Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks of Donbas 'hell' as Russian soldier on trial asks for 'forgiveness'

Ukraine's president says the country's Donbas region has been "completely destroyed", while prosecutors have asked for the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes to be jailed for life.

Emergency workers investigating a destroyed building.

A destroyed residential building in Bakhmur, Donbas, Ukraine. Source: AAP, SIPA USA / Andoni Lubaki

Ukraine's industrial Donbas region, the focus of recent Russian offensives, has been destroyed, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said as some of the world's richest countries pledged to bolster Kyiv with billions of dollars.

Since turning away from Ukraine's capital, Russia is using massed artillery and armour to try to capture more territory in the Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

"The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there - and that is not an exaggeration," Mr Zelenskyy said in a late Thursday address.

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"(There are) constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. The Donbas is completely destroyed," he said.
Three people looking at a destroyed residential building.
A destroyed house in Bakhmur, Donbas, Ukraine. Source: AAP, SIPA USA / Andoni Lubaki
Moscow calls its invasion a "special military operation" to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

As the invasion nears the three-month mark, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved nearly US$40 billion ($57 billion) in new aid for Ukraine, by far the largest US aid package to date.

The Group of Seven rich nations also agreed to provide Ukraine with US$18.4 billion ($26.2 billion). Ukraine said the money would speed up victory over Russia and was just as important as "the weapons you provide".

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters: "The message was, 'We stand behind Ukraine. We're going to pull together with the resources that they need to get through this'."

The White House is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia's naval blockade, officials said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using food as a weapon by holding "hostage" supplies for not just Ukrainians, but also millions around the world.

The war has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar.

In a further sign of Western action hurting the Russian economy, five foreign vice-presidents of Russia's Rosneft have resigned because of EU sanctions forbidding European citizens or Russians living in the EU to work at the oil company, sources said.

The EU said it is looking into ways of using the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine, while the United States has not ruled out possibly placing sanctions on countries that purchase Russian oil.

Russian soldier on trial asks for 'forgiveness'

Ukrainian prosecutors on Thursday requested a life sentence for the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes since the start of Moscow's invasion, journalist from news agency AFP who were in the courtroom reported.

The prosecution on Thursday asked the judge to sentence the 21-year-old Russian army sergeant to "life imprisonment" for killing 62-year-old civilian Oleksandr Shelipov in the first days of the Russian offensive.

The request came just a day after the landmark trial opened and as two other Russian soldiers were in court Thursday for crimes against civilians.

Kyiv says it has opened thousands of war crimes cases since .
A man with a neutral facial expression.
Captured Russian soldier, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is on trial in Ukraine. Source: Getty / Christopher Furlong
In court, Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin asked the victim's widow to forgive him and described how he shot the man dead in the opening days of Russia's invasion.

Addressing his victim's widow, Kateryna Shelipova, Mr Shishimarin said: "I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness."

He said he shot Mr Shelipov as he and several other Russian soldiers were retreating to rejoin their units in Russia, saying another soldier had put pressure on him to carry out the killing.

NATO division

But divisions have also been on show with Turkey opposed to , a move that would reverse generations of military non-alignment in the biggest European security shake-up in decades.

Ankara accuses the two Nordic states of harbouring Kurdish militants, but US President Joe Biden and European leaders said they were confident Turkey's concerns could be addressed.

Mr Biden, hosting Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the White House, told reporters: "I think we're going to be OK."

Niinisto said Finland would commit to Turkey's security, adding: "We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it."

The past week has seen Russia secure its biggest victory since the invasion began, with Kyiv announcing it had ordered its garrison in a steelworks in Mariupol to stand down, after a protracted siege.

Russian forces have, however, been pushed back this month from the outskirts of the second-largest city Kharkiv. Ukraine says it has recaptured 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the last two weeks.

In Mariupol, the ultimate outcome of the bloodiest battle in Europe for decades has remained unclear, with uncertainty over the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders.

Moscow said on Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered so far, including 771 in the past 24 hours.
Ukrainian officials, who have sought a prisoner swap, had declined to comment, saying it could endanger rescue efforts.

Late on Thursday, Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy head of the Azov Regiment defending the steelworks, released an 18-second video in which he said he and other commanders were still on the territory of the plant.

"A certain operation is going on, the details of which I will not disclose," he said.

The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it has registered hundreds of prisoners from the plant now held by Russia, but it has not given a precise number.

The leader of Russian-backed separatists in control of the area said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks.

The wounded were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were being treated well, he said.

US accuses Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding "hostage" the food supply for not just millions of Ukrainians, but also millions around the world who rely on Ukrainian exports.

"The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not, to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people," Mr Blinken said, addressing a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday.

"The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military."
Mr Blinken's comments came as Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president and now senior security official, said on Thursday the West should not expect Russia to continue food supplies if it slaps Moscow with devastating sanctions over Ukraine.

"Our country is ready to fulfil its obligations in full. But it also expects assistance from trading partners, including on international platforms," Mr Medvedev said on messaging app Telegram.

"Otherwise, there's no logic: on the one hand, insane sanctions are being imposed against us, on the other hand, they are demanding food supplies. Things don't work like that, we're not idiots," said Mr Medvedev.

"Countries importing our wheat and other food products will have a very difficult time without supplies from Russia. And on European and other fields, without our fertilisers, only juicy weeds will grow," added Mr Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012.
Ukraine Faces Off With Russia On Edges Of Kherson Oblast, Whose Capital Fell Early In War
Local government officials and a Ukrainian soldier inspect a grain warehouse shelled by Russian forces near the frontlines of Kherson Oblast in Novovorontsovka, Ukraine. Source: Getty / John Moore/Getty Images
"We have every opportunity to ensure that other countries have food, and food crises do not happen. Just don't interfere with our work."

Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine and a barrage of unprecedented international sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations.

Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Mr Blinken appealed to Russia to stop blockading Ukrainian ports. Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February to carry out what Moscow calls a "special military operation".

The war in Ukraine has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus — which has backed Moscow in its war in Ukraine — account for more than 40 per cent of global exports of potash, a crop nutrient.

"The decision to weaponise food is Moscow's and Moscow's alone," Mr Blinken said.

"As a result of the Russian government's actions some 20 million tons of grain sit unused in Ukrainian silos as global food supply dwindle, prices skyrocket, causing more around the world to experience food insecurity."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker a "package deal" that will allow Ukraine to resume food exports through the Black Sea and revive Russian food and fertiliser production to world markets.

"There is enough food for everyone in the world. The issue is distribution and it is deeply linked to the war in Ukraine," Mr Guterres told the council on Thursday.

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Published 20 May 2022 at 6:56am, updated 20 May 2022 at 5:50pm
Source: SBS, Reuters, AFP