Russia stepped up its assault on eastern Ukraine Friday, using artillery, rocket launchers, and aircraft to pound the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, destroying houses in residential districts and killing a number of civilians, according to Ukrainian civilian and military officials.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the conditions in the Donbas region, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk, as "Hell" and said the region had been "completely destroyed" by Russia's invasion. He accused Russian forces of attempting to kill as many Ukrainians and do as much damage as possible.
The Donbas is now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s focus after his troops failed to take the capital, Kyiv, in the early days of the war.
Meanwhile, in the southern port city of Mariupol, scene of the war's bloodiest siege, the last wounded fighters from holdout Ukrainian units have been evacuated from their bastion, the Azovstal steelworks, their commander said.
The evacuation of the last fighters, their number unclear, follows the surrender of almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in recent days, according to the Russian defense minister.
The commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, key to helping defend the plant, said efforts to remove the dead from the battle scene were also underway. Russia has started pulling troops from the site.
New G7 support
The finance ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations have pledged $19.8 billion to support Ukraine’s finances during Russia’s invasion, a statement from the group said on Friday.
The G7, an organization of leaders from some of the world's largest economies -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. -- said the funds will be used to help Ukraine "close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people.”
“While also addressing Ukraine’s humanitarian and other material needs, we recognize, in particular, Ukraine’s urgent short term financing needs,” the statement said, adding that the proposed fund of $19.8 billion is “in addition to recent announcements on further military and humanitarian support.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine as the country combats Russia’s invasion. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the package last week.
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure promptly.
President Zelenskyy called the aid package “a manifestation of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom.”
In another development, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration is authorizing $100 million more in military aid to Ukraine. The package of aid includes 18 more howitzers and 18 vehicles to move them, and three more anti-artillery radars, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Russia has said it will cut off natural gas to Finland on Saturday. The move comes after Finland and Sweden applied for membership in the NATO alliance, driven by security concerns in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
The Kremlin said it was bolstering its forces on Russia's western border, saying that moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO were part of an increase in military threats.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press and Reuters.