Moscow could unleash its RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), nicknamed “Satan 2”, before the end of the year as its war in Ukraine rumbles on.

Hosting military academy graduates at the Kremlin, Mr Putin said ominously: “We will continue to develop and strengthen our armed forces, taking into account potential military threats and risks.”

He also took the opportunity to hail Russian troops for fighting “with courage, professionalism: like real heroes”.

Joe Sommerlad reports.

What is Russia’s Satan 2 intercontinental nuclear missile?

Russia says EU sanctions that prompted Lithuania transit ban ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Wednesday 22 June 2022 15:41 , Joe Middleton

Moscow described the EU sanctions that led Lithuania to block the transit of some goods from mainland Russia to the exclave of Kaliningrad as “absolutely unacceptable” on Wednesday.

Lithuania has shut the route to steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday.

Kaliningrad is connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through Lithuania, a member of the EU and Nato.

“We are convinced that the illegal sanctions adopted by the European Union are absolutely unacceptable in this situation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters, adding that countermeasures were being prepared.

Earlier on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia’s retaliation would not be exclusively diplomatic but also practical. She also did not elaborate.

The governor of the Kaliningrad region, Anton Alikhanov, said it would propose possible retaliatory measures against Lithuania to the Kremlin and Russian government by the end of the week, TASS news agency reported.

Russian refinery fire

Wednesday 22 June 2022 14:53 , Rory Sullivan

The Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia’s Rostov region was hit by a drone attack this morning.

The first drone struck shortly before 9am, causing a fire to break out at the crude distillation unit. The second strike did not result in a fire.

“Staff have been evacuated and technological equipment has been stopped to assess the damage,” the plant said.

Emergency services put out a fire at the Novoshakhtinsk refinery (Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service via AP)
Emergency services put out a fire at the Novoshakhtinsk refinery (Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service via AP)

One dead in Russian shelling of Mykolaiv, says mayor

Wednesday 22 June 2022 14:25 , Rory Sullivan

One person has died after a Russian missile struck a school and other buildings in the south Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, the local mayor has said.

Oleksandr Senkevych said the attacks on Wednesday started several fires and left a pall of smoke over the city.

“I keep saying it’s still dangerous in the city. Before, people were going out in droves but they go out less now,” he said.

Lithuania prepared for Russian retaliation

Wednesday 22 June 2022 14:00 , Rory Sullivan

Lithuania is prepared for Russia to disconnect its power supplies, the country’s president has said.

President Gitanas Nauseda made the comment after Moscow vowed to take action over Vilnius’ decision to block sanctioned goods from being transported through its territory to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave.

“We are ready and we are prepared for unfriendly actions from Russia (in response), such as disconnection from the BRELL (power grid) system, or others,” Mr Nauseda said on Wednesday.

Vilnius’ actions come as part of an EU ban on the transport of steel and other ferrous metals from mainland Russia.

Russia and US in talks about American fighters in Ukraine, says Kremlin

Wednesday 22 June 2022 13:36 , Rory Sullivan

Russia has accused the US of doing little to stop Americans fighting for Ukraine, the Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister has said.

Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that his country was in discussions with Washington about the issue.

Russia could cut off gas supply to Europe, says IEA boss

Wednesday 22 June 2022 13:32 , Rory Sullivan

Russia could cut off its gas supplies to Europe as political leverage over Ukraine, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned.

Fatih Birol said Europe must prepare “contingency plans” to prepare for this eventuality.

“Considering this recent behaviour, I wouldn’t rule out Russia continuing to find different issues here and there and continuing to find excuses to further reduce gas deliveries to Europe and maybe even cut it off completely,” the IEA executive director told Reuters.

In April, Russia cut off the gas supply to Bulgaria and Poland in retaliation for western sanctions.

Putin threatens to deploy Satan II nuclear missile which can reach UK in three minutes by end of the year

Wednesday 22 June 2022 13:08 , Thomas Kingsley

Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned that the Kremlin could deploy its newest intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching Britain in three minutes, by the end of the year.

The Kremlin announced the first test launch of its new, nuclear-capable Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system in April, which experts also warned could target the UK as well as Europe and the US.

