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Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 22

A picture taken on June 21, 2022 from the town of Lysychansk, shows a large plume of smoke rising on the horizon, behind the town of Sievierodonetsk, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A picture taken on June 21, 2022 from the town of Lysychansk, shows a large plume of smoke rising on the horizon, behind the town of Sievierodonetsk, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

11:30 p.m.: Leaders at the upcoming G-7 summit in Germany will announce new measures aimed at pressuring Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

"We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia," the official said, Agence France-Presse reported. U.S. President Joe Biden flies Saturday to join the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan at the summit in Bavaria.

After the G-7 summit, which runs Sunday to Tuesday, Biden will fly to Madrid for a summit of the NATO military alliance next week.

10:50 p.m. Countries should ask the United States for help if they have problems importing Russian food and fertilizer, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, stressing that such goods were not subject to U.S. sanctions over Moscow's war in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

"Nothing is stopping Russia from exporting its grain or fertilizer except to own policies and actions," U.S. State Department Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui said.

He added that concerns had been raised about overcompliance with the broad range of sanctions that Washington placed on Moscow since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24.

9:20 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking virtually to an in-person audience at the University of Toronto, said he is convinced that the 27 European Union member states will support granting Ukraine the status of a candidate for EU membership. He said it would be a historic event and a great motivation for the Ukrainian army and society as it struggles for independence and territorial integrity after Russia invaded on February 24.

"I strongly believe that in these crucial days, Ukraine will receive the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union. We have come a long way for it… Our people, our revolutions, our war. … And this status is such an important moment. This is a transition to another page of our history. A very positive transition. I believe that all these 27 European countries will endorse this status for us," Zelenskyy said.

8:33 p.m.: June 22 marks the date when the forces of Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in World War II. It is also commemorated in Ukraine and Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union. The war there lasted 1,418 days from June 22, 1941, and historians estimate 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians died.

7:25 p.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Iran on Wednesday for talks on boosting trade and energy cooperation as the two countries grapple with Western economic sanctions, Reuters reported.

Tehran and Moscow both have huge oil and gas reserves but are constrained by sanctions that limit their ability to export their output.

During his two-day visit, Russia's top diplomat is expected to discuss with Iranian officials the 2015 "nuclear deal, the situations in Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, and boosting commercial and energy cooperation," state television’s website Iribnews added.

6:50 p.m.:

6:10 p.m.: A drone strike started a fire at a refinery in southwestern Russia near the border with Ukraine on Wednesday, but no one was hurt, and the blaze was contained quickly, officials said, according to The Associated Press.

The fire engulfed industrial equipment at the Novoshakhtinsk oil processing plant in the Rostov-on-Don region. The authorities said that dozens of firefighters extinguished the flames in a half-hour and no one was hurt.

The refinery said in a statement that the fire was caused by a strike carried out by two drones, describing it as a "terrorist" act. Ukrainian officials haven't claimed responsibility for the drone strike.

5:22 p.m.:

4:55 p.m.: India is providing safety certification for dozens of ships managed by a subsidiary of top Russian shipping group Sovcomflot, official data showed, enabling oil exports to India and elsewhere after Western certifiers withdrew their services due to global sanctions against Moscow, Reuters reported in an exclusive.

Certification by the Indian Register of Shipping, one of the world's top classification companies, provides a final link in the paperwork chain - after insurance coverage - needed to keep state-owned Sovcomflot's tanker fleet afloat and delivering Russian crude oil to overseas markets.

4:06 p.m.: One of the main problems in Enerhodar, a key energy hub on the Dnieper River, in addition to the existing humanitarian and social ones, is the spontaneous mass abductions of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant employees and local residents, Mayor Dmitry Orlov said, stressing that the exchange of civilian prisoners abducted by the occupiers was urgently needed at the highest level.

3:15 p.m.: White House Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer on Russia-Ukraine at the US-EU Defense Forum:

2:35 p.m.: Ordinary Ukrainians are President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's role models, he said Wednesday, the ones who resist invading Russian forces, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy was answering questions via videolink from students at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto when one of the students asked him who his role models were.

"The people of Ukraine," he said, "and there are very many of them."

"An ordinary Ukrainian farmer who could take his tractor and close off a road to Russian tanks, an ordinary woman who would go out and stop armored vehicles with her bare hands... Those are the people I look up to," he said through an interpreter.

The student noted that Zelenskyy has been compared by his supporters to British World War II leader Winston Churchill and to Harry Potter, the fictional boy wizard who finally defeats his archenemy, Lord Voldemort.

