From a UN report blaming both Kyiv and Moscow for a nursing home attack in March, to Ukrainians receiving their first military training in the UK... five developments in the war this weekend.
1. Ukraine bears share of blame for nursing home attack, says UN
Two weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, Kremlin-backed rebels assaulted a nursing home in the eastern region of Luhansk. Dozens of elderly and disabled patients, many of them bedridden, were trapped inside without water or electricity.
The March 11 assault set off a fire that spread throughout the facility, suffocating people who couldn’t move. A small number of patients and staff escaped and fled into a nearby forest, finally getting assistance after walking for 5 kilometres.
In a war awash in atrocities, the attack on the nursing home near the village of Stara Krasnyanka stood out for its cruelty. Ukrainian authorities placed the fault squarely on Russian forces, accusing them of killing more than 50 vulnerable civilians in a brutal and unprovoked attack.
But a new United Nations report has found that Ukraine’s armed forces bear a large, and perhaps equal, share of the blame for what happened in Stara Krasnyanka, which is about 580 kilometres southeast of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. A few days before the attack, Ukrainian soldiers took up positions inside the nursing home, effectively making the building a target.
At least 22 of the 71 patients survived the assault, but the exact number of people killed remains unknown, according to the UN.
The report by the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t conclude the Ukrainian soldiers or the Moscow-backed separatist fighters committed a war crime. But it said the battle at the Stara Krasnyanka nursing home is emblematic of the human rights office’s concerns over the potential use of “human shields” to prevent military operations in certain areas. (AP)
2. First Ukrainian soldiers arrive for training in UK
The first group of Ukrainian soldiers has arrived in the UK for training as part of London's support for Kyiv since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the British government announced on Saturday.
"This ambitious new training programme is the next phase in the UK’s support to the Armed Forces of Ukraine in their fight against Russian aggression," British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
"Using the world-class expertise of the British Army we will help Ukraine to rebuild its forces and scale-up its resistance as they defend their country’s sovereignty and their right to choose their own future," he added.
According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,050 British military personnel are involved in the programme, which is taking place at military sites in the northwest, southwest and southeast of the UK.
The training courses, lasting several weeks, "will give volunteer recruits with little to no military experience the skills to be effective in frontline combat", the Defence Ministry's statement said. Training includes weapons handling, first aid, field techniques, patrolling and the law of armed conflict.
On the occasion of the last visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who has since resigned after a series of scandals - to Kyiv on 17 June, Downing Street announced that London had proposed to "train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days".
Boris Johnson said that this military training programme "could change the equation of this war by harnessing the most powerful force of all, the determination of the Ukrainians to win".
3. Russia 'raising hell' in east as Donetsk bombardment intensifies
Russian forces are managing to “raise true hell” in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, a regional governor said on Saturday, as deadly shelling by Vladimir Putin's forces continued in the east and south.
The governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said Russia launched over 20 artillery, mortar and rocket strikes in the province overnight and its forces were pressing toward the border with the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian authorities say the Russian army has continued to bomb Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and northeastern Kharkiv regions on Saturday. According to officials, Moscow is preparing "new actions" after four and a half months of war.
4. Zelenskyy dismisses several Kyiv ambassadors
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed several of Kyiv's senior envoys abroad on Saturday including the country's outspoken ambassador to Germany, the presidential website said.
In a decree that gave no reason for the move, Zelenskyy announced the sacking of Ukraine's ambassadors to Germany, India, the Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary.
Zelenskyy has urged his diplomats to drum up international support and military aid for Ukraine as it tries to fend off Russia's February invasion.
Kyiv's relations with Germany, which is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies and also Europe's biggest economy, are particularly sensitive.
Andriy Melnyk, who was appointed by Zelenskyy's predecessor as ambassador to Germany in late 2014, is well-known among politicians and diplomats in Berlin.
The 46-year-old regularly engages in outspoken social media exchanges, and has branded politicians and intellectuals who oppose arming Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion as appeasers.
He once accused German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of behaving like an "offended liver sausage" when Scholz did not immediately accept an invitation by Zelenskiy to visit Kyiv.
Kyiv and Berlin are currently at odds over a German-made turbine undergoing maintenance in Canada.
Germany wants Ottawa to return the turbine to Russian natural gas giant Gazprom to pump gas to Europe. But Kyiv has urged Canada to keep the turbine, saying shipping it to Russia would be a violation of sanctions imposed on Moscow. (Reuters)
5. US promises more aid to Ukraine and warns China
The United States has promised to send its fifteenth aid package worth $400 million (€392 million) in military equipment to Ukraine.
According to a senior Pentagon official, the new military aid — which includes four Himars multiple rocket launcher systems and 155mm shells — will improve Ukraine's ability to target Russian army weapons depots and supply chains.
Washington has already provided $6.9 billion (€6.7 billion) in military assistance to Kyiv since the Russian invasion began on 24 February. The US also applied diplomatic pressure at a G20 ministerial meeting in Indonesia on Friday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in a meeting on Saturday to distance himself from Moscow and condemn Russian "aggression" against Ukraine.
He said China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is complicating US-Chinese relations at a time when they are already beset by rifts and enmity over numerous other issues.
In five hours of talks in their first-to-face meeting since October, Blinken said he did not believe Beijing’s protestations that it is neutral in the conflict.
Wang Yi blamed the US for the downturn in relations and said that American policy has been derailed by what he called a misperception of China as a threat.