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95 Ukrainian prisoners returned from Russian captivity

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 95 Ukrainian soldiers have now returned home from Russian captivity, after a prisoner swap at the weekend.

“Every time we bring our people back from Russian captivity, we remember our fundamental goal: we will not leave anyone of ours, nothing of Ukraine to the enemy,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram Monday.

“Yesterday we returned 95 more of our guys, our warriors, from captivity. In total, since February 24 last year, we have already returned 2,526 Ukrainians,” he added.

An image showing a previous prisoner swap carried out by Russia and Ukraine in September 21, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on Telegram Sunday that the prisoners included soldiers from the Armed Forces, the National Guard, as well as border guards. Among them were 93 privates and sergeants and two officers.

The prisoners had been from Mariupol, Chernobyl, Zmiiny Island, Bakhmut and the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, the site of a prolonged seige with Russian forces. “Many of our people were wounded in captivity,” Yermak said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin appeals to Russians’ patriotism on national day

President Vladimir Putin marked Russia’s national day on Monday by appealing to Russians’ patriotic pride at what he said was a “difficult time” for the country.

However, speaking at a lavish award-giving ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin made no direct comment on the latest developments in Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces have launched a long-awaited counteroffensive and have retaken several villages in the eastern Donetsk region over the past few days.

“This public holiday marks the inseparability of our centuries-old history, the greatness and glory of the fatherland,” Putin told the assembled dignitaries.

“Today, at a difficult time for Russia, (feelings of patriotism and pride) unite our society even more strongly… (and) serve as a reliable support for our heroes taking part in the special military operation (in Ukraine),” Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his speech at the 2nd Eurasian Economic Forum on May 24, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. 

Contributor | Getty Images

Russia’s Defence Ministry released a video for Monday’s national day featuring scenes of Russian lakes, forests and Orthodox churches and icons, along with clips of soldiers expressing love for their country.

“I am Russian, thank the Lord, I am Russian, I am so lucky,” says one. “Russia is like a fortress above the abyss, it has stood and will stand,” says another.

On this day in 1991, the Russian parliament formally declared Russian sovereignty from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was officially dissolved in December that year and the June 12 holiday was established in 1992.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev posted a mock-up picture on his Telegram channel of Russia’s white, blue and red tricolor flag flying over Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan, with a message saying it would soon be renamed “Russia Square”.

Oleg Osipov, an aide to Medvedev, who is now deputy head of Russia’s National Security Council, cited the former president as saying “Kyiv is our direct target. It is a Russian city and it will return home. We will not rest until we recover it. Happy holiday!”

— Reuters

Food and water security a top priority in flood-hit areas, minister says

Residents receive humanitarian aid provided by volunteers from Global Empowerment Mission on June 11, 2023 in Kherson, Ukraine.

Roman Pilipey | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said ensuring food and water security in flood-hit areas of Ukraine is his ministry’s highest priority as the cleanup from last week’s dam breach disaster continues.

“We work here with the relevant services, the Ministry of Ecology, the Ministry of Energy and other services that must ensure the food and water security of our citizens. We also ensure the presence of law enforcement officers along the entire line of the Kakhovka reservoir,” Klymenko said on Telegram Monday.

Several thousand Ukrainians had to be rescued last week as water levels rose, flooding a number of settlements along the Dnipro River in Kherson, southern Ukraine, in both Ukrainian and Russian-controlled areas.

Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for blowing up the Kakhovka dam, causing the humanitarian and ecological disaster.

Klymenko said 10 people have died as a result of the flooding on Ukrainian-controlled territory while 42 people, including seven children, are considered missing.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russians planting mines at ‘Crimean Titan’ factory, Ukraine claims

Ukrainian intelligence claimed Monday that Russian engineering units are mining the workshops of the “Crimean Titan” enterprise in occupied Crimea.

The plant, in Armiansk in northern Crimea, is the the largest manufacturer of titanium dioxide pigment in the eastern European area.

“The engineering units of the occupying army have been mining the workshops of the enterprise, which currently continue to work, and have planted explosives in the factory and adjacent territory for the past few days,” the Ukrainian Defence Intelligence Directorate said on Telegram, according to comments translated by NBC. It did not provide evidence for its claims and CNBC was unable to immediately verify the report.

Any attack on the enterprise would “mean an artificial man-made catastrophe, terrible in its consequences,” Ukraine said, given that around 200 tonnes of technological ammonia are used at the plant for refrigeration purposes.

“In the event of an explosion at the plant, an ammonia cloud, depending on the direction of the wind, will cover the surrounding areas in half an hour,” Ukraine said, warning that Armiansk, the Krasnoperekopskyi district and southern districts of the southern Kherson region of Ukraine would be under threat.

The Ukraine’s Intelligence Directorate said that Russian forces are preparing for the evacuation of both “representatives of the occupation administration and the local population” in Armiansk in northern Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014.

— Holly Ellyatt

Chechen force signs contract with Russia’s defence ministry that Wagner’s Prigozhin refused

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday it has signed a contract with the Akhmat group of Chechen special forces, a day after Russia’s powerful mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin refused to do so.

The signing followed an order that all “volunteer units” should sign contracts by July 1 bringing them under the control of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, as Moscow tries to assert its control over private armies fighting on its behalf in Ukraine.

Nearly a thousand volunteers attend the military training at Russian Special Forces University, where special troops are trained, in Gudermes, Russia on February 28, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In return, volunteer fighters would get the same benefits and protections as regular troops, including support for them and their families if they are wounded or killed.

Prigozhin, who has waged a running feud with the defense ministry and accused it of failing to provide adequate ammunition supplies to his Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine, said on Sunday he would refuse to sign any such contract.

