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June 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

New video shows moment of attack on Ukrainian shopping mall
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What we covered here

  • NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance. Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its objections to their membership bids, removing a major hurdle to them joining NATO.
  • Leaders of the alliance are expected to announce significant strengthening of forces along its eastern edge, with US President Biden unveiling an enhanced US force posture in Europe.
  • Russian forces are making some progress in their efforts to encircle the city of Lysychansk, and could succeed in trapping some Ukrainian forces.
  • Russian-backed authorities in the occupied region of Kherson in southern Ukraine say they are preparing for a referendum to join the Russian Federation.
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49 Posts

Russia "not bothered" by Sweden and Finland joining NATO, Putin says

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Russia is not bothered if Sweden and Finland join NATO but warns they will respond in kind to any “threats.”

“There is nothing that could bother us about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. If they want to join, please. Only we must clearly and precisely understand — while there was no threat before, in the case of military contingents and military infrastructure being deployed there, we will have to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats in those territories from where threats have arisen for us,” Putin said at a news conference following the Caspian Summit in Turkmenistan on Wednesday.  

Sweden and Finland are set formally to end decades of neutrality and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in a historic breakthrough for the alliance that deals a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The last major hurdle to the two nations’ entry to the bloc was removed when Turkey dropped its opposition on Tuesday. 

That breakthrough came during a NATO summit in Madrid that has already become one of the most consequential meetings in the history of the military alliance.

See a map of NATO countries:

CNN’s Rob Picheta and Josh Berlinger contributed to this report.

Putin denies Russia was behind deadly attack on shopping center in central Ukraine

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, speaking to media on Wednesday, denied that Russia was behind a strike on a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, that left at least 18 dead and dozens missing and wounded.  

“The Russian army does not attack any civilian site. We don’t have the need for this. We have every capability to detect specific locations; and thanks to our high-precious long-range weapons we are achieving our goals,” Putin said, at a news conference following a meeting of the “Caspian five” leaders —Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan — in Ashgabat. 

More background: On its Telegram channel, the ministry said Russian “Aerospace Forces launched a strike with high-precision air-based weapons on hangars with weapons and ammunition received from the United States and European countries,” hitting a plant of “road machines.”

“As a result of a high-precision strike, Western-made weapons and ammunition, concentrated in the storage area for further shipment to the Ukrainian group of troops in Donbas, were hit.”

The ministry blamed “the detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons” for causing a fire in what it described as a “non-functioning” neighboring shopping mall.

Video from Kremenchuk shows that a shopping mall in the heart of the city was obliterated by one of the two missiles that were fired. Despite an air raid siren, dozens of people were still inside the mall when the missile struck.

It’s unclear what “road machine” plant the Russian Defense Ministry is referring to.

Around 15,000 people still remain in Lysychansk as Russian forces try to storm the city, local official says

Smoke rises over the remains of a building destroyed by a military strike in Lysychansk on June 17.

Russian forces have continued to try and storm Lysychansk, continuously shelling the eastern Ukrainian city where around 15,000 people still remain, Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Wednesday. 

“The fighting continues on the outskirts of the city, [the Russians] are trying to storm constantly,” Hayday said in a televised address. “Lately, our guys have been hitting warehouses, headquarters and barracks [of the Russian forces]. And this makes it possible to have a pause in these attacks.”

Hayday also said “around 15,000 people” remain in Lysychansk, despite a recommendation from officials in the past few weeks that they evacuate away from the frontline. Now, with the city under constant shelling, it has become much harder for people to leave. 

“Now the density of fire is so strong. So much that we can only put 30 people on a bus,” he said. “Therefore, we are very careful about this.”

“The Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway has not been used for a long time. But we have other routes, we do not name them, and we have the opportunity to pick up something sometimes,” he added. “Now is the peak of hostilities.”

NATO membership not an easy decision but it was the right one, Sweden’s prime minister tells CNN

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (right) during her interview with Christiane Amanpour today.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told CNN that deciding to join the NATO military alliance was not easy but it was the right decision for the country’s security.

“This was not an easy decision to take for me as prime minister. But I’m sure it was the right decision, and it has an overwhelming support in the Swedish parliament,” the PM told CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour Wednesday.

“This is something that would make Sweden a safer country and safer for Swedish citizens. But we want to be a security provider in NATO and contribute to the security of all NATO countries and all citizens in the NATO countries,” she added.

