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US Senate approves $40 billion Ukraine aid package

May 19, 2022

Meanwhile, the first Russian soldier to face trial for killing a civilian has asked the man's widow for "forgiveness." Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has warned of a long war.

Protesters hold signs in front of the Lincoln memorial
Protesters in Washington DC call for more support to Ukraine in March Image: Allison Bailey/NurPhoto/picture alliance
  • US Senate backs $40 billion Ukraine aid package
  • US and Russian chiefs of staff speak for first time since Ukraine war began
  • Zelenskyy warns of a long war
  • Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Putin will only talk when it's clear Russia cannot break Ukraine's defenses

This article was last updated at 23:16 UTC/GMT

Video evidence shows eight men executed in Bucha

The New York Times obtained video and surveillance images of Russian paratroopers executing at least eight men in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha on March 4.

The videos show the eight men in the custody of Russian forces just prior to their deaths. Neighbors on Yablonska Street, where the men were shot, heard gunfire and the men held captive did not return. 

Bodies of the men in a courtyard on Yablunska street were filmed the next day and garnered international attention in early April.

According to The New York Times, evidence including packing slips for crates of ammunition, surveillance footage and social media pointed to the 104th and 234th Airborne Assault Regiments of the Russian military as being responsible for the executions. 

Zelenskyy: Russian forces ‘completely destroyed’ the Donbas 

During his nightly late night video address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had “completely destroyed” the eastern industrial Donbas region of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy also accused Russia of carrying out a campaign of indiscriminate bombing as it has intensified its military campaign there following Russia’s failed effort to encircle the capital Kyiv.

He added that Russia was intent on killing as many Ukrainians as possible and doing as much damage to the country, adding that it is the politics and policy of genocide.

“It is hell there - and that is not an exaggeration,” Zelenskyy said. He added that 12 were dead following a “brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment” of Severodonetsk Thursday.

EU is looking to use frozen oligarch assets for Ukraine reconstruction

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told German broadcaster ZDF that the EU is looking at ways that frozen assets of Russian oligarchs could be used to fund the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.

Von der Leyen said, “Our lawyers are working intensively on finding possible ways of using frozen assets of the oligarchs for the rebuilding of Ukraine.”

She added, “I think Russia should also make its contribution.”

Five foreign vice-presidents of Rosneft resign over sanctions

Five foreign nationals working as vice-presidents at Russian oil giant Rosneft have resigned due to EU sanctions that block European citizens or Russians residing in the EU from working for the company, Reuters reports.

Reuters adds the five foreign nationals, Didier Casimiro, Eric Liron, Zeljko Runje, Avril Conroy and Otabek Karimov, quit Rosneft days before a new wave of EU sanctions came into effect on May 15. None was reachable or willing to offer comment and Rosneft would not comment either.

Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, is a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and a veteran of the KGB and its involvement in East Africa conflicts in the 1980s. Sechin also served as Putin’s chief of staff when Putin was first deputy mayor in St. Petersburg at the start of his transition from lieutenant colonel in the KGB to politics in the mid-1990s.

Former Chancellor Schröder increasingly isolated for pro-Putin stance

Gerhard Schröder, who served as German chancellor from 1998 until 2005, has come under heavy criticism for refusing to distance himself from Russia and Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, the German parliament opted to strip Schröder of his taxpayer-funded office and staff, but without touching his pension.

The European Parliament on Thursday also urged sanctions against Schröder for his personal and business ties to Russia and Putin.

Shortly after leaving the chancellor's office, Schröder joined the board of Nord Stream and later Rosneft, both Russian state-owned energy companies. He is also remembered for having called Putin a "flawless democrat."

War in Ukraine is causing 'more and more suffering in the Global South'

The EU Commissioner for International Relationships, Jutta Urpilainen, spoke to DW about the consequences of the war in Ukraine for the global south.

She attended the G7 development minister's meeting in Berlin calling it "very constructive." Urpilainen stressed that food security and the food crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine "is a huge challenge" in the Horn of Africa and in the southern part of the Sahel region. 

"We see that there is a lot of food in the storages in Ukraine and Ukraine is not able to export that. And at the same time, people are starving, for instance, in Africa, but also in the Middle East in some countries because they are so dependent on the food import," Urpilainen said.

She highlighted the fact that the EU is investing in food production capacities "because Africa imports 80% of the food imports." Asked about the human rights situations in oil-exporting countries that are entering new partnerships to supply the world, she said that "in a real partnership" it is also possible to raise "difficult topics."

