Tue. Feb 27th, 2024
Ukrainian flag in blue and yellow, wrapped over sky and grain

A brief summary to end the week, with additional information on how global food supplies are already affected,

The war

Ukraine’s military said it had retaken 29 settlements in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions.

However, Russian forces are hiding mines in houses and dead bodies as they retreat from northern parts of Ukraine, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a pre-dawn video address on Saturday. He said that although Russian forces were withdrawing slowly but noticeably from around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, the retreating Russians were creating “a complete disaster” outside the capital Kyiv by leaving mines across “the whole territory,” including around homes and corpses.

He warned: “They are mining the whole territory. They are mining homes, mining equipment, even the bodies of people who were killed. There are a lot of trip wires, a lot of other dangers.”

Zelenskiy said the military situation in the country’s east remained extremely difficult. He repeated warnings that Russia was preparing for strikes in the Donbas region and Kharkhiv.

Zelenskiy also said that Russia was trying to conscript troops from Crimea as it began its annual conscription drive. (It aims to conscript around 135,000 soldiers.) But he said that being drafted to fight in Ukraine was “guaranteed death for many young guys” and warned their families: “We don’t need more dead people here. Save your children so they do not become villains. Don’t send them.”

Despite the Russian withdrawal, Russian missiles hit two cities in central Ukraine early on Saturday, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings, the head of the Poltava region said, according to Reuters.

Ukraine exchanged 86 members of their armed forces with Russia on Friday, according to senior Ukrainian officials, who also said that the Ukrainian armed forces repelled nine Russian attacks on Friday, destroying eight tanks, 44 armoured vehicles, 16 other vehicles and 10 artillery systems. In an update shared on official Telegram channels, it said Russian troops had tried but failed to target critical infrastructure in Odessa. It also estimated Russia had withdrawn 20% of its units from Kyiv, but other government and defence officials have warned against thinking Russia is in retreat.

In the early hours on Saturday, Russian missiles hit two cities – Poltava and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava region, wrote in an online post. He said infrastructure and residential buildings were hit, but he had no casualty estimates.

Earlier, as sirens sounded across Ukraine before dawn on Saturday, the Ukrainian military reported Russian air strikes on the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Rubizhne in Luhansk. In that eastern region and neighbouring Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists declared breakaway republics that Moscow recognised just before its invasion.

The Ukrainian military also said defenders repulsed multiple attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk on Friday and that Russian units in Luhansk had lost 800 troops in the past week alone. Reuters was unable to verify those claims.

Three Russian missiles fired from Crimea, the southern Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, struck a residential district of the Black Sea port of Odesa, causing casualties, Odesa’s governor, Maksym Marchenko, said on Friday. But officials in Odesa said anti-air defences thwarted an attack on critical infrastructure. Reuters could not immediately verify the account.

Evacuating civilians: Mariupol and elsewhere

Zelenskiy said more than 3,000 people had been led to safety from the besieged city of Mariupol. More than six thousand in total had been rescued from Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia.

The international committee for the red cross (ICRC) will re-attempt an evacuation mission to Mariupol on Saturday, after being forced to turn back on Friday. The team had planned to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and vehicles out of the besieged city, where an estimate 160,000 people are trapped, but aborted the trip after conditions made it impossible to proceed, the aid organisation said.

The ICRC says its Mariupol operation has been approved by both sides, but major details were still being worked, out such as the exact timing and destination of the convoy, which would be an undetermined location in Ukraine.


Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said in their late Friday military update that several units of Russian forces have been withdrawn from the Chernobyl district to settlements on the territory of Belarus. It is believed that some Russian troops were still in the “exclusion zone” around the Chernobyl nuclear power station on Friday morning, a day after ending their occupation of the plant itself, a Ukrainian official said.

Russian forces occupied the defunct power station north of Kyiv soon after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 but Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said on Thursday they had left the plant and were heading towards the border with Belarus.

“Russians were seen in the exclusion zone this morning,” Yevhen Kramarenko, who heads the agency in charge of the exclusion zone, said in televised comments on Friday. He did not say what the troops were doing or where they might be headed. He added that no Russian troops had been seen on the territory of the decommissioned nuclear power plant.

However, around 200 Ukrainian national guard members have likely been taken prisoner by the Russian troops as they withdrew from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the mayor of Slavutych, Yuri Fomichev, said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that with renewed access to Chernobyl, Ukraine would work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish what Russian troops did while in control of the site, which he warned had exposed them to dangerous levels of radiation.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities on the reported withdrawal the Chernobyl plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.

Spotlight on Irpin regained

Agence France Presse has filed a dispatch from Irpin after a Russian retreat returned it to Ukrainian control. The city suffered extraordinary levels of destruction and an evacuation operation continues.

