The mayor of the besieged port city of Mariupol claims Russian troops are burying Ukrainian civilians killed in the conflict in order to cover up “military crimes.”
Russians buried hundreds of civilians killed in Manhush, about 12 miles west of Mariupol, in large trenches they had dug, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Thursday.
Boychenko said “the bodies started disappearing from the streets of the city,” charging that the Russians were “hiding the trace of their crimes and using mass graves as one of the instruments for that.”
“They are taking the bodies of the dead residents of Mariupol in trucks and throwing them into those trenches,” he said. “They are hiding their military crimes.”
Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor who is not currently in the city, posted satellite photos to Telegram claiming to show the graves, according to CNN. He said the graves appear about 100 feet deep.
The jarring claim came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted victory in the battle for Mariupol, even as hundreds of Ukrainian troops hold out in and around a sprawling steel plant in the city.
President Joe Biden pushed back on Putin’s claim, saying there isn’t evidence yet of a Russian victory. “It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There’s no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”
►A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 54% of Americans think President Joe Biden has been “not tough enough” in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thirty-six percent think his approach has been about right, while 8% say he’s been too tough.
►Britain announced new sanctions on 26 companies and military leaders, including some generals accused of “committing atrocities” on the front lines. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the sanction targets “have blood on their hands.”
►Chinese leader Xi Jinping reaffirmed his rejection of sanctions for Russia and again refused to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He once again called for a negotiated settlement of the crisis.
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Biden outlines new $8000 military aid package for Ukraine
President Joe Biden announced additional military aid for Ukraine on Thursday totaling about $800 million, matching the same amount designated last week as Russia concentrates withering attacks on the eastern region of Donbas.
“We will never fail in our efforts to defend freedom and oppose tyranny,” Biden said from the White House Roosevelt Room.
The US military aid to Ukraine includes 72 155mm howitzers, 72 trucks to tow them and 144,000 artillery rounds, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. The howitzers will outfit five Ukrainian artillery battalions specifically for fighting in the Donbas, Kirby said.
Also included are 121 Phoenix Ghost drones developed by the US Air Force specifically for the Ukrainians, Kirby said. The drones have abilities to the Switchblade kamikaze drones, which are single-use, armed drones that fit in a backpack. They are designed with cameras, guidance systems and abort systems.
Biden said not all the US assistance is being advertised.
“Sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large Javelin, because we’re sending a lot of those in as well,” Biden said, taking about surface-to-air Javelin missiles and playing off a famous line from President Theodore Roosevelt.
US bill for Ukraine military aid reaches $4B
The latest infusion of security assistance brings the total US aid to Ukraine during Joe Biden’s presidency to about $4 billion, $3.4 billion of it since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Biden said more military help will be coming.
The US also will provide $500 million more in financial assistance for Ukraine to sustain salaries, pensions and other government programs, Biden said. That is on top of $500 million committed for similar purposes last month. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday that “we know this is only the beginning of what Ukraine will need to rebuild.”
Second prisoner exchange conducted in 3 days
Nineteen Ukrainians were released from Russian captivity Thursday in a second prisoner swap to take place this week, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk said in a Facebook post.
“Today we bring home 19 people, including 10 military (including 2 officers) and 9 civilians,” she wrote. “This time there are wounded among the fired, and this is very important. Well now they will be able to get full treatment and go through a rehabilitation course.”
She credited President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “constant personal involvement” in the process. The release came two days after 76 Ukrainians, including 60 soldiers, were returned to their families. The number of Russian prisoners involved in the exchange was not released, but previous exchanges have involved equal numbers of Ukrainians and Russians.
Uniting for Ukraine program will provide temporary refuge in US
Ukrainians displaced by the war will be allowed to seek temporary refuge in the United States under a new program the Biden administration announced Thursday. President Joe Biden has promised the US would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Starting next week, Ukrainians can apply for a streamlined approval process to enter the United States for up to two years under the Uniting for Ukraine program.
To qualify, they must have been a resident of Ukraine as of Feb. 11 and have a US sponsor. They also will be required to undergo a background check, pass biometric screenings and complete vaccinations and meet other public health requirements.
People who want to sponsor a refugee must undergo background screenings to make sure they are able to support the refugees and won’t exploit or abuse them.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine has surpassed 5 million and continues to rise. Another 7.7 million have been displaced within the country, the UN says.
Russian ships banned from US ports
The US will ban Russian ships from US ports in retaliation for the war in Ukraine. No ship that sails under the Russian flag or that is owned or operated by Russian interests will be allowed to dock in a US port or access US shores, President Joe Biden said Thursday. Biden said the ban would further deny Russia “the benefits of international economic system that they so enjoyed in the past.”
Earlier this month, the European Union banned Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from accessing ports in its 27-nation bloc but provided exemptions for agricultural and food products, humanitarian aid and energy. The United Kingdom and Canada also have banned Russian ships from their ports.
Putin claims victory in Mariupol
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol on Thursday and canceled plans to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in a sprawling steel plant. Putin called the military effort to liberate Mariupol a “success” and urged Ukrainian troops holed up in the Azovstal plant to surrender, promising “decent treatment” for all and medical attention to the wounded. He ordered Russian troops to blockade the plant.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained inside the Azovstal steel plant.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” Putin said. “Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot fly through.”
Biden, responding to a question from a reporter Thursday, pushed back at Putin’s claims.
“It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There’s no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”
Contributing: The Associated Press