"Thank you for these kinds of comparisons. Harry Potter is better than Voldemort, and we know who is Voldemort in this war, and who is Harry Potter, so we know how the war will end," Zelenskyy said, smiling.

12 p.m.: The Danish Refugee Council has been actively demining civilian areas in parts of Ukraine. On Wednesday, it shared a video on Twitter showing some of the work it is doing near the northern town of Chernihiv.

11:52 a.m.: Russian government hackers recently carried out multiple cyber espionage operations targeting countries allied with Ukraine since its February invasion, Microsoft said in a report on Wednesday, illustrating the scale of Moscow's ongoing hacking activities.

"The cyber aspects of the current war extend far beyond Ukraine and reflect the unique nature of cyberspace," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in the report.

Researchers had already traced a series of destructive cyberattacks on Ukrainian entities to Russian state-backed hacking groups since the conflict began, Reuters reported. They have now found that 128 organizations in 42 countries outside Ukraine were also targeted by the same groups in stealthy, espionage-focused hacks, according to the report.

11:46 a.m.: Ukrainian troops in the eastern town of Sievierodonetsk are struggling to resupply themselves under a barrage of Russian artillery. Ukraine has not released official casualty figures, which it keeps secret, but various officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have suggested that as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers are being killed every day. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Wednesday published this photo essay.

11:34 a.m.: Lithuania will be prepared if Russia disconnects it from the regional power grid in retaliation for blocking rail shipments of some Russian goods to Moscow's Kaliningrad exclave, but no military confrontation is expected, its president told Reuters.

He spoke after the Kremlin warned Lithuania on Tuesday that Moscow would respond to the ban on the transit of goods sanctioned by the EU to Kaliningrad in such a way that citizens of the Baltic state would feel the pain.

With relations between Moscow and the West at a half-century low over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania banned the transit of goods sanctioned by the European Union across its territory to and from Kaliningrad, citing EU sanction rules. Kaliningrad is sandwiched between NATO members Poland and Lithuania and supplied by rail via the territory of Lithuania.

11:21 a.m.: A new Pew survey on attitudes towards the US, NATO and Russia has just been released. VOA’s National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin shared the details on Twitter.

11:06 a.m.: Pavlo Vyshebaba joined the military on the first day of the Russian invasion, having no combat experience at all. Then the well-known Ukrainian eco-activist headed straight to his native Donbas region. During brief calm moments on the front line, he wrote about what he was seeing and feeling. VOA’s Lesia Bakalets has the story.

Donbas Native Writes War Songs From Trenches
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10:59 a.m.: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that he wants to discuss the outlines of a “Marshall plan for Ukraine” with the leaders of the Group of Seven countries at their upcoming summit in Germany, The Associated Press reported.

Scholz hopes for a united front on long-term support for Ukraine when he hosts the annual G-7 summit in Bavaria next week. The group of the world’s leading economic powers is made up of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Canada and Japan.

The chancellor told Germany’s parliament that “rebuilding Ukraine will be a task for generations.” Recalling his visit last week to Irpin, a Kyiv suburb that saw intense fighting, he said that “some things there remind not just me of the pictures of German cities after World War II.”

Billions of dollars will be needed to finance rebuilding over years, and that can only work if European nations, other major donor countries and international organizations work together, Scholz said. He has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss the matter with the G-7 leaders by video link on Monday.

10:47 a.m.:

10:31 a.m.: A Russian missile strike killed at least one person and damaged buildings including a school in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, the local mayor said.

The attacks caused several fires, damaged a number of residential and business buildings and left smoke hanging over the port city, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said. "I keep saying it's still dangerous in the city. Before, people were going out in droves but they go out less now," he said on national television.

Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said earlier on Wednesday that seven missiles had hit Mykolaiv. Grain handler Viterra said its Everi terminal in Mykolaiv was on fire after being hit in an attack but that no one had been killed there.

Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in Mykolaiv.

10:25 a.m.:

10:12 a.m.: Analysts say the African Union (AU) is unlikely to offer Ukraine much support against Russia despite a passionate address Monday by Ukraine's president. Many African nations have historical ties to Russia and have refused to condemn its invasion of Ukraine, VOA’s Halima Athumani reports.

In his speech to the African Union Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of holding Africa hostage by not allowing Ukrainian grain exports to reach the continent unless Western sanctions are lifted. Zelenskyy, speaking via videolink, also reminded AU leaders about Africa’s history of being colonized and said the continent should never support any attempt by one nation to colonize another.

