- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to U.S. Congress in virtual address, makes urgent call for more help in battle against Russian invasion.
- Biden offers additional U.S. aid to Ukraine as representatives from Russia, Ukraine signal some optimism around talks.
- Journalist Marina Ovsyannikova fined after protesting Russia’s war in Ukraine on state TV.
- Ukrainian tourist stuck in limbo in Canada — unable to return home, unable to work here.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-armour weapons and drones to Ukraine to assist in its defence against Russia.
The president’s comments came as he formally announced his administration was sending an additional $800 million US in military assistance to Ukraine, making a total of $2 billion in such aid sent to Kyiv since Biden took office more than a year ago. About $1 billion in aid has been sent in just the last week.
“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,” Biden said.
Biden spoke hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a video address to members of the U.S. Congress.
Zelensky cited Pearl Harbor and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on Wednesday as he appealed to the U.S. to do more to help push back against Russian forces.
“We need you right now,” Zelensky said in remarks live-streamed at the U.S. Capitol.
Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation as he appeared on the video screen, where he spoke first through a translator and then in a direct appeal in English.
“I need to protect our sky,” he said through a translator, calling for help from the U.S. in establishing a no-fly zone.
Ukrainian people are fighting not only for their country, he said — they are fighting for the values of Europe and the world.
As with his address to Canadian members of Parliament on Tuesday, Zelensky thanked the U.S. for its support to date. But the help that’s been offered so far is not enough to beat back the Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24.
“I call on you to do more,” the embattled president said, calling for new sanctions every week until the Russian military stops. In particular, he called for sanctions on all politicians in Russia who remain in office and do not cut ties with those responsible for the war in Ukraine.
He showed a packed auditorium of lawmakers a graphic video of the destruction and devastation his country has suffered in the war, along with heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties.
Nowhere has suffered more than Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine. Local officials say missile strikes and shelling have killed more than 2,300 people. Bodies have been buried in trenches, and more corpses lay in the streets and in a hospital basement.
Russian demands becoming ‘more realistic’
Meanwhile, Zelensky said Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic” after the two countries’ delegations met Tuesday via video.
“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he said in his video address to his country.” Any war ends with an agreement.”
He said Russian forces had been unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory but had continued their heavy shelling of cities.
On Wednesday, a Ukrainian negotiator said his country’s position at peace talks with Russia is quite specific, with demands including a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops that must be discussed in direct talks between the two countries’ presidents.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, said earlier in the day that a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” at the “businesslike” talks.
Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said the sides were discussing a possible compromise for a Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned military.
Prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were highly uncertain, however, given the gulf between Ukraine’s demand that the invading forces withdraw completely and Russia’s suspected aim of replacing Kyiv’s West-leaning government with a pro-Moscow regime.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday ordered Russia to cease military actions in Ukraine immediately in a preliminary decision in a case brought by Kyiv.
“The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on Feb 24, 2022, on the territory of Ukraine,” judges at the UN’s highest court said in a 13-2 decision.
Although the court’s rulings are binding, it has no direct means of enforcing them and in rare cases countries have ignored them in the past.
What’s happening on the ground?
- Shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-storey apartment building in central Kyiv on Wednesday, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire that sent plumes of smoke over the area, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency. The neighbouring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without saying if they were injured or killed.
- The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said on Wednesday that Russian forces had shot and killed 10 people waiting in line for bread in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. “Such horrific attacks must stop. We are considering all available options to ensure accountability for any atrocity crimes in Ukraine,” the embassy said. The embassy did not cite what evidence it had of the attack in a statement posted on its official Twitter site and on its Facebook page.
- In Kharkiv, a powerful explosion thundered overnight that was heard across the eastern city.
- Russian forces on Wednesday continued pounding Mariupol, the encircled southern seaport of 430,000 that has been under attack for almost all of the three-week war in a siege that has left people struggling for food, water, heat and medicine and has forced the digging of mass graves. An Associated Press video showed bloody civilians, some moaning in pain, lying on stretchers in a hospital hallway while corpses lined a wall outside.
- Ukraine’s president said 28,893 civilians were able to flee through nine humanitarian corridors in the past day, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol.
- In neighbouring Poland, which has taken nearly two million people from Ukraine, authorities on Wednesday began issuing national identification numbers to the refugees so they can access social services and benefits, and more easily find jobs.
- What questions do you have about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Russian forces have intensified fighting in the Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading west toward Zhytomyr, the head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba said.
He said Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities even as they plan a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv. Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.
Russia has occupied the city of Ivankiv, 80 kilometres north of Kyiv, and controls the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Kuleba said.
Across the Kyiv region, he said, “Kindergartens, museums, churches, residential blocks and engineering infrastructure are suffering from the endless firing.”
A senior U.S. defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said Tuesday the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country.
The official said Russian troops were still about 15 kilometres from the centre of the capital.
International pressure against Moscow has been mounting, and its isolation grew as the 47-nation Council of Europe —the continent’s human rights body — expelled Russia. And the International Court of Justice ordered it to stop attacking Ukraine, though there was little hope it would comply.
Zelensky signals Ukraine unlikely to enter NATO
Russian and Ukrainian representatives held talks on Monday and Tuesday. A key adviser to the Ukrainian president has said they were expected to continue Wednesday.
In a statement that seemed to signal potential grounds for agreement with Moscow, Zelensky told European leaders gathered in London that he realizes NATO has no intention of accepting Ukraine.
“We have heard for many years about the open doors, but we also heard that we can’t enter those doors,” he said. “This is the truth, and we have simply to accept it as it is.”
NATO does not admit nations with unsettled territorial conflicts. Zelensky has repeatedly said he realizes NATO isn’t going to offer membership to Ukraine and that he could consider a neutral status for his country but needs strong security guarantees from both the West and Russia.
The UN said close to 700 civilians in Ukraine have been confirmed killed, with the true figure probably much higher. Zelensky told Canadian MPs in a video address on Tuesday that 97 children had been killed to date.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday again ruled out any role for the military organization in setting up or policing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect against Russian airstrikes.