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Foreign fighters sentenced to death in Donbas

June 9, 2022

Three men who were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces have now been sentenced to death by a court in a Russia-backed separatist region.

Ukraine Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner und Brahim Saadoun im Gerichtsaal in Donetsk
The three men — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Sadun — are seen pictured in footage filmed at the court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's RepublicImage: Supreme Court of Donetsk People's Republic/REUTERS
  • Separatist court sentences three foreign fighters to death 
  • Zelenskyy says fate of Donbas being decided in Sievierodonetsk
  • Stoltenberg talks in Berlin called off at short notice
  • Poland's Duda criticizes Berlin sharply in German interview

These live updates are now closed. For the latest from Ukraine, please head to Friday's blog.  

Zelenskyy signs decree sanctioning top Russian officials

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a decree imposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and dozens of other senior figures.

The measures, outlined on his website, include asset freezes and bans on crossing the Ukrainian border. However, they are unlikely to have any significant impact.

The sanctioned officials included Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Can't prosecute Putin 'as long as he is head of state' — German justice minister

Germany’s Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told DW that although evidence is being gathered in Russia's war in Ukraine, Berlin is currently powerless to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"From the German perspective, we cannot prosecute Vladimir Putin as long as he is an active head of state," the minister said on Thursday.

Buschmann made the comments while speaking with DW's Marina Strauss in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg.

Buschmann said Germany is pursuing other routes in an effort to bring those involved in facilitating or committing war crimes to justice.

Russian war crimes: What can Germany do?

Scholz and Stoltenberg discuss defense on NATO’s eastern flank

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has discussed defense measures along NATO’s eastern flank with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.

Stoltenberg said that Scholz was "leading by example" and said in a tweet that talks had been "good."

"I commended Germany’s announcement on bolstering the NATO battlegroup in Lithuania and the approval of the special defence fund," Stoltenberg's tweet read.

On Tuesday, Scholz met with the leaders of three Baltic states and said that Germany was ready to bolster its presence in Lithuania and develop it towards a robust combat-ready brigade. 

Stoltenberg had been due to meet German leaders in Berlin, but due to illness talks were held via video call.

The talks were held ahead of the NATO summit that will be held in Madrid at the end of the month.

Death sentence of foreign fighters a 'sham judgment' — UK foreign minister

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss has slammed the death sentences handed down to two British nationals by the self-proclaimed  Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

"I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy," Truss said in a tweet.

Moroccan national Brahim Sadun was also sentenced to death along with the two British nationals.

Separatist Donbas court sentences three foreign fighters to death — Russian media 

A separatist court in the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) has sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan national to death according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, and Brahim Sadun were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces and were detained in Mariupol in April. RIA Novosti reports that the prisoners are to be shot, but did not state when.

According to RIA Novosti, Pinner, Aslin, and Sadun confessed to taking part in a training for "terrorist activities," with Pinner and Sadun also pleading guilty to acts aimed at a violent takeover of the government in DNR.

Tass news agency reported that the three men would appeal the decision.

Four killed in shelling of Sievierodonetsk chemical plant

Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said four people were killed during the shelling of the Azot chemical plant in the besieged and heavily contested city of Sievierodonetsk.

Hundreds of civilians are said to be sheltering at the plant as it is being used as an air raid shelter. 

The Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk is not being surrounded by Russian forces currently, as occurred at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol weeks ago.

Graphic showing Russian troops movements in eastern Ukraine

Africa facing dire crisis due to blocked Black Sea ports

Concerns are mounting as Russia's war on Ukraine is blocking Black Sea ports and grain from sailing from those ports.

Theodore Murphy, director of the Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told DW, "About a third of 25 African countries rely on Ukrainian and Russian wheat. And 15 African countries rely up to one half on Russian and Ukrainian wheat for their imports."

He added, "because of the shortages that are being faced by the whole world, due to the ripple effect of what's happening in Ukraine and Russia, prices are rising," and African countries "are faced with a market that has grown much more expensive at the same time as Africa is facing some real financial crushes."

"Something is really wrong with the global system when Africa has 65% of arable land of the world and Africa is importing 80% of its food," Murphy said. 

Bettina Rudloff, an agricultural economist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW that global food security "all depends on how we now handle the transport out of the region" — both out of Ukraine as well as Russia.  

Should the international community turn out to be ineffective in working with Russia and Ukraine to unblock ports in the Black Sea, Rudolph said it must "try to really support all alternatives, which could be, in the end, by train or other transport options."

