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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Russia-Ukraine war: US pledges return of diplomats to Ukraine after Blinken visit; Russian oil depot on fire near border – live | Ukraine

US diplomats to return to Ukraine after Blinken visit, State Department says

US diplomats will begin returning to Ukraine this week, the US State Department has said, after secretary of state Antony Blinken and secretary of defense Lloyd Austin returned from a secretive visit to Ukraine to meet president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The top US envoys also promised more $300m in foreign military financing and have approved a $165 million sale of ammunition, according to Associated Press.

The news agency reported:

They also said Biden would soon announce his nominee to be ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country this coming week. The US embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment.

Zelenskiy had announced Saturday that he would meet with the US officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been underway for more than a week.

Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in southeast Poland they waited for the cabinet members to return. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon cited security concerns.

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such financing is different from previous US military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down US Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase supplies that they might need.

The new money, along with the sale of $165 million in non-US made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of American military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.

Zelenskiy had urged the Americans not to come empty-handed. US officials said they believed the new assistance would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained on its use in neighboring countries, the officials said.

On the diplomatic front, Blinken told Zelenskiy that Biden will announce his nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink to be the next US ambassador to Ukraine.

A career foreign service officer, Brink has served since 2019 as ambassador to Slovakia. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requirements confirmation by the US Senate.

Blinken also told Ukraine’s foreign minister that the small staff from the now-shuttered US embassy in Kyiv, which has relocated to Poland from temporary offices in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, would begin making day trips to Lviv in the coming days.

Fire at Russian oil depot north of Ukrainian border

Russian authorities have confirmed that oil storage tanks have caught fire at an oil depot in Bryansk, around 100 kilometres north of the Ukrainian border.

The Emergency Situations Ministry in Bryansk said they received a fire report at 2 am Moscow time, the Russian news agency Tass reported, adding that first responders were at the scene. No information was given as to the cause of the fires.

Videos posted on social media and satellite images on Nasa’s fire tracking website appeared to show large fires in at least two locations in Bryansk.

Someone caught what appears to be the second explosion in Bryansk early this morning. Seems to be the one that hit the storage area. pic.twitter.com/0skf20TXoA

— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) April 25, 2022

Zaporizhzhia is the only large city in south-east Ukraine under Ukrainian control but with 70% of the wider Zaporizhzhia region under Russian military control, there are fears that Moscow’s forces will attempt to take it.

Guardian reporter Isobel Koshiw went to visit the city as it prepares for a Russian advance:

Ukrainian reinforcements are moving towards the city and active fighting has begun in earnest. Ukrainian soldiers told the Guardian they had recently retreated from one town in the Zaporizhzhia region. Villages and towns about an hour’s drive from the city that were visited by journalists three weeks ago are no longer safe, according to the regional military administration.

“You can see for yourself people are out, going to work – the city is prepared but it won’t come to that,” said Ivan Ariefiev, the press secretary of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, at one of a series of war-related training courses being offered to the city’s teachers and journalists. Attenders, who are then expected to train the wider community, were taught how to load a gun, administer first aid and do a basic medical evaluation.

Ukrainian soldier in new trenches south of Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian soldier in new trenches south of Zaporizhzhia. Photograph: Ed Ram

Despite the proximity of Russian troops, Ariefiev said, the regional military command was confident it could keep Russian forces at bay. “No one is being evacuated from the city itself,” said Ariefiev. “It’s only the evacuees from the south who are leaving for other places.”

In the newly dug maze of trenches outside Zaporizhzhia, the Guardian heard frequent incoming shells that soldiers said were landing 3km to 5km away. The group of soldiers who dug the trenches said they hoped these lines of defence would never be used and that Ukrainian soldiers farther south would withstand the attacks.

The soldiers who were not on the frontlines said they had a fraction of the medical and protective equipment they needed. For the whole platoon, they had just six tourniquets – a first aid essential that prevents blood loss. When asked if they thought the Russians would advance soon, they would only say they expected to fight.

“We just need arms from our western comrades and we’ll do it. The [Russians] have too much old Soviet equipment,” the platoon commander said. “In case you hadn’t noticed, they reached Kharkiv, Kyiv, encircled Sumy and Chernihiv – four huge regions – and we kicked them out. They were considered a powerful army, but we pissed on them.”

