(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.
The Russian military has now launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, as it attempts to capture the strategic port city of Mariupol and secure a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Apr 21, 3:02 pm
US calls Putin’s victory claim in Mariupol ‘disinformation’
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments Thursday morning claiming victory in Mariupol was “yet more disinformation” from Russia’s “well-worn playbook,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
Price called Putin’s comments an attempt to “distract from what can only be considered the underperformance of Russia’s military forces and its failure to achieve its original objectives in Ukraine.”
Price said Ukrainian forces in Mariupol “continue to hold their ground.”
“Their ferocious stand stands in stark contrast to the plummeting morale that we’ve seen among Russia’s forces. It stands in stark contrast to the tactics that we’ve seen Russia impose against those in Mariupol,” he added.
Price said the U.S. has called for humanitarian access — aid to get in and people to get out — and has supported humanitarian groups working to do so. But he blamed Russia’s attacks on humanitarian corridors for preventing it from happening.
-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
Apr 21, 2:20 pm
Most Russian forces focused on Donbas: US
The U.S. has assessed that the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol remains contested, and that Russian airstrike activity remains focused there and on the Donbas region, a senior U.S. defense official said Thursday.
Russia now has 85 battalion tactical groups, each made up of roughly 800 to 1,000 troops, inside of Ukraine, the official said. More of these groups are headed to the Donbas region, the official said.
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez
Apr 21, 1:01 pm
Mariupol mayor thinks city will hold out
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told ABC News he thinks his city will hold out, saying Russian forces have “been fighting our boys for 57 days and they still can’t win.”
The mayor’s comments come hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that his siege of Mariupol had been a success, congratulating his defense minister and thanking Russian troops. Putin also ordered troops to abandon their assault on the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant, the last holdout for Ukrainian troops in the port city.
Boychenko said 100,00 civilians remain, including 1,000 in the steel plant.
Apr 21, 12:50 pm
19 Ukrainians released from Russian captivity in 2nd second prisoner swap this week
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 19 Ukrainians, 10 military and nine civilians, have been released from Russian captivity in the second prisoner swap this week.
-ABC News’ Alexandra Faul
Apr 21, 11:08 am
Biden announces $800 million new security assistance package
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a new $800 million security assistance package to help Ukrainians fighting in the eastern Donbas region. This funding includes heavy artillery weapons, tactical drones and howitzers.
This package includes 72 new howitzers. Combined with the 18 howitzers announced last week, the 90 howitzers headed to Ukraine can equip five battalions, according to the administration.
Biden noted that he’s run out of pre-approved money and equipment to send to Ukraine and he appealed to Congress to approve more.
When pressed by ABC News on how long the U.S. can sustain this level of spending, Biden said, “We have the capacity to do this for a long time.”
He went on, “The question is, are we going to continue to maintain the support of the international community? And keep the pressure on Putin to prevent him from overrunning the country, No. 1, and No. 2, make sure we continue to maintain the economic sanctions, which, over time, and we’re beginning to see, they’re devastating their economy and their ability to move forward.”
Biden also announced a separate $500 million in economic aid to Ukraine to help fund government operations like salaries, pensions and social programs.
The president added that the U.S. is now banning Russian-affiliated ships from American ports.
Biden met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal Thursday morning ahead of his remarks.
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Sarah Kolinovsky
Apr 21, 9:30 am
Biden administration to fast-track refugees trying to come to US
The Biden administration on Thursday is moving to fast-track Ukrainian refugees trying to come to the U.S. with an operation called “Uniting for Ukraine.”
Beginning April 25, U.S. based individuals and entities can apply to the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor Ukrainian citizens, the administration said.
Any U.S. citizen or entity can apply to sponsor Ukrainians and there’s no limit on how many Ukrainians a person or entity can sponsor, administration officials said. A background check is required.
Any Ukrainian who has been a resident of the country since Feb. 11 and has up-to-date vaccinations will be eligible for the program. They will be subject to a background check, biometric screening and other security checks.
Ukrainians who don’t have a visa to enter the U.S. will be encouraged to apply for this program.
Administration officials said this was part of President Joe Biden’s promise to take in 100,000 Ukrainians into the U.S.
For those who don’t have sponsors or friends or family in the U.S., the administration is working with non-governmental organizations and nonprofit organizations to help connect people to them.