Dr. Bettina Rudloff on food shortages

Over 600,000 tons of Ukrainian grain shipped to Romania

Ukraine has shipped 601,115 tons of grain to Romania's Black Sea port of Constanta since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The port said Thursday 120,294 more tons were on the way.

From Constanta, over 262,000 tons have already departed for world markets aboard 15 ships, according to Reuters.

The grain is only about 3% of the 20 million tons Ukraine needs to export before the new harvest begins at the end of July to avoid bottlenecks in the system and stave off a global food crisis.

Ukraine's Black Sea ports have been blockaded since the start of the war.

Russia says ruble system for European gas supplies working

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian state-run Interfax news agency that Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland will no longer receive Russian gas due to a failure to make payments in rubles as the Russian government has requested.

Peskov said, "Those who receive gas are already receiving it under the new system."

In late March, Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered a new payment system in rubles following Western sanctions.

The European Commission does not consider it a violation of sanctions if companies pay Russia in Euros or dollars, as stipulated in the contracts, to a Gazprom account.

UN: Almost 5 million Ukrainian refugees registered in Europe

The UN said that nearly four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, there are almost five million Ukrainian refugees registered in Europe. Since February 24 when Russia launched its invasion,a total of 4,816,923 Ukrainians have registered as refugees across 44 European countries.

The UN's refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said, "The Ukraine war has caused one of the largest human displacement crises in the world."

The UN said women and children make up nearly 90% of the refugees, with males between the age of 18 and 60 unable to leave as they have been barred from doing so. In Germany, almost 133,500 Ukrainian students are enrolled in German schools, with 7,900 more students enrolling in just the past week.

The UN's International Organization for Migration estimates more than 8 million people remain internally displaced in Ukraine.

European Commission to provide Ukrainian start-ups with €20 million

The European Commission announced a plan to provide €20 million ($21.4 million) in funding to Ukrainian start-ups, with an allocation of €60,000 per company.

At a press conference in Brussels, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna said Russia's invasion had "heavily disrupted existing research and innovation" in Ukraine. She added the funding would support "companies working to innovate solutions, services and products for rebuilding and recovery efforts of Ukraine."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added, "While fighting Russian military aggression, it is vital for Ukraine to look forward."

A call for proposals from start-ups eligible for the funding is set to open on June 23.

Ukraine says it won back some territory in the Kherson region

Ukraine's Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had fought for and won back some territory Russian forces had occupied in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.

The ministry said Russian forces "suffered losses in manpower and equipment," and had placed landmines as they retreated.

Ukrainians returning home despite war

Ukraine says civilian evacuations of Sievierodonetsk not possible

While Ukrainian forces still hold the industrial part and adjacent areas in Sievierodonetsk, Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said the situation there is "difficult but manageable."

Defense lines continue to hold despite Russian attacks. However, Stryuk said that it was no longer possible to evacuate the approximately 10,000 civilians who remain trapped in the city, which is now the primary focus of Russia's military campaign against Ukraine.

Stoltenberg cancels Berlin trip, diagnosed with shingles

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg canceled his trip to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz because he has been diagnosed with shingles. Instead of in person talks, he will hold calls remotely with Germany and Romania Thursday and Friday.

Stoltenberg had been scheduled to meet with Scholz and German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht while in Berlin.

Zelenskyy: Millions might starve because of Black Sea blockade

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a televised statement that millions could starve due to Russia's naval blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

Zelenskyy warned the world faced a "terrible food crisis," adding Ukraine could not export corn, oil, wheat and other products.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the closure of Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Russia charges Ukraine has placed sea mines and Ukraine has responded that if it demines, Russia will attack. 

In Ankara Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the food crisis "really a small problem," and claimed Russia would not take advantage should a UN proposal to demine to allow grain deliveries went ahead.

Donbas farmers plant under rain of shells

UK provides military update on the state of the war

The UK Ministry of Defense reports, "Fighting continues in the Sieverodonetsk pocket but, in the last 48 hours, Russia’s Eastern Group of Forces (EGF) have also likely increased their efforts to advance to the south of Izium." 

The UK military update adds that Russian forces near Izium have remained "stalled since April" as "Ukrainian forces made good use of the terrain to slow Russia’s advance."

Due to the failed advance on Kyiv, it said that Russian forces "suffered very heavy casualties," and that its forces remain undermanned as a result. The UK assesses Russia hopes to "regain momentum" and attack Sievierodonetsk in order to push further into Donetsk.

Poland's Duda criticizes Germany, talks with Putin

Polish President Andrzej Duda appears in Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper on Thursday. He criticized German economic ties to Russia and said that to the best of his knowledge German tanks designed to replace Soviet-era ones Poland planned to give to Ukraine had not arrived.

Having complained last month that Poland had not received any Leopard 2 tanks, with Germany responding that it had always been clear such deliveries would take time, Duda this time said he had hoped for older Leopard tanks instead in the shorter term. 

"As far as I know we've received nothing at all," Duda told Bild. "We gave our tanks away and now we have nothing at all in their place." 

He said his government was also in procurement negotiations with the US and South Korea. 

Duda also criticized German industry, saying that for a part of it, "what happens to Ukraine or Poland" was of no concern.

"Perhaps German business does not believe that the Russian army could again celebrate a major victory in Berlin and occupy a part of Germany. We in Poland know that that's possible," he said. 

Duda also said he was "astonished" by the continued talks with Putin by European leaders like Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Emmanuel Macron. 

"These talks achieve nothing. What do they achieve? They only serve to legitimize a person who is responsible for the crimes the Russian military is committing in Ukraine," he said. "Did anybody talk to Adolf Hitler during World War II in this way? Did anybody say that it was important for Adolf Hitler to save face? That we should act in such a way that Adolf Hitler is not humiliated?" 

Asked in a recent French interview why he was continuing long discussions with Putin by phone, Macron had said that it was important to maintain contact and also not to humiliate the Russian president. He also said that Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy had asked him to keep calling Putin. 

Ukraine confident about EU candidate status

Following two days of talks in Berlin, a Ukrainian official said he is confident that his country will soon be granted EU candidate status.

Regional Development Minister Oleksiy Chernyshov told German news agency dpa that he believes the 27-member bloc will greenlight Ukraine's EU candidate status later in June.

"As we understand it, they won't stand in the way if the EU Commission report is positive," he said.

Chernyshov said he believes Germany will approve the move. He met with German lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Russia could be changing strategy in Sievierodonetsk

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia may be shifting its strategy in the key Donbas city of Sievierodonetsk.

Oleskiy Arestovych said in an online interview that Russia is hitting the city with airstrikes and missiles after ground forces pulled out.

The Ukrainian adviser says the center of the city is now deserted.

"They retreated, our troops retreated, so the artillery hits an empty place. They are hitting hard without any particular success," Arestovych said.

A destroyed market in Sievierodonetsk
An open market destroyed by a military strike in the battle for SievierodonetskImage: Serhii Nuzhnenko/REUTERS

Zelenskyy: 'Fierce battle' underway in key Donbas city

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the city of Sievierodonetsk "remains the epicenter of fighting" in the eastern Donbas region.

"It is a very fierce battle, very difficult, probably one of the hardest in the course of this war," Zelenskyy said in his evening video address.

The Ukrainian leader said Russian troops are suffering losses, adding that the fate of the Donbas could be decided in Sievierodonetsk.

Zelenskyy's comments come after the governor of the eastern Luhansk region said Ukrainian troops may withdraw from Sievierodonetsk amid heavy Russian attacks.

What happened in Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Ankara, with the two diplomats discussing a UN-backed plan to facilitate the passage of grain from Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Around 22 million tons of grain are stuck in the ports, exacerbating a global food crisis, particularly in Africa.

Russia has called on Ukraine to de-mine areas near the ports, saying it would not use the corridors to launch new attacks. Both Ukrainian and EU officials have cast doubt on the pledge.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is on the verge of "unprecedented hunger and destitution" due to the war.

"The war's impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and speeding up," the UN head said.

Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, gave a speech to European lawmakers. He praised European Parliament President Roberta Metsola during the address for her visit to Kyiv on April 1 while fighting was raging in the area.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv is launching a system to collect data on Russian war criminals, known as the "Book of Torturers." Zelenskyy also spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by phone about further support for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk chided former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after she gave an interview defending her Russia policy during her time in power. Melnyk said Merkel offered "not a hint of self-criticism" and called her statements "very regrettable."

Ukraine and Russia exchanged the bodies of 50 soldiers killed in action.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian forces may have to pull out of Sievierodonetsk amid heavy shelling by Russia.

You can revisit our live updates from June 8 here.

kb, ar, wd/rs (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)