Ukrainians are pushing Russians back from Kharkiv, Pentagon says; evacuations continue from Mariupol

The U.S. is rushing more arms to Ukraine as the country tries to fend off a renewed Russian assault on its eastern and southern regions.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. Defense official said Ukrainian troops are pushing Russians back from the strategically important city of Kharkiv, which has been under assault since late February.

Despite its efforts, Moscow has made minimal gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, according to the Pentagon official.

In the south, evacuations continued from the besieged coastal city of Mariupol. Civilians left the blockaded Azovstal steel plant, the pummeled city's last stronghold, for the second straight day.

Explosions were reported in the Russian border city of Belgorod, which is home to Russian fuel depots and ammunition facilities used for its war operations in Ukraine. The country also said it destroyed two Russian ships off the coast of Odesa.

Ukrainian servicemen such as these, shown in a trench near Kharkiv over the weekend, have pushed Russian attackers back from the city, the Pentagon says.
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine troops are pushing Russian forces away from Kharkiv, Pentagon says

A Ukrainian military vehicle drives to the front line during a fight, amid Russia's invasion in Ukraine, near Izyum, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, April 23, 2022. 
Jorge Silva | Reuters

Ukrainian troops defending Kharkiv have pushed Russians back from the city over the last 24 to 48 hours, the U.S. Department of Defense said late Monday.

A senior U.S. Defense official said at a briefing that Ukraine's forces have "managed to push the Russians out about 40 kilometers [25 miles] to the east of Kharkiv." The city is still under aerial bombardment.

Kharkiv has been under sustained attack since late February, and most its civilian residents have fled the city.

The strategically important city is in Ukraine's northeast, only about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the Russian border.

Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are making "anemic" progress and continue to be beset by low morale, poor command and control and weak logistics, the official told reporters.

Turning to arms shipments, the Pentagon official said more than 70 of 90 M-777 howitzers that the United States is sending to Ukraine have arrived there. So have about 140,000 rounds for those cannons, which is about half the amount planned for delivery.

— Ted Kemp and Christina Wilkie

PHOTOS: Recovery efforts underway in a Ukrainian village that was flooded to halt Russian advances

To keep Russian armored columns at bay, Ukrainian forces have released water from a nearby hydroelectric dam to intentionally flood Demydiv, a village north of Kyiv. The deliberate flooding has proven effective, but efforts to drain the area are complicated.

Below are photos of Demydiv as residents attempt to clear massive amounts of water and resume their daily lives.

Nadiia pulls a cart with crates filled with potatoes through a flooded street, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
A flooded garden, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine. To keep Russian armoured columns at bay, Ukrainian forces released water from a nearby hydroelectric dam to intentionally flood Demydiv, a village north of Kyiv.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
DEMYDIV, UKRAINE - MAY 02: Mariia, 82, stands on the entrance to her flooded household, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine. To keep Russian armoured columns at bay, Ukrainian forces released water from a nearby hydroelectric dam to intentionally flood Demydiv, a village north of Kyiv. The decision was effective, but efforts to drain the area are complicated. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images)
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
Oleksandr, 39, fixes the pumps he uses to pump out the water from the flooded areas, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine. T
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
Serhii, 63, shows the initial flooding level in his household, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
Oleksandr, 39, sits by the flooded field as he takes a smoking break after fixing the engine pumping out the water from the flooded areas, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
Trees are seen in a flooded field, on May 2, 2022 in Demydiv, Ukraine. To keep Russian armoured columns at bay, Ukrainian forces released water from a nearby hydroelectric dam to intentionally flood Demydiv, a village north of Kyiv.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images

-Getty Images

UN says 3,153 civilians killed in Ukraine since Feb. 24, but warns the actual death toll is 'much higher'

Volunteers carry an elderly woman after they evacuated residents from a village retaken by Ukrainian forces, next to a frontline, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 2, 2022. 
Ricardo Moraes | Reuters

The United Nations says it has confirmed 3,153 civilian deaths and 3,316 civilians injured in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.

