Pro-Russia authorities in Ukraine’s Kherson ‘will seek annexation’

Updated 22 minutes ago

THE MOSCOW-INSTALLED authorities in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region today said they plan to appeal to President Vladimir Putin for the region to become part of Russia.

“There will be a request to make Kherson region a full subject of the Russian Federation,” said Kirill Stremousov, an official in the Moscow-controlled region, Russian news agencies reported.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops were being pushed away from the country’s second city Kharkiv. But he sounded a note of caution as Washington said Putin won’t stop with the east and is ready for a long war.

Following that bleak prediction, and after US President Joe Biden warned that Ukraine would likely run out of funds to keep fighting within days, the US House of Representatives voted yesterday to send a $40 billion (about €38 billion) aid package to the country.

The US Senate is expected to rubber-stamp the decision by the end of this week or next, a show of rare bipartisan support that would bring total US help to Ukraine to around $54 billion (€51.2 billion).

“With this aid package, America sends a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues ahead of the vote.

In his nightly address on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said he had “good news” from the northeastern Kharkiv region.

“The occupiers are gradually being pushed away,” he said. “I am grateful to all our defenders who are holding the line and demonstrating truly superhuman strength to drive out the army of invaders.”

The head of the Kharkiv regional state administration Oleg Synegubov said on Telegram that “fierce battles” were ongoing in the region, and that the city itself was under heavy fire.

“Due to successful offensive operations, our defenders liberated Cherkasy Tyshky, Rusky Tyshky, Rubizhne and Bayrak from the invaders,” he said.

“Thus, the enemy was driven even further from Kharkiv, and the occupiers had even less opportunity to fire on the regional centre.”

‘Temporary shift’? 

Despite the apparent headway made, Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to “create an atmosphere of specific moral pressure, when certain victories are expected weekly and even daily”, a reflection of the intense pressure being exerted by Russia on its neighbour.

A stark example of that could be seen in the Kharkiv region itself, where Synegubov announced that 44 civilian bodies had been found under the rubble of a destroyed building in the eastern town of Izyum, now under Russian control.

Since trying and failing to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the invasion in late February, Moscow has moved its focus to the Russian-speaking Donbas region in the east.

But yesterday US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the decision to concentrate Russian forces there was “only a temporary shift”.

“We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” Haines said, adding US intelligence thinks he is determined to build a land bridge to Russian-controlled territory in Moldova.

A path to achieving that goal would be taking the southern city of Odessa, where missile strikes have destroyed buildings, set ablaze a shopping centre and killed one person, as well as interrupting a visit by European Council President Charles Michel on Monday.

‘Total apathy’ 

In the similarly strategic port of Mariupol, around 1,000 troops remain trapped in increasingly dire circumstances at the Azovstal steelworks, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told AFP.

The plant is the final bastion of resistance in the city, which has seen relentless destruction.

An online petition calling on the United Nations to extract all remaining soldiers garnered more than 1.1 million signatures on Tuesday.

Many civilians have been evacuated from the plant in recent days, as Russia pushes for full control of Mariupol to open up another land corridor from Crimea, which it seized in 2014.

But the Ukrainian presidency said the “epicentre of the fighting has moved” to Bilogorivka in the Lugansk region of the Donbas, the site of a deadly Russian air strike Sunday that Ukrainian officials said killed 60 people.

Shelling also continued in Ukraine’s easternmost strongholds, the sister cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, it said.

“The constant shelling by Russian troops does not allow for a full-fledged evacuation of civilians and wounded from the war zone,” Ukraine’s army said Wednesday.

Civilians are struggling to survive between the constantly shifting front lines.

“I feel total apathy. I am morally starved — not to mention physically,” said bricklayer Artyom Cherukha, 41, as he collected water trickling from a natural spring in Lysychansk.

He was trying to get supplies for his family of nine, as people in the area steadily lose access to water and food.

“We sit here counting the bombs,” said Cherukha.

Russian gas flows to Europe fall

Meanwhile, Russian gas transiting Ukraine for Europe dropped today after Kyiv said it was suspending flows along a key route as Moscow pushes its military operation.

The move fuels fears that the Kremlin’s campaign in its pro-Western neighbour could see gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine cut off at a time when prices have already soared.

Ukraine’s pipeline operator GTSOU said on Tuesday that it was halting gas transport at the Sokhranivka transit point as Russian occupying forces now in control were interfering with operations.

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GTSOU had promised to temporarily reroute all supplies via another crossing point to “fulfil its transit obligations to European partners in full”.

Figures released by the company today showed that flows at Sokhranivka had dropped to zero and were due to rise at a second point, but not enough to replace the decrease.

GTSOU said the amount of gas transiting Ukraine via these routes today could fall by 18%, or 16 million cubic metres, compared to yesterday.

Russian gas giant Gazprom had denied that there was a case for the Ukrainian operator to declare “force majeure” and said it was impossible to reroute all the supplies.

Gazprom told TASS news agency that supplies transiting Ukraine on Wednesday were at 72 million cubic metres in total, compared to 95.8 million cubic metres the day before.

Ukraine is a major supply route for Russian gas to Europe and the two sides have kept flows going even after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine on 24 February.

The European Union is scrambling to lessen its reliance on Russian energy supplies, but it has shied away from imposing sanctions on crucial gas flows.

– © AFP 2022 

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