Ukraine announces first war crimes charge against a Russian soldier
21-year-old charged with killing an unarmed civilian who was riding his bicycle
Latest political developments
- Ukraine announces war crimes charge against Russian soldier.
- Ukraine shuts down natural gas pipeline carrying fuel from Russia.
- Russia raises idea of annexing Kherson.
Updates from the ground on Day 77 of the war
- Zelensky says Ukrainian military has pushed Russian troops away from Kharkiv.
- Russian rocket attack targets area around Zaporizhzhia, host city of Mariupol evacuees.
- Dozens of airstrikes target Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, fighting regiment says.
Ukraine's top prosecutor disclosed plans Wednesday for the first war crimes trial of a captured Russian soldier, as fighting raged in the east and south and the Kremlin entertained the possibility of annexing a corner of the country it seized early in the invasion.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office charged Sgt. Vadin Shyshimarin, 21, in the killing of an unarmed 62-year-old civilian who was gunned down while riding a bicycle in February, four days into the war.
Shyshimarin, who served with a tank unit, was accused of firing through a car window on the man in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka. Venediktova said the soldier could get up to 15 years in prison. She did not say when the trial would start.
Venediktova's office has said it has been investigating more than 10,700 alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces and has identified over 600 suspects.
In his Wednesday night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the U.S. for a new $40 billion US aid package, part of which, he said, would go toward investigating war crimes by Russia.
He voiced confidence that Ukraine will "fully liberate our land and our people."
Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow's forces aborted their bid to capture Kyiv and withdrew from around the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards strewn with bodies in towns such as Bucha. Residents told of killings, burnings, rape, torture and dismemberment.
Natural gas supply cut off
On the economic front, Ukraine shut down a pipeline Wednesday that carries Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, marking the first time since the start of the war that Kyiv disrupted the flow westward of one of Moscow's most lucrative exports.
But the immediate effect of the energy cutoff is likely to be limited, in part because Russia can divert the gas to another pipeline and because Europe relies on a variety of suppliers.
Meanwhile, a Kremlin-installed politician in the southern Kherson region, site of the first major Ukrainian city to fall in the war, said regional officials want Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a "proper region" of Russia — that is, annex it.
"The city of Kherson is Russia," Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kherson regional administration installed by Moscow, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency. He said regional officials want Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a "proper region" of Russia.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that it would be "up to the residents of the Kherson region" to make such a request, and that any move to annex territory would would have to be closely evaluated by experts to make sure its legal basis is "absolutely clear."
Russia has repeatedly used annexation or recognition of breakaway republics as tactics in recent years to gain pieces of fellow former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after holding a referendum on the peninsula over whether it wanted to become part of Russia.
Kherson, a Black Sea port of roughly 300,000, provides access to fresh water for neighbouring Crimea and is seen as a gateway to wider Russian control over southern Ukraine. It was captured early in the war, becoming Ukraine's first major city to fall.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak mocked the notion of its annexation, tweeting: "The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what games with words they play."
Inside Kherson, people have taken to the streets to decry the Russian occupation. But a teacher who gave only her first name, Olga, for fear of Russian retaliation said such protests are impossible now because Moscow's troops "kidnapped activists and citizens simply for wearing Ukrainian colours or ribbons." She said "people are scared of talking openly outside their homes" and "everyone walks on the street quickly."
"All people in Kherson are waiting for our troops to come as soon as possible," Olga said. "Nobody wants to live in Russia or join Russia."
Ukraine reports gas siphoning
On the energy front, Ukraine's natural gas pipeline operator said it moved to stop Russian shipments through its Novopskov hub, in a part of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, because of interference from "occupying forces," including the apparent siphoning of gas. It also complained about interference along the route last month.
The hub handles about one-third of Russian gas passing through Ukraine to Western Europe. But analysts said much of the gas can be redirected through another pipeline from Russia that crosses Ukraine, and preliminary data suggested that was already happening.
In any case, Europe also gets natural gas from other pipelines and other countries.
"We're losing a few per cent in overall European gas supply, when you consider imports and domestic production as well," said Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analytics at ICIS market intelligence firm. "So this is not a huge cutoff to gas supplies" for Europe.
Still, European gas futures seesawed on the news, meaning consumers may face higher energy bills at a time of already rising prices.
It was not clear if Russia would take any immediate hit, since it has long-term contracts and other ways of transporting gas.
Russian forces repelled near Kharkiv: Zelensky
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian rocket attack targeted an area around Zaporizhzhia, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The southeastern city has been a refuge for civilians fleeing the Russian siege in the devastated port city of Mariupol.
Russian troops continued to pound the steel plant that is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, its defenders said. The Azov Regiment said on social media Wednesday that Russian forces carried out 38 airstrikes in the previous 24 hours on the grounds of the Azovstal steelworks.
The plant, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, has sheltered hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians during a months-long siege. Scores of civilians were evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said some may still be trapped there.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war if Russia will allow the badly injured fighters to be evacuated.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said Russian forces have blocked all evacuation routes out of the city. Petro Andriushchenko said there are few apartment buildings fit to live in and little food or drinking water. He said some remaining residents are co-operating with occupying Russian forces in exchange for food.
In his nightly address Tuesday, Zelensky suggested Ukraine's military is gradually pushing Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city and a key to Russia's offensive in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin has said is its main objective.
Zelensky said his troops drove Russian forces out of four villages near Kharkiv, in the country's northeast.
Ukraine targets Russian forces on Snake Island
Meanwhile, the British Defence Ministry said Ukraine was targeting Russian forces on Snake Island in the northwestern Black Sea, in an effort to disrupt Moscow's attempts to expand its influence.
Russia has sought to reinforce its garrison on Snake Island, while "Ukraine has successfully struck Russian air defences and resupply vessels with Bayraktar drones," the ministry said on Twitter. It said Russian resupply vessels had minimum protection after the Russian Navy retreated to Crimea after losing the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show fighting there.
But the statement warned: "If Russia consolidates its position on [Snake] Island with strategic air defence and coastal defence cruise missiles, they could dominate the northwestern Black Sea."
Separately, Ukraine said it shot down a cruise missile targeting the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, the governor of a Russian region near Ukraine said at least one civilian was killed and six wounded by Ukrainian shelling in the village of Solokhi, near the border. Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov's account couldn't be independently verified, but he said the village will be evacuated.
With files from Reuters