In its latest update Monday, the U.N. says it identified at least 226 children killed and another 319 children injured.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the "actual figures are considerably higher" because many reports are still pending confirmation. The office also noted that it is unable to gather timely information from locations of intense fighting, such as the cities of Mariupol and Izium.

"Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes," said the U.N.

--- Christina Wilkie

Schumer wants $33 billion Ukraine aid bill on the Senate floor 'as early as next week'

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters following the Senate Democrats weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, November 16, 2021.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says members of the Senate Appropriations Committee are already at work turning President Joe Biden's massive $33 billion Ukraine aid request into actual legislation that he hopes to begin processing on the Senate floor "as early as next week."

"I expect both sides to work quickly, decisively, and with bipartisan cooperation to get this aid out the door and on to the President's desk," Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday.

What Schumer did not say, however, was as important as what he did say. The New York Democrat specifically did not insist that the Ukraine aid package be tied to an existing bill to provide funding for Covid relief.

Instead, he made them separate, saying, "In addition to providing emergency funding to Ukraine, the Senate must also keep prioritizing another round of funds to fight COVID."

Schumer's comments effectively laid to rest a question that has been hanging over Washington ever since Biden announced his $33 billion request last week: Whether Democrats will try to force Republicans to pass their Covid funding bill by tying it to the enormously popular Ukraine aid package.

But Schumer's comments clearly put the Ukraine bill's level of urgency well above that of the Covid funding bill.

"The United States thus has a moral obligation to give the Ukrainian people the tools they need for as long as they need them: more money for javelins, stingers, howitzers, Switchblade unmanned aerial munitions, and much more," he said.

--- Christina Wilkie

Russians troops are moving into parts of eastern Ukraine, declaring victory, and then leaving again, U.S. Defense official says

Tanks of pro-Russian troops drive along a road during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Ukraine April 17, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are making "anemic" progress and continue to be beset by low morale, poor command and control and weak logistics, a senior U.S. Defense Department official told reporters.

The Kremlin has made minor gains in the far eastern region of Luhansk and outside the city of Izyum, but overall gains in the region are fleeting, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Instead of holding territory, Russia troops have recently been moving into an area, declaring victory and then leaving the area to Ukrainian troops to resume control, U.S. intelligence indicates.

This creates a fiction for the Russian domestic audience that the military has made significant gains in Ukraine, but does not actually require that Russian troops suppress civilian populations.

Kremlin efforts to control civilian populations elsewhere in Ukraine have resulted in thousands of deaths and scores of likely war crimes committed against the Ukrainian population.

--- Christina Wilkie

Russia plans to hold sham referenda in mid-May to annex Donetsk and Luhansk, U.S. intelligence indicates

A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic is seen on a platform, as evacuees board a train before leaving the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine February 22, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

U.S. intelligence indicates that Russia is planning to hold sham referenda in mid-May in a bid annex Donetsk and Luhansk, the two regions of eastern Ukraine currently under Russian occupation, said Michael Carpenter, Washington's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"Russia has plans to engineer referenda on joining Russia sometime in mid-May," he said at a State Department briefing. He added that Moscow "is considering a similar plan for Kherson," a region in southern Ukraine anchored by a city of the same name.

This would mean dismantling local governments, schools and institutions and then declaring the occupied Kherson region an "independent people's republic," before later annexing it.

Russia recently announced plans to force people in Kherson to switch to the ruble as currency. It has also cut off internet and cell phone access across the region, which is home to more than 1 million people.

"Sham referenda and fabricated votes will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory," said Carpenter. But he acknowledged that the OSCE does not have the power to disrupt Russia's plans.

--- Christina Wilkie

UEFA removes more Russian football teams from its competitions

Russian soccer teams were kicked out of the Women's European Championship, the next men's Champions League and qualifying for the 2023 Women's World Cup by UEFA.

The latest round of sporting sanctions during Russia's war on Ukraine follow FIFA and UEFA suspending Russian national and club teams in February from playing in international competitions, including the men's World Cup playoffs.