Alongside Finland, Sweden has been formally invited to the NATO alliance following Tuesday’s agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By becoming a member of the alliance, Sweden will end 200 years of military non-alignment. 

In the agreement with Turkey, the Swedish prime minister said that the country will take steps to “counter terrorists” but that the country “will… follow Swedish and international conventions when it comes to extraditions.” 

The prime minister also said that NATO membership would be of strategic advantage to Baltic countries vulnerable to Russian aggression. “The geographic situation of both Finland and Sweden will make it easier to protect the Baltic states if something happens,” she said.

Speaking to Amanpour, Andersson warned against “Ukraine fatigue.”

“We have to continue with the sanctions. We have to continue to support Ukraine humanitarianly, financially, and not the least, with military support,” she said.

Ukraine recovers 95 Mariupol steel plant soldiers captured by Russia in prisoner swap, defense ministry says

The Ukrainian government has been able to secure the return of 144 soldiers, including 95 who were part of the defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the Ukraine Defense Ministry’s Defense Intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Another exchange of prisoners took place, thanks to which 144 Ukrainian defenders returned home. This is the largest exchange since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 released, 95 are Azovstal defenders. Among them are 43 servicemen of the Azov Regiment,” the statement read. 

“Most of the released Ukrainians have serious injuries: gunshot and shrapnel wounds, explosive injuries, burns, fractures, amputations of limbs. They all receive appropriate emergency medical and psychological care,” the statement added.

The Ukrainian government released an equal number of soldiers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Russian Federation in the latest prisoner swap, DPR head Denis Pushilin said on Wednesday. 

“Today, we are returning home 144 soldiers of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Russian Federation who were captured by the enemy,” Pushilin said. “We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from the armed formations of Ukraine.”

CNN’s Julia Presnikova contributed reporting to this post.

NATO members have been "naive in our relations with Russia,” Spanish prime minister says

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks at the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday, June 28.

NATO has been “naive” in its relations with Russia over the years, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told CNN on Wednesday.

Speaking from the NATO summit in Madrid, Sánchez said that NATO is “sending a clear message to Putin, which is that we are going to support Ukraine, and we are ready to support Ukraine until the Russian troops leave the country and they respect the territorial integrity and the national sovereignty of Ukraine.” 

“I think it is important to send this message of unity and determination of the international community, especially NATO allies, and of course the G7, in order to make possible to return to a scenario where different countries – especially Russia in this case – respect a rules-based international order, which is undermined because of this terrible war in Ukraine,” Sánchez continued.

Reacting to Turkey’s agreement to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bid, Sánchez said that “the entrance of Finland and Sweden in NATO is not because they want to expand their territories but to defend their values, their democracies, and of course, an international order based on rules, clear rules, that provide certainty and security to our societies.”

Asked whether it was a mistake to consider Russia a “strategic partner” even in 2010, Sánchez said that at that time, NATO had “tried to give Russia and Putin an opportunity,” but that “perhaps, over the years, we’ve been a bit naive in our relations with Russia.” 

“Nowadays, we’re seeing expansionist and imperialism behavior by Putin and his regime, and this is something unacceptable,” he added. 

“I think it is important what we are now approving in this Madrid summit, which is to define Russia as a strategic threat for the allies, and define what are the means, the instruments that we are going to put in place in order to respond to this global threat,” Sánchez said.

Spain has sent 400 tons of “military capacities” as well as humanitarian aid to Ukraine, he added.

Biden thanks Erdogan for supporting Finnish and Swedish NATO membership bids

President Joe Biden, right, meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday, June 29.

US President Joe Biden thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the start of a meeting Wednesday for agreeing to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO.

“I want to particularly thank you for what you did, putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden, and all the incredible work you’re going to try to get the grain out of … Ukraine,” Biden told Erdoğan during the NATO summit in Madrid.

“You’re doing a great job,” Biden added.

Turkey has been in discussions with Russia about exporting grain from Ukraine. Erdoğan said he hopes diplomacy will help to get grain out of Ukraine.

“I pray that we’ll be able to re-establish the balance through diplomacy in order to cultivate positive results, especially with regards to the grain,” Erdoğan told Biden.

“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the negative developments with regards to taking grain out of Ukrainian ports, as well as the developments involving oil and natural gas, require all of us to work together in order to settle the disputes once and for all,” he added.

