Day 167 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Zaporizhzhia to hold a Referendum on Joining Russia
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Zelensky: Lack of new sanctions increases the nuclear threat
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Zaporizhzhia NPP could become a new Chernobyl. Europe's largest nuclear power plant is currently at the center of the conflict. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for shelling the plant last week.
In his regular video address last night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for new international sanctions to affect Russia's nuclear capabilities. The reason is the alleged missile strikes against the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia.
"There is already an appropriate reaction from the international community, but sanctions must be increased because Russia does not respect messages and concerns. New sanctions are needed against the terrorist state and the entire Russian nuclear industry because of the threat of a nuclear catastrophe," the Ukrainian president said.
Zelensky reiterated that the war in Ukraine should not be seen as a frozen conflict and that his country's goal is to regain all lost territories. The Ukrainian head of state thanked the air defense forces for intercepting Russian missiles fired from the Black Sea, which could have claimed dozens of lives.
Moscow and Kyiv blame each other for the strikes on the plant, which is under Russian control. Shelling over the past few days has damaged several structures, forcing the shutdown of one reactor. The Kremlin has warned that the alleged strikes could have "catastrophic consequences".
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a halt to the shelling, saying any attack on a nuclear plant is "suicidal".
The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned of the "very real risk of a nuclear catastrophe," and Kyiv is calling for a demilitarized zone around the plant.
The Kremlin governor of Zaporizhzhia region signed an order for a referendum on joining Russia
The Russian-appointed head of the Zaporizhzhia region (oblast in Ukrainian) in southern Ukraine announced today that he has signed an order to hold a referendum on the region's entry into the Russian Federation, TASS reported.
Yevgeny Balitsky announced this at the "We are together with Russia" forum in the city of Melitopol, which is occupied by the Russian armed forces. He did not specify when the referendum would be scheduled.
“The inhabitants of the Zaporizhzhia region and Russia are one people”, Vladimir Rogov, a member of the main council of the Moscow-appointed military-civilian administration of the southern Ukrainian region, emphasized at the forum. Then he read the text of the resolution adopted at the event to hold a referendum on Zaporizhzhia Oblast's entry into the Russian Federation.
"We, the participants in the forum, declare that we link our future with Russia... It is time to restore historical justice. We are confident that the Zaporizhzhia region will be protected from any encroachment as part of Russia," Rogov quoted the text of the resolution. "Based on the principle of freedom of choice, accepting the opinion of every inhabitant of our region as the main value, we declare our intention to hold a referendum on the entry of the Zaporizhzhia region into the Russian Federation as a full-fledged entity," is said in the resolution quoted from Rogov.
He said that Moscow-appointed authorities in the southern Ukrainian region are considering allowing pollsters to vote online.
At the end of the forum, the Russian national anthem was performed.
Since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has captured more than 70 percent of the Zaporizhzhia region, TASS notes. Ukrainian armed forces retain control over the regional center city of Zaporizhzhia, home to nearly half of the region's population. The Russian-appointed occupation authorities are currently based in Melitopol.
The Russian armed forces have been in full control of the Kherson region since mid-March, TASS reports.
Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that if the planned referendums on the accession of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions to Russia take place, all opportunities for peace negotiations will fail.
Today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the residents of the two neighboring southern Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Moscow themselves want such polls, and Zelensky has nothing to ask Russia and its leadership. The president of Ukraine "should address the (Ukrainian) citizens and ask why many of them do not want to live in his country," Peskov said wryly.
Olga Kovitidi, who is a representative in the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament) from Crimea, said that such referendums could be produced not only in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions but also in other Ukrainian territories.
Russia occupied the southern Ukrainian peninsula and annexed it after a similar referendum in 2014. The results of this referendum were not recognized by the international community.
The US announced a record $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine
The United States has announced that it will provide new arms aid to Ukraine worth $1 billion, the largest package since the beginning of the war, BTA reported on Monday.
Weapons aid from the Pentagon stockpile will go to the Ukrainian armed forces. It will come as Russia moves troops and military equipment to the port cities it occupies in southern Ukraine to stop a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The new US arms assistance includes additional missiles for the already provided HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) and NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) air defense systems, 75 thousand 155 mm artillery shells for Western artillery systems, which Kyiv already has, mortar fire systems, Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as other ammunition and military equipment, reported AFP.
