US Senate Overwhelmingly Approves More Ukraine Aid

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

1:08 p.m.: Yury Shevchuk, leader and frontman of DDT, one of Russia’s most popular rock groups, has been charged with an administrative misdemeanor over a statement he made during a concert about Russia’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Producer Radmir Usayev said in a post on Instagram on Thursday that police approached Shevchuk after a concert in Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, a day earlier and “first wanted to detain him,” but then just informed the popular rock musician that he was being charged with an unspecified misdemeanor. Video of Shevchuk talking about the war at the concert has since gone viral on social media. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has the story.

12:58 p.m.:

12:49 p.m.: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team is on Capitol Hill urging U.S. senators to consider a fresh round of sanctions on Russians with a more “nuanced” approach that targets mid-level government officials and public figures over the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. The group is discussing with senators a list of 6,000 Russians, including defense and security officials, administrative employees, governors, members of parliament, even editors and managers at Russian media operations for sanctions. It is also planning to meet Thursday with officials at the U.S. State Department, the Justice Department and other offices in Washington. Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said the “avalanche of sanctions” imposed so far is having an effect in Russia.

12:41 p.m.:

12:32 p.m.: A Ukrainian state prosecutor asked a court on Thursday to sentence a Russian soldier to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion, Reuters reported. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian tank commander, asked widow Kateryna Shelipova to forgive him for the murder of her husband, Oleksandr, in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28.

12:02 p.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden met the leaders of Sweden and Finland on Thursday to advance their applications to join the NATO military alliance, Reuters reported. Biden stood with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in a sunny White House Rose Garden bedecked with flags. He cheered the “momentous” day, giving his strong support for the two “great democracies” to “join the strongest most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world.” Biden said, “They meet every NATO requirement and then some,” adding he is submitting paperwork today to the U.S. Congress for speedy approval once NATO approves their accession.”

11:57 a.m.: Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley held a phone call, RIA news agency reported on Thursday, citing the Russian defense ministry. They discussed issues of “mutual interest” including Ukraine, RIA said. The call took place six days after a phone conversation between the defense ministers of the two countries, their first since Russia launched what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

11:20 a.m.: British defense minister Ben Wallace said on Thursday he believed there was a way to address Turkey’s concerns over Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Finland and Sweden formally applied on Wednesday to join NATO, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey has objected, accusing the countries of supporting groups that it deems terrorists. “I think there is a way through. I think we will get there in the end and it is very important that we listen to all members and their concerns in that process and we will certainly be listening to Turkey,” Wallace told parliament, adding he would be speaking to his Turkish counterpart.

11:17 a.m.: The U.N. nuclear watchdog says Ukraine has informed it new wildfires near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant don’t pose a radioactive threat to people, The Associated Press reported. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Kyiv told it gamma dose rate levels near the plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, were “not exceeding the reference levels.” It said previous experience suggests such fires could lead to a “very small increase” of radioactive concentration in the air but the IAEA supports Ukraine’s assessment that it wouldn’t endanger human health. It noted “spontaneous fires” often occur in the area this time of year.

11:12 a.m.:

11:09 a.m.: A senior U.S. defense official on Thursday said that Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” to the north and northeast of Kharkiv, as Russia is reinforcing its positions around Kherson in the south. He said weather is likely hampering Russian sorties into Ukraine, and Russian naval activity. He concurred with British intelligence assessments that top Russian military commanders have been fired, saying “We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” but, he added, the U.S. has nothing to share about Russian leaders at the “senior, senior levels.” VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin monitored the briefing and shared these details on Twitter.

10:55 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to participate in a United Nations Security Council Meeting on Food Insecurity and Conflict Thursday morning in New York City.

10:47 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden, and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland deliver brief remarks at a trilateral press conference at the White House on Thursday.

10:35 a.m.: U.S. refiners imported about 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and fuel oil from Latin America in April, the highest in seven months according to U.S. Customs data, as buyers began replacing Russian supplies.

10:20 a.m.: The Group of Seven countries are launching a new Global Alliance for Food Security that is aimed in part at addressing the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said Thursday after meeting her counterparts from the G-7′s major economies that the aim is to better coordinate the efforts of aid donors and to ensure that looming crises don’t get overlooked. She said the G-7 will seek to bring as many partners on board as possible, including emerging countries that may have supplies. The World Bank is helping to implement the project. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a sharp increase in food and energy prices.