“There are countries that are deprived of the grain and we will open corridors and we will allow them access to the grain that they so need,” he said.

Erdoğan said it gave him “great pleasure” to meet with Biden “after a long interval.”

Erdogan said that the two leader’s joint efforts mean that “we will be able to go back to our countries with our hands full.” 

Zelensky accepts personal invitation to attend G20 summit in Indonesia

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, greets Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday, June 29.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo in Kyiv Wednesday and accepted his personal invitation to attend the G20 summit in Bali in November. 

“Ukraine’s participation will depend on the security situation in Ukraine and who else might be attending,” Zelensky said at the joint press briefing to mark Widodo’s first visit to Ukraine. 

Zelensky went on to say Widodo’s visit was important to help stop the war.  

“I consider our talks today to be an important step for strengthening global anti-war coalition of all the countries that can bring back and guarantee stability to the world,” he said. “You achieved victory in your struggle for freedom, we believe that we can defend our freedom and independence from the colonizing war of the Russian Federation.”

Widodo also said he will convey a message of peace from Zelensky to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he meets with him on Thursday. Widodo also invited Putin to the G20.

The Indonesian president also discussed the importance of Ukraine to the world food supply chain, saying, “all efforts must be made so that Ukraine can return to exporting food again.”

Remember: In April, Putin accepted an invitation to attend the G20 summit, Widodo had announced. However, there has been vehement opposition to the prospect of his attendance. The White House has conveyed privately to Indonesia that Russia should not be allowed to participate in this year’s G20 summit. Finance ministers from multiple nations walked out of a closed-door G20 session in Washington in April when the Russian delegate began his prepared remarks.

CNN’s Masrur “Jamal” Jamaluddin contributed reporting to this post.

A pro-Russian group appears to be behind cyberattacks on several Norwegian companies, Norway says

A “criminal pro-Russian group” appears to be responsible for cyberattacks against several large Norwegian companies, Norway’s National Security Authority said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the authority said the cyberattacks had led to “important websites and online services being made inaccessible.”

“The attacks are aimed at a number of large Norwegian companies that offer important services to the population,” Director Sofie Nystrøm said. “We have seen similar attacks in other countries recently, but none of these have had lasting consequences. Still, the attacks will create uncertainty in the population, and give the impression that we are a pawn in the current political situation in Europe.”

Syria formally recognizes independence of 2 pro-Russian separatist-held regions in Ukraine's Donbas

Syria has decided to formally recognize the “independence and sovereignty of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics,” according to Syrian state news agency SANA on Wednesday.

“In an expression of the common will and the desire to establish relations in all sectors, the Syrian Arab Republic has decided to recognize the independence and sovereignty of both the Luhansk People’s Republic [LPR] and the Donetsk People’s Republic [DPR],” SANA reported, citing an official source in Syria’s foreign ministry.

“Communication with both countries will be established to agree on a framework for strengthening the relationships between our countries including initiating diplomatic relationships based on the established (diplomatic) rules,” the foreign ministry source added, according to SANA.

This makes Syria the only other country aside from Russia, to formally recognize the independence of the breakaway regions.

Read more about the two regions here.

UN report documents 10,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with toll likely "considerably higher"

A hospital nurse pushes a wheelchair carrying a woman wounded by the Russian rocket attack at a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on June 28.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published an alarming report Wednesday about the human rights situation in Ukraine in the context of the ongoing Russian invasion.

The UN documented 10,000 civilian casualties since the conflict began on Feb. 24, “among them, 4,731 people were killed,” Matilda Bogner, head of Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told journalists in Kyiv as she presented the report’s findings.

She warned the casualty numbers are “considerably higher” as the report only highlights the figures the mission was able to independently verify. 

“The armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the human rights across the country. We documented violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including war crimes. These violations highlight the heavy toll the conflict is having day in and day out,” Bogner said.

The report is based on information gathered during 11 field visits, three visits to places of detention and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses between Feb. 24 and May 15, 2022. The evidence also draws from court documents, official records and open sources.

The report documents violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “to varying degrees, by both parties,” according to Bogner.  

“The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of destruction and damaged caused to civilian infrastructure raised significant concerns that attacks conducted by Russian Armed Forces did not comply with international humanitarian law. While on a much lower scale, it also appears that Ukrainian armed forces did not comply with international humanitarian law in Eastern parts of the country,” Bogner added.

