The mayor of the besieged port city of Mariupol said Russian troops have buried as many as 9,000 civilians killed in the conflict in a nearby mass grave in order to cover up “military crimes.”
“The greatest war crime of the 21st century has been committed in Mariupol. This is the new Babi Yar,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said, referring to the site of multiple Nazi massacres in which nearly 34,000 Ukrainian Jews were killed in 1941.
Boychenko and the city council in Mariupol accused Russians of burying civilians killed in Manhush, about 12 miles west of Mariupol, in large trenches they had dug. He said “the bodies started disappearing from the streets of the city,” charging that the Russians were “hiding the trace of their crimes and using the mass grave as one of the instruments for that.”
“Then Hitler killed Jews, Roma and Slavs. And now Putin is destroying Ukrainians. He has already killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol,” Boychenko said. “This requires a strong reaction from the entire world. We need to stop the genocide by any means possible.”
Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor who is not currently in the city, posted satellite photos to Telegram claiming to show the growing mass grave, according to CNN. He said the graves appear about 100 feet deep. The accuracy of these claims and images could not be immediately verified.
The jarring claim came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted victory in the battle for Mariupol, even as hundreds of Ukrainian troops hold out in and around a sprawling steel plant in the city.
President Joe Biden pushed back on Putin’s claim, saying there isn’t evidence yet of a Russian victory. “It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There’s no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”
►A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 54% of Americans think President Joe Biden has been “not tough enough” in his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thirty-six percent think his approach has been about right, while 8% say he’s been too tough.
►Britain announced new sanctions on 26 companies and military leaders, including some generals accused of “committing atrocities” on the front lines. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the sanction targets “have blood on their hands.”
►Chinese leader Xi Jinping reaffirmed his rejection of sanctions for Russia and again refused to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He once again called for a negotiated settlement of the crisis.
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Russia bans VP Harris, Mark Zuckerberg from entering country
Russia announced it was barring more than two dozen high-profile Americans from entering the country, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg over U.S. sanctions and harsh criticism of the Kremlin.
In a statement on its website Thursday, the ministry said that the move came as a response to “ever-widening anti-Russian sanctions” brought on by the Biden administration. It claimed to be targeting top executives, public intellectuals and journalists shaping what it referred to as “the Russophobic narrative” prevailing in US public debate.
Alongside Harris and Zuckerberg, the ban includes top defense and justice officials; the CEOs of LinkedIn and Bank of America; high-profile foreign affairs commentators; as well as the editor of the Russia-focused Meduza news website.
In a statement Thursday, the ministry said that the travel bans would apply “in perpetuity” and that the sanctions list would be updated “shortly” in responsible to the “hostile actions” of Western authorities.
Similar restrictions were imposed on 61 Canadian citizens, similarly accused of spearheading “Russophobic” policies. Those sanctioned include Cameron Ahmad, director of communications to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Canadian Special Operations Forces Commander Steve Boivin.
Biden outlines new $800M military aid package for Ukraine
President Joe Biden announced additional military aid for Ukraine on Thursday totaling about $800 million, matching the same amount designated last week as Russia concentrates withering attacks on the eastern region of Donbas.
“We will never fail in our efforts to defend freedom and oppose tyranny,” Biden said from the White House Roosevelt Room.
The U.S. military aid to Ukraine includes 72 155mm howitzers, 72 trucks to tow them and 144,000 artillery rounds, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. The howitzers will outfit five Ukrainian artillery battalions specifically for fighting in the Donbas, Kirby said.
Also included are 121 Phoenix Ghost drones developed by the U.S. Air Force specifically for the Ukrainians, Kirby said. The drones have abilities to the Switchblade kamikaze drones, which are single-use, armed drones that fit in a backpack. They are designed with cameras, guidance systems and abort systems.
Biden said not all the U.S. assistance is being advertised.
“Sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large Javelin, because we’re sending a lot of those in as well,” Biden said, taking about surface-to-air Javelin missiles and playing off a famous line from President Theodore Roosevelt.
US bill for Ukraine military aid reaches $4B
The latest infusion of security assistance brings the total U.S. aid to Ukraine during Joe Biden’s presidency to about $4 billion, $3.4 billion of it since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Biden said more military help will be coming.
The U.S. also will provide $500 million more in financial assistance for Ukraine to sustain salaries, pensions and other government programs, Biden said. That is on top of $500 million committed for similar purposes last month. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday that “we know this is only the beginning of what Ukraine will need to rebuild.”
Second prisoner exchange conducted in 3 days
Nineteen Ukrainians were released from Russian captivity Thursday in a second prisoner swap to take place this week, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk said in a Facebook post.
“Today we bring home 19 people, including 10 military (including 2 officers) and 9 civilians,” she wrote. “This time there are wounded among the fired, and this is very important. Well now they will be able to get full treatment and go through a rehabilitation course.”
She credited President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “constant personal involvement” in the process. The release came two days after 76 Ukrainians, including 60 soldiers, were returned to their families. The number of Russian prisoners involved in the exchange was not released, but previous exchanges have involved equal numbers of Ukrainians and Russians.
Uniting for Ukraine program will provide temporary refuge in US
Ukrainians displaced by the war will be allowed to seek temporary refuge in the United States under a new program the Biden administration announced Thursday. President Joe Biden has promised the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Starting next week, Ukrainians can apply for a streamlined approval process to enter the United States for up to two years under the Uniting for Ukraine program.
To qualify, they must have been a resident of Ukraine as of Feb. 11 and have a U.S sponsor. They also will be required to undergo a background check, pass biometric screenings and complete vaccinations and meet other public health requirements.
People who want to sponsor a refugee must undergo background screenings to make sure they are able to support the refugees and won’t exploit or abuse them.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine has surpassed 5 million and continues to rise. Another 7.7 million have been displaced within the country, the U.N. says.
Russian ships banned from US ports
The U.S. will ban Russian ships from U.S. ports in retaliation for the war in Ukraine. No ship that sails under the Russian flag or that is owned or operated by Russian interests will be allowed to dock in a U.S. port or access U.S. shores, President Joe Biden said Thursday. Biden said the ban would further deny Russia “the benefits of international economic system that they so enjoyed in the past.”
Earlier this month, the European Union banned Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from accessing ports in its 27-nation bloc but provided exemptions for agricultural and food products, humanitarian aid and energy. The United Kingdom and Canada also have banned Russian ships from their ports.
Putin claims victory in Mariupol
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol on Thursday and canceled plans to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in a sprawling steel plant. Putin called the military effort to liberate Mariupol a “success” and urged Ukrainian troops holed up in the Azovstal plant to surrender, promising “decent treatment” for all and medical attention to the wounded. He ordered Russian troops to blockade the plant.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained inside the Azovstal steel plant.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” Putin said. “Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot fly through.”
Biden, responding to a question from a reporter Thursday, pushed back at Putin’s claims.
“It’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “There’s no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”
Contributing: The Associated Press