Read the full story here:

Putin threatens to deploy Satan II nuclear missile by end of the year

Don’t buy Mariupol steel, warns Ukraine’s largest steelmaker

Wednesday 22 June 2022 12:07 , Rory Sullivan

Ukraine’s largest steelmaker has told consumers not to buy its products from Mariupol, warning that they have likely been stolen by the Russian forces who occupy the port city.

Metinvest said it had more than 234,000 tonnes of steel products in storage in Mariupol when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

“Metinvest enterprises have underlined that there is a high probability of theft and smuggling of Ukrainian steel products,” the company said in a statement.

“Metinvest Group’s enterprises, therefore, ask all potential buyers to reject any offers related to the stolen products, as any purchase thereof would not be considered as having been made in good faith.”

Putin’s war has killed 324 children, says Ukraine

Wednesday 22 June 2022 11:46 , Rory Sullivan

Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has killed at least 324 children, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office has said.

Another 592 children have been injured, it added.

The true casualty toll is likely to be much higher, as the figures do not include the areas where hostilities are ongoing.

Suspected ‘kamikaze’ drone attack causes fire at Russian oil refinery

Wednesday 22 June 2022 11:23 , Rory Sullivan

A suspected “kamikaze” drone attack has caused a fire at a Russian oil refinery.

Vasily Golubev, the governor of Russia’s Rostov region, confirmed that a blaze broke out at the Novoshakhtinsk site, leading it to suspend operations on Wednesday. The refinery is located just 5 miles from the Ukrainian border.

He added that two drones had been discovered at the refinery.

“One of them made an impact, crashing into a heat transfer unit, after which the blaze started. The second one flew away,” an unnamed local source told Tass news agency.

Videos uploaded to social media appeared to show a drone flying towards the site, which burst into flames a short time later.

Moscow reiterates vow to punish Lithuania over blocked goods

Wednesday 22 June 2022 10:48 , Rory Sullivan

Russia will not only respond “diplomatically” to Lithuania’s ban on EU-sanctioned goods travelling to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the Kremlin has said.

“One of the main questions has been about whether the response would be exclusively diplomatic. The answer: no,” Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

“The response will not be diplomatic but practical,” she added.

Her comments come a day after Russia warned there would be “serious consequences” for the Lithuanian people.

Seven Russian missiles hit Mykolaiv, says regional governor

Wednesday 22 June 2022 10:25 , Rory Sullivan

Seven Russian missiles hit the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, he gave no details of any casualties or damage.

Reuters

One dead and 11 injured in Russian shelling, says Donetsk governor

Wednesday 22 June 2022 09:35 , Rory Sullivan

One person has been killed by Russian shelling in the eastern town of Chasiv Yar, the Ukrainian governor of Donetsk has said.

Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Wednesday that another 11 people, including 6 children, were injured in the attack.

Russian OSCE delegates denied British visas

Wednesday 22 June 2022 09:01 , Rory Sullivan

Russian delegates to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have had their British visa applications turned down, Moscow has said.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, a senior figure in Russian upper house’s international affairs committee, announced the development on Wednesday.

Along with its western allies, Britain has imposed sanctions against Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine.

Russian soldier death toll rises above 34,000, according to Ukrainian army

Wednesday 22 June 2022 08:30 , Rory Sullivan

Almost 35,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the first four months of the war, the Ukrainian army has claimed.

Although Moscow has not released any death toll figures since late March, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), one of its proxies, has said 2,218 of its troops have died. Another 8897 have been wounded, it added.

This casualty rate is roughly 55 per cent of the initial size of DPR’s forces, British military intelligence has suggested.

Russian demotions show Kremlin’s ‘ongoing dysfunction’, says ISW

Wednesday 22 June 2022 08:14 , Rory Sullivan

Moscow’s decision to replace some of its top commanders shows the “ongoing dysfunction in the Kremlin’s conduct of the war”, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said.

See the US think tank’s latest update on the situation in Ukraine here:

Putin to mark WWII anniversary

Wednesday 22 June 2022 07:56 , Rory Sullivan

Russian prresident Vladimir Putin will today mark the Nazis’ invasion of the Soviet Union in World War Two by laying flowers to honour the dead.

The German invasion lasted 1,418 days from 22 June, 1941, and caused the deaths of an estimated 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians.

The day is also commemorated in Belarus and Ukraine, the country which Putin invaded on 24 Febuary. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed so far as a result of the war, according to the UN.