The report also raised “serious concerns” about the allegations of torture of prisoners of war by both sides on the conflict, including testimonies of 44 prisoners of war interviewed by the UN mission.

Bogner stressed the mission encountered evidence of widespread use of extrajudicial punishment against those alleged to be looters, thieves and curfew violators in Ukraine. 

“OHCHR has documented and verified allegations of unlawful killings, including summary executions of civilians in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, committed while these territories were under the control of Russian armed forces. In Bucha alone (Kyiv region), OHCHR documented the unlawful killings, including summary executions, of at least 50 civilians,” the report outlined, adding the full scale of the problem “is yet to be fully assessed.”

The UN document also outlined “concern about the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” of representatives of local authorities, journalists, civil society activists and other civilians by Russian troops and affiliated armed groups.

OHCHR documented 248 cases of arbitrary detention, with six of those resulting in deaths. 

The OHCHR report includes “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces have been using weapons equipped with cluster munitions, including Tochka-U missiles that resulted in civilian casualties. The use of such weapons in populated areas contradicts international law. 

Concluding the report, OHCHR recommended all parties of the conflict “respect and ensure respect at all times and in all circumstances” for international human right and humanitarian laws. The report also urged Russia “to immediately cease the armed attack” and comply with its obligations under international law. 

The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine maintains its presence in Donetsk, Dnipro, Odesa and Uzhhorod. 

NATO's Stoltenberg says alliance inviting Finland and Sweden to become members is "historic"

From left to right background: Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde pose for a picture after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain, on June 28

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc “a historic decision.”  

“Today, NATO leaders took a historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO. The agreement concluded last night by Turkey, Finland and Sweden paved the way for this decision,” Secretary General Stoltenberg said during a press conference held as part of the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday.  

He pinned the success of this agreement on “hard work” carried out “at many different levels” over “many weeks.”  

He recounted how two rounds of talks were held by senior officials in Brussels under his auspices in the advance of Monday’s consequential meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its objections to the Nordic nations’ membership bids, removing a major hurdle to them joining NATO. 

“This is a good agreement for Turkey, it is a good agreement for Finland and Sweden, and it is a good agreement for NATO,” Stoltenberg said.  

“I would like to thank Turkey, Finland and Sweden, for accepting my invitation to engage in negotiations to find a united way forward,” he said. 

Watch the moment here:

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Turkey will renew extradition requests to Finland and Sweden after signing memorandum at NATO summit

Turkey will follow up on its extradition requests for its 33 terror suspects in Sweden and Finland after it signed a trilateral memorandum with the two countries in Madrid on Tuesday, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said.

“We will ask them to fulfill the requirements of our applications after this memorandum of understanding. We have already applied for extradition. The files of six PKK and six FETO terrorists in Finland and 10 FETO and 11 PKK terrorists in Sweden,” Bozdag said when replying to reporter’s questions in Ankara on Wednesday. “Our ministry will write about their return and remind them again … Once again, we ask them to fulfill their promises.”

Bozdağ said Turkey believes it is important to establish a monitoring board with security, justice and intelligence units to monitor the implementation of the memorandum. 

“We do not find it sufficient to write; we will also supervise its implementation one by one in practice,” he said. 

The foreign affairs ministers of Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum on Tuesday in Madrid that addressed Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports and the fight against terrorism, for Turkey to drop its objections for the two longtime neutral Nordic countries to seek to join NATO.

NATO formally invites Finland and Sweden to become members of the alliance

NATO has formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the US-led military alliance, according to a statement from NATO Heads of State and Government on Wednesday. 

“Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols,” the statement said. 

“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process,” the statement added.

Earlier today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that following the invitation, “we need a ratification process in 30 parliaments; that always takes some time, but I expect also that to go rather quickly because allies are ready to try to make that ratification process happen as quickly as possible.” 

“Has Ukraine not paid enough?”: Zelensky urges NATO to admit his country to the alliance

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of the first plenary session of the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid, on June 29.

“Has Ukraine not paid enough (to join NATO)?” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked leaders of the military alliance as they met Wednesday.

Addressing the NATO summit in Madrid via video link from Kyiv, Zelensky added: “Is our contribution to the defense of both Europe and the whole civilization still insufficient? What else is needed then?”

In a dig at the lack of a clear pathway to join the alliance, Zelensky used the analogy of the Kyiv metro system turnstiles, which are always open until you approach them and then they ask you to pay.

