Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russians launching large-scale offensive in Luhansk region
(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.
The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Jun 20, 4:17 pm
Kremlin spokesperson addresses missing Americans, Brittney Griner
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told MSNBC that Americans Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander Drueke, who were captured while fighting in Ukraine, “committed crimes,” and that they were not part of the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore not subject to the Geneva Conventions.
“They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel, they were endangering their life and they should be responsible. They should be held responsible … for those crimes that they have committed,” he said.
The Geneva Conventions outline the humanitarian rights given to prisoners of war, however, mercenaries are not given the same protections.
Regarding WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, Peskov said she’s not a hostage.
He said Russia has strict drug laws and she was caught carrying banned substances.
Griner was taken into custody at an airport near Moscow after officials allegedly found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her bag. Hasish oil is illegal to possess in Russia. The U.S. government has classified her case as “wrongfully detained,” which means that the U.S. would work to negotiate her release.
Jun 20, 4:09 pm
Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador with UNHCR, visits Ukraine
Actor Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the last five years, is visiting Ukraine to highlight the refugee crisis.
“I’m here meeting people forced to flee their homes due to the war in Ukraine. People have shared stories about how the war has changed their lives — how they’ve lost everything and are deeply worried about their future,” Stiller said Monday from Ukraine.
“Protecting people forced to flee is a collective global responsibility,” he said. “We have to remember this could happen to anyone, anywhere.”
Stiller was seen meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday.
Stiller also met with displaced people in Poland.
-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou
Jun 20, 2:10 pm
Russians launching large-scale offensive in Luhansk region
Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Regional Military Administration in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, said the situation along the entire Luhansk front is “extremely” difficult with Russian forces “launching a large-scale offensive in our region.”
“They have accumulated a sufficient number of reserves and today all the free settlements of the region are on fire,” Haidai said.
The city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Oblast has been coming under “massive” Russian fire all day, he said, with the number of victims unknown. He said Russian forces are advancing along the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway and nearby settlements are under constant fire.
Haidai added that Ukrainian troops are only in control of the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk.
Jun 20, 6:31 am
‘Historic week’ begins for Ukraine, Zelenskyy says
Monday marks the beginning of a “truly historic week” for Ukraine, as the country awaits a decision on its future within the European Union, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during his Sunday evening address.
“We will hear the answer from the European Union on the candidate status for Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. Last week, the European Commission backed Ukraine for EU candidate status. Now it is up to the European Council to confirm Ukraine’s status, with a decision expected by the end of this week, the Ukrainian president said.
“I am convinced that only a positive decision meets the interests of the whole of Europe,” Zelenskyy said.
He added that Ukraine — and other European countries — should expect increased hostility from Russia in the coming week.
“We are preparing. We are ready. We warn partners,” he said.
But as combat units from both sides of the conflict remain committed to intense combat in the Donbas, they are likely experiencing dips in morale, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense stated in a Sunday intelligence update.
“Ukrainian forces have likely suffered desertions in recent weeks, however, Russian morale highly likely remains especially troubled,” the ministry said.
As cases of whole Russian units refusing to carry out orders and armed stand-offs between officers and their troops continue to occur, Russian authorities are likely struggling to put legal pressure on the dissenters due to the invasion’s official status as a ‘special military operation’, the UK report said.
Low Russian morale is driven by “perceived poor leadership, limited opportunity for rotation of units out of combat, very heavy casualties, combat stress, continued poor logistics, and problems with pay,” according to the Defense Ministry. Many Russian personnel of all ranks also likely remain confused about the war’s objectives, it said.
The U.K. Defense Ministry also said Monday the struggles of Russia’s air force likely contributed to the exhaustion of Russian ground troops. “In the conflict to date, Russia’s air force has underperformed,” another intelligence update said on Monday.
“Its failure to consistently deliver air power is likely one of the most important factors behind Russia’s very limited campaign success,” the report stated. Despite boasting relatively modern and capable combat jets, Russia’s air combat training has for years highly likely been heavily scripted and designed to impress senior officials, as opposed to fostering modern skill-sets, the Defense Ministry said.
As a result, Russian ground troops in Ukraine are becoming worn out while a heavy reliance on advanced cruise missiles has likely led to their stocks running low, the report concluded.
More shelters, less music
The Ukrainian Parliament on Sunday supported a bill on the construction of a network of bomb shelters across Ukraine, including in new buildings.
“The war has shown that there were few reliable shelters in Ukraine,” said Olena Shulyak, a member of parliament.
Many of the existing shelters are not equipped with evacuation exits, lack access to water supply and sewerage systems, and are not adapted for food storage, Shulyak said on Telegram, adding, “Not to mention their ability to protect the population in the event of weapons of mass destruction.”
The parliament topped off a busy weekend when it banned music by artists with Russian citizenship from being aired in public and in Ukrainian media to prevent the influence of “separatist sentiment in the population,” according to the new bill.
