Biden says Putin trying to 'wipe out' Ukrainian culture; Zelenskyy speaks to Stanford grads: Live updates

Biden says Putin trying to 'wipe out' Ukrainian culture; Zelenskyy speaks to Stanford grads: Live updates

Russian forces on Friday pounded the last Ukrainian strongholds in a separatist-controlled eastern province of Ukraine, including a city where authorities said 1,500 people have been killed and 60% of residential buildings destroyed since the start of the war.

Ukraine’s foreign minister warned that without a new injection of foreign weapons, Ukrainian forces would not be able to stop Russia from seizing Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, two cities that are crucial to Russia’s goal of capturing all of Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region.

The cities are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the region. Russian forces have made slow but persistent advances as they bombarded and sought to encircle both Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk.

“The Russians are pounding residential neighborhoods relentlessly,” regional governor Serhiy Haidai wrote in a Telegram post Friday. “The residents of Sievierodonetsk have forgotten when was the last time there was silence in the city for at least half an hour.”

Latest developments:

►Turkey’s foreign minister says Sweden and Finland must take “concrete steps” to alleviate his country’s security concerns to overcome Ankara’s objections to their NATO membership bid.

►Italian Premier Mario Draghi has discussed the emerging food crisis in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine has been unable to ship millions of tons of grain due to a Russian blockade of its ports.

►The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region says Russian bombardments killed three people in and around the city of Lysychansk, which is a key focus of fighting. In the northern Kharkiv region, governor Oleh Synehubov said two men were killed and 10 others injured, including a 9-year-old girl, in shelling of the town of Balakliya. 

USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates straight to your phone’

Blinken: Finland, Sweden’s bids to join NATO will move quickly despite Turkey’s objections

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed confidence on Friday that Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO will be approved on a quick timeline, despite objections from Turkey.

Blinken made the remarks during a joint news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the State Department. Haavisto said Finnish and Swedish officials are working closely with their Turkish counterparts to resolve President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s concerns.

Erdogan has demanded that Sweden and Finland crackdown on groups Turkey says are linked to a Kurdish militant group known as the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

“There is a very strong consensus in NATO for the admission of Finland and Sweden,” Blinken said. “And I remain confident that we will work through this process swiftly and that things will go forward with both countries.”

Zelenskyy: ‘We value freedom and we fight for it’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday spoke passionately about patriotism and the future of democracy in Ukraine in response to questions from graduating Stanford University students. Zelenskyy fielded the questions after delivering a video address to the students.

One Stanford student asked Zelenskyy how he inspires patriotism among his citizens. Zelenskyy said it’s part of the job. 

“I had no choice,” he said through a translator. “I am president of this state and this is part of my job. Even when it’s difficult for me personally, I have to show that regardless of difficulties, everything is going to be ok and we’ll find a way out of this situation. I inspire people and people inspire me.”

Another student, who first addressed Zelenskyy in Ukrainian before switching to English, said that while he believes the war will end in victory, he also thinks issues within Ukraine will arise afterward and asked Zelenskyy how he plans to preserve Ukrainian democracy without quashing dissent.

Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian people paid too high a price for the nation to slide backwards on democracy.

“We are paying the price, but we do that for the future of our free, our democratic country,” Zelenskyy said. “If we are fighting for this type of state, for this way of life, where the most important principles are freedom and democracy, and if we protect and defend that, then how can I have a different opinion?

“We value freedom and we fight for it,” he added. 

-Ella Lee

Biden: Putin wants to ‘wipe out’ Ukrainian culture

President Joe Biden on Friday accused his Russian counterpart of trying to “wipe out the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people” during a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Not only is he trying to take over all of Ukraine,” Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In attacking schools, hospitals, museums and other civilian targets, Putin’s forces have “no other purpose than to eliminate a culture,” the president told the 1,000-plus audience of graduates.

Biden said Putin wanted to try to make all of Europe like Finland – a nonaligned, neutral country. Instead, Putin has “NATO-ized all of Europe,” Biden said, a reference to the decision by Finland and Sweden to apply for membership in the transatlantic alliance.

-Deirdre Shesgreen

 Russia brings old tanks out of storage and into battle, UK intelligence says 

Russia is moving 50-year-old tanks out of mothballs to southern Ukraine to occupy territory seized in recent weeks, according to an assessment Friday from British Military Intelligence.

The T-62 tanks have been in “deep storage,” according to the assessment. They will be vulnerable to modern anti-tank weapons, such as the U.S.-supplied Javelin.

Their use signals “Russia’s shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment,” the assessment said.

On Thursday, a senior Defense Department official said Russia had lost at least 1,000 tanks since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ukrainian troops have exploited Russian vulnerabilities by using portable anti-armor weapons and Russian tactics that have left them open to attack.

Meanwhile, Russian troops continue to make small gains in eastern Ukraine as they attempt to surround strategic towns in the Donbas region, according the British assessment and the senior U.S. official.

Kyiv School of Economics: $600B in economic damage since start of war

Ukraine has suffered an estimated $565 billion to $600 billion or more in total economic losses since its war against Russia began, the Kyiv School of Economics said in a report released Friday.

Some $105.5 billion of that damage was to Ukraine’s infrastructure, the report says. At least 23,800 kilometers of roads, more than 6,300 railways and 41 railway bridges have been damaged, destroyed or seized. Thousands of health care facilities, educational institutions and cultural and religious buildings have also seen damage or destruction.

As of May 25, Ukraine’s housing stock seen $39.3 billion in damage, primarily in cities like Mariupol, Kharkiv and Chernihiv, the report says.

The report was created as part of the school’s “Russia will pay” project, which has the support of Ukraine’s presidential office and several other agencies. 

-Ella Lee

Ukraine agency opens hotline to support displaced Ukrainians

Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation on Friday said that displaced Ukrainians can find resources at a newly launched hotline.

Assistance in gaining temporary protection status from other countries, finding housing and employment and learning how to return to Ukraine in the future are all services the hotline offers.

The hotline will offer advice on doing business in seven EU countries, as well: Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Germany.

-Ella Lee

Ukraine foreign minister: Situation in east is ‘even worse than people say’

Ukraine’s foreign minister is pleading with Western nations to provide Kyiv with heavy weapons to enable it to push Russian forces back.

Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday night tweeted a video of himself answering questions submitted on Twitter and said: “We need heavy weapons. The only position where Russia is better than us it’s the amount of heavy weapons they have. Without artillery, without multiple launch rocket systems, we won’t be able to push them back.”

Kuleba said that the situation in the east of the country, where the Russian forces are on the offensive, is  “even worse than people say. We need weapons. If you really care for Ukraine, weapons, weapons and weapons again,” the minister stressed.

China criticizes US as tensions rise in South Pacific

China on Friday criticized a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that focused on tensions between the world’s top two economic powers, saying the U.S. was seeking to smear Beijing’s reputation.

In his Thursday address, Blinken said the administration of President Joe Biden wants to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said  the U.S. was “essentially spreading disinformation” and “smearing China’s domestic and foreign policy.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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