- A former U.S. Marine who was freed by Russia last year in a prisoner swap has been injured while fighting for Ukraine against Moscow’s forces, the U.S. State Department said.
- The European Union is considering helping fund the costly transportation of grain out of Ukraine after Russia halted a deal that allowed Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain vital to global food security.
Russian bombardments are taking a heavy toll on Ukrainian cultural sites as well as grain supplies that Kyiv had been shipping to impoverished countries.
The mounting damage was spelled out Wednesday at unusual back-to-back U.N. Security Council meetings on Ukraine.
According to the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO, since the war began in February 2022, at least 274 Ukrainian cultural sites have been damaged, including 117 religious sites.
"Religious sites should be places of worship, not places of war," Nihal Saad, director of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, told the council in her briefing.
But Dmitry Polyansky, Russia's deputy permanent U.N. ambassador, said the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was conducting a "campaign" to destroy Orthodoxy in Ukraine.
He dismissed condemnations of Russia's missile strike Sunday on the Transfiguration Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southern city of Odesa, and suggested it was Ukraine's fault.
"If the Russian missile truly struck the cathedral, as the Zelenskyy regime claims, then there would be nothing left of the cathedral at all," Polyansky told the Security Council. "But it was damaged and not completely destroyed."
At the second hearing, requested by Kyiv, Khaled Khiari, assistant secretary-general for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, told the council that Russian strikes on grain facilities are "a calamitous turn for Ukrainians and the world." Moscow withdrew last week from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which protected Ukrainian shipments to other countries.
"Port cities that allow for the export of grain, such as Odesa, Reni and Izmail, are a lifeline for many," Khiari said. "Now, they are the latest casualties in this senseless, brutal war."
Officials say that strikes on Odesa have damaged infrastructure important for future grain exports. A strike on the port of Chornomorsk last week destroyed 60,000 metric tons of grain, enough to feed 270,000 people for one year, the Word Food Program said.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia's attacks have global consequences for the world's food supply, especially in parts of the world struggling with hunger and malnutrition.
"Russia is hell-bent on preventing Ukrainian grain from reaching global markets, which is why it unilaterally suspended its participation in Black Sea Grain Initiative," she said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was continuing to try to find a way to restart the deal.
Russia has altered its naval activity in the Black Sea, Britain's Defense Ministry said Wednesday, adding that there is a possibility Russian forces are preparing "to enforce a blockade of Ukraine" after withdrawing from the year-old grain shipment deal.
The Defense Ministry said in its daily update that the Russian corvette Sergey Kotov had deployed to the Black Sea to patrol a shipping lane between the Bosporus and Odesa.
"There is a realistic possibility that it will form part of a task group to intercept commercial vessels Russia believes are heading to Ukraine," the British ministry said.
The United States will send Ukraine an additional $400 million in military aid, including air defense missiles, small drones and armored vehicles, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The weapons are being provided through the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows for the speedy delivery of defense articles and services from U.S. stocks, sometimes arriving within days of approval. The materiel will come from U.S. excess inventory.
The aid announcement comes at a time when Ukrainian troops are involved in a slow-moving counteroffensive against invading Russian forces.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the assistance is aimed at "strengthening Ukraine's brave forces on the battlefield" and "helping them retake Ukraine's sovereign territory."
"The people of Ukraine continue to bravely defend their country against Russia's aggression while Russia continues its relentless and vicious attacks that are killing Ukrainian civilians and destroying civil infrastructure," Blinken said in a statement.
The new aid package includes an array of ammunition, ranging from missiles for Patriot air defense systems and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASMS), Stinger anti-aircraft systems, more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Stryker armored personnel carriers and a variety of other missiles and rockets.
It also will include for the first time U.S.-furnished Black Hornet surveillance drones — tiny nano drones used largely for intelligence-gathering. Ukraine has previously received these drones from other Western allies.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. has provided more than $43 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
Also Tuesday, Russian lawmakers approved a bill extending the upper age limit for the compulsory military draft from 27 to 30, a move that appears aimed at expanding the pool of recruits for the fighting in Ukraine.
The measure was quickly approved by the lower house on Tuesday. It will need to be approved by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.