Rutte and Scholz won't send Ukraine more than 12 howitzers for now

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte see no possibility for the time being of supplying Ukraine with more than the dozen howitzers Panzerhaubitze 2000 they already promised.

"I don't see that at the moment," Rutte said at a joint press conference with Scholz after talks in The Hague on Thursday.

Scholz said that the weapons systems "cannot simply be made available" and that the number 12 was not randomly chosen. According to Scholz, the leaders wanted to create a functioning unit.

The Netherlands is supplying five self-propelled howitzers, while Germany is supplying seven.

Rutte explained that the howitzers were not intended for immediate use, "but rather for a subsequent phase of fighting." The proper training of Ukrainian soldiers with these "complex" weapons was crucial, he said.

Ukrainian soldiers arrived in Germany for training on the German-built Panzerhaubitze 2000 last week.

Rutte also said he was confident an agreement would be found for Sweden and Finland to become part of NATO, a prospect strongly opposed by NATO member Turkey.

"I'm confident it will eventually be possible to come together to a position where it will be possible for Finland and Sweden to join NATO," he said.

Blinken says he authorized $100 million aid package for Ukraine

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Thursday he had approved a $100 million aid package. It includes "additional US arms, equipment, and supplies for Ukraine to reinforce its defenses against Russia’s senseless war of choice. We stand united with Ukraine," he wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Thursday, US Senate overwhelmingly backed nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine.

Yellen says G7 pledges exceeded $15 billion in economic aid to Ukraine

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the G7 finance ministers on Thursday agreed to provide Ukraine the financial resources it needs in its struggle against Russia's invasion.

However, she did not confirm an $18.4 billion figure pledged in the group's draft communique.

After the first day of a meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bank governors near the German city of Bonn, Yellen told reporters that the pledges exceeded the $15 billion in economic support Ukraine needs over the next three months.

According to Yellen, the US offered $7.5 billion in economic aid, the European Commission €9 billion, and other countries including Canada and Germany pledged additional amounts.

"The message was, 'We stand behind Ukraine. We're going to pull together with the resources that they need to get through this,'" Yellen said.

US Senate backs $40 billion Ukraine aid package

The US Senate has overwhelmingly backed nearly $40 billion (€37.7 billion) in aid for Ukraine.

The 86-11 vote gave final congressional approval to the package, three weeks after President Joe Biden requested a smaller $33 billion version and after a lone Republican opponent delayed Senate passage for a week.

Every Democrat and all but 11 Republicans backed the measure.

Biden is expected to sign the bill quickly into law as Washington races to keep military assistance flowing to Ukraine nearly three months after Russia's invasion.

US and Russian chiefs of staff speak for first time since Ukraine war began

Russia's Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and top US General Mark Milley have spoken on the phone, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

It is the first time they have held discussions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

"The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open," a spokesman for Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

"In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private," the spokesman added.

The Russian defense ministry also reported the call.

The call took place six days after a conversation between the defense ministers of the two countries.

Biden welcomes Finland, Sweden NATO bid

US President Joe Biden has given his full backing to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

"It's a very, very good day. Today, I'm proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies," he told a White House news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

"Having two new NATO members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board," Biden said.

"New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation," the US President added.

Finland and Sweden have applied to join following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, Turkey surprised NATO allies last week by objecting to the move, accusing the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants.

Niinisto, whose country borders Russia, said: "Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey. As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security, just as Turkey will commit to our security."

According to Niinisto, his country was already in discussions to address Turkey's concerns and that those conversations would continue in the coming days.

EU officials wear traditional Ukrainian attire on Vyshyvanka Day

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen donned a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt (vyshyvanka) on Thursday as Ukrainians around the world celebrate Vyshyvanka Day.

"Today I celebrate the vibrant and rich Ukrainian culture by wearing a vyshyvanka. Every third Thursday of May, people wear this traditional cloth as an expression of unity and national identity. In these difficult times, we stand with our Ukrainian friends," she wrote on Twitter.

European Parliament President Robert Metsola also wore a vyshyvanka as a sign of support and solidarity with Ukraine.

"Today, on Vyshyvanka Day, I join Ukrainians around the world in their tradition to wear a vyshyvanka. Ukrainians' fight for freedom is our fight too," she wrote on Twitter.

Russia says more than 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered in Mariupol

Russia claimed Thursday that more than 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol this week. There was no independent confirmation of where they were taken.