“We need security guarantees, and you need to find a place for Ukraine in the common security space,” he added.

The president, dressed in his now famous military fatigues, also called for NATO to “revise” how it views its eastern flank.

“It is possible to get rid of the ‘gray’ zone, to guarantee security only together with Ukraine,” he said.

“Just think about one fact now: today, a country that is not a member of NATO, albeit with your support, has been holding back a state for more than four months, which you all officially identify as the main threat to yourself. And we are holding back Russia from destroying us and from destroying you,” Zelensky said.

“Is it a coincidence that all Allies in the east, all our neighbors, are in favor of Ukraine’s membership in NATO? No, this is not a coincidence. This is logic. This is the knowledge of life in our region,” he said.

Later on Wednesday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine can “count” on NATO allies for support “for as long as it needs.”

Addressing a press conference in Madrid, the secretary general said he was “pleased” that Zelensky could virtually address the NATO summit and commended the president’s “leadership and courage,” calling him “an inspiration to us all.”

Norway says it will send long-range rocket artillery to Ukraine

Norway announced on Wednesday that it would donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decision made by the United States.

The donation is made possible by a close cooperation between Norway and the United Kingdom, Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said in a statement.

“We must continue our support so the Ukrainians can continue their fight for freedom and independence,” the minister added.

US President Joe Biden announced recently that the US would provide Ukraine with “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” as its war with Russia grinds on.

Russian troops are scattering anti-personnel mines in Lysychansk, Ukrainian regional military head says

Russian soldiers in the Luhansk city of Lysychansk are planting anti-personnel mines, according to the head of the region’s military administration, Serhiy Hayday.

The mines – nicknamed “petals” — are extremely dangerous as “they lie anywhere and any child or civilian who has gone out for humanitarian aid may step on them and die or lose a limb,” he told CNN in a phone interview.

The bombardment of the city is now “constantly” happening night and day, Hayday added. 

On the humanitarian front, his team is trying to deliver “as much” aid as possible, he said, adding that one humanitarian aid kit per person is designed to last for two weeks, but in reality, the supplies only last for a week. 

About 15,000 people are currently left in the city, and the majority of them are those “who refused to leave, despite us constantly urging them to leave,” the regional military head said. 

Hayday said it was hard to give a damage report on the city due to the shelling on multiple fronts by Russian troops.

He reiterated that Lysychansk is the last outpost of the Luhansk region. He added that “in the military sense, the loss of one city is like losing a battle, it is not a lost war.”

But he remained upbeat about the possibility of Ukrainian forces inflicting as many losses on the Russian troops as possible.

“It is possible that during the assault of Lysychansk, they will lose so much equipment and troops that they will no longer be able to fully conduct offensive operations, during which we will get more Western weapons which will defeat our enemy. And we will not only stop, we will start the de-occupation,” he told CNN.

Ukrainian mayor of Kherson detained as Russian-run region prepares for referendum

The elected Ukrainian mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaiev, was arrested Tuesday, according to pro-Russian officials in the city, hours before the region’s Russian-backed administration announced plans for a referendum. 

Kolykhaiev’s arrest came amid growing efforts by the Russian-appointed authorities in the region to strip it of Ukrainian associations. 

An official in the interim administration of the Kherson region, Kateryna Gubareva, confirmed that Kolykhaiev had been detained. Kolykhaiev has remained in the city throughout the occupation, though the Russian-backed authorities removed him from office.  

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-backed deputy head of the military-civilian administration of the Kherson region, said Kolykhaiev had “posed as a benefactor” but “made every effort to ensure that some people continued to believe in the return of neo-Nazism,” repeating claims echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s baseless justification for the war. Stremousov also claimed without offering evidence that Kolykhaiev “stole millions, and gave people a penny.”

First word of Kolykhaiev’s detention came from his adviser, Halyna Liashevska, who posted on Facebook on Tuesday that he had arrived “at one of the municipal institutions where the remaining employees of the city executive committee worked. As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by armed Russian guards.”

“They seized hard drives from computers, opened all safes, searched for documents,” Liashevska said. “All this time, Kolykhaiev was kept in a separate room in handcuffs under armed guard. After the search, Kolykhaiev was put into bus Z and taken away.” Z is the letter on many Russian vehicles in occupied parts of Ukraine.

