War in Ukraine live updates: Civilians escape from Mariupol; Europe looks for energy alternatives
European energy ministers are meeting in Brussels today to address Russia's move to cut off natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria and to consider a ban on Russian oil.
Here's what else we're following:
About 100 civilians were evacuated Sunday from a Mariupol steel plant. Of the thousands of civilians still trapped in the besieged port city, about 1,000 are believed to be sheltering in bunkers beneath the plant. See those and more of the top stories from the weekend.
Russia appears to be tightening its grip on the occupied city of Kherson in Ukraine's south. Yesterday Russia cut off internet and cell phone links to the city, and the ruble was recently introduced as the main currency.
Ukraine is switching from Soviet military standards to Western ones. Ukraine's defense minister says the move will ensure Ukraine becomes fully "interoperable" with NATO.
Israel slams Russia's foreign minister for comparing Zelenskyy to Hitler
Israeli officials are castigating Russia and demanding an apology for comments its foreign minister made about Nazism over the weekend. It's the strongest condemnation of Russia by Israel since the war in Ukraine began in February.
It all started on Sunday — days after Holocaust Remembrance Day — when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made antisemitic comments in an interview with Italian television program Zona Bianca.
Lavrov was asked about Russia's claim that it had invaded Ukraine to "denazify" the country, which has a democratically-elected Jewish president.
“So when they say ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything," he told the station in Russian, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's religion, according to the Associated Press. "For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish."
The backlash was swift, with officials in both Israel and Ukraine slamming Lavrov's remarks as deeply offensive and historically inaccurate. (Some people have speculated that Hitler's unidentified paternal grandfather was Jewish, an unproven rumor that the BBC explains was fueled by an assertion in a 1953 memoir by Hitler's lawyer, Hans Frank.)
Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor and the grandson of a Holocaust victim, called Lavrov's remarks "unforgiveable" and "outrageous."
"Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust," he wrote in a tweet. "The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism."
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement on Monday calling for an immediate end to the use of the Holocaust "as a political battering ram," according to the Jerusalem Post.
"Lies like these are meant to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history, which were committed against them, and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility," he added.
Dani Dayan, the chairman Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, wrote on Twitter that Lavrov was "propagating the inversion of the Holocaust" by promoting an unfounded claim that turns its victims into criminals.
To call Zelenskyy — and the Ukrainian public in general — Nazis is "a complete distortion of the history and a serious affront to the victims of Nazism," he added.
Israeli officials summoned Russia’s ambassador, Anatoly Viktorov, to the foreign ministry where officials stated the country's position, the Guardian reports.
This isn't the first time Russia has invoked Nazism and World War II to justify its aggression in Ukraine, prompting criticism and charges of hyprocisy, especially as its forces have attacked Holocaust memorial sites and killed multiple Holocaust survivors in residential shellings.
Israel's quick and forceful condemnation of Lavrov's comments are particularly notable because the country has been criticized for not doing enough to show its support for Ukraine.
Bennett has largely avoiding criticizing Russia for its full-scale invasion. And while other officials have expressed support for Ukraine, Israel has not sent military equipment or fully joined in the Western sanctions against Russia.
As NPR has reported, Zelenskyy voiced his impatience in a March address before Israeli lawmakers in which he compared Russia's invasion to the Holocaust and urged Israel to take stronger action, including sending weapons to Ukraine and accepting non-Jewish refugees fleeing the war.
Lavrov's comments also have drawn ire outside of Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League condemned his "misuse of Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust," calling it part of his "transparently desperate efforts" to justify Russia's war in Ukraine.
A German government spokesperson said the idea Hitler had Jewish heritage was "absurd" propaganda, according to Reuters, while the country's anti-Semitism commissioner said the remarks "shamelessly confront not only Jews but the entire international public with open anti-Semitism."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that in addition to offending Zelenskyy, Ukraine, Israel and the Jewish people, Lavrov's remarks "demonstrate that today's Russia is full of hatred towards other nations."
Jill Biden will travel to Europe to meet with Ukrainian refugees and U.S. service members
First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Slovakia and Romania later this week to show support for Ukrainian refugees.
The first lady will be on the ground for four days, beginning in Romania, then heading to Slovakia.
She'll be the latest in a long line of U.S. officials who have shown support for Ukraine with trips to Eastern and Central Europe in recent weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Kyiv over the weekend.
Romania and Slovakia both border Ukraine, and have both taken in some of the millions of refugees who have fled the country since Russia began its invasion.