Moscow says most have been taken to prison colonies in Russian-controlled territory, while the injured are in hospital.

The Red Cross has registered hundreds of prisoners of war from the steelworks, including wounded.

Kyiv hopes to get the soldiers back through a prisoner swap, while Moscow threatens to charge some with war crimes.

DW correspondent in Ukraine, Mathias Bölinger, says it is unclear how this prisoner exchange will take place.

According to Bölinger, Russia now has very strong negotiating power because Ukraine wants these soldiers back alive.

Prisoners give Russia 'a lot of leverage'

Stoltenberg expects quick admission of Finland and Sweden despite Turkey

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg believes Sweden and Finland will quickly be accepted into the military alliance, despite Turkey's temporary veto.

"I am confident that we will come to a quick decision to welcome Finland and Sweden into the NATO family," Stoltenberg said on Thursday at a joint press conference with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Copenhagen.

But the NATO chief also stressed that "the security interests and concerns of all allies must be taken into account."

Even if Turkey continues to block Sweden's admission, there will be no separate procedure for Finland, Stoltenberg said. "Sweden and Finland have applied together. We are treating this as a collective procedure."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Ankara's stance against allowing the two Nordic countries to join the NATO alliance in a video on Thursday.

Johnson and Zelenskyy discussed military support and global food security

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday. The leaders discussed a range of issues, including military support and global food security, the prime minister’s office said.

Zelenskyy provided an update on the situation in the Donbas, while Johnson stressed his admiration for the brave defenders of Mariupol and urged Russia to treat any prisoners of war with dignity and respect.

Noting the recent announcement of an additional £1.3 billion (€1.5 billion) in UK military aid for Ukraine, Johnson set out the support flowing to Ukraine’s defence, including long-range artillery, shore-to-ship missiles and unmanned drones.

Johnson also raised his concerns about the growing global fallout from Russia’s illegal invasion and blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, including rising food prices in developing countries.

According to Zelenskyy's tweet, the leaders discussed ways to export agricultural products from Ukraine and import fuel to Ukraine.

Germany pledges around €1 billion for Ukraine's budget

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner announced an additional €1 billion for Ukraine's budget during the G7 summit being held near the German city of Bonn on Thursday.

The money will come out of Germany's 2022 budget rather than from loans. It aims to support Kyiv's finances hit by the war. Other G7 states have also pledged support, the minister said.

"We have to secure the liquidity of the Ukrainian state," Lindner said at the summit.

McDonald's finds buyer for its 850 restaurants in Russia

Days after announcing that it was selling all of its restaurants in Russia, following the invasion of Ukraine, McDonald's said on Thursday that it had found a local buyer.

Three decades after the famous golden arches first appeared in Moscow, a sign of the Soviet Union's opening up to the West, the fast-food chain is exiting entirely from Russia.

The company said that Alexander Govor, the owner of 25 restaurants in Siberia, has agreed to purchase all the company's restaurants with the view to operating them under a different name. Govor agreed to keep on all 62,000 employees of the chain for at least two years.

A young woman walks past a closed McDonald's restaurant in Tverskaya Street in Moscow
The deal is expected to be completed within a few weeksImage: Valery Sharifulin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine asks for 'forgiveness'

The first Russian soldier to face trial for war crimes committed during the invasion of Ukraine asked for forgiveness in a court in Kyiv on Thursday.

The 21-year-old sergeant pleaded guilty on Wednesday. On Thursday he explained how he ended up shooting a civilian in the head.

He and other soldiers were retreating back to their units and hijacked a civilian car.

"On our way as we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone. He said he would give us up," the soldier said.

He said another soldier told him to shoot the man. "He started to say in a forceful tone that I should shoot," he told the court. "He said I would be putting us in danger if I didn't. I shot him at short range. It killed him."

The widow of the 62-year-old civilian was also in court. The defendant addressed her, saying: "I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness."

The prosecution has called for the soldier to be given a life sentence, AFP news agency reported.

Widow of civilian sat behind Russian soldier who killed her husband
The murdered civilian's widow has said his killer should 'rot in jail'Image: Jamie Wiseman/Solo Syndication/Daily Mail/picture alliance

Turkey 'determined' to block Sweden and Finland's NATO bids

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yet again emphasized Ankara's stance against allowing the two Nordic countries to join the NATO alliance in a video on Thursday.

He has threatened to block the bid over what he considers support for Kurdish groups branded as "terrorists" by the Turkish government.

