Monday, May 23, 2022

Ukraine urges halt to Russia's assault as Biden heads to Poland

Ukraine urges halt to Russia's assault as Biden heads to Poland

KYIV (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday that Ukrainians "need to achieve peace" and halt Russian bombardment that has forced millions to flee to countries like Poland, where US President Joe Biden is due to witness the crisis first hand.

On the heels of leaders' summits in Brussels that aimed to show a united Western front against Russia's month-long invasion of its neighbour, Biden goes to Poland on Friday to meet experts involved in the refugee response.

Western leaders denounced Moscow's invasion as barbaric and promised new military and humanitarian aid after Thursday's talks in Brussels, while the United States and Britain expanded sanctions to new targets. 

Japan followed suit on Friday, saying it would ratchet up its sanctions and strip Russia of most favoured nation trade status. Australia sanctioned Russian ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and members of his family, and 22 Russian individuals, who it called "propagandists and disinformation operatives."

The Russian invasion, which President Vladimir Putin calls a "special operation", has killed thousands of people, sent 3.6 million abroad and driven more than half of Ukraine's children from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Zelenskiy said he had made appeals to Western leaders "all for one reason - so that Russia understands that we need to achieve peace. Russia also needs to achieve peace."

"Every day we defend, we get closer to the peace we need so much ... and you can't stop for a minute. Because every minute is about our destiny, it is about our future. About whether we live."

The new Western aid stopped short of Zelenskiy's pleas for a full boycott of Russian energy and a no-fly zone over Ukraine where Moscow's bombs have blasted some residential areas into wastelands.

But in a significant escalation in the lethal aid on offer, a senior US administration official said the United States and its allies were working on supporting Ukraine with anti-ship missiles that could threaten Russian operations in the south.

Ukraine said its forces destroyed a large Russian landing ship at the southern port of Berdyansk. Video footage showed fire and an explosion, and two vessels, one of which appeared to have been damaged, were seen sailing away as a third burned.

Russia did not respond to requests for comment and Reuters could not confirm if it was the Orsk landing ship on fire.

Russia has so far failed to capture any major Ukrainian city in an assault it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy Ukraine's military capabilities.

Russia's shelling has been relentless but its armoured columns have barely moved in weeks, stalled near the capital Kyiv.

Ukraine says Russian forces have taken heavy casualties and are low on supplies, and US officials told Reuters that Russia is suffering failure rates as high as 60% for some of its precision-guided missiles.