Abdi Rashid, chief Horn of Africa analyst for Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based research group, said that while many Africans have expressed support toward Russia because of the former Soviet Union’s backing of liberation movements against colonial powers and apartheid, Russia has changed.

“And I think Africans probably have not come to grips with the reality of modern Russia,” he said. “So, we need to modernize our views of Russia and understand that today’s Russia is essentially an imperial power, which is weakened and which wants to get back the kind of clout and supremacy it had.”

10:07 a.m.:

9:55 a.m.: The reflections of a 12-year-old refugee from the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be published this fall. Yeva Skalietska’s book is called “You Don’t Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine.”

Union Square & Co. will release her account October 25.

“Everyone knows what the word ‘war’ means, but practically no one knows what this word really represents,” Skalietska said in a statement released Wednesday.

9:41 a.m.: Two drones flying from the direction of Ukraine hit a major Russian oil refinery near the border on Wednesday, the plant said, sending a ball of flame and black smoke billowing into the sky and prompting the plant to suspend production.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine have reported numerous attacks and shelling after Moscow sent its troops into its former Soviet neighbor on February 24 for what it calls a "special military operation," Reuters reported.

The Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia's Rostov region said the first drone struck at 8.40 a.m. (0540 GMT) hitting a crude distillation unit, triggering a blast and ball of fire. The second strike at 0623 GMT was aimed at crude oil reservoirs at the refinery, the largest supplier of oil products in southern Russia, but caused no fire, the plant said. No one was injured.

9:34 a.m.: VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin shared highlights on Twitter Wednesday of remarks by Wendy Sherman, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State, and Stefano Sannino, Secretary-General, European External Action Service, who spoke at the EU-US Defense & Future Forum, hosted by The Atlantic Council.

9:13 a.m.: The European Union Ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrindis, said at the start of the EU-U.S. Defense & Future Forum on Wednesday that Russia’s invasion “has highlighted the indispensability of the trans-Atlantic partnership in today’s world.” He added, “But this relationship doesn’t just happen – you work on it. And this is why the delegation of the European Union to the United States and the Atlantic Council are bringing together leaders and stakeholders to develop a new trans-Atlantic agenda and momentum for that indispensable partnership.”

9:08 a.m.: U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a “massive act of aggression,” was a major topic during the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Speaking at the State Department to VOA’s Russian service, Sullivan said, “I think it's important to understand the scale of the problem and what the Russian government has done through its actions. Almost 15 million people are either refugees, have left Ukraine or they're internally displaced persons. We've heard the casualty statistics — thousands upon thousands of innocent people, men women and children killed, but millions of refugees.”

8:47 a.m.: Kateryna Melekheda and her two children found refuge in the Czech Republic after fleeing their home in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv following Russia's invasion of their country. But when her temporary accommodation in Prague was about to expire, Melekheda was desperate to find somewhere else to stay. That's when a Czech lawyer stepped in with a generous offer of help. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Stuart Greer, Darab Gajar, and Roman Kupka have this story.

8:26 a.m.: Russian forces pounded Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv and surrounding countryside with rockets, killing at least 15 people, in what Kyiv called a bid to force it to pull resources from the main battlefield to protect civilians from attack, Reuters reported.

The Russian strikes on Kharkiv, throughout Tuesday and continuing on Wednesday morning, were the worst for weeks in the area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Russian forces back in a major counter-offensive last month.

"Russian forces are now hitting the city of Kharkiv in the same way that they previously were hitting Mariupol - with the aim of terrorizing the population," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address.

In the main battlefield city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russia has claimed to have Ukrainian forces surrounded since last week, pictures filmed by a freelance journalist made clear the battle was not over, with Ukrainian troops able to resupply their garrison by crossing a river in inflatable rafts.

8:12 a.m.:

8:01 a.m.: Russian appeals against bans from international soccer because of the country’s war in Ukraine are set to be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in July, The Associated Press reported.

The court on July 5 will hear the Russian soccer federation’s appeal against FIFA and UEFA’s joint decision to suspend its national and club teams days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. A second CAS hearing on July 11 will consider an appeal by four Russian clubs, including national champion Zenit St. Petersburg, against exclusion from the next UEFA club competitions.

Urgent verdicts could be requested by the clubs ahead of scheduled games in qualifying rounds of the Champions League and other UEFA competitions. The high-profile soccer cases could set the tone for similar appeal cases pending at CAS between Russia and governing bodies of Olympic sports.