He picked out Sweden specifically, calling it "a complete terror focus, a complete terror haven."

"We will continue this policy in a determined fashion and we told relevant parties that we will say 'no' to Finland and Sweden joining NATO," Erdogan said.

Nevertheless, the US has expressed its confidence that Turkey's objections can be overcome and that the two Nordic states will soon be part of the alliance.

Turkey blocked the beginning of talks on Wednesday hours after Sweden and Finland handed in their joint bids. The two formally neutral countries changed course following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

EU lawmakers back sanctions against German ex-chancellor

The European Parliament is urging sanctions against former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder because of his business and political ties to Russia.

The EU legislature passed a resolution on Thursday that said sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine should be extended "to the European members of the boards of major Russian companies and to politicians who continue to receive Russian money."

Schröder, who was chancellor from 1998 to 2005 before working for the pipeline company Nord Stream and Russia's Gazprom, has been under fire in Germanyfor his ties to Russian firms and President Vladimir Putin.

The EU parliament's call for sanctions follows a decision by Berlin to cut back Schröder's special rights as an ex-chancellor.

That decision was taken by Germany's ruling coalition, led by the Social Democrats — the party to which Schröder himself belongs.

Kyiv bemoans ‘second class treatment’ by some EU capitals

Ukraine's foreign minister has criticized the "second-class treatment" of Kyiv by some EU countries  

The comments came after Germany said the country's bid to join the bloc cannot be accelerated.  

"Strategic ambiguity on Ukraine's European perspective practiced by some EU capitals in the past years has failed and must end," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.  

He added that this had "only emboldened" Russian President Vladimir Putin. Such treatment, Kuleba said, had "hurt feelings of Ukrainians." 

Earlier on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there could be "no shortcuts" to Ukraine's EU membership. He said this would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership. 

German air force flies out wounded Ukrainians

The German military has conducted another air evacuation of war-wounded Ukrainians from Poland to Germany for medical treatment.

A special A310 MedEvac aircraft took off from Cologne, Germany, on Thursday, the German air force announced on Twitter. 

So far, the air force has flown out 111 patients via this route aboard the specially-equipped plane that allows them to be treated in the air by medical personnel.

This time, the air force said, the patients were to be flown to Hamburg.

Red Cross registering and tracking Azovstal POWs 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has registered hundreds of prisoners of war (POWs) from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. 

The besieged metalworks were the last bastion of resistance in the port city, and Russia says some 1,730 fighters have surrendered since Monday.  

The ICRC says it started registering Ukrainian POWs, which included wounded fighters, on Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine. 

As part of the process, the ICRC records information from the individuals to keep track of those who have been captured. The organization said it was not transporting the POWs to the places where they are being held. 

The Russians have taken at least some of the captured soldiers to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. 

Russia said on Thursday that 771 fighters holed up at the steelworks had surrendered to its forces in the past 24 hours.  

Kyiv says it has ordered the soldiers of the Mariupol garrison to stand down. 

Scholz tells Bundestag EU solidarity is crucial

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has delivered a statement to the German parliament ahead of a special EU summit on the war in Ukraine. Scholz has faced criticism over his approach to the conflict, derided by critics as weak. 

Scholz called the war in Ukraine the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history and a "turning point in history." But said that European solidarity was the counterweight to autocracy in Russian leader Vladimir Putin's Russia. 

"The greater the pressure from the outside, the more we join forces as the European Union and act together." 

In his address, Scholz said Putin would only be prepared to discuss peace when he realized that Russia could not break Ukraine's defenses. 

"Peace is only something we can take for granted if we are prepared to defend it. This is the lesson that we have learned from the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine." 

The extraordinary EU summit on May 30 and 31 is expected to focus on the war in Ukraine and its consequences.

Possible topics for heads of state and government who are to meet in Brussels are a planned oil embargo against Russia and the EU Commission's longer-term plan to wean the bloc off Russian fossil fuels.

They could also discuss the prospect of Ukraine joining the EU, although a decision on the country's candidate status is to be made in June at the earliest.

Scholz: 'Russia will not dictate a peace'

Ukraine says Russian attacks stay focused on Donbas

Ukraine's General Staff says Russia's attacks targeting new territory in the Donbas have been without major success and that, in some cases, Russian fighters have suffered setbacks.

In a report on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said Moscow-backed forces had "suffered significant losses" around the settlement of Velyka Komyshuvakha, in the north of the Donetsk region.

