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The Soviet victory flag from World War II is beginning to appear across occupied parts of Ukraine ahead of Russia's May 9 WWII Victory Day celebration.
The red flag — flown over Berlin's Reichstag on May 9, 1945, when the Nazis surrendered to the Soviets — bears the Soviet hammer and sickle insignia with the inscription, "150th Rifle, Order of Kutuzov Second Class, Idritz Division, 79th Rifle Corps, 3rd Shock Army, 1st Belorussian Front."
May 9 has since become a revered holiday in Russia and the flag an important icon.
Russian troops raised a large flag as part of a staged propaganda stunt in occupied Kherson, videos published on Tuesday show. Propaganda videos published on Wednesday by Russian-backed separatists in Kreminna showed troops fixing the victory flag to a Ukrainian government building.
Kreminna fell under Russian and Russian-backed separatist control earlier this week, Ukrainian officials said.
The flag was also placed atop the regional council building in the Russian-occupied town of Henichesk in Kherson province. A statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was reinstalled in front of the council building earlier this week, CNN has previously reported.
Two European officials told CNN that Russian forces are feeling "self-imposed pressure" to achieve any semblance of a victory ahead of Russia's May 9 Victory Day celebration. Russia generally marks the holiday with a military parade through Red Square and a speech from President Vladimir Putin.
Russian forces in Ukraine's Luhansk region have taken central Rubizhne and the nearby village of Kreminna, videos circulating on social media show.
CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos. CNN is not airing the propaganda videos, which were published on Wednesday, as they were produced and released by Russian-backed separatist forces and pro-Russian media outlets.
In the videos from Rubizhne, significant destruction is seen in the city's center and northern districts. Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists appear to be moving freely in Rubizhne.
On Tuesday, Luhansk regional military administrator Serhii Haidai pushed back against reports that Rubizhne had fallen, instead saying that Russian and Russian-backed separatist forces controlled only parts of the city. However, he did tell CNN that 80% of the Luhansk region is under Russian control.
In Kreminna, a town roughly 7 miles (11 kilometers) west of Rubizhne, Russian-backed separatist forces were seen in the video installing Russian and separatist flags on government buildings.
Some context: Rubizhne is part of a cluster of small towns and villages that were in Ukrainian hands but lie close to two breakaway pro-Russian statelets inside eastern Ukraine.
Kreminna was earlier taken by Russian forces, Haidai said Tuesday, adding that Ukrainian troops had withdrawn from the city and taken up new positions.
The US will announce a new round of security assistance to Ukraine “in very short order,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday evening, as Russia’s brutal invasion continues.
Psaki told CNN that Russia’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile would not change the White House’s posture in aiding Ukraine, vowing that the US would proceed in providing both military and security assistance.
US President Joe Biden, she said, will “have more to announce on the next round of security assistance in very short order. You’ll hear more soon.”
CNN previously reported that the US is prepping another $800 million military assistance package for Ukraine, according to three senior administration officials and two sources familiar with the planning.
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Tetiana Poudel’s father, a deputy commander in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, needed combat boots.
Russia had just invaded Ukraine, and his unit was desperately lacking basic protective gear and medical supplies.
So Poudel, a 31-year-old Ukrainian American citizen – who’s on leave from her California day job as an attorney for the music-streaming service Spotify – packed up her life in Silicon Valley, moved to Poland and raised $13,000 for around 100 pairs of boots for her dad and members of his unit.
I like to tell people I’m a lawyer by day and a boot smuggler by night,” she said earlier this month in an interview with CNN.
A photo she shared with CNN shows her father and another soldier beaming next to new boots stacked on top of cardboard boxes.
Poudel’s initiative is a microcosm of a much larger network of private citizens, many of them veterans, from around the world who are working to provide Ukrainian soldiers with additional equipment they say they need to continue effectively fighting off the Russians.
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The Ukrainian Air Force has added about 20 more operational aircraft to its fleet because of an influx of spare parts, according to a senior US defense official.
Though the official wouldn’t specify which country provided the aircraft parts, the official said Wednesday that the US and other countries worked “to get them the parts they need to get them in the air.”
The flow of spare parts has allowed Ukraine to expand its fleet of operational military aircraft, despite Russia’s ongoing invasion. They have more aircraft now than they did three weeks ago, the official said.
One day earlier, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Ukraine had received additional fighter aircraft to add to their existing numbers.
But on Wednesday, the senior defense official walked that back, saying that Ukraine had not received more aircraft, but had in fact received aircraft parts to make more of their existing aircraft functional.
Still, the official intimated that at least one country was considering sending Ukraine more aircraft.
“I was given to understand that an offer made by another country had actually been effected,” the official said. “That offer has not been effected, so I was ahead of where things actually were.” It is not known which country has made such an offer.
The US has committed to sending Ukraine 16 Mi-17 helicopters, but the administration has declined to get involved in a transfer of Mig-29s from another country to Ukraine via the United States.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly asked other countries for Soviet-era Mig-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly.
Zelensky has asked other eastern European countries with the fourth-generation airframes to send them to Ukraine, but no country has yet agreed to do so.
On Wednesday, the official Twitter account of Ukraine’s Air Force said, “Ukraine did not receive new aircraft from partners! With the assistance of the US Government, @KpsZSU received spare parts and components for the restoration and repair of the fleet of aircraft in the Armed Forces, which will allow to put into service more equipment.”
Ukraine’s Air Force has been part of its aerial defense network, which also includes S-300 surface-to-air missiles and portable anti-aircraft missiles. The combination of platforms has prevented Russia from establishing air superiority over Ukraine and controlling the skies.
