- The United Kingdom will provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2bn) of military support to Ukraine, as NATO has branded Russia the biggest “direct threat” to Western security.
- Russia is stepping up its attacks across Ukraine with several regions beyond the Donbas targeted on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says.
- He says 10 missiles hit a residential area of the Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv killing at least five people, with rescue efforts continuing.
- Kyiv says 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including scores of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, have been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.
- NATO has agreed to put more than 300,000 troops at high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 previously, a new military lineup resembling the alliance’s Cold War posture.
Here are the latest updates:
Twin Russian strikes ‘deliberately targeted’ Mariupol theatre: Amnesty
Evidence suggests twin Russian airstrikes deliberately targeted a theatre being used as a shelter in the city of Mariupol, rights group Amnesty International have said in a report.
The report condemned the attack as a war crime. Amnesty said there was no evidence that the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater was a base of operations for Ukrainian soldiers and every indication that it was a haven for civilians seeking protection from weeks of relentless shellings and airstrikes. Using satellite imagery from that morning, Amnesty determined the sky was consistently clear enough for any pilot to see the word “CHILDREN” written in giant Cyrillic letters in the building’s front and back.
The March 16 airstrike devastated the building. City officials initially estimated around 300 dead. An Associated Press investigation found the attack may have killed closer to 600 people inside and outside the building. Most of the two dozen survivors and witnesses AP interviewed put the number even higher. Researchers for Amnesty International identified 12 of the dead.
Those who bore witness “saw bodies, remains of bodies. And that’s how we can try to reconstruct. But the truth is that we will never know the truth. We will never get the final figure. And what is more or horrifying for me is that we will never know the whole names,” said Oksana Pokalchuk, Amnesty’s director general for Ukraine.
Ukrainian troops train in Britain to use advanced rocket systems
Hundreds of Ukrainian troops have completed military training in the United Kingdom, including on the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) the UK government is supplying to help counter Russian artillery tactics.
Ukrainian troops were filmed earlier this week loading and firing 105mm light guns during exercises in Salisbury, England – one part of a British-led programme that has been undertaken by more than 450 Ukrainian armed forces with support from New Zealand. MLRS systems were also shown in use.
“It’s a force multiplier,” Captain James Oliphant of the Royal Artillery, who was involved in the three-week MLRS training element, told reporters.
“Because it’s a tracked vehicle – their rockets systems are wheeled – it is going to give them more manoeuvrability which is going to going to aid in their survivability.”
Five killed in Mykolaiv raids Wednesday: Zelenskyy
Russia continued to shell cities and settlements across Ukraine Wednesday, stepping up its attacks beyond the Donbas region.
Zelenskyy said Russian forces struck the town of Ochakiv in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the port city of Mykolaiv, and across the Kharkiv and Sumy regions.
He said 10 missiles fell on Mykolaiv on Wednesday, “all of them were aimed at civilian targets”.
“One of these missiles, a hypersonic anti-ship missile ‘Onyx’, destroyed an ordinary five-story building. Dismantling of the debris continued over the day. As of now, five people are known to have been killed,” Zelenskyy said.
UK to provide another 1bn pounds of military support to Ukraine
The United Kingdom will provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2bn) of military support to Ukraine, its government has said, as NATO branded Russia the biggest “direct threat” to Western security.
The funding will go towards boosting Ukraine’s defence capabilities, including air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of equipment for Ukrainian soldiers.
“UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught. And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
The latest funding comes after the UK said in May it would provide an additional 1.3 billion pounds ($1.58bn) in military support and aid to Ukraine, and takes the UK’s total military and economic support to 3.8 billion pounds ($4.61bn) this year.
NATO vastly expands troops at high readiness for long-term Russian threat
NATO has agreed to put more than 300,000 troops at high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 presently. The new military lineup is designed to better counter Russia, the country the alliance has designated as posing the greatest threat.
The move replaces the NATO Response Force, which was for years the first to respond to any Russian attack or other crisis. The new model resembles the way NATO forces were organised during the Cold War. At that time, specific allied countries were assigned the defence of specific sectors of the border between Western and Eastern Germany.
“Today, NATO leaders decided a fundamental shift in our defence and deterrence to respond to a new security reality,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, adding NATO would enhance its “battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance up to brigade level.”
A brigade has some 3,000 to 5,000 troops, while a battalion – the unit that made up a battlegroup in the past – normally has between 300 to 1,000 troops.
Biden thanks Erdogan for NATO deal on Finland, Sweden
US President Joe Biden has thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for striking a deal with Finland and Sweden that has paved the way for the two Nordic countries to soon become NATO candidates.
Biden, in brief remarks before their meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, also thanked Erdogan for Ankara’s efforts to help get grain out of Ukraine. Erdogan said he hoped diplomacy would help solve the issues around Ukraine’s grain exports.
Canada to lead efforts to form ‘combat capable’ brigade in Latvia: Minister
Canada has signed an agreement to work with Latvia and NATO partners to lead efforts to form a “combat capable” brigade in Latvia, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand has said.
“This is a commitment that the Canadian government is making together with Latvia to work with our allies to move towards and surge to a brigade level force in Latvia,” Anand told reporters, adding that details about an exact number of troops had not yet been determined.
“We will commit additional troops with our allies going forward, but we need to have the conversation about how many additional troops will be committed by each of the 10 member nations of the Enhanced Forward Presence battle group,” Anand said.
Indonesian President offers to ‘deliver message’ to Putin from Ukraine
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has offered to “deliver a message” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Russian leader Vladimir Putin to try to boost peace hopes.
“Even though it’s very hard to achieve, I expressed the importance of a peaceful resolution. I offer to deliver a message from President Zelenskyy to President Putin that I’ll meet soon,” Widodo – known as Jokowi – said.
He also confirmed Indonesia’s contribution to medical and infrastructure aid to Kyiv.
Jokowi arrived in Kyiv from Poland by train on Wednesday morning. He also visited the town of Irpin, where Ukraine suspects Russian soldiers committed atrocities. Moscow denies the allegations.
IAEA loses transmission from Ukraine’s Russian-held nuclear power plant
The United Nations atomic watchdog has said it has again lost its connection to its surveillance systems keeping track of nuclear material at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe’s largest, which the watchdog wants to inspect.
“The fact that our remote safeguards data transmission is down again – for the second time in the past month – only adds to the urgency to dispatch this mission (to Zaporizhzhia),” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement on Wednesday. The connection was lost on Saturday “due to a disruption of the facility’s communication systems”, it added.
Read all the updates from June 29 here.