Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko is urging citizens to stay inside from Sunday into Monday around Russia’s annual Victory Day as Western officials have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9, a symbolic day for Russia, paving the way for Putin to step up his campaign.
Though the mayor is not formally imposing a curfew, events will not be held during that time, according to posts on his social media. He said there will be enhanced patrolling in the city.
“If anyone would like to go lay flowers, they can do so in private … Pay attention and follow wartime security rules,” Klitschko said.
“I also ask you not to ignore the air alarm signals and immediately take cover. In the coming days, there is a high likelihood of missile shelling in all regions of Ukraine. Be aware and take care of your own safety!” Klitschko warned.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated a curfew would be imposed in Kyiv Sunday and Monday. There will be no curfew on those days.
The Russians want to seize the city of Severodonetsk so “this can be sold to the Russian people as a grand victory,” a senior official in eastern Ukraine says.
“Of course, they want Severodonetsk, because it is the city — the regional center. Of course, this can be sold to the people as a grand victory,” Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration said on Telegram.
Severodonetsk, which was an important industrial center in eastern Ukraine, has been shelled by Russian forces for weeks and is largely destroyed. But Ukrainian troops remain in and around the city.
“And of course another goal is to encircle our military and try to cut the road to Bakhmut where Popasna is. These are the main two directions,” he said.
Hayday denied Russian claims that they’d taken the town of Rubizhne in the same area.
“In fact they can’t move any further and our National Guard is still there and repulses all enemy attacks,” Hayday said.
British Ambassador to Moscow Deborah Bronnert was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday over the latest sanctions against Russia, including sanctions against the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, according to the statement from the Russian foreign ministry.
“The Ambassador was told about the unacceptability of such destructive actions, the continuation of which will inevitably lead to the final destruction of bilateral ties and damage to relations between the peoples of Russia and the United Kingdom,” the statement read.
The imposition of sanctions against the Russian media “only because their coverage and interpretation of events taking place in the world is not consistent with Western patterns, once again clearly confirms the duplicity and cynicism of British politicians, for whom such a thing as freedom of the media is nothing more than a tool for solving market problems,” the statement added.
The ministry accused the UK and its officials for imposing sanctions and making statements with “threats” that are “interspersed with lies and outright rudeness” against Russia.
“Russian side will continue to respond harshly and decisively to all sanctions initiated by London and take retaliatory measures,” the statement added.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said at least 50 civilians were successfully evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol Friday.
“Today we managed to extract 50 women, children and the elderly from Azovstal. Tomorrow morning we will continue the evacuation operation,” Vereshchuk said in a statement posted on her social media channels.
Ukrainian officials earlier had said that they couldn’t comment on the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant being organized by the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
Russian state media on Friday said that 25 civilians were evacuated out of the plant on two buses.
More than 200 Ukrainian soldiers have completed training on M777 howitzers provided to Ukraine by the US, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Friday.
An additional “150 plus” Ukrainian soldiers are currently going through the Howitzer training, he added.
US military service members are training groups of Ukrainian soldiers on the pieces outside of Ukraine, Kirby has said previously. Fifteen Ukrainian soldiers have completed training on the Q-64 mobile air-defense radar system, the Pentagon official noted.
And 60 Ukrainian soldiers have completed M-113 training, and “about 50 more are currently being trained on that right now,” Kirby said. The M-113 is an army personnel carrier.
Meanwhile, Russian forces “continue to launch both missile strikes as well as fixed-man airstrikes into Ukraine,” specifically in “the Donbas region, where the fighting is really going on right now, and also down in Mariupol,” Kirby told reporters. “Even today they continue to pound Mariupol,” he added.
The US Department of Defense will award a $17.8 million contract for the industry to produce and send Switchblade drones to Ukraine as the ongoing conflict with Russia continues, a Department of Defense official told reporters during a briefing Friday.
“$17.8 million for Switchblade unmanned aerial systems — that’s an award that’s going to be seen later today, later this afternoon,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. William A. LaPlante said during the briefing.
These drones will be bought from industry and delivered to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding approved in the Ukraine aid supplemental funding, which was passed along with a massive spending bill in the US Congress in mid-March. The total USAI funding in that bill was $300 million, and the Department of Defense has awarded $136.8 million dollars of that so far, LaPlante said.
