Russia-Ukraine updates: ‘Powerful explosions’ heard in Russian city of Belgorod

(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 last month launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, attempting to capture the strategic port city of Mariupol and to secure a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

May 02, 3:22 pm
Biden to deliver remarks on security assistance while at Javelin missile facility

President Joe Biden will head to Troy, Alabama, on Tuesday to visit a Lockheed Martin facility that manufactures weapons systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, which have been key in Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

Javelin missiles “are lightweight, portable, shoulder fired, anti-tank weapons system that can hit targets up to 2.5 miles away,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “They’re highly lethal, and we’ve sent over 5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems to Ukraine to support the Ukrainian people’s fight for freedom.”

This facility can manufacture up to 2,100 Javelins per year, Psaki said.

She said Biden will also “deliver remarks about the security assistance we are providing, highlighting the urgency of the request to Congress to pass funding quickly to help Ukraine continue to succeed against Russian aggression and to make sure that the United States and our allies can replenish our own stocks of weapons to replace what we have sent to Ukraine.”

Asked if there is any concern about depleting stockpiles if the U.S. keeps up this pace of giving Javelin missiles to Ukraine, Psaki said the Department of Defense ensures that the U.S. maintains enough to defend itself.

-ABC News’ Justin Ryan Gomez

May 02, 2:14 pm
Russians leaving Mariupol, progress in Donbas ‘minimal at best’: US

Russia’s progress in Ukraine’s Donbas region remains “minimal at best,” with troops slowed by morale problems, supply issues and risk aversion in combat, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.

“They are not making the progress that they had scheduled to make, that progress is uneven and incremental,” the official said.

The official added, “That’s not just because of Russian planning or lack of logistics — a lot of it is because the Ukrainians have really been resisting quite well.”

And Russia’s gains, particularly east of Izium and in the city of Popasna in eastern Ukraine, have been fleeting, the official said.

“What we saw there in Popasna is not unlike what we’ve seen in other hamlets in the Donbas — they’ll move in and then declare victory, and then withdraw their troops only to let the Ukrainians take it back. So there was a lot of back and forth over the last couple of days,” the official said.

Russian troops have also been leaving the Mariupol area to push north and northwest in recent days, according to the official.

“Largely the efforts around Mariupol for the Russians are now in the realm of airstrikes,” the official said.

Russia is likely pushing these troops north as part of its plan to encircle and trap Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, according to the official.

More Ukrainian troops are completing training on the U.S.-made M777 howitzer system at multiple sites outside of Ukraine, according to the official. Ukrainians have also completed training on the Phoenix Ghost drone system.

-ABC News’ Matt Seyler

May 02, 12:37 pm
Top Russian general visited Donbas last week: US

Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, spent several days in Ukraine’s Donbas region last week, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday.

The U.S. believes Gerasimov is now back in Russia, the official said.

The official couldn’t confirm whether the general was targeted by Ukrainian forces during his visit and said the purpose of his trip is not clear to U.S. officials.

“It’s certainly possible that his trip was a manner of oversight and trying to gauge for himself what was going on in the Donbas. But what he came away with, what he learned, what he transmitted to his commanders, if anything, we just don’t know,” the official said.

May 02, 12:29 pm
Ukraine claims it targeted two Russian naval vessels

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said Ukrainian troops targeted two Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea on Monday.

He shared video on his Facebook page that he says shows drones striking the boats.

Russian officials have not confirmed the strikes.

May 02, 11:29 am
School in Luhansk region destroyed in shelling

The Lysychansk Gymnasium, an acclaimed secondary school in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, burned to the ground after coming under fire in targeted shelling, said Serhiy Haidai, the head of Luhansk’s Regional Military Administration. The school was more than a century old.

May 02, 11:23 am
Ukraine regains control over several areas near Kharkiv

Ukrainian forces have carried out an offensive in the country’s Kharkiv region, taking back control of several settlements, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said Monday. This includes the settlements of Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne.

May 02, 10:31 am
US Embassy staff back in Ukraine for first time in months

U.S. Embassy staff returned to Ukraine for the day on Monday, marking the first trip back in the country since February.

“We expect to continue to do day trips for the next week or two and we very much hope that the conditions will permit us to go back to Kyiv by the end of the month,” Kristina Kvien, the U.S. chargé d’affaires to Ukraine, said in a statement.

Kvien said, “The message to Russia is: you failed — Ukraine is still standing, the government is still functioning and we are going back to Lviv first and then Kyiv to help the government.”