Those previous decisions — made as countries across Europe refused to play games against Russia — are under appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport by the Russian Football Union and the latest expulsions are also likely to be challenged.

— Associated Press

EU could announce Russian oil embargo this week

The European Union could announce an embargo on Russian oil as soon as the end of the week, NBC News reported.

The bloc is expected to ban imports of Russian oil but not gas, a critical energy source for European countries, according to NBC, which cited an EU diplomat and a U.S. diplomat in Europe.

An agreement to ban oil imports will likely include a phase-in period and exceptions for certain countries, NBC reported.

Along with the oil embargo, the EU is also considering sanctions on Sberbank, the largest financial institution in Russia.

— Jacob Pramuk

U.S. military shipments to Eastern Europe are landing about every 90 minutes

Ukrainian service members take part in the unloading of U.S. military aid, delivered by plane, as part of the security support package for Ukraine, at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine February 10, 2022.
Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

U.S. military equipment is arriving in Eastern Europe bound for Ukraine at a remarkable pace, as Washington steps up efforts to arm Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Fourteen American flights carrying a wide range of security aid have landed in Ukraine over the last 24 hours, a senior defense official told reporters on Monday, with an additional 11 flights set to arrive over the next day. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden has authorized more than half a dozen drawdowns of Defense Department equipment stocks over the several months, with billions of dollars' worth of ammunition, artillery rounds, Humvees, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles flowing into Ukraine.

Thomas Franck

Ukraine says about 150,000 people daily are using SpaceX's Starlink

A Starlink terminal, also known as a dish or antenna, stands deployed in Ukraine.

SpaceX continues to expand its Starlink satellite internet network in Ukraine, with the country's digital minister Mykhailo Fedorov saying that about 150,000 people use the service in the country each day.

"This is crucial support for Ukraine's infrastructure and restoring the destroyed territories," Fedorov said in a Tweet Monday.

Starlink is SpaceX's network of about 2,000 satellites in low Earth orbit, designed to deliver high-speed internet anywhere on the planet.

Fedorov first caught SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's attention via a tweet shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, pleading for assistance after a suspected cyberattack disrupted Ukraine's satellite internet service and the Russian military began destroying communications infrastructure.

— Michael Sheetz

Ukraine says it destroyed two Russian ships off the coast of Odesa

A vessel claimed to be a Russian Raptor boat is destroyed with use of Ukrainian, Turkish-supplied Bayraktar drone, near Snake Island, Ukraine in this screen grab obtained from a social media video on May 2, 2022.
Courtesy: Ukraine Naval Forces

The top commander of the Ukrainian military said Monday that Ukraine has destroyed two high-speed Russian patrol ships off the Black Sea coast of Odesa.

General Valery Zaluzhny said the two Russian Raptor vessels were hit with Turkish-supplied Bayraktar drones near Snake Island.

Turkey has managed to strike a delicate balance since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Istanbul maintains active diplomatic relations with both Moscow and Kyiv, while also supplying the Ukrainian military with deadly drones it uses to kill Russian soldiers.

--- Christina Wilkie

Russian billionaire who criticized Ukraine war says he was forced to sell his company

Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg on June 6, 2019.
Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Oleg Tinkov, a Russian banking billionaire who criticized the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine, says that Russian officials forced him to sell his business for pennies on the dollar and he is now in hiding in fear for his life.

Tinkov wrote in an Instagram post published April 19, "I don't see any beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying...And how will the army be good, if everything else in the country is shit and mired in nepotism, sycophancy and servility?"

In an interview with The New York Times, Tinkov said that one day after he posted to Instagram, Kremlin officials ordered the bank he founded sever ties with its founder or else they said it would be nationalized. Tinkov, a former executive in the beer industry, founded Tinkoff Bank in 2006.

On April 22, Tinkoff Bank announced it would change its name later this year to remove any connection to Tinkov. At the time, the bank claimed the name change had been in the works long before Tinkov's social media post.

On April 28, Tinkov sold his 35% stake in the holding company that owns Tinkoff Bank to another oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tinkov said he was prohibited by the Kremlin from negotiating the price of his shares, and he sold his business for 3% of what it would have been worth on the open market.