Biden will meet with refugees, as well as aid workers and teachers who have helped educate displaced Ukrainian children. On Mother’s Day, she plans to meet with Ukrainian mothers and children who have been forced to flee their home country.
She'll also meet with U.S. military personnel stationed in Romania, as well as government officials in both countries.
Ukraine's military says it has sunk two more Russian warships in the Black Sea
Officials with Ukraine's military published videos today of what they say are strikes on two Russian warships in the Black Sea. Ukraine says the attack occurred early Monday morning, and that both ships sank.
In the video posted to social media, two small patrol ships are struck followed by large explosions. It's unclear whether the vessels actually sank and NPR couldn't verify the video's authenticity. The head of the Odesa-region military command, Makysm Marchenko, described the attack in a separate video posted on Telegram.
Marchenko says the ships were sunk at dawn by an attack drone operated by the Ukrainian navy. This follows the sinking last month of the Moskva, a much larger missile cruiser that was Russia's flagship in the Black Sea. Russia continues to enforce a blockade in the region that has closed down Ukraine's ports.
The difference that Western military aid makes to Ukraine, according to one expert
The U.S. and its NATO allies have been boosting military aid to Ukraine in recent weeks, prompting warnings from Russia that they may be fueling a more direct confrontation.
While that threat does ring alarm bells for some people, Barry Pavel isn't one of them. The
senior vice president and director of the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security says Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands are full fighting Ukraine, and he doesn't want another fight with a much larger set of forces.
"I think we should take those threats seriously — don't ignore them completely," he adds. "But I don't consider them to be significant and meriting a new type of response."
Pavel spoke with Morning Edition's Rachel Martin about the challenges and impacts of getting those weapons to Ukraine, and how Western military aid could shape the direction of the war.
Listen to their conversation here and read excerpts below.
How is military aid helping the Ukrainian resistance?
Pavel sees this moment as a manufacturing and resupply race. The key question to him is whether Russia can resupply and rearm its military forces faster than the U.S. and its NATO allies can supply, train and arm Ukrainian forces.
And the weapons themselves are changing as the war moves into new terrain, Pavel says. So it's about resupplying, training and ensuring that each side is using the weapons that it needs for each new phase of the fight.
What are the challenges of physically getting the weapons into Ukraine?
Supplying the actual weapons is a question of transportation and logistics, as Pavel explains. There are only a few options: by air (particularly for lighter equipment), by railway and by roads.
Each side knows these efforts are underway and appears to be trying to weaken their enemy's efforts, he adds. We're seeing Russia attacking railway hubs in Ukraine, and explosions at fuel depots in Russia that he perceives as Ukrainian attacks on critical logistics hubs. Ukraine needs to figure out how to protect its railway hubs, he adds, whether that's with missile defense systems or alternate routes.
As for using the weapons effectively once they arrive, Pavel says we know that Ukrainians are already trained on some of these systems — especially Soviet-era systems — and that the U.S. and NATO countries have been supplying many of those. But there are also other systems that will require trainings, which will need to be conducted somewhere.
The U.K. defense ministry says 25% of Russian troops in Ukraine are "combat ineffective." How did that happen?
Pavel says it's a result of Ukraine's "valiant and very agile defense," supported by the U.S. and NATO. While their effective defense has stymied the Russian forces, Pavel adds that the war isn't over yet — and that Russia has "numerical superiority."
"But the Ukrainians I think have a lot more on their side, so I'm relatively optimistic that the Russians will not achieve their goals," he says. "And their goals are to push as far westward from where they are, in the east, as possible."
Many former Soviet republics don't want Russian troops in their country
Russian troops are active throughout several former Soviet republics, which Russian President Vladimir Putin sees as a way to maintain influence beyond his country's borders — though the governments of some of those former republics disagree.
As Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine, there are concerns that the violence could spill over into neighboring countries, as national security correspondent Greg Myre tells Morning Edition.
Those include Moldova, a tiny country that borders Ukraine to the southwest. For the past 30 years Russia has has had hundreds of troops in a separatist region in the eastern part of the country, against the will of Moldova's government. Several communication towers were blown up in Moldova last week, and while it's unclear who was behind the attack, Myre says it's fueled fears of a widening conflict.
There's also Belarus, the leader of which is very closely associated with Putin. He allowed Russian troops to enter and use the country as a launching pad for their invasion of Ukraine.
"There's a common theme of, Vladimir Putin claims the West is trying to undermine Russia, and he wants these former Soviet republics as well as others to be this protective buffer for Russia," Myre says.
But many of those countries — including Georgia and Kazakhstan, where Putin previously has deployed troops with the stated aim of helping Russians who live there — are not too keen on this idea.
Angelina Jolie met with refugees and volunteers during a surprise visit to Lviv
American actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie made a surprise visit to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv this weekend, where she met with people displaced by the war and visited some of the facilities and organizations that are busy helping them.
Jolie has been a U.N. Special Envoy for refugees for a decade. However, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency said that it had no involvement in the visit and that she traveled to Ukraine "in her personal capacity."
Maksym Kozytskyy, the Lviv regional governor, said on Telegram that Jolie met with Ukrainians who have found refuge in the city, including children who are being treated for injuries they suffered in last month's missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station.
“She was very moved by (the children’s) stories,” Kozytskyy wrote, according to a translation from the Associated Press. “One girl was even able to privately tell Ms. Jolie about a dream she’d had.”
Angelina Jolie meets children, volunteers in Lviv Oblast on April 30.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) April 30, 2022
Jolie visited injured children evacuated from Donetsk Oblast and orphans. She also met volunteers who provide medical and psychological help to Ukrainian evacuees.
Source: Lviv Oblast Governor Maksym Kozytsky pic.twitter.com/RAp9OIZSIY
Jolie also met with recent evacuees arriving at Lviv's central train station, as well as the Ukrainian volunteers greeting them with medical help and counseling.
And she visited a boarding school, where she chatted and took photos with students before promising to return again.
Actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie visits the central railway station in Lviv to welcome the internally displaced Ukrainians arriving on an evacuation train from Pokrovsk, a city in Donetsk Oblast, on April 30. Jolie is a special envoy of UNHCR.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) April 30, 2022
Photo: Ukrainian Railways. pic.twitter.com/KNmnKyYur8
Celebrity chef José Andrés shared photos on Twitter of Jolie meeting with cooks and volunteers for his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which is providing meals to Ukrainians across the country daily.
She evidently sampled some of their soup, too.
Thank you Angelina Jolie for coming to Ukraine and visiting some of the incredible WCK chefs who cook every single day! We cannot forget the people of Ukraine… The world must keep doing everything we can to help! Hope you enjoyed the bograch soup! #ChefsForUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/5eWOq5ALKk— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) April 30, 2022
Jolie's presence appeared to surprise and delight fans across the city — for the most part. A now-viral video shows her signing an autograph for an admirer in a coffee shop, while a young boy sits at a nearby table, wearing headphones and engrossed in his phone.
⚡️ Actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie was spotted at a cafe in western Ukrainian city of Lviv on April 30.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) April 30, 2022
Jolie is a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Video: Maya Pidhoretska via Facebook. pic.twitter.com/CBtR4HBMNR
Social media users seized on the boy's intent focus on his phone and seeming obliviousness to the celebrity mere inches away, and have made it into a meme.
In many versions of the meme (as compiled in this Twitter thread by veteran political advisor Yarema Dukh), Jolie is labeled as herself while the boy is labeled as distracted by more pressing wartime pursuits — like "Me, trying to find a gas station with a gas" or "How to deliver 56 vests and 120 first-aid kits from Warsaw."
It's both relatable and understandable. As Kozytskyy wrote on Telegram, Jolie's visit "was a surprise to us all."
"Plenty of people who saw Ms. Jolie in the Lviv region could not believe that it was really her," he added. "But since Feb. 24, Ukraine has shown the entire world that there are plenty of incredible things here.”
Ukraine says it's shifting from Soviet-based to NATO-quality weapons
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov says Ukraine is already transitioning to Western-caliber technology, including 155-millimeter artillery. He says the move will ensure Ukraine becomes fully "interoperable" with NATO, which will strengthen the alliance's eastern flank.
In NATO-speak, this means Ukrainians would be able work smoothly with NATO while helping to protect front-line NATO states, such as Poland.
Reznikov wrote on Facebook last week that "tectonic philosophical shifts have occurred" since he took up his position this past fall.
"I will admit — three months ago an achievement like this would have been considered almost impossible," he said. "But thanks to the courage and professionalism of Ukrainian defenders, and the resilience of the Ukrainian people, everything has changed."
He also credited a number of Ukrainian officials — including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and a slew of diplomats — with personally helping with the transition.
While Ukraine is still open to receiving Soviet-style equipment and weapons to strengthen its army in the short term, Reznikov said that "material changes have already taken place."
He noted that Ukraine's armed forces have been gaining expertise in the use of Western weapons for quite some time, though he said the specifics of this work were not being publicized for confidentiality reasons.
"I can provide an example of a recent and very relevant experience: Our artillerymen, who were training on a 155-mm ACS at a test site in one of our partner countries, hit their target with their first shot," he said. "And they then helped our foreign colleagues to improve the computer software that manages this ACS, which impressed them."
Reznikov thanked international partners for their support, which he described as invaluable as well as growing. At the same time, he spoke of the need to set realistic expectations.
"There are some extremely difficult weeks ahead," he wrote. "Practical implementation of agreements, training and logistics take time. And Russia has already consolidated its forces for a large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine."
He said that even as assistance to Ukraine grows, its military will need to demonstrate its unity — and is prepared to suffer losses on the path to victory.
"We must persist," he said. "And persist we will!"
EU energy ministers hold a special meeting to discuss Russian gas reliance
European Union energy ministers meet today in Brussels to discuss options for dealing with Russia’s decision last week to stop delivering natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. They will also discuss a potential EU-wide ban on importing Russian oil.
The bloc already has issued a ban on Russian coal that will go into effect in August. The German government of Olaf Scholz reportedly supports an oil embargo on Russia, and already has reduced Germany’s dependance on Russian oil to just 12% of its overall energy mix. None of this comes as a surprise, as German ministers have been discussing reducing its dependence a coal and oil since the war began — and as NPR reported in March, German energy experts say the country should be able to find alternatives.
The problem remains is Russian natural gas, which makes up around a third of Germany’s overall energy mix, and cannot easily be replaced with liquified natural gas (LNG) due to the country’s lack of LNG infrastructure. Germany made an all-in bet during the Merkel era on depending on Russia for its natural gas needs, and with both Poland and Bulgaria having to find quick solutions to a sudden lack of Russian gas, the competition for alternative gas sources in Europe becomes even more heated.
Part of Germany’s plan to wean itself off of Russian natural gas and oil is reducing its own dependence on it from within.
Germany’s federal government plans to offer unprecedented discounts for public transportation. Starting June 1, monthlong public transportation passes — which typically cost around $90 dollars in Berlin — will be offered to all passengers for just $9.50 per month through August. The idea is to get those unaccustomed to using Germany’s well-regarded public transport system to begin using it, in hopes that more people will start to rely more on the U and S-Bahn instead of the Autobahn.
As Russia tries to carve out Kherson as a new republic in Ukraine, it has cut off communications
Russia appears to be tightening its grip on the occupied city of Kherson in Ukraine's south.
Russia seized the Black Sea port, which was home to nearly 300,000 people before the invasion, in the early days of the conflict. Yesterday, itcut off internet and cell phone links to the city. NPR's efforts to contact the city's Ukrainian mayor have been unsuccessful.
The British defense ministry says Ukrainians are being forced to use Russian rubles for purchases, rather than the the local Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia. Last week, local authorities said Russian forces dispersed a pro-Ukraine rally in the occupied city and appointed a Russian-backed mayor.
There are also reports that statues of the Russian communist leader Lenin are being restored in the province.
Russia had planned a referendum in Kherson — an attempt to legitimize its military occupation — but it's unclear whether that will go forward. Heavy fighting continues in Ukraine's south.
Capturing the city was a key strategic goal for Russia early in the war, providing the Kremlin with an easy route to move troops deeper into Ukraine from Crimea, the region of the country it seized in 2014.
Here's what happened in Ukraine this weekend
This weekend saw a number of notable developments in Russia's war in Ukraine, from long-awaited humanitarian evacuations from Mariupol to a visit from Congressional Democrats. Skim the highlights below, and find all of NPR's daily Ukraine recaps here.
Here's what happened on Saturday:
- A Russian rocket destroyed an airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine's Operational Command South said on social media. The rocket that hit Ukraine's third-largest city was launched from Crimea, according to the post. There were no injuries.
- Seven Ukrainian soldiers and seven civilians were released in a prisoner swap with Russia, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday on social media.
- Three more bodies showing evidence of torture were found in a mass grave in Bucha, said Kyiv's regional police chief.
Here's what happened on Sunday:
- About 100 civilians were evacuated from a Mariupol steel plant. Of the thousands of civilians still trapped in the besieged port city, about a thousand are believed to be sheltering in bunkers beneath the plant.
- Congressional Democrats met Ukrainian leaders in the capital of Kyiv, they announced on Sunday. The Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyyand other Ukrainian officials on Saturday for three hours to discuss American support for the war.
- Officials in Odesa imposed a curfew. Officials in the southern port city say the enforced curfew will extend from Sunday night through Tuesday morning after warning of possible sabotage in the city.