7:54 a.m.: Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov on Wednesday welcomed the announcement of a new relationship with the 3 Seas Initiative (3SI). Polish president Andrzej Duda announced Tuesday that the 3 Seas Initiative member states have granted Ukraine participating partner status, saying it would help Ukraine to develop cooperation with 3SI in energy and transport. The primary goal of the initiative is “to boost economic growth and resilience of the region by developing transport, energy and digital infrastructure,” according to the organization, and its members include twelve European countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas.

7:48 a.m.: French armed forces conducted a surprise military exercise in Estonia, deploying more than 100 paratroopers in the Baltic country that neighbors Russia, The Associated Press reported Wednesday, quoting the French defense ministry. The airborne operation conducted on Tuesday night and dubbed Thunder Lynx “enabled, at very short notice, the dropping of about 100 paratroopers” from France’s 11th Airborne Brigade “over an area secured by Estonian soldiers,” the statement said.

The hastily organized exercise in Estonia, a NATO ally, was executed as an act of “strategic solidarity” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The airborne operation illustrates the ability of the French armed forces to intervene, in emergency, and support an allied country,” a French defense ministry statement said.

France was one of the first countries to send its troops to Europe’s eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Soldiers taking part in the airborne operation named Operation Thunder Lynx jump over Estonina territory as part of NATO missions in Estonia, June 22, 2022.
Soldiers taking part in the airborne operation named Operation Thunder Lynx jump over Estonina territory as part of NATO missions in Estonia, June 22, 2022.

7:41 a.m.: Going to the dentist is never a welcome task, but for Russians living under sanctions imposed by the West on their country for its invasion of Ukraine, it’s now even harder to stomach, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Russian dental industry is almost entirely dependent on European and U.S. imports of equipment and materials, and now, facing a virtually frozen supply chain, dentists are scrambling to weigh the alternatives of potentially inferior treatments for patients -- and having to raise prices.

7:34 a.m.: Lawmakers in Bulgaria are set to vote Wednesday on a no-confidence motion against the country’s coalition government. If approved, the motion could topple the centrist prime minister and further stall efforts by Balkan countries to join the European Union, The Associated Press reported.

The center-right opposition GERB party filed the motion last week, citing the government’s handling of public finances and economic policy in the face of rising inflation.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has prompted the EU to consider speeding up its membership drive in the Western Balkans, where Moscow still wields considerable influence.

7:07 a.m.: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Georgian Service spoke to prominent French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, a renowned author, philosopher, and war correspondent.

Levy has been a regular visitor to Ukraine since the country's 2014 revolution that overthrew pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. He has addressed crowds on Kyiv's Independence Square in 2014 and 2015, reported from the Donbas front lines, and publicly supported Ukraine's acceptance into Euro-Atlantic structures.

The author of a new documentary in which he visits the world's trouble spots, including Ukraine, Levy says Zelenskyy is "one of the founding fathers of Europe" whereas Vladimir Putin is merely a "bad chess player."

6:55 a.m.: A draft of the final declaration for this week's European Union summit proposes candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, a copy of the document seen by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shows. Within the European Union "there is not a single country that has problems" with the move, Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said before a meeting EU foreign ministers.

6:51 a.m.: Nearly two-thirds of Europeans consider membership of the European Union a "good thing", according to a survey by the bloc's parliament published on Wednesday, marking the highest result in 15 years.

Most countries showed significantly more positive attitudes towards EU membership compared to a survey conducted at the end of last year, the European Parliament said in a statement, notably in the Baltic States of Lithuania and Estonia.

"With war returning to our continent, Europeans feel reassured to be part of the European Union," added the parliament's president Roberta Metsola.

The survey showed that only one in 10 respondents saw Russia positively compared to one in three in 2018.

6:44 a.m.: After a Russian rocket attack, not much was left of a home in the eastern Ukrainian village of Moshchun where one elderly resident had sheltered a group of neighbors. VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze got a tour of the ruined property by its owner.

6:35 a.m.: Finland has prepared for decades for a Russian attack and would put up stiff resistance should one occur, Reuters reported citing its armed forces chief.

The Nordic country has built up a substantial arsenal. But aside from the military hardware, General Timo Kivinen said, a crucial factor is that Finns would be motivated to fight. “The most important line of defense is between one's ears, as the war in Ukraine proves at the moment,” Kivinen said in an interview.

Finland fought two wars in the 1940s against its eastern neighbor, with which it shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border.

6 a.m.: A Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier who was accompanying him when they were killed in the first weeks of Russia’s invasion appear to have been “coldly executed” as they were searching Russian-occupied woodlands for the photographer’s missing image-taking drone, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday, citing its findings from an investigation into their deaths. The Associated Press has the story.