Tinkov says he is now in hiding after friends told him his life was in danger. His experience offers a window into why members of Russia's oligarch class — many of whom have strong connections to Europe and the United States — have refrained from speaking out against Moscow's brutal invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

---- Christina Wilkie

Pelosi and U.S. lawmakers visit Warsaw and laud Poland's support for Kyiv

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stands next to Polish President Andrzej Duda as they meet in Warsaw on May 2, 2022.
Janek Skarzynski | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House lawmakers met with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday in Warsaw to offer appreciation for Poland's continued support of Ukraine.

The California Democrat thanked Duda for Warsaw's humanitarian aid for Kyiv, and for the Polish people's willingness to embrace millions of Ukrainian refugees who flooded across the Polish border since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February.

She called the Polish leader a "valued partner in supporting the people of Ukraine in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's brutal and unprovoked war."

Pelosi's visit came as she and her deputies in Washington are attempting to pass into law a funding request from U.S. President Joe Biden that would provide Ukraine with more than $30 billion in additional military, economic and humanitarian aid.

Pelosi's meeting with Duda came two days after she and her congressional delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Pelosi became the highest ranking American official so far to visit Kyiv, since Ukrainian troops fought off a Russian offensive in March and forced Kremlin forces to retreat to eastern Ukraine.

--- Tom Franck

PHOTOS: Civilian evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

UN-led evacuations of civilians trapped in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are underway, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion.

Azov regiment members walk with civilians during UN-led evacuations from the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this still image from handout video released May 1, 2022. 
David Arakhamia | Azov Regiment | Reuters
A child emerges from the Azovstal steel plant during UN-led evacuations, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this still image from handout video released May 1, 2022. 
David Arakhamia | Azov Regiment | Reuters
A woman is assisted during the UN-led evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this still image from handout video released May 1, 2022. 
David Arakhamia | Azov Regiment | Reuters
Azov regiment members stand as civilians board a bus at the Azovstal steel plant during UN-led evacuations, after nearly two months of siege warfare on the city by Russia during its invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this still image from handout video released May 1, 2022. David Arakhamia/Azov Regiment/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
David Arakhamia | Azov Regiment | Reuters
Civilians who left the area near Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol look out of a bus near a temporary accommodation centre during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the village of Bezimenne in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine May 1, 2022. 
David Arakhamia | Azov Regiment | Reuters


Russian rocket hits strategic bridge in Ukraine's Odesa region

A Russian rocket has hit a strategically important bridge in Ukraine's southwestern Odesa, regional administrative spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app, without giving further details.

The bridge constitutes the only territorial link to a large portion of the Odesa region, both by road and by rail. Russia forces have already struck it twice, Reuters reported. Odesa is also a crucial port city from which much of the country's exports were shipped before the war.

NBC has not independently verified the information.

— Natasha Turak

Buses evacuate more civilians from Mariupol

Buses carrying more civilians have left the southern port city of Mariupol on Monday, an aide to the city's mayor said.

Women from the frontline town of Orikhiv wait on a bus after arriving at an evacuation point for people fleeing Mariupol, Melitopol and the surrounding towns under Russian control on May 02, 2022 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

The evacuees were not coming from the blockaded Azovstal steel plant, however, which is said to still have some 1,000 civilians along with Ukrainian soldiers trapped inside. About 100 civilians managed to be evacuated the plant on Sunday, Ukrainian authorities said.

Mariupol has seen some of the heaviest bombardment from Russia's invasion, and the UN and Ukrainian authorities have been trying to establish humanitarian corridors and safe evacuation routes for weeks, though many attempts have failed. The city has been cut off from food, water and power since the start of March, and is now almost entirely in Russian hands. Satellite images have revealed multiple mass graves outside the city.

— Natasha Turak

Denmark is reopening its embassy in Kyiv

Denmark is reopening its embassy in Kyiv, which it had closed immediately after Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The move is a statement of support, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said.