The last survivors in the ruins of Irpin have just one word to describe the Russians who have retreated after one of the pivotal battles of the war in Ukraine.

“Fascists!” rages Bogdan, 58, as he and his friends walk a dog through a deserted town centre that is free of shelling for the first time in a month. His friends nod in agreement. “Every 20 to 30 seconds we heard mortar shots. And so all day long. Just destruction,” the tent construction worker told AFP journalists who reached Irpin on Friday.

It used to be a smart commuter town in the pine forests on Kyiv’s north-western edge. But Irpin held off the full force of Russia’s invasion, becoming the closest Moscow’s forces got to the centre of the capital some 20 kilometres (12 miles) away. The town whose once leafy parks were left strewn with bodies is now back under Ukrainian control, as Russian troops hastily pull back from outside Kyiv.

Victory came at a terrible price that has left Irpin looking more like Aleppo or Grozny than an affluent satellite town in Ukraine. Barely a building has escaped the fighting unscathed. Shelling has blasted huge chunks out of modern, pastel-coloured apartment blocks. The foggy streets are eerily empty, littered with cars with bullet-scarred windscreens, and echoing with the sound of stray dogs.

“It’s the apocalypse,” says a Ukrainian soldier who hitches a ride across the empty town.

For the past three weeks Irpin has been closed off to the media since the death of a US journalist, with Ukrainian authorities saying it was too dangerous to enter. Now, near a sign in the town centre that says “I love Irpin” with a red heart, the handful of the town’s residents who stayed tell how they survived more than a month of relentless shelling.

“We hid in the basement. They fired Grad rockets, mortars and tank shells,” says Bogdan, asking to be identified only by his first name. “My wife and I came under mortar fire twice. But that’s okay, we are alive and well.”

Rescue workers are still retrieving the dead from Irpin and placing them in body bags, before taking them to the blown-up bridge that links the town with Kyiv. The bridge is covered with dozens of burned, bullet-ridden and abandoned cars, which rescue workers are now trying to clear.

US involvement

The US department of defence will provide an additional $300m in security assistance to Ukraine, to include laser-guided rocket systems, drones, and commercial satellite imagery services.

The United States will work with allies to transfer Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine to bolster its defences in the Donbas region, the New York Times reported on Friday, citing a US official.

The transfers, requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, would begin soon, the unnamed official said, according to the Times. The official declined to say how many tanks would be sent or from which countries they would come, the paper said. The Pentagon declined to comment to Reuters. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The tanks would allow Ukraine to conduct long-range artillery strikes on Russian targets in the Donbas region of south-eastern Ukraine bordering Russia, the official said, according to the Times. It marks the first time in the war that the United States has helped transfer tanks, the newspaper said.

Other things to be aware of

A senior Chinese diplomat, speaking after the China-EU summit, says the government is not deliberately circumventing sanctions on Russia.

Russia says Ukrainian helicopters attacked an oil storage facility in Belgorod, Russia, about 16 miles from the border and close to Kharkhiv, destroying fuel tanks. Ukrainian officials have denied their forces were involved.

European governments have more time to figure out how they are going to act on Russia’s demand to pay for Russia gas in roubles after the Kremlin said today that it would not immediately halt gas supplies

The Guardian has published some new reporting today on how the war is affecting food supplies, particularly the Middle East and North Africa.

The Russian invasion is leading to a dramatic decline in crops planted by farmers in the country this spring, with fears for domestic and international food security.

Known for its fertile soils, Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, barley, sunflower and maize, in particular to north Africa. However, farmers and analysts have told the Guardian that planting, harvest and export have all been disrupted by a lack of fertiliser, low or no fuel supplies for tractors, closure of ports and military activity. At least one-third of the land normally used for spring crops such as maize and sunflower is likely to go unplanted. Furthermore, one-third of the normal wheat harvest from the crop planted last autumn could be lost.

Meanwhile, the prices of basics such as oil and wheat are shooting up and shortages are showing on supermarket shelves in Lebanon, Somalia and Egypt, reports Lizzy Davies. Lebanon, already mired in economic crisis and battling inflation before the war broke out in Ukraine, now finds itself grappling with even higher price rises for wheat and cooking oil.

Even before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on 24 February, Somalia had more than enough on its plate: the worst drought for four decades; hunger so widespread that famine could develop within months; a resurgence in violence by jihadi terrorists seeking to overthrow the fragile government.

Last year, Egypt imported more than 70% of its wheat from either Russia or Ukraine, according to the UN, so the first challenge for the state is to seek alternative suppliers away from the Black Sea.

What’s going to happen next?

We can expect to see this potentially develop into a war solely in the east of Ukraine, as Russia tries to take Donetsk and Luhansk, and to maintain its land corridor to the Crimea. The war is by no means over.

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