Kvien continued, “We are listening to the security professionals and when they tell us we can go back we go back. And while we are eager to do so we also want to make sure we are listening to the experts. So, the fact that we are here in Ukraine means that the security officials just said that it is ok and safe to meet here in Lviv and hopefully we will get the clearance to go back to Kyiv.”

May 02, 10:10 am
First group of civilians leave Mariupol steel plant

Dozens of civilians trapped for weeks inside a steel plant in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol were expected to reach Zaporizhzhia on Monday, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday, Zelenskyy said a first group of about 100 people were already en route to the Ukrainian government-controlled city, about 140 miles northwest of Mariupol.

“Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Grateful to our team!”

Many more civilians remain trapped at the sprawling Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in Mariupol — the last holdout of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s bombardment of the strategic southeastern port city — which Russian forces resumed shelling overnight.

“Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this vitally needed green corridor has started working,” Zelenskyy said Sunday in his nightly address.

May 02, 10:02 am
Two explosions heard in Russian city of Belgorod

A pair of “powerful explosions” were heard early Monday in the western Russian city of Belgorod, about 15 miles from the border with Ukraine, according to the regional governor.

“I woke up to the sound of two powerful explosions half an hour ago. According to the anti-crisis center, there were no reports of casualties or damage. Footage showing flashes in the sky has emerged on social media,” Belgorod Oblast Gob. Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a statement posted on Telegram.

The blasts followed a series of other explosions and fires at industrial and military facilities across Russia in recent weeks. On Sunday, the governor of Russia’s western Kursk Oblast, which also shares a border with Ukraine, said a railway bridge used to transfer Russian troops to Ukraine had partially collapsed. In a video posted on Telegram, Kurk Oblast Gov. Roman Starovoit blamed the incident on sabotage.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Max Uzol, Irene Hnatiuk and Fidel Pavlenko

May 02, 9:55 am
Quarter of Russian units in Ukraine now ‘combat ineffective,’ UK says

Over a quarter of Russian military units committed to fight in Ukraine have been likely rendered “combat ineffective,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Monday in an intelligence update.

“At the start of the conflict, Russia committed over 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65% of its entire ground combat strength,” the ministry said. “It is likely that more than a quarter of these units have now been rendered combat ineffective.”

Meanwhile, some of Russia’s most elite units, including the Russian Airborne Forces or VDV, “have suffered the highest levels of attrition,” according to the ministry.

“It will probably take years for Russia to reconstitute these forces,” the ministry added.

On Sunday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said at least 30 senior Russian military officers have been eliminated in the previous five days.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Max Uzol, Irene Hnatiuk and Fidel Pavlenko

May 02, 9:30 am
Israel lashes out at Russia over Lavrov comparing Zelenskyy to Hitler

Israel on Monday lashed out at Russia over “unforgivable and scandalous” remarks made by its top diplomat about Nazism and antisemitism, including claims that Adolf Hitler was Jewish.

During an interview Sunday with an Italian television channel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was asked about Moscow’s assertion that it invaded neighboring Ukraine to “denazify” the country. Lavrov said the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish does not negate the Nazi elements in his country, drawing a parallel with Hitler, the chancellor of Nazi Germany.

“So when they say: ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish,” Lavrov said, speaking to the station in Russian, dubbed over by an Italian translation.

Russia does not insist on Zelenskyy’s surrender, Lavrov said, but wants the Ukrainian president to order “neo-Nazi battalions to halt resistance, lay down their arms and let civilian hostages go.” Lavrov alleged that Moscow only seeks to guarantee the security of pro-Russia Ukrainians in the eastern regions.

Lavrov’s comments came at a time when Israel, which was created as a refuge for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, has sought to remain neutral amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the statement made by his Russian counterpart as “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error.”

“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said Monday. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”

Ukraine also denounced Lavrov’s statement, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying it exposes “the deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites.”

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Max Uzol, Irene Hnatiuk and Fidel Pavlenko

May 02, 7:18 am
Jill Biden to meet with Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Slovakia

U.S. first lady Jill Biden will travel to Romania and Slovakia this week to meet with American soldiers, U.S. embassy staff as well as displaced Ukrainian families, the White House announced Monday.

Romania and Slovakia are hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine who were forced to flee their homes due to Russia’s invasion.

According to a press release from the White House, Biden will depart the United States for Romania on Thursday evening. On Friday, she will visit Mihail Kogalniceau Airbase in southeastern Romania, where she will meet with U.S. military service members.

