Putin installs new war commander; Russian forces pound eastern Ukraine; Zelenskiy welcomes shift in German stance; Pope calls for Easter ceasefire
Vladimir Putin has appointed a new general to direct the war in Ukraine as his military shifts plans after a failure to take Kyiv. Alexander Dvornikov gained prominence while leading the Russian group of forces in Syria. The general is likely to usher in a fresh round of “crimes and brutality” against civilians, the US said.
Karl Nehammer, the Austrian chancellor, plans to speak about alleged war crimes in Bucha during his visit to meet Putin on Monday. Nehammer will be the first European leader to meet the Russian president since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy hit back against Russian propaganda on war crimes, the invasion of Crimea and the downing of MH17, saying: “They say about the murders in Bucha that it is not them, but allegedly us, although it is obvious to everyone that people were killed while the Russian army controlled the city … The Russian militaries have already lied to the fact that even after more than six weeks of war, they claim that they did not hit any of the civilian objects. Do you know why this is so? Because it’s cowardice.”
Zelenskiy welcomed talks with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on war crimes and sanctions against Russia, adding: “I am glad to note that the German position has recently changed in favour of Ukraine.” Germany has been under pressure to wean itself off Russian energy and had also been criticised earlier in the war for its failure to supply weapons to Ukraine, a policy that has since been reversed.
Russian forces pounded eastern Ukraine with heavy shelling over the weekend, killing 10 civilians, including a child and wounding 11 others around Kharkiv. The airport in the east-central Ukrainian city of Dnipro was also destroyed.
Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated on Sunday through humanitarian corridors, including 213 from Mariupol, said Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk.
Pope Francis has called for an Easter ceasefire to allow for a push for peace in Ukraine, calling the war a “folly” that was leading to “heinous massacres” and “atrocious cruelty” against defenceless people.
1,222 bodies have been found in the region around the capital, Kyiv, so far, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said. Ukrainian authorities are investigating 5,600 cases of alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops since the invasion began.
Ukraine’s economy is expected to collapse by 45.1% this year, far worse than predicted, the World Bank reported in a dire forecast as the conflict drags on.
The United Nations refugee agency calculates that more than 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion began.
Russian armed forces are seeking to strengthen troop numbers with personnel discharged from military service a decade ago, as losses mount.
The White House has renewed its condemnation of the Russian targeting of Ukrainian civilians as war crimes, citing recent events including Friday’s missile strike on a railway station as “cruel and criminal and evil”. The death toll from Kramatorsk train station attack has risen to 57, Ukraine said.
More than 3,500 pro-Ukrainian demonstrators took to the streets of Germany in response to a motorcade of about 600 pro-Russian protesters in 400 cars flying Russian flags.