US to ship $775 million arms package to Ukraine

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The United States will send another arms package to Ukraine, including long-range artillery munitions used to devastating effect on Russian forces, according to a senior defense official.

The $775 million aid package includes ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which have been used with flying colors by Ukrainian forces, said the official, who spoke on on condition of anonymity in accordance with guidelines established by the Pentagon. Rockets with a range of over 40 miles were used to destroy Russian command posts, ammunition depots and logistics centers.

The Russian military advance, which began in February, has stalled. Ukrainian attacks are weakening Russian positions but have not yet recaptured territory, the official said.

The military aid package includes drones, conventional artillery munitions and mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to protect Ukrainian troops from Russian roadside bombs, the official said.

The United States has provided $12.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014, including more than $10 billion last year.

Latest developments:

►About 1,100 people in two villages in the Russian region of Belgorod, on the northeastern border of Ukraine, were evacuated on Thursday evening after a fire at an ammunition depot. There were no casualties, Belgorod Region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Friday.

►A Russian cargo ship that Ukraine claims has stolen wheat from territory seized by Russia appears to have reached Tartous, a Syrian port, according to satellite images analyzed by The Associated Press. Another ship recently docked in Syria with legally purchased Ukrainian maize as part of a United Nations effort to tackle a global food crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

►A major Russian gas pipeline will be closed for three days of maintenance at the end of the month, the state energy company Gazprom announced on Friday. The shutdown increases economic pressure on Germany and other European countries that rely on fuel to power industry, generate electricity and heat homes.

►No breakthrough appears to have come out of Thursday’s meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the conflict with Russia nears an endless six months in seen.

►In the tense international climate created by the war, Russia has deployed fighter jets carrying advanced hypersonic missiles to its Kaliningrad region, which is surrounded by two NATO countries, Poland and Lithuania.

Response to Ukrainian refugees should be a model, says UN refugee chief

Europe’s reception of millions of Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion has shown that it is possible to accommodate large numbers of asylum seekers, and the approach should be replicated to accommodate those fleeing other countries, the head of the UN refugee agency told The Associated Press.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called the EU’s response “exemplary”, noting that nearly 4 million Ukrainians have registered with the bloc’s emergency protection system since first activated at the start of the war almost six months ago. It allows Ukrainians to move around the block, work and access housing, education and health care.

“If it’s possible for so many people, and since it’s proven to be so effective, why not use some of these approaches also for other people who come knocking on Europe’s doors?” Grandi asked.

Grandi called the distinction that some European leaders have tried to draw between Ukrainians and other refugees “racist”. Some leaders have made efforts to prevent African and Middle Eastern migrants from entering Europe.

Russia on Friday ordered staff members of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to stay at home amid growing tensions over the possibility that a military conflict near the plant could lead to a nuclear disaster.

Russia ordered the facility to limit staff on Friday to those who operate the plant’s electrical units, Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, Energoatom, said in a statement. The company also said it had information that Russian forces were planning to turn off the electrical units at the plant and disconnect them from the Ukrainian power grid.

Such a move would deprive the country of a major source of electricity as the plant accounted for about half of the electricity generated by nuclear power in Ukraine before the war.

Russian troops retook the Zaporizhzhia power plant in southern Ukraine, one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world, shortly after invading the country in February. Ukraine and Russia have since accused each other of risking nuclear fallout by bombing the plant.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN chief Antonio Guterres agreed on terms for an International Atomic Energy Agency trip to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to the website presidential.

The United States is ‘deeply concerned’ about Russia’s continued control of the plant, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, calling for the IAEA to be allowed to monitor safety and security of the central. But it is not certain that the Kremlin will accept a visit from the IAEA.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev rejected a proposal to demilitarize the area around the plant, Reuters reported. Nechayev told a briefing that Russian troops are keeping the plant running smoothly and that the demilitarization proposals would make the facility “even more vulnerable”.

During a visit to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa on Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there were “signs that global food markets are starting to stabilize” after a deal led by the United Nations to facilitate the transport of Ukrainian grain.

“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I have been clear: there is no solution to the global food crisis without ensuring full global access to Ukrainian food products and Russian food and fertilizers,” he added. António Guterres during a press conference.

Guterres said more than 560,000 metric tons of grain and other Ukrainian foodstuffs were transported to world markets, adding that wheat prices fell by 8% after the UN agreement. Yet he warned that supply chains are still disrupted and food prices remain “very high”.

Russian missile fire that began Wednesday evening and continued Thursday morning in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv left at least 17 people dead and 42 injured, Ukrainian authorities said.

A dormitory housing deaf Ukrainians was destroyed in the attack. President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack “despicable and cynical”.

The Russian military also claimed to have hit a foreign mercenary base in Kharkiv, killing 90 people, although Ukraine did not immediately confirm.

Meanwhile, on Russian soil near the Ukrainian border, an ammunition depot caught fire in a village in the Belgorod region, the regional governor said. No casualties were reported.

Contribute: The Associated Press

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