The General Staff also said that despite heavy fighting in the Luhansk region — including ground offensives supported by Russian aircraft — Moscow had failed to gain much ground.

Late on Wednesday, the Ukrainian army announced that it had made further territorial gains in the Kharkiv region. It said Ukrainian forces had regained control of the village of Dementievka, near the Russian border, in an advance to the north of Kharkiv, which is Ukraine's second city.

G7 ministers aim to work out Ukraine aid plan

Finance ministers from G7 nations are gathering in Königswinter in western Germany to coordinate a response to assist Ukraine.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has asked other G7 nations to "join us in increasing their financial support."

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner told German newspaper Die Welt before the meeting that the G7 had to "assure Ukraine's solvency within the next days, few weeks."

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that Japan planned to double its fiscal support for Ukraine to $600 million (€572 million). 

US Senate confirms Bridget Brink as ambassador to Ukraine

Bridget Brink was confirmed by the US Senate to be the ambassador to Ukraine late Wednesday. The post has been vacant for three years.

Career diplomat Brink was previously the US envoy to Slovakia and previously had roles including as an expert in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus for the State Department in Washington. She was also deputy ambassador in Uzbekistan and Georgia.

The vote to confirm Brink was unanimous.

 The US State Department had previously announced it was reopening its Kyiv embassy, which had been closed due to Russia's invasion.

US diplomats were relocated to Poland and some were temporarily in Lviv in western Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy says the war will be long

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought to prepare the Ukrainian public for a long war in their country during his nightly video address late Wednesday.

He told the Ukrainian people, "Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, Enerhodar, Mariupol and all our cities and towns that are under occupation, under temporary occupation, should know that Ukraine will return.”

He said, however, that battlefield conditions would determine how long it takes for the territory to be back under Ukrainian control.

"We are trying to do it as soon as possible. We are committed to driving out the occupiers and guaranteeing Ukraine real security,” Zelenskyy said from Kyiv.

Ukraine extended martial law and the mass mobilization by 90 days until August 23.

Zelenskyy: Russia fired over 2,000 missiles

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia fired more than 2,000 missiles at his country since February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

During his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said most of the missiles had hit civilian infrastructure without bringing about any strategic advantage.

Russian missiles struck the southern cities of Mikolaiv and Dnipro in the last day, Zelenskyy said.

What happened in Russia's war on Ukraine on Wednesday

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it is expelling scores of diplomats from several European countries in a retaliatory move to their expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel. Those expelled include 34 French, 27 Spanish and 24 Italian diplomats.

Russia also withdrew the visas and press credentials of Canada's CBC and Radio Canada journalists and is shutting the organization's Moscow bureau.

Germany will donate 15 tanks to the Czech armed forces as part of a program under which Berlin aimed to help countries pass their stocks of Soviet weaponry to Ukraine. The Czechs have given Ukraine Soviet-era heavy weapons worth at least $130 million (€124 million) and are in talks with Germany about purchasing up to 50 more new Leopard A7+ tanks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed extra aid to Ukraine this year of up to nine billion euros ($9.5 billion). She said the fund would help the country cope with the ravages of war.

The EU also intends to mobilize up to €300 billion of investment by 2030 to end the bloc's reliance on Russian oil and gas. The investments will include €10 billion for gas infrastructure, €2 billion for oil, and the rest for clean energy, von der Leyen told reporters.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said sanctions against Russia had an enormous impact, but Russia said its economy was showing resilience. Russia Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, though, was confident that inflation in Russia would slow down further, adding that Russia had withstood the first hit from sanctions.

The US also set up a new monitoring body to build legal cases against Russia for crimes committed during its war against Ukraine and reopened its embassy in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

In February, the embassy was closed, and diplomatic personnel "temporarily relocated" to Lviv in western Ukraine. Many western countries, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom have reopened their embassies in Kyiv over the past month, after Russian troops pulled back from the city to focus on an offensive in the east of the country.

As a result of unease due to Russia's war in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden submitted applications to join NATO, though Turkey moved to block the start of their NATO accession talks while making a series of military and political demands.

US President Joe Biden said he expects Finland and Sweden will join NATO. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the bid of the two Nordic nations to join the alliance would make "probably not much difference.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was in "intense contact" with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States and the European Union to try and restore Ukrainian grain shipments and revive Russian fertilizer exports.

Catch up on all Wednesday's events surrounding the war in Ukraine. 

ab, rc, ar/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters