The Russian military pounded away at pockets of resistance across parts of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, while two American veterans captured by Russian troops waited to learn if they will face the death penalty.
The beleaguered eastern city of Sievierodonetsk is one of the last areas in the Luhansk region that Russia has failed to completely overwhelm. About 568 civilians, including 38 children, remain holed up with Ukraine fighters at the Azot chemical plant, said regional governor Serhiy Haidai. The civilians are primarily of the company, and their families employees and have refused to evacuate, Haidai said.
“Today everything that can burn is on fire,” Haidai said.
The Russian military controls about 95% of the Luhansk, which along with Donetsk comprises the Donbas region that the Kremlin has coveted since withdrawing from a botched assault on the Ukraine capital of Kyiv in the early days of the four-month war.
►A Moscow court extended the arrest of a local lawmaker charged with discrediting the military for criticizing Russia’s invasion. Alexei Gorinov, in jail since April, said he was merely expressing his political views of him. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
►Polish and Ukrainian government officials say they plan to display in Warsaw burnt-out Russian tanks captured by Ukrainian forces. Polish Prime Minister Michal Dworczyk’s office said the idea is to highlight Russian “atrocities” and the Ukrainian response.
►Destruction of businesses, housing and infrastructure has surpassed $100 billion, the equivalent to 50% of Ukraine’s gross domestic product in 2021, the National Bank of Ukraine estimated.
►The Luxembourg government had provided 15% of its defense budget to support the Ukrainian military, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after meeting with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in Kyiv on Tuesday.
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State Department reports 2nd known American fatality: Stephen Zabielski
Stephen Zabielski, 52, is the second US citizen known to have died in the war in Ukraine, the State Department confirmed Tuesday.
The State Department did not say exactly when or how he died, but an obituary published in The Recorder newspaper in his hometown of Amsterdam, New York, says he died May 15 “while fighting the war in Village of Dorozhniank, Ukraine.”
Zabielski is survived by his wife and five stepchildren, according to the obituary.
Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was the first known American killed in Ukraine while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, his family said in early May. Cancel, who was working as a corrections officer in Tennessee, had joined a private military contracting company to fight against Russian forces. He left behind an infant son and wife.
Americans captured in Ukraine could face death penalty, Russia says
Two American veterans independently supporting the Ukraine military may face the death penalty, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned. Peskov told NBC News the fates of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, will be decided by a Russian court. They were “involved in illegal activities …(and) should be punished,” he said, adding that they weren’t likely to be protected by Geneva Conventions afforded prisoners of war because they weren’t part of Ukraine’s regular army.
Huynh and Drueke traveled to Ukraine in April to help Ukrainians repel Russian forces. The State Department issued a statement calling on “the Russian government – as well as its proxies – to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of any individual, including those captured fighting in Ukraine.”
Last week, two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Asked if the Americans would face the same fate, Petrov said he “cannot guarantee anything. It depends on the investigation.”
‘HOPING FOR GOOD NEWS’:Family of two US military veterans speak out about missing men
Ben Stiller meets his ‘hero’ in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Actor and director Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee program, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday after visiting ruined residential areas of Irpin and talking to people who survived the occupation.
“It’s really wonderful, you are my hero, you’re amazing,” Stiller said in greeting Zelenskyy. “What you’ve done and the way you have raised the country and… the world, it’s really inspiring.”
Stiller expressed dismay at the devastation the war has wrought in Irpin – a city not far from the capital of Kyiv that was hammered, then abandoned, by the Russians. The destruction looks much worse up close than it does on TV or social media, he said.
“What you saw in Irpin is definitely dreadful,” Zelenskyy responded. “But it is even worse to just imagine what is happening in the settlements that are still under temporary occupation in the east.”
Ukraine set to gain EU candidate status this week
European Union ministers on Tuesday tentatively approved a plan to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the bloc, France’s Europe minister said. Clément Beaune, after a meeting with his counterparts, told France24 there was “a total consensus on moving these issues forward, and in particular for Ukraine the possibility of confirming candidate status as soon as possible.”
EU leaders are expected to formally approve Ukraine’s candidate the move later this week, Beaune said. The office of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Orbán told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy he advocated “the removal of bureaucratic obstacles to Ukraine’s accession to the EU.” Moldova and Georgia also hope to gain candidate status.
AG Merrick Garland visits Ukraine for meeting with prosecutor
Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday for a meeting with Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to discuss the continuing effort to identify and apprehend suspected war criminals, according to a Justice Department official, who could not discuss details of the trip publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this year, the attorney general pledged US support for an international campaign to hold war criminals accountable for atrocities being documented by Ukrainian authorities.
“Every day, we see the heartbreaking images and read the horrific accounts of brutality… but there is no hiding place for war criminals.” Garland said during a virtual meeting last month with his Ukrainian counterpart and other allies.
– Kevin JohnsonUSA TODAY
Ukraine LGBTQ community struggles as war drags on
The official Pride parade in Kyiv was canceled this year after a decade of hard-fought efforts for more acceptance of LGBTQ people.
Before Russia invaded, Ukraine – a largely religious nation with a long history of oppression against sexual and gender expression – had increasingly become a rare bright spot for LGBTQ rights and a sanctuary of sorts for Eastern Europe. Ex-Soviet LGBTQ individuals would travel to experience a gay nightclub scene, especially in larger cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa, where they could feel safer to be open.
Now, what would have been the 10th anniversary of the Equality March in Kyiv this month was relocated to Poland because of the ongoing war.
“We had a lot and I hope we will rebuild it,” said Yuriy Dvizhon, creative director of UKRAINEPRIDE. Read more here.
– Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY
Estonia chastises Russia after helicopter encroachment
A Russian military helicopter entered Estonian airspace without permission Saturday, flying above the Koidula region along the Russia border for about two minutes, Estonia’s defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
A flight plan was not filed, the transponder was switched off and two-way radio communication was not established with Estonian air traffic control, the ministry said.
Russia’s ambassador to Estonia Vladimir Lipajev was summoned by Estonia’s foreign affairs ministry. “Estonia considers this an extremely serious and regrettable incident that undoubtedly causes additional tensions and is completely unacceptable,” the foreign affairs ministry said Tuesday.
Estonia is a nation of less than 3 million people that broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Contributing: The Associated Press