KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked the U.S. for a new $40 billion aid package.
Speaking in Wednesday’s video address, Zelenskyy said that “these funds will be used quickly and without any red tape to strengthen defenses of Ukraine,” allowing it to get more weapons and equipment. He added that the U.S. assistance will also help investigate war crimes by Russia.
Zelenskyy noted that President Joe Biden signed a bill that drew on the 1941 Lend-Lease Act that provided U.S. weapons for the allies during World War II, helping defeat the Nazis. He emphasized that “we are defending freedom and right for life for all free peoples in the fight against tyranny that represents a threat to Europe, which isn’t smaller than 80 years ago.”
Zelenskyy voiced confidence that Ukraine will “fully liberate our land and our people.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukrainians make gains in east, stop Russian gas at one hub
— Wartime birth amid the air raid sirens in Ukraine hospital
— US, Western Europe fret over uncertain Ukraine war endgame
— Fighters appeal for evacuation of wounded from Mariupol mill
— House approves $40B in Ukraine aid, beefing up Biden request
— Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine’s 1st president, dies
— Ambassador nominee for Ukraine seeks quick embassy reopening
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
TURIN, Italy – A Ukrainian band that’s competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest turned out in a Turin park for a rally with a few dozen of their compatriots to express solidarity for their war-ravaged homeland.
Ahead of Wednesday night’s competition, the Kalush Orchestra posed for photos with some 50 Ukrainians who live in Italy.
Each of the rally’s participants put a hand to the heart in a sign of devotion to Ukraine.
Kalush Orchestra this week was one of the entrants advancing to the finals of the wildly popular European annual songfest, whose winner will be decided on Saturday.
The Ukrainians rallied behind a stage where free concerts by some of the musical groups from among the 35 nations sending entries are held nightly on the sidelines of the actual competition.
The upbeat entry by Kalush Orchestra for the competition is a song that was composed by the band’s front-man as a tribute to his mother.
But the song, “Stefania,” has been transformed to a kind of anthem to Ukraine, which was invaded by its powerful neighbor Russia on Feb. 24.
The song quickly became a sentimental favorite for many of Eurovision’s fans.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — A pro-Russian nationalist party staged a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, on Wednesday, calling for the government to resign and accusing it of failing to tackle the economic crisis.
Several hundreds supporters of the Vazrazhdane party demanded that the centrist coalition of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov step down because “it draws Bulgaria into the war of the United States against Russia in Ukraine.”
Waving Bulgarian and some Russian flags, participants shouted antigovernmental slogans accusing the Cabinet of being more concerned about Ukraine instead of taking care of their own people.
Organizers insisted that Bulgaria should act as a conciliator, rather than arming one side and thus fueling the conflict. They urged the government to resign and clear the way for new elections which would allow their party to rule Bulgaria “in line with national interests.”
Later, the protesters marched to the nearby Sofia municipality, where they clashed with police as they tried to remove an Ukrainian flag from the building.
Bulgaria, which was among Moscow’s closest allies during Soviet times, is now a NATO and EU member state. Traditional bonds with Russia, based on common religion and cultural heritage are being harmed as many are horrified by the bloodshed caused by Russia’s aggression.
Still, many Bulgarians share strong pro-Russian sentiments that play in favor of populist leaders. Vazrazhdane has currently 13 legislators in the 240-seat National Assembly, who have been strong supporters of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian general says that Russia hasn’t abandoned hopes to capture the Ukrainian capital.
Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov said at Wednesday’s briefing that the Russians harbor plans to take control over the southern Mykolaiv and Odessa regions to build a land corridor to the Transnistria separatist region of Moldova and also try to storm Kyiv.
Hromov said that Russia still hopes to capture more Ukrainian territories and call a sham vote to make them part of Russia. He added that such Russian plans will be foiled by the Ukrainian resistance.
The Russian forces tried to capture the Ukrainian capital in the first weeks of the invasion, but have pulled back after facing staunch Ukrainian defenses and shifted their focus on the country’s east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
WASHINGTON — Ukraine’s leaders must start shaping their terms for an acceptable peace deal, especially in light of Russia’s surprising failure to win its war outright, Italy’s premier said Wednesday.
When Russia first launched its invasion of Ukraine, “we thought there was a Goliath and a David,” Mario Draghi told reporters at a news conference in Washington. But “what seemed like an invincible power has proved” not to be, Draghi said, referring to Russian forces’ inability to overcome the defense mounted by Ukraine’s military, with heavy Western backing.
Draghi spoke after meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. Draghi says he urged Biden to push to get all key players, including the United States and Russia, into talks to end the war.
But any rush to close a peace deal that leaves Ukrainians angry and resentful risks a return to fighting, the Italian leader said Wednesday.
“We have to remove any thought that we can reach an imposed peace,” Draghi said. “That is a recipe for disaster.”