Ukrainian journalist and soldier ‘coldly executed’ by Russian troops, RSF claims

Wednesday 22 June 2022 07:39 , Rory Sullivan

A Ukrainian photojournalist was “coldly executed” along with the soldier who was accompanying him soon after Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a report on Wednesday.

Maks Levin and Oleksiy Chernyshov went missing on 13 March north of Kyiv while they were searching for the journalist’s drone. Their bodies were found on 1 April in woods close to the capital.

Their burned car was riddled with more than a dozen bullet holes, according to investigators.

A bullet was discovered near Levin’s body, with RSF concluding that “he was probably killed with one, perhaps two bullets fired at close range when he was already on the ground”.

Indonesian president to visit Ukraine and Russia

Wednesday 22 June 2022 07:25 , Rory Sullivan

Indonesian president Joko Widodo will visit leaders in Ukraine and Russia next week in an attempt to call for peace.

Mr Widodo, the current chair of the G20, has resisted pressure from some western countries to exclude Russia from the intergovernmental forum.

“The president is showing compassion on the humanitarian crisis, will try to contribute to the food crisis caused by the war, and the impact felt on all countries, especially the developing and low-income ones,” foreign minister Retno Marsudi said.

“And he’ll keep pushing for the spirit of peace,” she added.

Russia suffering ‘extraordinary attrition’ in Donbas, claims British defence ministry

Wednesday 22 June 2022 06:36 , Arpan Rai

Russia is facing “extraordinary attrition” in Ukraine’s eastern region and it is likely that the pro-Russian forces in Donetsk are using outdated weapons, the British defence ministry said on Wednesday.

Pointing out that Russia has not released the overall military casualties in Ukraine since 25 March, the MoD said: “However, the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) publishes casualty figures for DPR forces. As of 16 June, the DPR acknowledged 2128 military personnel killed in action, and 8897 wounded, since the start of 2022.”

It added: “The DPR casualty rate is equivalent to around 55 per cent of its original force, which highlights the extraordinary attrition Russian and pro-Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas”.

According to the British intelligence, it is “highly likely that DPR forces are equipped with outdated weapons and equipment”.

“On both sides, the ability to generate and deploy reserve units to the front is likely becoming increasingly critical to the outcome of the war,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

From the front line in Ukraine, the ministry said that heavy shelling continues as “Russia pushes to envelop the Sieverodonetsk area via Izium in the north and Popasna in the south”.

“Russia is highly likely preparing to attempt to deploy a large number of reserve units to the Donbas,” the ministry said.

Ukraine set to become EU member on Thursday, diplomats say

Wednesday 22 June 2022 06:15 , Arpan Rai

Ukraine is likely to become an official member of the European Union bloc on Thursday, diplomats from the union and ministers said, in a symbolic move four months after it was invaded by Russia.

Officials from EU are set to sign off tomorrow, at a summit in Brussels, recommendations made by the European Commission last week.

Luxembourg’s foreign affairs minister Jean Asselborn, ahead of a meeting with other EU ministers, said: “We are working towards the point where we tell [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that Ukraine belongs to Europe, that we will also defend the values that Ukraine defends.”

“There is not a single country which makes problems with the proposal. We will show great unanimity,” Mr Asselborn said.

According to several diplomats, no countries raised objections at a meeting of the bloc’s ambassadors earlier this week.

Russian attacks on Luhansk intensify: ‘Everything that can burn is on fire'

Wednesday 22 June 2022 05:22 , Arpan Rai

Officials in Ukraine’s eastern areas have said that the Russian attacks laid down a curtain of fire on Tuesday as it continues to increase its territorial control over the separatist territories.

“Today everything that can burn is on fire,” said Serhiy Haidai, governor of Ukraine‘s eastern Luhansk region.

Sievierodonetsk, the hot spot of intense military fighting, is being turned “into ruins”, the governor said.

He added that about 500 civilians are sheltering at the Azot chemical plant.

“It is a sheer catastrophe,” Mr Haidai said about the fighting around the plant.

“Our positions are being fired at from howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, large-caliber artillery, missile strikes,” he said.

Ukraine fighting for modern weapons, EU candidacy, says Zelensky

Wednesday 22 June 2022 04:26 , Arpan Rai

Ukraine is fighting every day with Russian soldiers and is awaiting the supply of modern weapons, Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Tuesday.

He added that the lives of thousands in the war-battered country depends on the country’s allies.

