Russia might annex occupied Kherson; Russian soldier first to face war crimes trial: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

Russian-appointed authorities in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson announced plans Wednesday to seek annexation by Russia – and the Ukraine response was that those authorities might as well ask to join ‘Mars or Jupiter.”

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian regional military-civilian administration, also said that, by the end of May, a bank for converting money to Russian rubles will start operating in the region and ultimately will be integrated into the Bank of Russia. He said there were no plans to create a separate republic such as those sought in the eastern Donbas region.

“There will be no referendums,” Stemousov said of the annexation. “It will be a decree based on an appeal from the Kherson regional leadership to the Russian president.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it would be “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that the request would be closely evaluated by experts to make sure its legal basis is “absolutely clear.”

Kherson, a Black Sea port city of almost 300,000, is one of few major Ukraine cities to be under Russian control. Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak dismissed the annexation plan.

“The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter,” he tweeted. “The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what games with words they play.”

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Latest developments:

►United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he does not see the possibility of an immediate peace deal in Ukraine. Guterres, speaking after a meeting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, suggested countries concentrate diplomatic efforts on providing humanitarian aid.

►Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of the first 103 Czechs to join Ukraine’s armed forces. Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies, but about 400 Czechs have applied for an exemption. The rest of the requests are still being processed, the government said.

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, visiting Sweden, pledged his country’s support should Sweden or Finland come under attack. Both nations are expected to announce as soon as this week whether they will seek membership in NATO.

►World Unite for Ukraine announced it will stream a benefit concert June 16 featuring music by Pink Floyd, AJR, Crash Test Dummies and other bands. Organizers hope to raise $10 million toward easing the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

►The Senate will take up a House-passed a package of about $40 billion in urgently needed aid for Ukraine, $7 billion more than President Joe Biden requested from Congress. Biden urged passage as soon as possible, saying he has “nearly exhausted” the existing aid money for Ukraine.

Smoke rises from burning storage buildings containing agricultural products after shelling by Russian forces in Orikhiv, Ukraine, on May 11, 2022.

Finland leaders expected to announce support for NATO membership

Finland’s president and prime minister are likely to officially announce their support for joining NATO on Thursday, the country’s minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, said Wednesday. That will be followed by a debate in Finland’s parliament early next week and a vote that is almost sure to be “strongly in favor of membership,” Tuppurainen told USA TODAY while she was in Washington attending a high-level security conference.

“We want to defend our freedom and our equality,” she said. “This is not only about territories and borders. This war is also about values and ideology.”

Noting that Finland shares a 830-mile border with Russia, she said she hopes her country’s application will be approved swiftly if submitted. NATO members adhere to a collective defense that views an attack on one as an attack on all. But that security guarantee would not apply while Finland’s bid is under consideration.

Tuppurainen said her country is acutely aware of the threats Russian officials have made against Finland if it goes ahead with the NATO bid.

“We know our neighbor … We’ve seen what Putin is capable of,” she said.

Jill Biden, after visit to Ukraine, issues plea for end to war

Jill Biden, who visited Ukraine on Mother’s Day, says no one can go into a war zone and not come away unchanged. Biden, in an opinion piece published by CNN, says you don’t have to “see the sorrow with your eyes because you can feel it with your heart.”

Biden also visited Ukrainian refugees in Romania and Slovakia. She said the mothers she spoke about the horrors of bombs that fell night after night as they sought to find refuge during journeys out of their homeland. Many had to live days without food and sunlight, harbored in basements underground, Biden wrote. Border guards in Slovakia told stories of thousands of people with few belongings scrambling to escape the carnage.

“Kahlil Gibran once wrote, ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain,'” Biden said. “My hope is that this is true for the mothers I met. But that can only happen when this war ends. Mr. Putin, please end this senseless and brutal war.”

Russian soldier in Ukrainian custody will be first to stand trial for war crimes

A 21-year-old Russian soldier alleged to have killed an unarmed civilian who was riding a bike in a village in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine on Feb. 28 will become the first person to stand trial for war crimes since the start of the war, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova announced Wednesday.

Vadim Shishimarin, a prisoner of war, is accused of firing a Kalashnikov machine gun through the open window of a car at a 62-year-old resident in the village of Chupakhivka. If found guilty of premeditated murder, Shishimarin could face a sentence of up to life in prison. A trial date is expected to be announced this week, Venediktova’s office told USA TODAY. Ukrainian authorities unveiled their first war crimes charges late last month connected to alleged incidents in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, in March.

Wives of trapped Ukraine soldiers plead with pope for help

The wives of two Ukrainian soldiers holed up in a Mariupol steel mill met with Pope Francis on Wednesday, asking him to help arrange evacuation of the troops before Russian soldiers overrun the sprawling plant.

Yuliia Fedusiuk, who met with the pope at the conclusion of his weekly general audience in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, said food and water were running out in the mill, that some soldiers were injured and dead and that the survivors were ready to lay down their arms. But they want to be evacuated to a third country, concerned that they would be tortured and killed if they surrendered to the Russians.

“You are our last hope. We hope you can save their lives,” said Kateryna Prokopenko, who wept as she greeted Francis. “Please don’t let them die.”

Sanctions slowing ability of Russia to replenish precision weaponry

Sanctions that prevent Russia from obtaining electronic parts have taken a “bite” out of its ability to replenish precision-guided weapons, a Pentagon official said. The official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence assessments, said there are signs that Russian supplies of precision weapons are dwindling, forcing the Russians to rely on older bombs that are not guided to their targets with satellites or lasers, the official said.

So-called “dumb bombs” are being dropped in Mariupol, causing hundreds of civilian deaths and devastation to homes and businesses.

US, Europe condemn Russian cyberattack prior to invasion

The United States, the European Union and Britain collectively blamed Russia for a cyberattack on Ukraine that happened only one hour before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion on Feb. 24. The cyberattack disrupted satellite communications used by Ukraine’s military, and also affected European countries, according to a statement from the EU released Tuesday. 

“Cyberattacks targeting Ukraine, including against critical infrastructure, could spill over into other countries and cause systemic effects putting the security of Europe’s citizens at risk,” the statement said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Tuesday the cyberattack was only one in a series that began in mid-January. Russia’s digital attacks on Ukraine included stolen and deleted data, disrupted telecommunications and attempts to knock out power.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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