Despite the constant bombardment from Russian missiles and artillery, as well as the strikes on military bases, Ukraine’s Air Force has remained largely intact, though it has suffered some losses.
In early March, approximately two weeks into the war, the defense official said Ukraine has 56 fighter aircraft, which comprised about 80% of their fixed-wing fighters. But the Ukrainians weren’t using their aircraft much, flying only 5 to 10 missions per day, the official said.
CNN's Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.
The United States on Wednesday unveiled its latest round of sanctions going after Russia over its war on Ukraine, this time targeting a key commercial bank and "a global network of more than 40 individuals and entities led by US-designated Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev."
In a news release, the US Treasury Department said it was also targeting "companies operating in Russia's virtual currency mining industry, reportedly the third largest in the world," noting it was the first time it has "designated a virtual currency mining company."
In addition, the State Department is imposing a slew of visa restrictions in response to the Russian war and for "undermining democracy in Belarus."
Wednesday's actions are the latest by the Biden administration meant to punish the Kremlin and its enablers for invading Ukraine at the end of February. The war has taken the lives of hundreds of service members and civilians, and US and European officials say it could last months. Experts who spoke with CNN have said that sanctions are unlikely to immediately deter Russian President Vladimir Putin against pursuing aggression in Ukraine.
Wednesday's sanctions: The US previously sanctioned Malofeyev in December 2014 for funding "separatist activities in eastern Ukraine" and for his close links to "Aleksandr Borodai, Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Igot Strelkov), and the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, which have all been previously sanctioned as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs)," according to a Treasury release from the time.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Justice unveiled its first criminal charges since Russia's war in Ukraine began against Malofeyev, indicting him for sanctions evasion attempts.
Malofeyev was again sanctioned by the US on Wednesday "for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly," the government of Russia.
The Treasury Department also sanctioned members of Malofeyev's "vast global network of cut-outs and proxies to attempt to evade sanctions and conduct malign influence activities," including those involved in pro-Kremlin propaganda. Those sanctioned include entities in Russia, Moldova, Singapore, and a number of Russian individuals, including Malofeyev's son.
The Treasury Department also went after "Public Joint Stock Company Transkapitalbank (TKB)" for being "at the heart of sanctions evasion" and its subsidiary, as well as companies in Russia's virtual currency mining industry.
"The United States is committed to ensuring that no asset, no matter how complex, becomes a mechanism for the Putin regime to offset the impact of sanctions," the release issued Wednesday said.
In a separate statement Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department is imposing visa restrictions on 635 Russian individuals, including members of the Russian Duma and "ten purported 'authorities' of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic."
It is also imposing visa restrictions on Russian officials Khusein Merlovich Khutaev, Nurid Denilbekovich Salamov, and Dzhabrail Alkhazurovich Akhmatov, "for their involvement in a gross violation of human rights perpetrated against human rights defender Oyub Titiev."
Additionally, the State Department is targeting "17 individuals responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus" with visa restrictions, Blinken said.
"We will use every tool to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine," Blinken said.
Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center, said Wednesday said these sanctions "are really meaningful," noting the US keeps "adding different Russian oligarchs, different Russian banks that perhaps weren't in the first few rounds of sanctions."
"They'll continue to cripple the Russian economy even though Putin continues to paint a rosy picture of what the Russian economy looks like," she said. "There's no doubt that it should see a major contraction in the next year."
Two top Ukrainian officials are ready to head to the besieged city of Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation of soldiers and civilians trapped in the city, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar of Ukraine's Azov Regiment said on Wednesday in a video statement.
The two officials are Ukrainian Parliamentary Majority Leader David Arakhamia and Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the President’s Chief of Staff.
“Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a 'special round of negotiations' right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever,” Podolyak tweeted on Wednesday.
Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol are ready to evacuate with their small arms with the assistance of a third party “to rescue personnel, to evacuate our wounded and take the bodies of the dead and bury them with honors in the territory not controlled by the Russian Federation,” Palamar said.
Palamar added that the Ukrainian negotiators were ready to negotiate with their Russian opposite numbers, presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky and parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his discussions with European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday were “substantive” regarding the EU’s support of Ukraine.
During his nightly address posted to social media Wednesday night, Zelensky said he and Michel discussed specific ways the EU can help Ukraine, regarding providing aid —particularly defense, finances and sanctions.
"Another great topic of our discussion is our advancement toward integration,” Zelensky said.
“We have already proved that Ukrainian state and civic institutions are effective enough to withstand a war ordeal,” Zelensky added, “We have already been doing for the defense of freedom on the European continent so much that it hasn't been the other nations' lot to do.”
Michel and Zelensky also discussed specific steps to restore Ukraine after the war, and how the EU and Ukraine can work together to diminish threats from Russia regarding food, energy and safety in Europe and the rest of the world.
“To resume export of Ukrainian agrarian products and to disable Russia's blackmailing with energy resources — those are top priorities for everyone on the continent,” Zelensky said.
Zelensky said after Michel and his team visited Borodianka in the Kyiv region, they “made a very correct conclusion: there cannot be peace without justice.”
The Ukrainian president said he also discussed strengthening sanctions with Michel.
“At present European Union is working on the sixth package of sanctions,” Zelensky said, “We discussed this matter with Charles Michel today. We are making sure that it is truly painful for the Russian war machine and the Russian state in general.”
He added that in all negotiations, he has emphasized that sanctions are not needed as an end in itself, but as an “instrument to make Russia seek peace.”