Polish and Baltic presidents visit Ukraine in show of support

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Presidents of four countries on Russia’s doorstep visited Ukraine on Wednesday and underscored their support for the beleaguered country, where they saw badly damaged buildings and demanded accountability for what they called war crimes committed by Russian forces.

The visit of the Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian presidents was a strong show of solidarity from the leaders of the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, including three such as Ukraine which was once part of the Soviet Union. They traveled by train to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to meet Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy and visited Borodyanka, one of the towns near kyiv where evidence of atrocities was found after Russian troops withdrew to focus on the east of the country.

“The fight for the future of Europe is taking place here,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said, calling for tougher sanctions, including against Russian oil and gas shipments and all banks in the country.

Elsewhere, in one of the most pivotal battles of the war, Russia said more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops had moved into the beleaguered southern port of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces held out in pockets of the city . A Ukrainian official denied this claim, which could not be verified.

Russia invaded on February 24 with the aim, according to Western officials, of taking kyiv, overthrowing the government and installing a favorable one for Moscow. But the ground advance slowly stalled and Russia lost potentially thousands of fighters in seven weeks of war. The conflict has killed countless Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee. The fighting has also shaken the global economy, threatened global food supplies and upset the European post-Cold War balance.

A day after calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine ‘genocide’, Biden approved $800 million in new military aid to Ukraine, saying western weapons have supported Ukraine’s fight so far and “we can’t rest now”. Weapons include artillery systems, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, among others.

Appearing alongside Zelenskyy in an ornate hall of Kyiv’s historic Mariinskyi Palace on Tuesday, European leaders – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Estonian President Alar Karis, Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Latvia’s Egils Levits – reiterated their pledges to support the Ukraine politically and with transfers of military equipment helps.

Duda described what is happening not as a war but as “terrorism”.

“Those who commit war crimes…they must be brought to justice,” he continued, saying that accountability must extend not only to soldiers who committed atrocities, but also to those who gave the orders,” Duda said. “We know this story. We know what the Russian occupation means. We know what Russian terrorism means.

An expert report commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe revealed “clear patterns of violations (of international humanitarian law) by Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities”. The report was written by experts selected by Ukraine and released on Wednesday by the Vienna-based organization that promotes security and human rights.

The report said there were also violations by Ukraine, but concluded that those committed by Russia “are far greater in scale and nature.”

Ukraine has previously acknowledged there may be “isolated incidents” of violations and said it would investigate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his troops committed any atrocities and insisted on Tuesday that Russia “had no choice” but to invade. He said the offensive was aimed at protecting residents of parts of eastern Ukraine and “ensuring Russia’s own security”. He swore that he would “continue until its complete completion and the fulfillment of the tasks which have been set”.

He insisted that Russia’s campaign was going according to plan despite a major withdrawal after his forces failed to take the capital. and suffered significant losses.

Following these setbacks, Russian troops are now preparing for a major offensive in the eastern region of Donbass, where Moscow-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. . Military strategists say Moscow believes local support, logistics and terrain in the region favor its larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing Russia to turn the tide in its favor.

A key part of the Russian campaign is Mariupol, which is in the Donbass and which the Russians have beaten since almost the start of the war. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak tweeted that the city’s defenders were running out of supplies but were “fighting under bombs for every meter of the city”.

The spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major General. Igor Konashenkov said 1,026 soldiers from the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade went to a metal factory in the city. But Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, dismissed that claim, telling Current Time TV “the battle for the seaport is still going on today.”

It is not known when the surrender may have taken place or how many forces were still defending Mariupol.

According to the BBC, Aiden Aslin, a Briton fighting in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol, called his mother and a friend to tell her that he and his comrades had run out of food, ammunition and other supplies and that they would surrender.

Russian state television on Wednesday aired footage it said came from the port city showing dozens of men in camouflage uniforms walking with their hands in the air and carrying others on stretchers or in chair wedges. A man held a white flag on a stick in one hand and the handle of a stretcher in the other. In the background was a large industrial building with its windows shattered and roof missing, identified by the broadcaster as Iliich’s metallurgy.

Another Zelenskyy adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, did not comment on the surrender demand, but said in a Twitter post that elements of the same brigade had managed to join other Ukrainian forces in the city at the following a “risky maneuver”.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the country was investigating an allegation that a drone dropped a toxic substance on the city. She said it was possible that phosphorus ammunition was used in Mariupol.

Biden said it would be up to lawyers to decide whether Russia’s conduct met the international standard for genocide.

French President Emmanuel Macron declined to use the word but said “it is established that war crimes were committed by the Russian military”.

An International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes is underway in Ukraine, including into the atrocities revealed after Moscow’s withdrawal from the Kyiv region, where Ukrainian authorities say more than 720 people were killed, with 403 bodies found in the town of Bucha alone.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who visited Bucha, said in a tweet on Wednesday that Ukraine “is a crime scene” and that the court must “pierce the fog of war” to determine what that happened.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there was no chance at the moment of a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine, as sought by the UN.

Residents of Yahidne, a village near the northern city of Chernihiv, said Russian troops forced them to stay for almost a month in a school basementonly allowing them to go to the toilet, cook on open fires and bury those who died in a mass grave.

In one of the rooms, the residents wrote the names of those who perished during the ordeal. The list had 18 people.

“An old man died near me, then his wife died afterwards,” said resident Valentyna Saroyan. “Then a man died who was lying there, then a woman sitting next to me. … She died too. Another old man looked so healthy that he was doing exercises, but then he sat down and fell. That was it.”

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Stashevskyi reported from Yahidne, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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