With the new package, the arms aid provided by the United States to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion will reach about $9 billion. Since August last year, the Pentagon has provided a total of 18 times military equipment from its stocks to the Ukrainian armed forces, BTA reminds.
"At every stage of this conflict, we are focused on getting the Ukrainians what they need based on the changing conditions on the battlefield," said US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Affairs Colin Kahl.
The new aid is expected to arrive faster than previous packages because it comes directly from Pentagon stockpiles.
For the past four months, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbas. The Russian armed forces are gradually advancing in the industrial region of eastern Ukraine, and in other places, they are trying to stop the Ukrainian army with missile strikes, the Associated Press agency notes.
This package of US arms aid to Ukraine does not include new HIMARS.
Colin Kahl recalled that these are precision-guided systems designed to hit specific targets. The Ukrainian armed forces do not need hundreds of HIMARS to achieve the corresponding effect they are aiming for, he explained. They already have 16 volley fire systems.
The deputy head of the Pentagon also said that the US and its allies are still considering whether to supply military aircraft to Ukraine. "It is not out of the question that Western aircraft" will be part of further arms aid packages, he noted.
According to Colin Kahl's estimates, between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the beginning of the conflict.
Dozens of torture camps operate in eastern Ukraine
In the Olenivka POW camp in eastern Ukraine, the authorities subject detainees to horrific torture. Human rights activists suspect that dozens of detention camps have been operating in the Donbas region since 2014, in which not only prisoners of war, but also people from all over Russia fall and are tortured.
A large part of those fighting for Ukraine at the front always carry a hand grenade. It is intended for themselves - if they fall into captivity. Death is better than what awaits them in the concentration camps. This is confirmed by many of the prisoners who survived these camps. Former prisoner Anna Vorosheva spoke to the German television station ARD. She was held captive in the Olenivka camp at the same time as 50 Ukrainian soldiers, who burned alive, tied to their metal beds. All of them were tortured, reports Vorosheva. She herself spent three months in the camp and today reports on brutal guards who tortured the detainees in a medieval way.
"They made the prisoners duck out of their barracks and walk 100-120 meters to a neighboring building. They were brutally beaten there. I could hear the blows on their bodies, the cries for help, the pleas to stop," the Ukrainian says.
Ukraine has also accused Russia of killing and torturing prisoners of war and trying to cover it up.
The name of the Olenivka camp appeared in testimonies of survivors as early as 2015. There are over 70 such camps in the Donbas region, they are under the control of the separatists.
This is stated by human rights activist Oleksandra Matviychuk. These camps are illegal, people are kept in inhumane conditions and subjected to torture.
“I have spoken to hundreds of survivors. They say that they were beaten, raped, their fingers were cut, they were kept for days in wooden crates, they were shocked. Most such torture centers are located in detention centers, police buildings, prisons, but also in hotel basements or empty factories.”
The most famous in the world is still the "Izolatsiya" (isolation) camp, which is located on the territory of a factory for insulation materials. After the separatists took over the Donetsk region, a military base was built there, and the separatists used prisoners, detainees and captives for slave labor.
"Olenivka" is another example of this system. Terror and torture are used massively to keep local people in subjection, Matviychuk also claims.
The Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev was a prisoner alone for over two years in the "Isolation" camp. Some of those detained with him were prisoners of war, others actually supported the separatist government, but had a good business and with such means it was taken away from them, and others were interned from various parts of Russia.
After Moscow-backed separatists took power in Donbas in 2014, they first started a personal attack on the active part of society. Journalists like Aseyev, religious leaders and politicians were arrested. Some of them are directly killed, others disappear forever in the basements of captured cities. Such arbitrary arrests continue to this day. The reason for this is in the structure of this power, explains the journalist Ilya Ponomarenko.
"These are actually criminal organizations that control the captured cities. Sometimes it is also a war between separate gangster clans that fight for control over territories and money. Anyone who has a good business or a factory that was liked by someone in the so-called power figures can be arrested. This is the Wild West," says Ponomarenko.
The separatists do not allow representatives of world organizations to the detention centers and camps. Relatives of detainees also do not have any contact with the arrested.
Currently, the same system is imposed in the occupied regions of southern Ukraine.
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