“...And just as actively as we fight for a positive decision of the European Union on the candidacy for Ukraine, we fight every day for the supply of modern weapons for our country. We do not decrease our activity for a single day,” Mr Zelensky said.

He added: “The lives of thousands of people depend directly on the speed of our partners - on the speed of implementation of their decisions to help Ukraine.”

He confirmed that the situation on battle lines has not changed significantly but added that the offensive is increasing in the separatist region of Donetsk.

“With the help of tactical moves, the Ukrainian army is strengthening its defense in the Luhansk region, which is really the toughest area right now. The occupiers are also putting serious pressure on the Donetsk direction. In the Kharkiv region there is brutal and cynical Russian artillery shelling,” Mr Zelensky said.

He added: “It will not give anything to the occupiers, but the Russian army is deaf to any rationality. It simply destroys, simply kills - in this way it shows its command that it is not standing still.”

In the south, he said, Ukraine is defending Mykolaiv region, “our Zaporizhzhia, and gradually liberate the Kherson region”.

Lithuanians near Kaliningrad put faith in Nato after Russia’s threats

Wednesday 22 June 2022 03:59 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s threat to punish Lithuania over blocked rail shipments to Moscow’s enclave of Kaliningrad jangled nerves on Tuesday for residents living just across the border who put faith in Nato membership to thwart any potential military action.

Lithuania has shut the route for transport of steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday, raising the ire of Russian officials who threatened a “serious negative impact.”

Insurance worker Vitalijus Sidiskis, 59, said that while he believed it was difficult to predict what Russia might do, he would remain calm because of Lithuania’s membership in the European Union and Nato.

“Nothing bad will happen ... because Lithuania is in Nato and in the European Union,” he told Reuters. “I don’t believe that they will be aggressively attacking us.”

Other residents in the border town of nearly 6,000 said the threats from Russia had overshadowed other problems, such as sky-high inflation that has hit the pocketbooks of many Lithuanians.

“We work nearby to the border and the shooting and the maneuvers are a bit worrying,” Galina Mateikuniene, a 52-year-old seamstress said. “We are probably more afraid of war, of an invasion. The economy is the economy.”

Draft text points to EU candidacy for Ukraine and Moldova, report suggests

Wednesday 22 June 2022 03:02 , Andy Gregory

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman, a draft conclusion text of the looming EU summit states: “The European Council has decided to grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine and to the Republic of Moldova.”

EU leaders in Brussels are expected to sign off on last week's recommendation by the European Commission that Ukraine be granted candidate status, with three diplomats telling Reuters on Tuesday that after several days of internal EU discussions no opposition among the 27 member states had surfaced.

A French presidential official, whose country heads the EU until the end of June, told reporters in a briefing he was confident none of the 27 would block candidacy status for Ukraine and Moldova.

“We are forging consensus. At this moment I can’t say all 27 are agreed but there is reasonable hope to quickly get an agreement on Ukraine and Moldova at the EU Council,” they said.

Watch: Ukraine visa scheme ‘a big problem’, says engineer after his family flee to UK

Wednesday 22 June 2022 02:06 , Andy Gregory

A Ukrainian engineer who has helped dozens of refugees get to the UK after his own close family made it out of Mariupol says the visa system remains “shambolic” and is getting worse, my colleague Oliver Browning reports.

Anton Ievsiushkin, 38, contrasted the “amazing” help his sister, niece, mother and grandmother have had from the British public with the government scheme.

He believes the visa challenges are made to discourage refugees from applying.

Mr Ievsiushkin began helping families settle in the UK after his twin sister Anastasiia and her now five-month-old daughter fled from Mariupol in March.

Canada seeking pathway to enable German gas flow amid Russian sanctions

Wednesday 22 June 2022 01:10 , Reuters

Ottawa is evaluating options to help restore German gas supplies as a crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline part is stranded in Canada due to Russian sanctions, Canada’s natural resources minister has said.

Gazprom’s Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been forced to reduce capacity as it waits for the turbine, which is being serviced in Canada. Sanctions on Russia make it impossible for German equipment supplier Siemens Energy to receive the pipeline part, the company said last week.

“We want to respect the sanctions because the sanctions were put into place for a reason,” resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson told Bloomberg. “That being said, the intent of the sanctions was never to cause significant pain to Germany, which is one of our closest friends and allies. So we are very seized with this issue.”

“We are talking to Germany, trying to find a pathway through which we can actually enable the flow of gas,” Mr Wilkinson said. “There may be different options that we can look at.”

Russia has said the pipeline is delivering less gas to Europe due to the slow return of Siemens-made equipment from Canada. European leaders such as German chancellor Olaf Scholz have questioned whether the cut in flows is politically motivated rather than a technical issue.

A natural resources ministry spokesman confirmed the accuracy of the comments, saying they were in line with an official statement issued last week.

Ireland will ‘walk every step’ of Ukraine’s journey to EU

Wednesday 22 June 2022 00:15 , Andy Gregory

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said he was “delighted” to speak with Voldomyr Zelensky ahead of a summit this week in which the EU will discuss Ukraine’s potential candidacy for ascension to the bloc.

Despite the European Commission’s endorsement, it is likely to take years or even decades to lead to EU membership for Ukraine.

Mr Martin, who said previously that the process to apply to join the EU is “complex and challenging”, has been a vocal advocate for Ukraine’s fast-tracked membership of the EU, and has used Ireland as an example of how a country can develop through EU membership.

“It requires considerable work on the part of the country looking to join,” he said. “Ireland is ready to walk every step of that journey with Ukraine, providing whatever support and encouragement we can along the way.”

Zelensky invites Irish premier to Ukraine

Tuesday 21 June 2022 23:40 , Andy Gregory

Volodymyr Zelensky has invited Irish premier Micheal Martin to visit Ukraine, after the two leaders shop ahead of a summit this week where leadrs will discuss Ukraine’s potential EU candidacy status.

The Ukrainian president said that he spoke to Mr Martin “on the eve of the historic” European Council meeting and thanked Ireland for its “active support of Ukraine’s European aspirations” and the status of a candidate for EU membership.

Mr Zelensky said he invited Mr Martin “to make the first visit to Ukraine in the history of bilateral relations”.

He has spoken to several EU leaders on Tuesday ahead of the summit, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who he also invited to visit Ukraine.

Estonia summons Russian ambassador over airspace breach

Tuesday 21 June 2022 22:47 , Andy Gregory

Estonia has summoned the Russian ambassador in response the violation of its national airspace by a Russian helicopter on Saturday, the country’s foreign ministry has said.

“Estonia considers this an extremely serious and regrettable incident that undoubtedly causes additional tensions and is completely unacceptable,” the ministry said, repeating calls for Russian troops to leave Ukraine.

Report from Siversk: Residents brace for the coming Russian storm

Tuesday 21 June 2022 21:59 , Andy Gregory

In his latest dispatch from the Donbas region, our defence and security editor Kim Sengupta reports:

The residents left in Siversk are bracing themselves for the coming storm. And there is plenty of evidence of the suffering already inflicted on the town. A destroyed school, used as a shelter, where five people died in a bombing. A row of houses damaged by a missile strike, which killed another three. The acrid smoke from a plant where agricultural seeds were set on fire by shelling.

There has been no gas, no electricity, and no water for a month. Aid runs are irregular because of artillery fire on the road, and the lack of internet and telephone coverage means that it is difficult to know when and where distributions will take place. The town’s hospital, without power and extremely short of medicine, has turned its basement into a shelter. Around half of the population of 11,000 has left the town, but others are determined to stick it out.

“We are not running like those rats: we are staying. This is our home, our country; this is Ukraine, not Russia. That’ll never change,” declares Iryna outside a block of burnt-out apartments. “They are trying to drive out everyone from here, [and to] kill those who stay. They are making this place empty of people.”

There are frequent explosions in the background as she speaks. Quite a few blocks have taken direct hits, and residents spend their time in bunkers under buildings, which have been divided into sleeping cells. They gather outside during the day, when there is a lull in the fighting, to socialise – eating food cooked over open fires, built using the wood from cut-down trees – and take turns to visit people who are too ill or infirm to leave their homes.

You can read his full dispatch here.

Tuesday 21 June 2022 21:15 , Andy Gregory

Alla Oleneik, a 67-year-old whose home in the frontline town of Siversk became uninhabitable after a missile strike, told The Independent: “We know the Russians are not far away. Lysychansk is close, Sievierodonetsk is just across the river. So we are not going to avoid the fighting here.”

