Ukraine war top developments: Putin claims victory in Mariupol, Biden unveils new $800 million aid package

Nearly two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin declared the port of Mariupol “liberated”, despite hundreds of defenders still holding out inside a giant steel works. In a televised meeting with his defense minister inside the Kremlin, Putin said there was no need for a final confrontation with the last defenders who were boxed in after surviving nearly two months of Russia’s siege, news agency Reuters reported.

Here are some of the top developments:

🔴 In a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu: “You successfully completed the combat effort to liberate Mariupol. Let me congratulate you on this occasion, and please convey my congratulations to the troops.” Ukraine, on the other hand, said Putin’s attempt to avoid a final clash with its forces in the city was an acknowledgment that he lacked the forces to defeat them.

“I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary. I order you to cancel it,” Putin told Shoigu. “There’s no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities … Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can get through.”

🔴 Russia on Thursday expanded an entry ban on US officials to include US Vice-President Kamala Harris and 28 other American officials, business people and employees.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting. (AP)

The sanctions list, published by the Russian foreign ministry, included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, among others. “These individuals are denied entry into the Russian Federation indefinitely,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

🔴 President Joe Biden on Thursday announced an additional USD 800 million in military aid to help Ukraine fight back against the Russian invasion, and he alerted that Congress will need to approve assistance. The new military package includes much needed heavy artillery, 144,000 rounds of ammunition, and drones for Ukrainian forces in the escalating battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

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🔴 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky thanked his US counterpart Joe Biden for the military and economic support extended to his country in fighting the Russian aggression. In a tweet, Zelenskky said, “I’m grateful to President Biden and the US people for the leadership in supporting the people of Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression. This help is needed today more than ever! It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace in Ukraine.”

🔴 Only four buses with civilians managed to escape from Mariupol after several unsuccessful attempts, Ukrainian officials said, as thousands more remained trapped under relentless against the last pockets of Ukrainian resistance in the devastated southern port city. Meanwhile, a senior Ukrainian official is demanding that the Russian military open a humanitarian corridor from the Azovstal steel plant, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the strategic port city of Mariupol.

Service members of pro-Russian troops stand next to buses arranged to evacuate civilians from the city during Ukraine- Russia conflict in the southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine. (Reuters)

🔴 Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv was under intense bombardment on Thursday, its mayor Ihor Terekhov said. “Huge blasts, the Russian Federation is furiously bombing the city,” Terekhov said in a televised address. He said that around 1 million people remain in the northeastern city, while about 30% of the population have evacuated, mainly women, children and the elderly.

🔴 Russian missiles and artillery struck 1,001 military targets in Ukraine overnight, including 162 firing positions, the country’s Ministry of Defense said. Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists have also taken full control of the town of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine, the ministry said.

Ukrainian servicemen check the area of ​​a missile strike, amid Russia’s invasion, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine. (Reuters)

🔴 Ukraine’s General Staff said in their morning update that the Russian forces continue the offensive in the east of the country with the goal of establishing full control over Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Ukrainian forces in the two regions have repelled nine Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, destroying one tank, 10 armored units and two vehicles, one artillery system, two special engineering units, an anti-aircraft missile system and an ammunition depot, according to to the update posted on the General Staff’s Facebook page.

🔴 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. Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, who attacked 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.

🔴 Russian forces are advancing from staging areas in Donbas towards Kramatorsk, which continues to be hit by rocket attacks, a British military update said. High levels of Russian air activity continue as it seeks to provide close air support to its offensive in eastern Ukraine, and to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defense capabilities, the UK Ministry of Defense tweeted in a regular bulletin. Russia likely desires to demonstrate significant successes ahead of their annual 9th ​​May Victory Day celebrations. This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date,” the tweet added.

🔴 Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s opposition to unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction” in a speech, without directly mentioning the West’s punitive actions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. China has repeatedly criticized western sanctions, including those against Russia, but it has also been careful not to provide assistance to Moscow that could lead to being imposed sanctions on Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Reuters/File Photo)

🔴 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said any peace talks over Ukraine are likely to fail, as he compared holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiating with a crocodile. Johnson said dealing with Putin was like “a crocodile when it’s got your leg in its jaws” and said it was vital that the West continues arming Ukraine. “It is very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin now given his manifest lack of good faith,” Johnson told reporters. “His strategy, which is evident, is to try to engulf and capture as much of Ukraine as he can and perhaps to have some sort of negotiation from a position of strength.”

With inputs from agencies

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