Ukraine Accuses Russian Forces Of Stealing ‘Hundreds of Thousands’ Of Tons Of Grain

A Russian rocket attack destroyed an airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a key Black Sea port, on April 30 as the country’s president said it was hard to discuss peace amid public anger over alleged atrocities carried out by Russian troops, and Russia’s foreign minister claimed that Western sanctions and arms shipments were impeding the talks.

The comments by Ukrainian and Russian officials came as reports emerged that some civilians could be evacuated from the besieged southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol as Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine’s east.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South said late on April 30 that there was no way that the Odesa runway could be used as a result of the rocket attack.

Odesa’s regional governor said that the rocket was fired from Russian-occupied Crimea. Maksym Marchenko said there were no reports of any injuries.

Elsewhere, another mass grave was found in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the scene of alleged mass executions of civilians before its recapture by Ukrainian forces in early March, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force said on April 30.

That came as Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister said Russian invading forces have stolen “several hundred thousand tons” of grain in territory they hold.

“Today, there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of the Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Taras Vysotskiy told Ukrainian TV.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his latest televised address on April 29 that Kyiv’s forces were making tactical gains in the region, while a senior U.S. defense official said the same day that stiff Ukrainian resistance was slowing Russia’s Donbas offensive.

Zelenskiy’s office had earlier said that an operation was planned to get civilians out of the huge Azovstal steel plant, where some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up together with about 1,000 civilians. Later in the day, TASS reported that 25 civilians, including six children, had left the territory of the Azovstal steel plant. Later, Ukrainian soldiers inside the besieged plant were quoted by Western news agencies as saying a group of 20 civilians were set to leave the plant.

“Twenty civilians, women and children… have been transferred to a suitable place and we hope that they will be evacuated to Zaporizhzhya, on territory controlled by Ukraine,” said Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment.

Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, located in the country’s northeast, was reportedly targeted by mortar and artillery shelling on April 30. Zelenskiy said in his televised address the night before that Ukrainian forces had recaptured a strategically important village near the city and evacuated hundreds of civilians.

The Ukrainian military said in its daily briefing on April 30 that the greatest enemy losses were taking place near Izyum, in the region of Kharkhiv bordering the Luhansk and Donetsk territories.

Aleksandr Bogomaz, the governor of Bryansk in Russia, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian aircraft from entering the region, and as a result shelling had hit parts of an oil terminal, Russian news agencies reported.

The governor of another Russian region, Kursk, said several shells were fired from the direction of Ukraine on April 30 at a checkpoint near its border. Roman Starovoit said in a video on his Telegram channel that there were no casualties or damage.

Seven Ukrainian soldiers and seven civilians have been released in a prisoner swap Saturday with Russia, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

“We’re bringing home 14 of our people: seven military personnel and seven civilians,” Vereshchuk wrote on Facebook and Telegram. “To me, this exchange is special: one of the female soldiers is five months pregnant.”

Zelenskiy told the nation on April 29 that the constant “brutal” bombardments on infrastructure and residential areas “show that Russia wants to empty [the Donbas region] of all people,” and said that the “defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life.”

He said that if Russian forces, which invaded Ukraine unprovoked in late February and have been accused of carrying out war crimes against civilians, “are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stone.”

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Zelenskiy said that Mariupol, once one of the east’s most developed cities, was now a “concentration camp among the ruins.”

Earlier the same day he told Polish journalists that Ukrainian people seek retribution for alleged atrocities by Russian troops, and “when that kind of attitude exists, it’s hard to talk about things.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, has dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors from besieged Ukrainian cities. He also called on the West to stop providing arms to Ukraine and said that “difficult” negotiations with Kyiv continue.

Speaking to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV on April 29, Lavrov said that he appreciated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals to help evacuate Ukrainian civilians from besieged cities, but that “there is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry has confirmed that it had carried out an air strike on Kyiv during Guterres’ visit to the Ukrainian capital on April 28, saying that “high-precision, long-range air-based weapons” were used in an attack it claimed had destroyed a missile-production facility in Kyiv.

Journalist Vira Hyrych, who worked for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was among those killed when a missile hit her apartment.

In comments published by China’s official Xinhua news agency on April 30, Lavrov said that talks with Kyiv continue daily, with Moscow insisting on the “recognition of new geopolitical realities, the lifting of [Western] sanctions, and the status of the Russian language.”

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have not met face to face since the end of March, with Russian troops accused of carrying out war crimes and Western nations tightening punitive sanctions against Moscow and increasing military aid to Kyiv.

Lavrov told Xinhua that, if the United States and the Western NATO military alliance were “really interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis, then first of all, they should wake up and stop supplying the Kyiv regime with arms and ammunition.”

The Russian foreign minister also said that Russia, which has been hard-hit by punitive sanctions over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, could “retool” its economy to counter “unlawful hostilities.”

French President Emmanuel Macron told Zelenskiy during a call on April 30 that his country would step up military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.

In Washington, Congress is preparing to consider U.S. President Joe Biden’s request for $33 billion to support Ukraine, a massive jump in funding that includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition, and other military aid.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on April 29 that, in the month since Moscow announced that it would focus its military efforts in Ukraine on the country’s east, it had made minimal gains.

In the assessment of the United States, the official said, the Russian military was “at least several days behind where they wanted to be” in its attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops. The official described Russian troops’ efforts to move from Mariupol to advance on Ukrainian forces from the south as “slow and uneven and certainly not decisive.”

The British Defense Ministry, in its latest assessment, said that Russia had “been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine.” However, British intelligence said that many of the units are “likely suffering from weakened morale” and “a lack of unit-level skills and inconsistent air support have left Russia unable to fully leverage its combat mass.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week threatened unspecified retaliation for Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, while Lavrov said the West should not underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict.

Russia’s invasion and heightened rhetoric has led to concerns that the war in Ukraine could spill into neighboring Moldova, whose separatist Transdniester region is backed by Moscow and hosts Russian forces.

A series of recent blasts in Transdniester have led to accusations that Moscow is seeking to destabilize Moldova.

When asked about the risk of war in Moldova during his April 29 interview with Al-Arabiya, Lavrov said that “Moldova should worry about its own future,” suggesting that the country is “being pulled into NATO.”

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters

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