“Putin wants the Donbas, we know that,” she added. “We heard there are leaders in Europe who want to end the war by Ukraine giving up this area to the Russians. But we are the ones who live here – and we are not prepared to just give up our land or become Russians. How can they expect us to accept them after the way they have behaved, killing and destroying?”

You can read more in Kim Sengupta’s latest dispatch from Ukraine:

‘The Russians are not far away’: A town is braced for Putin’s advancing forces

Cyberattacks and information warfare in Ukraine are a ‘crystal ball’, Google executive says

Tuesday 21 June 2022 20:29 , AP

A Google executive warned the UN Security Council today that cyberattacks, disinformation and other forms of information warfare being waged in Ukraine are a “crystal ball” for future problems elsewhere.

“States must find a way to turn the volume down and settle on some kind of deterrence doctrine for the cyber domain,” Jared Cohen said at a council meeting on hate speech, incitement and atrocities in Ukraine.

He argued that while tech companies have needed expertise, “there is no magical algorithm or single fix for this,” and finding a solution will take a lot of experimentation.

Mr Cohen heads Jigsaw, a part of Google that aims to build technology to combat disinformation, censorship and extremism online.

He said Ukraine “has been disproportionately targeted” by advanced cyberattacks since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding: “It is essentially our crystal ball for what is likely to come.”

Ukraine targets Snake Island

Tuesday 21 June 2022 19:58 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine is targeting the strategically important Black Sea landmass known Snake Island, contested since it was seized by Russia at the outset of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The Ukrainian military’s southern operational command claimed in a social media post that the island “was dealt a concentrated blow with the use of various forces and methods of destruction”, leading to “significant” Russian losses.

“The military operation continues and requires information silence until its completion,” it said in an update.

At least 15 killed in Kharkiv region, governor claims

Tuesday 21 June 2022 19:33 , Andy Gregory

At least 15 civilians have been killed by Russian shelling today in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, its governor has claimed.

‘Appalling’ that US citizens could face death sentence, White House says

Tuesday 21 June 2022 19:14 , Andy Gregory

White House national security council spokesman John Kirby has said the suggestion that Americans captured in eastern Ukraine could face the death sentence is “appalling”.

The Kremlin said earlier today that it did not know the location of two Americans – Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27 – who were captured while fighting in eastern Ukraine, but that they were mercenaries and could be sentenced to death in Russian-backed breakaway territories.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters that Moscow could not rule out that the two captured men, both from Alabama, would be sentenced to death if put on trial in a separatist territory.

Italy’s Draghi vows to continue to support Ukraine amid political discontent over arms exports

Tuesday 21 June 2022 18:53 , Andy Gregory

Italy’s Mario Draghi has said his government will continue to support Ukraine, appearing to shrug off suggestions from one of his coalition partners that Rome should halt arms exports to Kyiv.

The prime minister told Italy’s parliament that pressure had to be put on Russia to make it cease fighting and seek negotiations, saying: “Only a peace that is mutually agreed and not imposed can last.”

Referring to a vote in March where lawmakers gave the go-ahead for arms shipments, he added: “The Italian government together with the European Union and G7 partners intends to continue to support Ukraine as this parliament has told us to do.”

Following Mr Draghi’s speech, Italy’s parliament approved a resolution which urged him to continue to involve parliament in decisions concerning the war in Ukraine, including arms transfers.

His comments came against a backdrop of growing discontent within the 5-Star Movement, the largest party in parliament, over continued weapons transfers to Ukraine, with rumours of a potential split by supporters of foreign minister Luigi Di Maio to establish a new centrist group.

White House accuses Putin of ‘weaponising’ food

Tuesday 21 June 2022 18:36 , Andy Gregory

Vladimir Putin is weaponising food by blocking Ukraine grain exports, the White House has said.

US president Joe Biden is examining options on how to get the grain out, according to national security spokesperson John Kirby, who added: “President Putin is, no kidding, weaponising food.

“Let's just call it what it is, he's weaponising food.”

Russia captures settlement near Lysychansk, regional governor says

Tuesday 21 June 2022 17:55 , Andy Gregory

Russian forces have captured a settlement some 11 miles southeast of the embattled city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, its governor has said.

“Unfortunately, the enemy threw at it huge amounts of armament and soldiers, and captured Thskivka,” Serhiy Gaidai told Ukraine’s national broadcaster.

Russian heavy artillery is shelling Lysychansk intensively, but Ukrainian forces are holding the ground there, he added.

Mass mobilisation in Russia ‘about to happen’, western officials claim

Tuesday 21 June 2022 17:33 , Andy Gregory

Western officials have indicated that mass mobilisation is “about to happen” in Russia, with the Kremlin recruiting people in poorer regions to fight in Ukraine.

Moscow is “concerned” about mobilisation as it would be an “admission of failure” in what was intended to be a quick, clean operation in Ukraine and has turned into a slow and grinding conflict, officials said, in comments reported by the Press Assocation, a news agency based in the UK and Ireland.

Because the Kremlin also fears that country-wide mobilisation could stoke unrest in cities, it is attempting to increase the pool of fighters by “doing very significant recruitment” in poor areas and raising the age limit for serving, officials said.

Russia ‘to hold talks with Turkey' over possible Black Sea grain corridor

Tuesday 21 June 2022 17:11 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s defence ministry will hold talks with Turkey about the possible creation of a Black Sea corridor for Ukrainian grain supplies, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has been reported as saying.

Vladimir Putin does not plan to take part in these talks, Mr Peskov was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.

A Turkish military delegation will travel to Russia this week to discuss details of the possible corridor, Turkish broadcasters reported earlier today, citing sources from Turkey's presidency.

Dispatch from Siversk: Inside the town braced for the coming storm of Putin’s forces

Tuesday 21 June 2022 16:55 , Andy Gregory

In his latest dispatch from Ukraine, our defence and security editor Kim Sengupta reports:

In the general store on the outskirts of Siversk, the shelves are mostly empty and the dwindling stock is sold by the owner at giveaway prices to customers in need. Locals gather from time to time on the porch outside to exchange news.

It is a nondescript building of no strategic significance, but it has repeatedly been targeted by the Russians. The reason for these attacks? Worker Igor Klimenko points at a Ukrainian flag flying on the roof.

Mortar rounds have whizzed past the shop ever since he put up the flag. “They have drones in the air and I’m sure they have seen it. Some people around here have asked me to take it down, but I’m not going to. Anyway, they are bad shots, they keep missing,” he says, gesturing towards holes in a field at the back.

Few of the buildings in Siversk have escaped the Russian attacks. This small town, away from the main urban centres, is on the front line in eastern Ukraine, and has been in the firing line ever since Vladimir Putin ordered his February invasion.

Siversk will be directly in the path of Russian troops if they manage to capture the twin cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, thus seizing the whole of the Luhansk area to use as a launchpad for an assault on the rest of the Donbas.

You can read his full report here:

‘The Russians are not far away’: A town is braced for Putin’s advancing forces

Putin spokesman denies Russia is holding US basketball player hostage

Tuesday 21 June 2022 16:33 , Andy Gregory

Vladimir Putin’s top spokesman has disputed the US State Department’s assertion that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being held “hostage”, my colleague Bevan Hurley reports.

Dmitry Peskov told NBC News that Ms Griner was being prosecuted in accordance with Russian law after she was allegedly found with cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage, and gave no indication when the Olympic basketball star might be released.

“Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?” Mr Peskov said. “She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted. It’s not about being a hostage. There are lots of American citizens here. They’re enjoying their freedoms … but you have to obey the laws.”

In May, the US State Department designated Ms Griner as wrongfully detained and moved her case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Mr Peskov said he could not comment on why Ms Griner hadn’t instead been denied entry, or sent home, instead of being incarcerated.

Putin spokesman denies Russia is holding Brittney Griner hostage

Putin claims ‘Satan 2’ nuclear missiles will be ready to deploy by year’s end

Tuesday 21 June 2022 15:59 , Andy Gregory

Russia’s newly-tested Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles – capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads and decoys – will be deployed for duty by the end of the year, Vladimir Putin has claimed.

Officials in Moscow have previously boasted the missiles, nicknamed “Satan 2”, could strike Britain in just “200 seconds”.

Pledging on Tuesday in televised comments that Russia will “continue to develop and strengthen our armed forces, taking into account potential military threats and risks”, the Russian president said that the newly tested missiles would be ready by the year’s end.

In April, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Roscosmos space agency, said that Russia planned to deploy the new missiles by this autumn.

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