BERLIN — The German army says it has begun training Ukrainian soldiers to use a powerful artillery system that Germany and the Netherlands plan to supply to Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry said 18 crews are being trained to use the Panzerhaubitze 2000, an advanced, self-propelled howitzer.
“This is a clear sign of our solidarity,” the ministry said. “But Germany won’t become a party to the conflict because of the training or delivery” of the howitzers.
DONETSK — Separatists in Donetsk on Wednesday celebrated the eighth anniversary of self-proclaimed independence from Ukraine.
Constitution square in the city center was renamed after a Russian officer who was among the first Russian servicemen killed in the special military operation.
The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, and Engels Gadzhimagomedov, the father of the killed officer, installed a new street sign. Local residents who support the pro-Russian separatists came to lay flowers.
“The Day of Donetsk People’s Republic” was celebrated without the usual mass events this year due to security reasons.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s foreign ministry says that two Romanian journalists were detained Tuesday in the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transnistria in neighboring Moldova.
The two journalists were detained by security forces in Transnistria’s de facto capital of Tiraspol and released hours later after diplomatic efforts from both Romania and Moldova, the ministry said Wednesday in a statement.
“(The) Romanian diplomatic mission in Chisinau was not informed in advance about the intention of the two journalists,” it said, adding that the “so-called Transnistrian authorities” recently banned foreign journalists from entering the region.
The incident follows a series of mysterious attacks in the Russia-backed region in recent weeks that have alarmed officials in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau.
In late April, grenades were launched at the region’s state security office, and a day later two large broadcast antennas were downed. Last week, police in Transnistria said explosive devices were dropped from a drone near a village. No one was injured in the incidents.
Transnistria, a thin strip of land that borders Ukraine and has a population of around 470,000, broke away after a short civil war in the early 1990s. An estimated 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed there.
WARSAW, Poland – Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt says that the U.N. Security Council should adopt a resolution protecting grain shipments from the Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
Bildt was speaking to Poland’s TVN24 during the Impact’22 congress about energy and technology prospects, in Poznan, western Poland.
“Will Russia dare to stop shipments of grain” under U.N. protection?, Bildt asked, stressing the escort initiative is worth discussing.
The Security Council is to be briefed Thursday on humanitarian issues in Ukraine as it is fighting Russian invasion, and that may open an opportunity for discussing protection of the grain exports.
Separately, the European Union is to announce a plan this week to help Ukraine get around Russia’s blockade of its ports by shipping food supplies by rail and truck.
Ukraine is one of the world’s top producers of corn and wheat, and is called Europe’s bread basket. The lack of millions of tons of its grain on world markets is already leading to hikes in the prices of grain products.
PRAGUE — Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces to help them fight Russian aggression.
Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies which is a crime punishable by a prison term of up to five years.
Those 103 belong to a total of some 400 Czechs who have applied for an exemption from the ban, according to the Defense Ministry. The authorities still have to process most of the requests.
It’s not clear how many Czech have already been fighting on the Ukrainian side against invading Russian troops.
The president’s approval has to be co-signed by Prime Minister Petr Fiala who said through his spokesman he would sign all requests that have been approved by the Czech authorities.
BERLIN — The German government has dismissed suggestions that it might activate the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany to compensate for reduced flows via Ukraine.
A spokeswoman for the Energy Ministry said Wednesday that Germany is currently receiving a quarter less gas through Ukraine after Ukrainian authorities shut down a pipeline saying it no longer controls a key compressor station that’s in Russian hands.
Annika Einhorn, the ministry spokeswoman, said the shortfall is being partly compensated for through increased supplies from Norway and the Netherlands.
“Nord Stream 2 has really died after Russian attacked Ukraine and nobody is thinking about switching to that,” she said.
She also noted that the majority of Russian gas reaches Germany through a sister pipeline, Nord Stream 1, rather than via Ukraine.
Germany has pledged to end imports of Russian natural gas by 2024 at the latest.
MOSCOW — A senior Russian official has denounced the U.S. aid for Ukraine as part of Washington’s proxy war against Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council who served as president in 2008-2012 when Vladimir Putin shifted to prime minister’s position due to term limits, said Wednesday on a messaging app that the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine approved by the U.S. Congress was driven by a desire to “inflict a heavy defeat on our country, restrict its economic development and political influence in the world.”
He described the aid package as part of the U.S. “proxy war” against Russia and predicted that the United States will fail while the goals of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine will be fulfilled.
In another statement Wednesday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, accused the United States of using the aid package to “drive Ukraine deeper into debt” and try to take control of the country’s grain reserves.
PARIS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia’s war in Ukraine is “pushing a number of countries” toward NATO membership.
With Finland and Sweden moving toward joining the alliance, he said, “These countries want to be protected from Russia” because their people see what’s happening in Ukraine and want “to live in security, in their own house, and spend time calmly with their family.”