The $136.8 million overall has bought from industry and is sending “unmanned aerial systems, Puma, advanced precision kill weapon system, communication devices, combat medical equipment and supplies, meals ready to eat, even binoculars,” in eight different contracts, LaPlante said.
The Department of Defense is also using $1.45 billion in funding approved by the US Congress in the Ukraine aid supplemental signed into law in mid-March to replace US stocks of Javelin and Stinger missiles, along with key components for those missiles, LaPlante said.
In the Ukraine aid supplemental, the US Congress approved $3.5 billion in funding to “replenish US stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine,” LaPlante said. So far, DoD is using $1.45 billion from those funds to replace “Stingers, javelins and other key components,” LaPlante added.
“We are actively negotiating right now — the Army is — for Stingers and related components, and that’s ongoing. Expect to get that awarded by the end of May. For Javelins, the award is imminent, so that’s all happening right now,” LaPlante said.
Here’s what has happened in Mariupol and beyond today.
Conflicting reports of evacuations: Russia state media said that two buses with civilians were evacuated out of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Friday. But Ukrainian officials said they can’t comment on the evacuation of civilians from the plant being organized by the United Nations and the International Red Cross. And the mayor of Mariupol’s office told CNN it was not aware of the latest evacuations.
Zelensky alleges deportations: More than “500,000 Ukrainians have been deported to Russia” since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday. He also accused Russians of blockades and torture with starvation in Mariupol.
G7 to meet this weekend: US President Joe Biden will meet virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his G7 counterparts on Sunday morning during a meeting of the G7 forum, a National Security Council spokesperson said. Sanctions will be on the agenda for the meeting. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the timing of Sunday’s call ahead of Russia’s Victory Day is intentional.
Preparations for Victory Day: May 9, known as Victory Day inside Russia, commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945. The Kremlin said May 9 won’t be “overshadowed” by the events unfolding in Ukraine, adding “the significance of this holiday cannot be overestimated.” But this year’s parade is expected to be of a smaller scale than in previous years.
Some Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine Monday, paving the way for him to step up his campaign.
Russia leaving its mark: Ukrainian officials have posted images from Mariupol showing continuing work by what they call “the occupiers” to restore monuments from the Soviet era. Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of the city, distributed new photographs on Friday saying that, in recent days, all the monuments of the Soviet period have been “restored.”
Also, a senior official in Russia’s governing United Russia party on Friday said Russia has come to the Kherson region to “stay forever,” and there should be “no doubt about that.”
And new satellite images show Russia is excavating the site of the heavily bombed drama theater in Mariupol.
Grain stalled: The blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, along with infrastructure challenges, are preventing nearly 25 million tonnes of grain from being exported, according to a United Nations official.
CNN has also reported that Russian forces are stealing thousands of tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers, as well as targeting food storage sites with artillery, according to multiple sources.
Ukrainian officials say they can’t comment on the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant being organized by the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
“The process [of evacuation] is ongoing. For now it is difficult to comment on it or talk about any results, as it has not finished yet,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, Governor of Donetsk region, said on Ukrainian television late Friday local time. “When people are already on the territory controlled by Ukraine, when the first aid is provided to them and they are safe, then we will talk about numbers. Therefore, it’s too early to comment on the second stage of the process.”
Meanwhile, 25 people brought out of the Azovstal plant late on Friday afternoon appear to have been evacuated as part of a unilateral operation by Russian authorities. Videos of their departure from the plant and their arrival at a reception center in Russian-controlled territory showed no presence of UN or Red Cross vehicles.
The US Embassy in Moscow on Friday warned Americans in Russia to avoid large public gatherings around Victory Day on May 9 “given the ongoing tensions.”
“Annual Victory Day celebrations, including the main parade in Red Square, will take place in Moscow through May 9,” the security alert said. “Local authorities will restrict movement in event areas to facilitate rehearsals for the event.”
“In the past, there have been heightened police presence surrounding these events. Given the ongoing tensions, U.S. citizens should avoid large public gatherings,” the alert said.
May 9 commemorates the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II. It is marked every year by a military parade in Moscow and a speech by Putin. At the end of the parade, Putin will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Some US and Western officials believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine on Monday and fully mobilize his reserve forces.
The State Department had previously called on US citizens to leave Russia immediately “due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism.”