“One of the reasons we are having sponsors that are entity based … is precisely to deal with those situations,” one administration official said.
In addition to this new program, officials said the State Department will expand resettlement operations in Europe for Ukrainian citizens.
Apr 21, 6:44 am
Putin claims ‘success’ in Mariupol siege
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Thursday that his siege of Mariupol had been a success, congratulating his defense minister and thanking Russian troops.
“The completion of the combat work to liberate Mariupol is a success,” Putin said. “I congratulate you. Convey words of gratitude to the troops.”
Putin’s claim of victory came as he ordered troops to abandon their assault on the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant, the last holdout for Ukrainian troops in the port city.
A Ukrainian commander of the regiment at the site said Ukrainian troops there are ready to surrender, if their safety can be guaranteed by a third party and they are allowed to take the bodies of their dead with them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office called for negotiations inside Mariupol to get anyone left in the factory out of the area alive.
Apr 21, 5:13 am
Putin cancels Mariupol plant attack, orders site blocked off
Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled his military’s attack on a Mariupol steel plant, one of the last areas in the port city held by Ukrainian forces, ordering his troops to instead seal all exit routes from the sprawling plant.
“I consider the proposed assault on the industrial zone impractical,” Putin told Sergei Shoigu, his defense minister, during a meeting televised on Thursday by Russian state media, according to a translation of the Kremlin’s official transcript.
The Mariupol city council claimed Tuesday that there are at least 1,000 civilians, mostly women with children and the elderly, seeking shelter in the Azovstal Steel and Iron Works plant. It was unclear how many Ukrainian troops were defending the site.
Putin in the televised meeting ordered his troops to “block” the industrial zone. He repeated the claim that Moscow would let troops leave unharmed if they lay down their weapons and surrender.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground on these industrial facilities,” Putin said. “Block this industrial area so that the fly does not fly.”
Apr 20, 4:37 pm
Delegations walk out on Russian official
During a G20 meeting of economic and finance ministers on Wednesday, delegations from several countries, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, walked out of the room while Russia’s delegate began his remarks, the White House confirmed.
Canada’s Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted a photo of several officials, including herself, Yellen, U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde, outside of the meeting room, standing in solidarity with Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko.
“It’s an indication of the fact that President Putin and Russia has become a pariah on the global stage,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
The Treasury also unveiled new sanctions Wednesday against dozens of Russian and Belarusian people and institutions, including a key commercial bank and a virtual currency mining company.
“This is part of our stepped-up effort to crack down on those attempting to evade our unprecedented sanctions,” Psaki said.
The State Department has also imposed visa restrictions on over 600 Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainian separatists backed by the Kremlin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Apr 20, 3:59 pm
UN chief seeks peace talks with Putin, Zelenskyy
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres wrote separate letters to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday asking to meet “to discuss urgent steps to bring about peace in Ukraine,” a UN spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to the head of the president’s office, tweeted that Ukraine is ready to hold a special round of negotiations in Mariupol.
Apr 20, 3:25 pm
Thousands more Russians enter Donbas: US official
Four more Russian battalions, each made up of roughly 800 to 1,000 troops, have crossed into Ukraine over the last 24 hours, a senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday. Three of those battalions — or up to 3,000 troops — moved to the disputed Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, the official said.
Four flights carrying military aid, including artillery, from the Biden administration’s most recent $800 million package arrived in Ukraine over the last 24 hours, the official said. More supplies are set to arrive over the next day, the official said.
When ABC News asked why the U.S. decided to send artillery, the official responded: “We’re mindful of the importance of artillery in the fight that they’re in right now and in the fighting in the days to come because of the terrain, and because of what we think they’re going to be up against with Russian forces.”
Another reason was “the fact that it wouldn’t require an onerous amount of training for the Ukrainians to know how to use them” and the ability to ship them quickly, according to the official.
Apr 20, 2:12 pm
Humanitarian corridor from Mariupol didn’t work as planned Wednesday
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday’s humanitarian corridor from Mariupol didn’t work as planned but evacuation efforts will continue Thursday morning.
“Due to the lack of control over their own military on the ground, the occupiers were unable to ensure a proper ceasefire,” Vereshchuk said in a statement.
There also wasn’t “timely transportation of people to the point where dozens of our buses and ambulances were waiting,” Vereshchuk said.
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