Russia has cited NATO’s expansion toward its borders as a reason for invading Ukraine.
Speaking Wednesday to French university students via video link, Zelenskyy also proposed “preventive sanctions” against Russia and any countries that threaten to use nuclear weapons. He also called for international debate about nuclear disarmament.
He said Russia’s suggestions that it could use nuclear force in the war in Ukraine should not go unpunished, but didn’t elaborate.
He urged more unity in European policy, as the EU’s 27 members haggle over a sixth round of sanctions that include an oil embargo.
Asked how the war could end, he said, “The war will end when we restore our unity and territory...when we get back what belongs to us.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show that a Russian ship believed to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain has docked in Syria.
The photo taken Tuesday by Planet Labs PBC showed the Russian-flagged Matros Pozynich at dockside in Latakia, Syria.
The ship seen in the photo matched known characteristics of the bulk carrier, as well as its dimensions.
The ship turned off its transponders nearly a week ago off the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Samir Madani, the co-founder of the online research firm TankerTrackers.com, also told the AP that he believed the ship docked in Latakia was the Matros Pozynich, based on its dimensions and last-known position.
Ukraine has alleged that the ship had 27,000 tons of grains Russia stole from the country. It alleged Russia initially tried to ship the grains to Egypt, which refused to take the cargo. Ukrainian diplomats had been asking nations not to accept the grain.
The ship’s registered owners, Crane Marine Contractor LLC of Astrakhan, Russia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Russian bombing campaign and support from Iran beat back insurgents who nearly toppled Syrian President Bashar Assad after the 2011 Arab Spring. Russia still maintains a navy and air base in Syria, though it has reportedly rotated forces out of the country to aid its war on Ukraine.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s ambassador in Moscow has been summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Polish foreign minister said, hinting on Wednesday at a reciprocal move by Warsaw.
Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau was answering media questions about the state of Polish-Russian relations after Russia’s Ambassador Sergey Andreev was splattered earlier this week with red paint, symbolizing the bloodshed in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The relations have been very tense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which borders Poland. The Polish government has been urging for tough international sanctions.
“Regarding our relations with the Russian federation we know that Poland’s ambassador in Moscow has been summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry,” Rau said.
He added that “in international relations there is the principle of reciprocity,” which suggested that his ministry will summon Andreev.
Andreev was splattered on Monday with red paint thrown at him by protesters opposed to the war in Ukraine at a Warsaw cemetery holding the remains of Red Army soldiers who died on Polish territory during World War II. The protest prevented him from paying his respects on the Russian patriotic “Victory Day” holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany.
VIENNA — The United Nations chief says that while it is clear that “at the present moment there are no immediate chances of a peace agreement or immediate chances for local cease fire” in Ukraine, the organization is still working on improving the difficult circumstances of the people suffering from the war.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday during a visit to Vienna that the U.N. has concentrated all its diplomatic efforts on improving the civilians’ living conditions and is helping with the evacuations of Ukrainians from war zones in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Guterres told reporters after a meeting with the Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen that “there is still a lot we can do in diplomacy to save lives and to improve the humanitarian situation in the conflict.”
LVIV, Ukraine -- The Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard says Russian troops on Wednesday continued to pound the Azovstal steelworks, the last pocket of resistance of Ukrainian forces in the port city of Mariupol.
In a social media statement, Azov, which is holed up at the sprawling steel plant with other units of Ukraine’s military and law enforcement, said that over the past 24 hours the Russians carried out 38 airstrikes "on the territory” of Azovstal, including with the use of strategic bombers. The Russian troops were also using barrel artillery, tanks and other weapons, the statement said.
The vast Azovstal steel mill, with its network of underground tunnels and bunkers, has sheltered hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians. Scores of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that at least 100 civilians could still be trapped there.
Azovstal is the last holdout of Ukrainian units that have become widely known as “defenders of Mariupol.”
A Russia-installed official in Ukraine’s Kherson region says the region’s administration will ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex the region.
The deputy head of the Russia-installed administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, told reporters on Wednesday that there are no plans to create a self-proclaimed “Kherson People’s Republic,” akin to the ones in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. But, he said, there are plans to ask Putin to annex it.
“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Stremousov was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency. “There will be no (Kherson People’s Republic) on the territory of the Kherson region, there will be no referendums. It will be a decree based on an appeal from the Kherson regional leadership to the Russian president, and there will be a request to include the region into a proper region of the Russian Federation.”
Taking control of Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, and much of the surrounding region early on the war has been arguably Russia’s most significant gain in the war.
Ukrainian officials have speculated that Russia plans to stage a referendum in the region to declare its independence, similar to the ones that took place in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014. Moscow recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics two days before invading Ukraine and used it as a pretext to send troops to its ex-Soviet neighbor.