Read on here:

US diplomats to return to Ukraine after Blinken visit, State Department says

US diplomats will begin returning to Ukraine this week, the US State Department has said, after secretary of state Antony Blinken and secretary of defense Lloyd Austin returned from a secretive visit to Ukraine to meet president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The top US envoys also promised more $300m in foreign military financing and have approved a $165 million sale of ammunition, according to Associated Press.

The news agency reported:

They also said Biden would soon announce his nominee to be ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country this coming week. The US embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment.

Zelenskiy had announced Saturday that he would meet with the US officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been underway for more than a week.

Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in southeast Poland they waited for the cabinet members to return. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon cited security concerns.

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such financing is different from previous US military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down US Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase supplies that they might need.

The new money, along with the sale of $165 million in non-US made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of American military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.

Zelenskiy had urged the Americans not to come empty-handed. US officials said they believed the new assistance would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained on its use in neighboring countries, the officials said.

On the diplomatic front, Blinken told Zelenskiy that Biden will announce his nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink to be the next US ambassador to Ukraine.

A career foreign service officer, Brink has served since 2019 as ambassador to Slovakia. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requirements confirmation by the US Senate.

Blinken also told Ukraine’s foreign minister that the small staff from the now-shuttered US embassy in Kyiv, which has relocated to Poland from temporary offices in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, would begin making day trips to Lviv in the coming days.

Welcome and summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments of the war in Ukraine, where the time is just after 7am.

Here are the latest developments:

  • US diplomats will begin returning to Ukraine, the State Department has said, after secretary of state Antony Blinken and secretary of defense Lloyd Austin returned to Poland from a visit to meet president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Ukraine. The US envoys also promised $322m in military financing for Ukraine, and agreed to the sale of $165m in non-US made ammunition compatible with Soviet-era weapons used by the Ukrainians.
  • Russian officials have confirmed that oil tanks at a depot in the city of Bryansk, around 100 kilometres from the border with Ukraine, have caught fire. It is not clear what caused the fires, videos of which posted on social media showed huge flames and plumes of smoke against the night sky.
  • Russia is planning a “staged referendum in the southern city of Kherson aimed at justifying its occupation”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said in its latest intelligence report. “The city is key to Russia’s objective of establishing a land bridge to Crimea and dominating southern Ukraine,” the ministry said.
  • Igor Zhovkva, a top diplomatic adviser to Zelenskiy, has criticised UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’ upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, saying that Guterres does “not really” have the authority to speak on behalf of Ukraine.
  • Zelenskiy has tweeted his congratulations to Emmanuel Macron for winning the French presidential election. He called Macron “a true friend of Ukraine”.
  • Dozens of civilians who died during the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian city of Bucha were killed by tiny metal arrows from shells of a type fired by Russian artillery, forensic doctors have said. Fléchettes are an anti-personnel weapon widely used during the first world war.
  • Latest UNHCR data reveals almost 5.2 million Ukrainians have fled the country. More than 1,151,000 Ukrainians have left during April so far, compared with 3.4 million in the month of March alone. Beyond that, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates more than 7.7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.
  • The OSCE, the world’s largest security body, has said it is “extremely concerned” after several of its Ukrainian members were believed to have been arrested in Russian-controlled territories in the country’s east.
  • In his Easter Sunday message, Zelenskiy said the religious festival “gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win”.
  • Pope Francis has used the Orthodox Easter weekend to once again appeal for a truce in Ukraine “to ease the suffering of exhausted people”.
  • Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are trapped inside the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol, which Russia has been trying to take for two months. Although Moscow had earlier declared victory in Mariupol and said its forces did not need to take the factory, the Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces have resumed air strikes and are trying to storm the plant.
  • Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan and Zelenskiy have discussed Mariupol during a telephone call. Turkey is ready to give all possible assistance during negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, the Turkish presidency said on Sunday.
  • The UN has called for an “immediate stop” to fighting in Mariupol so that civilians trapped in the city can be evacuated today.

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