10:03 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden met the leaders of Sweden and Finland on Thursday after the nations set aside their long-standing neutrality and moved to join the NATO alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported. Hours before his first trip to Asia as president, Biden sat down with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House to discuss their NATO applications. “This is a historic event, a watershed moment in European security. Two nations with a long tradition of neutrality will be joining the world’s most powerful defensive alliance,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

9:44 a.m.: Russia said it was closing the Moscow offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in retaliation for Ottawa’s banning of Russian state media outlet RT, Agence France-Presse reported. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed the decision, saying “responsible journalism, sharing what’s actually going on with citizens, is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin.” Canada in March formally banned RT and RT France from its airwaves, saying their programming was “not consistent with Canadian broadcasting standards. RT and state-controlled outlet Sputnik have been blocked in most Western countries since Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, accused of spreading propaganda.

9:33 a.m.:

9:15 a.m.: Germany on Thursday removed official perks accorded to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, assessing that he has failed to uphold the obligations of his office by refusing to sever ties with Russian energy giants, Agence France-Presse reported. “The coalition parliamentary groups have drawn consequences from the behavior of former chancellor and lobbyist Gerhard Schroeder in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the parliament decided. “The office of the former chancellor shall be suspended,” it added.

9:01 a.m.: Russia will send any oil rejected by European countries to Asia and other regions, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday, adding that Europe would have to find substitute supplies that would be more expensive, Reuters reported. The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a 210 billion euro ($220 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027 and to use the pivot away from Moscow to quicken its transition to green energy.

8:39 a.m.: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused huge environmental damage for which Kyiv will seek compensation in international courts, Ukraine’s environment minister said on Thursday, according to Reuters. Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, said the war had destroyed ecosystems, deprived wildlife of its natural habitat and contaminated land in one of the world’s main grain producers. “Over the past 20 years, this is the first military conflict in the world that has caused such large-scale environmental damage,” he told a news conference. “Russian missiles hit our oil depots, thermal power plants, chemical plants – this definitely affects the environment. Forests are burning, valuable protected things are being destroyed,” he said.

8:10 a.m.:

8:00 a.m.:

7:38 a.m.: Moscow said on Thursday that sanctions on Russia would have to be reviewed if it were to heed a U.N. appeal to open access to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports so that grain could be exported, according to an Interfax news agency report. Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain producers, used to export most of its goods through its seaports, but since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports. U.N. food chief David Beasley appealed on Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: “If you have any heart at all, please open these ports.” Beasley’s World Food Programme feeds some 125 million people and buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine, Reuters reported.

7:30 a.m.:

7:19 a.m.: European Union lawmakers have voted to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports for a year to support the war-torn country’s economy, The Associated Press reported. The measure covers industrial products, fruits, vegetables and steel. The EU is Ukraine’s most important trading partner, accounting for more than 40% of its total trade in goods last year.“We must support Ukraine at all levels with every tool at our disposal: not only with weapons and sanctions but with our trading power, too,” said lawmaker Sandra Kalniete. “Giving Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself does not end on the battlefield; it includes ensuring that Ukraine’s economy remains resilient and competitive.”

6:46 a.m.:

6:38 a.m.: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his country’s decision to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia, saying this “does not constitute an escalation,” The Associated Press reported. In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Scholz dismissed concerns raised by some in Germany that arming Ukraine could result in a wider conflict. Arming Ukraine was “a contribution to fending off the attack and thereby ending the violence as quickly as possible,” he said. Scholz added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “mistaken” in thinking peace can be imposed on Ukraine by force.

6:34 a.m.:

6:23 a.m.: The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine asked for “forgiveness” in a Kyiv court Thursday and described how he shot dead a civilian in the opening days of Russia’s invasion, Agence France-Presse reported. “I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness,” 21-year-old Russian sergeant Vadim Shishimarin said in court, addressing the widow of a 62-year-old civilian whom he admitted killing. Shishimarin faces possible life imprisonment in Ukraine on charges of war crimes and premeditated murder in a landmark war crimes trial against Moscow’s forces.Two other Russian soldiers are in court for crimes against civilians, as Kyiv launched a judicial reckoning for alleged atrocities after nearly three months of war.

6:20 a.m.: Britain said on Thursday it was introducing new sanctions against the Russian airline sector to prevent state-owned Aeroflot, Ural Airlines and Rossiya Airlines from selling their unused landing slots at British airports, Reuters reported.The British government said it estimated the landing slots were worth $61.9 million. “We’ve already closed our airspace to Russian airlines. Today we’re making sure they can’t cash in their lucrative landing slots at our airports,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

6:17 a.m.: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday his country will double its financial aid for Ukraine to $600 million in support of the country badly damaged by Russia’s aggression, The Associated Press reported. Japan will provide the additional $300 million through the World Bank to help Ukraine’s financial difficulties because of the Russian invasion, Kishida said. The announcement comes just before Japan hosts U.S. President Joe Biden and two other leaders for a regional strategic framework known as the Quad summit and bilateral meetings next week when Kishida is expected to emphasize Japanese support for Ukraine.The new pledge, combined with the $300 million Japan promised last month, brings Tokyo’s total contribution to $600 million.

6:14 a.m.: The NATO alliance has not expressed any interest in placing nuclear weapons or permanent bases in Finland, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told an Italian newspaper in an interview published on Thursday during a visit to Rome. Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but face objections from Turkey to an accession process that was originally expected to be relatively rapid, Reuters reported.

6:08 a.m.: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on Russia to allow the secure export of grain through Ukrainian ports.The ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and others have been cut off by Russian warships in the Black Sea, so the grain can only travel on congested land routes that are far less efficient. Speaking on Wednesday at a major United Nations summit in New York on worldwide food insecurity, Guterres called on Russia to free up exports of Ukrainian grain. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this story.

6:05 a.m.: With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal.” Podolyak said in a Twitter post, “Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”

6:00 a.m.: Russia’s foreign ministry said Thursday it was expelling five Portuguese diplomats, according to Reuters. The expulsions come several weeks after Portugal expelled 10 Russian embassy staffers.

5:45 a.m.: Switzerland said Thursday it is reopening its embassy in Kyiv

5:10 a.m.: Russia’s defense ministry said Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Mariupol over three days, including 771 in the past 24 hours, claiming a surrender on a far bigger scale than Ukraine has acknowledged since ordering its garrison to stand down. The ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle for decades remained publicly unresolved, with no confirmation of the fate of the hundreds of Ukrainian troops who had held out in a vast steelworks at the end of a near three-month siege.

4:30 a.m.: Ukraine welcomes the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Bridget Brink as Washington’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

“We greet the U.S. Senate unanimous decision to approve Bridget Brink (as) the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter. There has been no U.S. ambassador in Kyiv since 2019.

4:01 a.m.: The International Committee of the Red Cross said it began registering “combatants leaving the Azovstal plant, including the wounded, at the request of the parties,” starting Tuesday and the operation was still ongoing Thursday. The ICRC said it is not transporting prisoners of war to places where they were held in a statement published Thursday.

The aid organization urged warring parties to protect the rights of fighters. “It’s critical to ensure they’re accounted for & treated humanely and with dignity,” ICRC said in a Twitter post.

3:05 a.m.: Several senior Russian commanders have been fired for performing “poorly” during the opening stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense’s Thursday report.

The ministry said the suspended include the lieutenant general who failed to capture Kharkiv, and the vice admiral under whose command the Russian cruiser Moskva sank.

“A culture of cover-ups and scape-goating is probably prevalent within the Russian military and security system,” the report said. Given the likely finger-pointing and shifting of blame, “it will be [difficult] for Russia to regain the initiative,” it added.

2:15 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson for talks Thursday at the White House about their applications to join NATO, support for Ukraine and European security.

Biden on Wednesday praised what he called Sweden and Finland’s “important decision” after they formally applied for membership in the NATO military alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in NATO and look forward to working with the U.S. Congress and our NATO allies to quickly bring Finland and Sweden into the strongest defensive alliance in history,” Biden said.

At a Wednesday meeting at the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Swedish counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, “We look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance.” VOA’s Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.

1:40 a.m.: Amnesty International continues to call for the rights of the Ukrainian soldiers to be respected as reports of soldiers surrendering surfaced after the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol fell under Russian control.

“Prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement posted Tuesday.

Prisoners “should be given immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross,” he said. “The relevant authorities must fully respect the rights of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva conventions.”

12:50 a.m.: RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty shares an interview with the mother of a Ukrainian National Guardsman based in Mariupol.

During the May 11 interview in Kyiv, Inna Zatoloka shares some of the texts her 20-year-old son sent her since Russia invaded Ukraine. “Mother, I’m alive,” he once texted. “Love you.”

Mark Zatoloka was one of hundreds of soldiers defending civilians sheltering in the Azovstal steel plant while Russia attacked. Inna does not know whether he made it out alive.

12:30 a.m.: The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine.

It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping to address global food shortages caused by the conflict. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week.

If the Senate approves the measure, it would go to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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