He said that Shoigu “cannot properly manage military formations”.

The contract the defense ministry signed on Monday was with the Akhmat paramilitary group that has often been called the private army of Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Russia’s Chechnya region.

Unlike Prigozhin, Kadyrov has recently refrained from criticizing the defence ministry. Members of the two groups have openly sparred, with one of Kadyrov’s close allies on Thursday casting Prigozhin as a blogger who yells all the time about problems.

Akhmat commander Apty Alaudinov, who took part in the signing of the contract, said the unit has “prepared and sent tens of thousands of volunteers” to Ukraine in the past 15 months.

Moscow said on Friday that the Akhmat forces were waging an offensive near the town of Maryinka, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

“I think this is a very good thing,” Alaudinov was quoted as saying by the defense ministry’s website after signing the deal.

Russia’s deputy chief of the general staff, Colonel General Alexei Kim, said after signing the agreement with the Chechens that he hoped other volunteer units would follow suit.

— Reuters

Russia’s defense minister trying to assert leadership, UK says

Russia’s defense minister appears anxious to have a higher public profile as Ukraine’s counteroffensive gets underway, the U.K. noted Monday.

“Over the last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has maintained a high public profile, likely with the aim of presenting himself as in control of strategic issues while Ukraine accelerates offensive operations,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

Shoigu has provided at least two comments on Russia’s defensive operations, including making almost certainly seriously exaggerated claims about Ukrainian losses, the U.K. said, adding that this contrasts with other key periods in the war when he had disappeared from public appearances.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, on April 17, 2023.

Gavriil Grigorov | Sputnik | Reuters

“Shoigu has also urged Russia’s defence industry to redouble its efforts, and castigated Western Military District officers for not dispatching reserve armoured vehicles to the front quickly enough,” the ministry said.

Shoigu is likely acutely aware of the need to maintain a positive image in the face of increasingly unmasked criticism from some fellow Russians, including so-called military bloggers commenting on Russia’s strategy in Ukraine.

Russia’s defense ministry also appears to be trying to rein in private military groups fighting in Ukraine, such as the Wagner Group, issuing an order Saturday that all “volunteer units” should sign contracts by July 1 to bring them under the control of Shoigu. The head of the Wagner Group refused.

— Holly Ellyatt

North Korea offers its ‘full support’ to Russia

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, one of the few friends Russia has left, reportedly sent a message congratulating his Russian counterpart on Russia Day.

June 12 is a national holiday in Russia, marking the anniversary of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic’s declaration of autonomy from the then-Soviet Union in 1990.

North Korea’s state media KCNA said Monday that Kim Jong Un offered his “full support and solidarity” to Russia on its national day and praised Moscow’s efforts “to preserve its sovereign rights against the imperialists high handed and arbitrary practices.”

North Korea’s state media KCNA said Monday that Kim Jong Un offered his “full support and solidarity” to Russia on its national day and praised Moscow’s efforts “to preserve its sovereign rights against the imperialists high handed and arbitrary practices.”

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images

KCNA added that Kim Jong Un’s message also lauded “the correct decision and guidance of the Russian president, the struggle of the Russian people to foil the hostile forces’ escalating threats and challenges to deprive Russia of its sovereignty, security and peaceful life has entered a new decisive phase.”

The message said that North Korea’s friendship with Russia was “a precious strategic asset common to the two countries and it is the fixed stand of the DPRK government to ceaselessly develop the good neighborly and cooperative relations, as required by the new era.”

Isolated dictatorship North Korea is one of Russia’s remaining friends on a global stage and there has been speculation that it could supply weapons to Moscow.  The U.S. said in March that intelligence suggested that Russia wanted to trade food for weapons with North Korea. 

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine says it has liberated several villages in Donetsk

All eyes are on Ukraine’s counteroffensive after its armed forces claimed to have liberated four front-line villages in the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Sunday that the villages of Blahodatne and Makarivka had been de-occupied and on Monday added Storozheve to the list of liberated settlements.

In the Bakhmut area, Ukrainian troops are continuing to conduct assault actions, Maliar said, with gains reported there.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop an armored personnel carrier vehicle in the Zaporizhzhia region on June 11, 2023.

Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

Another Ukrainian brigade posted on Facebook that it gained control of the village of Neskuchne in Donetsk.

Ukraine’s government has consistently said there would be no public announcement of the start of the offensive. But last weekend, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy finally confirmed that counteroffensive and defensive actions had indeed begun.

That came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had so far failed in their counteroffensive but that the “offensive potential” of Ukraine had not been undermined yet.

In response, Zelenskyy said Saturday that “it’s interesting that Putin said [that] about our counter offensive. It is important that Russia always feels it, that they do not have much time left, in my opinion. Defensive counter-attacks are taking place in Ukraine at what stage I will not say in detail.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Work has started on international investigation of dam breach, Zelenskyy says

Work has already started into an investigation by the International Criminal Court of the breach of the Kakhovka dam and the vast flood it triggered, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.

“Representatives of the International Criminal Court have visited Kherson region in recent days,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“On the very first day after the disaster, the general prosecutor’s office sent a corresponding request to the International Criminal Court concerning an investigation of this disaster and the work has already begun.”

Members of Russia’s emergencies ministry use an inflatable boat in a flooded area during a rescue operation following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the town of Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, June 8, 2023. 

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Zelenskyy said it was important that international legal experts saw the aftermath of the disaster, including incidents of shelling of flooded areas. Officials said three people were killed on Sunday in Russian shelling of boats carrying evacuees.

The president said Ukrainian rescue teams had evacuated about 4,000 residents from affected zones – including areas on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro River.

— Reuters

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