5:35 a.m.: Russian and Turkish delegations have agreed to continue consultations on safe vessel departures and grain exports from Ukrainian ports, the Russian defense ministry said on Wednesday.

Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its grain shipments have stalled and tons of grain has been trapped in silos since Russia sent troops into the country.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage.

4:30 a.m.: Russian reduction of gas flows to Europe are “very rogue moves” a senior European Commission said on Wednesday, saying plans to step up coal use in the bloc would be temporary and climate goals remained intact, according to Reuters.

“The unlawful invasion by Russia of Ukraine has resulted in an emergency situation in the EU,” Elina Bardram, acting director for International Affairs and Climate Finance at the European Commission, told the Africa Energy Forum in Brussels.

“With the very rogue moves we are observing from the Putin administration in terms Gazprom lowering the flow very suddenly, we are doing some very important measures, but all of those measures are temporary,” she added, referring to coal use.

3:55 a.m.: Reuters reported that members of the Russian delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or the OSCE, were denied British visas to attend the next session, Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of Russian upper house’s international affairs committee, said on Wednesday.

3:20 a.m.: South Korea plans to set up a delegation to NATO in Brussels, the national security adviser said on Wednesday, as Seoul pushes to strengthen its partnership with the organization and play a bigger role on the global stage, Reuters reported.

Speaking to reporters about President Yoon Suk-yeol's planned attendance at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting this month, National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han said Seoul would seek to bolster relations with NATO members in the face of an “unpredictable” international situation.

As part of the efforts, South Korea is talking with NATO about information sharing, combined exercises and joint research to counter emerging security threats, he said.

Yoon, inaugurated in May, has said his main foreign policy goal is to make South Korea a “global pivotal state” with a focus on promoting freedom, peace and prosperity based on its liberal democratic values.

Although the June 29-30 meeting in Madrid is expected to focus on the Ukraine crisis, Yoon plans to drum up international cooperation against North Korea’s nuclear program, Kim said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had said the upcoming summit is expected to agree on an assistance package for Ukraine that will help the country move from old Soviet-era weaponry to NATO standard gear.

2:25 a.m.: Current Time TV’s Borys Sachalko reports from a conflict zone near Izyum.

1:10 a.m.: The U.K. defense ministry said Wednesday that heavy fighting and shelling continued as Russian troops attempt to envelop the Sieverodonetsk area through Izium in the north and Popasna in the south.

“Russia is highly likely preparing to attempt to deploy a large number of reserve units to the Donbas,” the ministry said in its latest daily battleground report.

Casualties have amounted to about 55% of the original strength of the forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), one of Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine, the ministry said.

Figures published by the DPR showed that by June 16, 2,128 military personnel had been killed in action, with 8,897 wounded since the beginning of 2022, report said in a Twitter post.

Russian authorities have not released the tally of military casualties in Ukraine since 25 March, it added.

12:30 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden is due to speak Wednesday about gas prices and economic effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine as he considers whether to support suspending the nation’s federal gas tax.

Biden has said he would make his decision by the end of the week. The gas tax is set at 18.4 cents per gallon, with most of the money going toward road construction projects.

Average gas prices in the United States are at about $5 per gallon. Fuel prices around the world have risen in recent months, with rebounds in demand, refining capacity challenges and sanctions against major oil producer Russia among the contributing factors.

12:20 a.m.: Reuters reported that Indonesian President Joko Widodo will visit both Ukraine and Russia next week to meet his counterparts and push for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict, his foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Retno Marsudi confirmed during a news conference the intention of Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is known, to visit Kyiv in addition to Moscow, which had been reported in Indonesian and Russian state media. Retno did not elaborate on what Jokowi, as president of the G-20 this year, would discuss with the two leaders.

12:01 a.m.: On Wednesday, Russia marks the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow — June 22 — when the forces of Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in World War II, Reuters reported.

The day is also commemorated in Ukraine and Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union. The war there lasted 1,418 days from June 22, 1941, and historians estimate 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians died.

The Ukrainian government and its Western backers say Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the false pretext of removing Nazis from Ukraine to wage an unprovoked war of aggression.

The Russian defense ministry released documents on Wednesday that date from the start of WWII and purport to show Germany intended to claim the Soviet army was bombing churches and cemeteries to justify its invasion.

"Just as nowadays, in 1941, the Nazis prepared provocations in advance to discredit our state," Russia's defense ministry said.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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