A two-thirds majority of lawmakers agreed that Russian music would make the adoption of a Russian identity more attractive while weakening the Ukrainian state.
-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak, Max Uzol and Yulia Drozd
Jun 19, 3:45 pm
Ukrainians could soon be ‘lovin’ it’ again as McDonald’s in talks to reopen: Foreign Minister
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Sunday that his country’s leaders are trying to get McDonald’s to reopen its franchises in Ukraine, while the fast-food giant has sold off its restaurants in Russia in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
While people in Russia are eating knockoff McDonald’s burger’s now rebranded as “Tasty, and That’s It” — Kuleba said in a Father’s Day Facebook message that Ukrainians are getting closer to enjoying real Big Mac’s and Quarter Pounders.
“After the war started the company, like many others, closed restaurants in Ukraine for security reasons,” Kuleba wrote. “But we in the MFA are convinced the conditions are right for them to resume work and we’re actively persuading them to return.”
He said that a few weeks ago, Ukrainian officials contacted McDonald’s Ukrainian office and its U.S. headquarters in Chicago to open negotiations on the company resuming operations
“We also raised this issue in official contacts with the U.S. government, as McDonald’s is one of most famous American brands. The process is moving along,” Kuleba said.
There was no immediate response from McDonald’s.
-ABC News’ Max Uzol
Jun 19, 12:02 pm
ABC News gets special access to see US howitzers used in the Donbas
For the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, an ABC News crew was allowed an up-close-view of Ukrainian troops firing U.S. howitzer artillery weapons during active fighting in the country’s Donbas region.
ABC News foreign correspondent James Longman and his crew were the only media outlet allowed to witness the weapons in action on the outskirts of Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, where Russian armed forces are slowly making advances.
The cannons are considered crucial in taking out Russian artillery positions as the Ukrainian forces battle to keep the Donbas from falling completely into the hands of the enemy, Ukrainian officials said.
A Ukrainian artillery commander told ABC News he was trained how to use the howitzers in Germany by U.S. personnel.
“It makes a huge difference because this is a NATO weapon,” the artillery commander said. “It keeps the morale of our men high because with it we can work more and do a better job. Also, it demoralizes the enemy when he sees how rapid and precise we can open fire and sees the results of these attacks.”
The commander said the biggest difference between the U.S. M-777 155mm howitzers and the Russian equivalent is the precision, speed and ease of operation.
“These howitzers stand lower, which makes it easier to disguise it,” the commander said. “Also, it is harder to spot it when shots are fired.”
He said the four-ton artillery weapons are light-weight compared to the nine-ton weapons they had been using early in the war.
“So, it takes less people to operate it. Also, it is easier to transport it (and) offload,” the commander said. “Because often we fire it from areas that are not easy to get to. So weight is very important. But what is most important is that we are given lots of ammunition for these weapons. And we can work on much more targets now.”
He said the howitzers’ maneuverability is key to its use in the battlefield.
“We set up the piece, open fire and move rapidly to the new location, where we do the same,” the commander said. “This way we can change location 12 to 20 and even more times a day. And the enemy can’t understand how we work so rapidly and open fire from the areas that are not suitable for artillery.”
Asked by ABC News if he is proud to be operating the weapons against Russian troops, the commander responded, “Sure I am! Sometimes when we move to new locations we meet other artillery officers and hear them, saying, ‘Wow, triple sevens!
“So, we are very proud!” he said.
He said the weapons are so precise that many times troops hit targets with the first shot.
“Give us more weapons!” the commander said is his top request of the United States.
-ABC News’ James Longman
Jun 19, 10:22 am
Russia claims its troops have taken control of Dunbas settlement
Russian forces have purportedly taken control of the settlement of Metyolkino in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, according to Russian military officials.
The Russian Federation Armed Forces said Metyolkino was “liberated” by units from the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic with the help of the Russian army.
Russian officials claimed several units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fighting near Lisichansky in the Donbas region “are abandoning the operation area due to low moral and psychological condition, as well as lack of munitions and logistics supply.”
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials.
Meanwhile, Russian troops continued to launch attacks on military targets across Ukraine, according to Russian officials.
The attacks included long-distance sea-based missile attacks on Ukrainian troops in the village of Shirokaya Dacha in the Central Ukraine, according to Russian officials. The attack was launched while Ukrainian military commanders were meeting in the village and “resulted in eliminating more than 50 generals and officers of the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine),” Russian officials said in a statement.
Long-range missile attacks over the past 10 days have destroyed 10 155-mm howitzer cannons and 20 armored combat vehicles Russian military officials said were sent to Ukrainian forces by Western countries. One Russian missile strike destroyed a transformer plant in Nikolayev in Southern Ukraine, according to Russian officials.
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