On Saturday, Biden will travel to Romania’s capital, Bucharest, to meet with Romanian government officials, U.S. embassy personnel, humanitarian aid workers as well as educators who are helping teach displaced Ukrainian children. She will then travel to Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, to meet with U.S. embassy staff there, according to the White House.

On Sunday, which is celebrated as Mother’s Day in the U.S., Biden will travel to the eastern Slovak city of Kosice and the small village of Vysne Nemecke, the largest of three border crossings between Slovakia and Ukraine, to meet with Ukrainian refugees, humanitarian aid workers as well as local Slovakians who are supporting the displaced families, according to the White House.

“On Mother’s Day, she will meet with Ukrainian mothers and children who have been forced to flee their home country because of Putin’s war,” the White House said in a statement.

On Monday, Biden will meet with Slovakian government officials before heading back to the U.S.

-ABC News’ Armando Garcia

May 02, 5:48 am
Pelosi leads delegation to Poland after visiting Ukraine

A high-level U.S. congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Monday, a day after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

“Our distinguished Congressional delegation came to Poland to send an unmistakable message to the world: that America stands firmly with our NATO allies in our support for Ukraine,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Pelosi said their talks with Duda and other Polish officials in the Polish capital “will be focused on further strengthening our partnership, offering our gratitude for Poland’s humanitarian leadership, and discussing how we can further work together to support Ukraine.”

Earlier, Pelosi and the half dozen U.S. lawmakers with her traveled to the southeastern Polish city of Rzeszow, where they met with U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Poland to reassure NATO allies and deter Russian aggression.

“These engagements are even more meaningful following our meeting in Kyiv with President Volodymr Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian leaders,” Pelosi said. “In that profound and solemn visit, our delegation conveyed our respect and gratitude to President Zelenskyy for his leadership and our admiration of the Ukrainian people for their courage in the fight against Russia’s diabolical invasion. Our Members were proud to deliver the message that additional American support is on the way, as we work to transform President Biden’s strong funding request into a legislative package.”

Pelosi, second in line to the U.S. presidency after the vice president, was the most senior American lawmaker to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24. The delegation’s trip to the Ukrainian capital was not disclosed until they were safely out of the country.

-ABC News’ Chad Murray

May 01, 4:57 pm
Russian shelling of Mariupol steel plant resumes: Ukrainian officials

Russian forces resumed shelling the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Sunday after some civilians inside the facility and in nearby homes were evacuated during a brief cease fire, according Ukrainian officials.

“They are shelling the plant with all kinds of weapons,” said Denis Schlega, commander of the 12th Brigade of Operational Assignment in Mariupol.

Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations and Russian Ministry of Defense all confirmed that some civilians were evacuated from the steel plant, where a Ukrainian military unit is making a last stand in the port city that is almost entirely under Russian control.

Zelenskyy said about 100 civilians were evacuated from the steel plant on Sunday and were being taken to Zaporizhia, a city under Ukrainian control.

The Mariupol City Council said in a statement that evacuations from Mariupol had stopped Sunday afternoon due to “security reasons.” The city council said the evacuations would resume on Monday.

May 01, 4:13 pm
Civilians killed, injured in shelling of Kharkiv region: Ukrainian official

At least three civilians were killed and eight others injured on Sunday as a result of heavy shelling from Russian forces in the Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine, according to a Ukrainian official.

The casualties were reported in the residential areas of Saltivka, Bohodukhiv and Zolochif, according to Oleg Sinegubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

May 01, 12:24 pm
Pope Francis condemns ‘macabre regression of humanity’ in Ukraine

Pope Francis on Sunday described the war in Ukraine as a “macabre regression of humanity” that makes him “suffer and cry.”

Speaking to thousands of people crowded into St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, the pope called for humanitarian corridors to be opened to evacuate civilians trapped inside or near a steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Evacuation of civilians at the Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian forces have been staging a last stand against Russian troops, have started, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Red Cross and the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed on Sunday.

During Sunday’s Vatican service, Francis repeated his criticism of Russia for invading Ukraine.

“My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed,” the pontiff said of the Russian-controlled southeastern port city, which is named after Mary. “I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children.”

In Catholicism, the month of May is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Francis asked for monthlong prayers for peace in Ukraine.

“While we are witnessing a macabre regression of humanity, I ask you, together with so many anguished people, if we are really seeking peace, if there is the will to avoid a continuous military and verbal escalation, if we are doing everything possible to make the weapons stop? Please, let us not give in to the logic of violence, to the perverse spiral of arms. Let us take the path of dialogue and peace. Let us pray.”

-ABC News’ Rashid Haddou

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