"It's a very strong symbol of the Danish support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people that today we are reopening the doors to the Danish embassy," Kofod told a local broadcaster.

A number of other western countries including France, the U.K. and the U.S. have also said they are reopening their embassies in Kyiv.

— Natasha Turak

All but certain that Finland will apply for NATO membership, Swedish FM says

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attend a news conference, amid Russia's invasion on Ukraine, in Helsinki, Finland April 29, 2022. 
Vesa Moilanen | Lehtikuva | Via Reuters

Finland is almost certain to apply for membership to the 30-country NATO alliance, Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde said during an interview on Swedish TV.

"We know more or less that they will apply for NATO membership," Linde told local channel SVT. "And that changes the whole balance... If one of our countries join, we know that tensions would increase."

Referring to whether Finland would join NATO, the minister said, "I think you can say that quite surely."

Finland and Sweden have both seen an surge in popular support for abandoning their traditional stances of neutrality and joining NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The leaders of both countries have said Russia's war has forced them to reassess their security and defense outlooks.

— Natasha Turak

Explosions heard in Russian city of Belgorod, regional governor says

Two explosions took place in the southern Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border, the region's governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote in a social media post.

"There were no casualties or damage," Gladkov wrote, according to a Reuters translation.

Belgorod is home to fuel and ammunition depots being used for Russia's operations in the war in Ukraine. Moscow in April accused Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot there via helicopter after a fire broke out at one of its facilities. Kyiv denied involvement.

— Natasha Turak

Belarussian forces have been identified in Ukraine, officials say

Units from Belarus's military have been spotted in Ukraine's border regions of Volyn and Polissya, Ukraine's general staff wrote in an update Monday, adding that "the threat of missile strikes on military and civilian infrastructure from the territory of the republic of Belarus by the Russian enemy remains."

NBC has not independently verified the information.

So far, Belarus has not officially deployed its troops to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, although Russia is using the Belarus-Ukraine border areas as a staging ground for thousands of its own troops.

It was reported in March that hundreds of Belarusians had joined Ukraine's armed forces to fight against Russia.

— Natasha Turak

More than a quarter of Russia's committed troops likely made 'combat ineffective,' UK says

Just over two months into its invasion of Ukraine, more than a quarter of the troops Russia committed to the war are likely to have been rendered "combat ineffective," the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence wrote in its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

Residents look at a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Buzova village, west of Kyiv, on April 10, 2020.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

"At the start of the conflict, Russia committed over 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65 per cent of its entire ground combat strength," the ministry wrote.

"It is likely that more than a quarter of these units have now been rendered combat ineffective."

"Some of Russia's most elite units, including the VDV Airborne Forces, have suffered the highest levels of attrition," it added. "It will probably take years for Russia to reconstitute these forces."

— Natasha Turak

Jill Biden to meet with refugees in trip to Romania and Slovakia

U.S. first lady Jill Biden delivers remarks during the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event, in the East Room at the White House, in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2022. 
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

First lady Jill Biden will travel to Romania and Slovakia this week, coming within miles of the Ukrainian border.

During her trip, Biden is expected to meet with U.S. service members, embassy staff, senior officials in Romania and Slovakia, humanitarian aid workers and refugees.

The first lady's trip follows other visits to the region by high-level U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

— Christine Wang

Nancy Pelosi reiterates U.S. support for Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomes U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) before their meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 30, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said additional U.S. support for Ukraine is on the way following U.S. President Joe Biden's massive aid package proposal.

In a statement, Pelosi said the Congressional delegation met with Ukraine's President Volodymr Zelenskyy and "conveyed our respect and gratitude to President Zelenskyy for his leadership and our admiration of the Ukrainian people for their courage in the fight against Russia's diabolical invasion."

Pelosi also said the delegation went to Poland "to send an unmistakable message to the world: that America stands firmly with our NATO allies in our support for Ukraine."

She said the delegation will be meeting with Poland's President Andrzej Duda and other senior officials to discuss how they can further work together to support Ukraine.

— Christine Wang

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