Shelling killed civilians, damaged residential buildings and knocked out power lines in nine regions of Ukraine on Thursday, the country’s presidential office said.
At least four people were killed and 10 more were injured in 24 hours as explosions rocked cities including the frequently targeted Mykolaiv and Nikopol, a city close to the country’s biggest nuclear power plant officials said.
Shelling killed five civilians and wounded six others in the eastern city of Donetsk, Russian-backed local authorities said. The separatist officials blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling, which Ukrainian officials denied. Mandatory evacuations in the Donetsk province began Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram, as the first evacuation train arrived in Kropyvnytskyi.
About 50 residential buildings were damaged by Russian rockets in Nikopol, located across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was occupied by Russian troops early in the war. The projectiles also hit power lines leaving residents without electricity, Ukrainian officials said.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Associated Press this week the power plant is “completely out of control” and urged Russia and Ukraine to allow experts in to assess the situation.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” he told the outlet. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”
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►A ship that Ukraine says is carrying 10,000 tons of grain stolen by Russia has left a Lebanese port after an investigation, Lebanon’s transport minister said Thursday. The Laodicea’s departure, which is likely to anger Ukraine, comes as a ship carrying grain from Ukraine is sailing toward Lebanon, the first ship to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea Ports since the war began.
►U.S. intelligence officials say Russia is working to plant false evidence to blame Ukrainian forces for the deadly attack on Olenivka Prison that left 53 dead and dozens wounded, the Associated Press reported.
►The U.S. Senate delivered near-unanimous bipartisan approval to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden on Wednesday, voting 95-1 for the candidacy of two Nordic nations that, until Russia’s war against Ukraine, had long avoided military alliances.
Ukrainian forces have violated international law by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, turning civilian areas into military targets, Amnesty International said in a report Thursday.
Amnesty International researchers found evidence Ukrainian forces based themselves in buildings such as schools and hospitals in 19 towns and villages, exposing populated areas to Russian strikes that killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure.
However, in cities including Kharkiv, the organization found Russia had unlawfully targeted civilian areas and had committed war crimes. Ukraine’s use of civilian areas as military bases “does not in anyway justify” Russia’s use of indiscriminate weapons like internationally banned cluster munitions, the organization said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the report saying the only threat to Ukrainians is the Russian army.
Meanwhile, Russian state and pro-Kremlin media extensively quoted the report, which somewhat aligns with Moscow’s official narrative.
“We’re talking about it all the time, calling the actions of Ukraine’s armed forces the tactics of using the civilian population as a ‘human shield,’” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony Thursday in the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist’s cannabis possession case.
Griner, 31, who entered a guilty plea weeks ago, apologized to her family and wife.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said addressing the judge.
Griner was detained in Russia Feb. 17 after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, but her arrest did not become public knowledge until nearly three weeks after it occurred.
Now that the trial has concluded, negotiations to free Griner are expected to continue between Washington and Moscow during a period of tension between the two countries.
The U.S. State Department said last week it had proposed a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on espionage charges.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Russia made a “bad faith” counteroffer. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for “discreet” talks, accusing the U.S. of “megaphone diplomacy” that won’t move the negotiations forward.
Contributing: Chris Bumbaca, USA TODAY; The Associated Press