Liashevska added: “I am sure that the arrest of Kolykhaiev is connected with his refusal to cooperate with the occupying authorities. A few days ago, Kolykhaiev received a letter from the ‘newly-appointed’ mayor, inviting him to discuss the future ‘organization of interaction.’ For refusing to meet, he was threatened with arrest.”

On June 13, Kolykhaiev said that he and the heads of different city departments were still in the city and continued to work for it, after the man appointed by the Russians as regional governor, Hennadii Lahuta, said that Kolykhaiev had made the wrong choice by remaining in Kherson.

Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the head of the Kherson civil military administration, told CNN that Kolykhaiev had an ambivalent relationship with the Russian occupation.

Khlan said the occupying authorities had then insisted that officials enter into contracts with the Russians and be paid in rubles. “Kolykhaiev had a choice: either sign the betrayal of Ukraine and finally openly work with the occupiers, or refuse to cooperate,” he said.

Kolykhaiev had continued in office for more than two months after the Russian invasion. In April, he told Ukrainian television: “I have no information about the so-called Kherson People’s Republic. Representatives of local authorities in Kherson are at their workplaces in the city administration.”

Kolykhaiev’s arrest followed a visit on Monday to Kherson by a member of the Russian parliament, Alexandr Boroday, a former prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.

Boroday said he had left “with an ambivalent impression, because we understand that somewhere, of course, the city is ours, and somewhere not quite ours.”

“There is our mayor in Kherson, and there is also the pro-Ukrainian mayor. Kyiv’s mayor makes meetings, and our mayor makes meetings,” he said, adding, “It seems there is our administration with Vladimir Saldo [the Russian-appointed mayor], but at the same time Kherson lives a very double life.”

Boroday said the city was peaceful, “but it is not entirely clear whether our power is there or not. And this needs to be done as quickly as possible,” he said.

Within 36 hours of Boroday’s visit, the pro-Russian authorities announced plans for a referendum for the Kherson region to join the Russian Federation.

Some officials in Kherson previously detained have been released. On Wednesday, a nongovernmental organization, the Association of Cities of Ukraine, said the heads of two communities of Kherson — Oleksandr Babych of Hola Prystan and Ivan Samoilenko of Stanislav — were released from captivity.

Ukrainian authorities said earlier this month that “more and more people [in Kherson] refuse to cooperate with the occupiers and local collaborators.”

Read more here.

Opinion: The last time Moscow used food as a weapon in Ukraine, 4 million died

Growing up in Ukraine, one learns not to leave breadcrumbs on the table, Daria Mattingly writes for CNN.

Mattingly is a Ukrainian historian who teaches Soviet and Russian history at Cambridge University in the UK.

Her generation of Millennials was taught this pious reverence to bread by their grandparents who survived the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine known as the Holodomor, Mattingly writes.

Many a time she heard the story of how a soup with wild sorrel, a plant, saved her grandmother and her siblings while the grain collected from her village was left to rot at the train station. That wheat could have saved so many lives, but “the state” did not allow it. Her grandmother, Mattingly explains, could not stand the sight of sorrel for the rest of her life, and always kept her cupboard well stocked with salt and flour.

The history of the Holodomor prompted Ukrainians to see their country as the victim of the Soviet empire. And in recent years, the annexation of Crimeaconflict in Donbas and now all-out war where food is being used as a weapon, fit that picture, she opines.

As a scholar of the Holodomor, Mattingly sees many parallels between the artificial famine of almost a century ago and today’s war, with the aim of the 1932-1933 famine and the current war being to bring Ukraine under Russia’s control.

In March, The Washington Post reported that the Holodomor killed 4 million Ukrainians.

By controlling the export of Ukrainian wheat, Mattingly says Russia can influence the prices on grain just as it does with oil and gas, which will give them leverage over the countries relying on the grain, including China, India and Turkey. Moreover, if grain supply is limited, poor countries in Asia and Africa will be left with limited supplies and millions will face starvation.

Read more here.

Germany moving to “swiftly” ratify plans for Finland and Sweden to join NATO, officials say

Germany is doing everything it can to “swiftly” ratify plans for Finland and Sweden to join NATO, said German foreign ministry spokesperson Christofer Burger.

“There is no concrete timeline but it will be fast,” Burger added at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday. 

NATO leaders will decide at a summit in Madrid whether to invite Finland and Sweden to join the security alliance, after Turkey agreed to support their membership bid on Tuesday.

Following that, a ratification process will need to take place in all NATO capitals, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said. 

Pope calls the airstrike at a Kremenchuk shopping mall the latest “barbarous” attack

Pope Francis leads Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, Italy, on June 29.

Pope Francis called the Russian airstrike that struck a bustling shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk the latest “barbarous” attack in the country.

“Every day, I carry dear and tormented Ukraine in my heart, which continues to be drawn out by continuous barbaric attacks like the one that hit the Kremenchuk shopping center,” the Pontiff said Wednesday in his Angelus prayer, celebrating the Catholic feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

“I pray that this mad war will soon see an end. And I renew the invitation to persevere without tiring in the prayer for peace,” he added. 

At least 18 people were killed in the mall attack on Monday, Ukrainian officials said, with another 58 people injured.

Death toll rises to 4 in Mykolaiv apartment strike, with 5 people injured 

A damaged residential building is seen at the site of the missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 29.

The number of dead in an attack on a Mykolaiv apartment block has risen to four, according to Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych.

Five people had been injured, he said, adding that emergency services are on site.

Early on Wednesday eight missiles hit an apartment block, apparently using KH-55 missiles.

In total, 114 people have died in Mykolaiv since the war began, the mayor added. The city is situated near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine.

US didn't tell Russia about plans to bolster security posture in Europe

US President Joe Biden speaks ahead of the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid, Spain, on June 29.

The United States has not conveyed to Russia its plans to bolster its force posture in Europe, according to US officials.

“There has been no communication with Moscow about these changes nor is there a requirement to do that,” said John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, after Biden announced a series of measures meant to strengthen US and NATO forces in the region.

A second official told reporters the announcements did not violate any agreements between Russia and NATO, which stipulate parameters for positioning troops in Europe.

“The decision to permanently forward station the Five Corps headquarters forward command post does not, you know, is consistent with that commitment and our understanding of the NATO Russia founding act,” said Celeste Wallander, United States Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs.

Earlier, Biden said the US would establish a permanent headquarters for the Fifth Army Corps in Poland, maintain an extra rotational brigade of 3,000 troops in Romania, enhance rotational deployments to the Baltic states, send two more F-35 fighter jet squadrons to the United Kingdom and station additional air defense and other capabilities in Germany and Italy.

UK sets out further Russia sanctions and targets Putin's "inner circle"

The United Kingdom announced further sanctions against Russian citizens and companies on Wednesday, including some described as being in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle.” 

Among those sanctioned is Vladimir Potanin, described by the UK government as Russia’s second-richest man, with an estimated net worth of nearly $16 billion, and a “key supporter of the Kremlin” accused of continuing “to amass wealth as he supports Putin’s regime.” 

Putin’s cousin Anna Tsivileva has also been sanctioned. As president of the Russian coal mining company JSC Kolmar Group – also sanctioned Tuesday – the UK believes Tsivileva and her husband Sergey Tsivilev, the governor of the coal-rich Kemerovo region, have “significantly benefitted” from their relationship with Putin. 

The UK’s latest sanctions also target Russian citizens and companies for their alleged involvement in supporting the Assad regime in Syria, a key Russian ally in the Middle East. 

“As long as Putin continues his abhorrent assault on Ukraine, we will use sanctions to weaken the Russian war machine. Today’s sanctions show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin’s inner circle,” a UK government spokesperson said. 

Working together with international allies, the government said it would introduce measures to prevent Russia from using UK trusts services used to manage assets of others. 

The British government says it has sanctioned more than 1,000 people and more than 120 businesses since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.  

More than 50 people remain in hospital after Kremenchuk mall bombing, official says, as rescuers sift wreckage

Rescuers clear rubble at the Amstor mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on June 28.

Eleven body fragments have been found at the site of the Kremenchuk mall bombing, a local official has told CNN, as more than 50 people continue to be treated for their injuries. 

Anton Stoletniy, chief prosecutor of the Poltava region, said the body fragments would have be analysed to determine “how many different people they come from.”

Stoletniy said 54 people remain in hospital, 35 of whom are seriously injured. The number killed in the bombing stands at 18.

His update followed an address by the Poltava region military administration, Dmytro Lunin, to Ukrainian television earlier Wednesday in which Lunin said “eight body fragments” had so far been found, with “relatives doing DNA tests.”

Stoletniy said that three-quarters of the shopping mall’s structures had been “dismantled” so far, with 300 rescue workers employed in the task.