Ukraine-Russia War Update: Guterres visits mass graves near Kyiv; UN mobilizes team for Mariupol evacuation

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News


The U.N. Secretary-General traveled to Ukraine on Thursday, a day after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Antonio Guterres visited sites around Kyiv that were occupied by Russia for several weeks in March, including a mass grave in Bucha where Ukrainian officials described the atrocities committed against civilians by Russian forces.

“Here, you feel how important it is for a thorough investigation and accountability,” Guterres told reporters. “I fully support the international criminal court and appeal to the Russian Federation to accept to cooperate with the ICC (the International Criminal Court). But when we talk of war crimes we cannot forget that the worst of crimes is war itself.”

The Secretary-General grew emotional as he called the war “evil,” adding, “there is no way a war can be acceptable in the 21st century.”

UN preps for Azovstal evacuation

The U.N. is currently mobilizing a team to help evacuate roughly 1,000 civilians sheltering in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel factory, the last remaining holdout in the decimated port city. The move comes after Guterres said Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed, “in principle,” to allow the civilians to flee to safety. 

It is not clear whether Ukrainian troops hunkered down in the bombed facility will be allowed to leave or if the relief will also be provided for any of the 100,000 civilians trapped throughout the city for nearly two months. Mariupol officials estimate that at least 21,000 citizens of the port city in southern Ukraine are dead after weeks of relentless bombing and deprivation of food, water, medicine, and electricity, though they fear the number is much higher.

U.S., Russia swap prisoners

In Washington, the U.S. and Russia struck a deal to engage in a prisoner swap Wednesday. Russia agreed to release a jailed American Marine veteran in exchange for a Russian pilot in custody in the U.S. The American, who was back on U.S. soil Wednesday, had been in Russian custody for three years for allegedly assaulting a police officer, though his family says he’s innocent. The Russian pilot was arrested 12 years ago for attempting to smuggle drugs into the U.S., for which he was sentenced to 20 years. U.S. officials say the swap is the result of months of negotiations that predate Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Pentagon could send troops into Ukraine 

On Wednesday, the Pentagon acknowledged that the return of U.S. diplomats to Ukraine could potentially require the presence of American troops in the country, despite President Biden and other top U.S. officials repeatedly saying that no U.S. troops will be deployed to Ukraine. During a press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby hinted that the situation could potentially cause the administration to change its position.

When asked by a reporter if returning diplomats will require the presence of U.S. military members for security purposes, Kirby replied, “I think we’re going to be having constant conversations here with our State Department colleagues about what their diplomatic activities are going to entail. And to what degree they might need support from the United States military and force protection mode,” he continued, adding, “Keeping in mind…that they may not. So, we’re just going to take this in steps. And we’ll see where it goes. But as you and I speak here, I mean, nothing’s changed about our support to U.S. diplomats.”

The press secretary was also asked whether U.S. weapons shipments were reaching Ukraine and having any impact on the war. Kirby said he could not disclose details that could potentially tip Moscow off to Ukraine’s defense strategy but acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are “expending rounds every single day of all different types and calibers.” 

“We’re doing everything we can,” Kirby added, “The flow continues to make sure that they can stay in the fight.”

Kirby was also asked about the status of thousands of U.S. troops that were deployed to NATO’s Eastern Flank in February.

The press secretary said some ship squadrons have returned to the U.S., but that, “in terms of the ground forces, in particular, they’re still there.” 

Kirby also added that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “is in constant communication” with U.S. military leaders “about what that needs to look like going forward,” adding, “and right now, our footprint in Europe, which is now over 100,000, is both permanently based and rotational and temporary.”