- Russia has initiated “draconian initiatives” to improve the discipline of its troops in Ukraine, according to the British defense ministry.
- “A free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society,” said U.S. President Joe Biden, as he called for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, from Russian captivity.
- A French artist dedicates a mural to an executed Ukrainian POW.
- Pope Francis says he will do anything to bring peace in Ukraine.
Russian attacks across Ukraine have killed at least 477 children wounded nearly 1,000 since Russia invaded more than a year ago, Ukraine‘s Prosecutor General’s Office said Sunday in a report posted on the messaging app Telegram.
Most casualties were documented in the Donetsk and Kharkiv oblasts, where 452 and 275 children were either killed or wounded, respectively. The casualty rate among children is expected to be higher, the reports said, as the current count does not include data from Russian-occupied territories or where hostilities are ongoing.
Last month, the National Police of Ukraine said nearly 400 children are missing.
Additionally, more than 19,000 children from Russian-occupied territories have been subjected to forced deportations to Russia. So far, Ukraine has been able to retrieve only 364 of them, according to Children of War, a Ukrainian national database.
On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian official overseeing the forced deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Earlier this month at a Moscow news conference, Lvova-Belova rejected the ICC’s war crime charges as false, saying her commission acted on humanitarian grounds to protect the interests of children in an area where military action was taking place, according to the Reuters news agency.
The Kremlin has previously called the ICC’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable."
But many Ukrainian children who were returned to families and guardians tell a different story.
Earlier this month, Vitaly, a child from the Kherson region, told Reuters: “We were treated like animals. We were closed in a separate building.” He said he and other children were told their parents no longer wanted them.
Russia is taking “Draconian initiatives” to improve discipline among its troops, the British defense ministry said Sunday in its daily intelligence update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian commanders in recent months “have likely started” punishing breaches in discipline by placing troop members in “Zindans,” which are makeshift holes in the ground covered by metal grills, the ministry tweeted.
The ministry said there have been “multiple” reports recently from Russians who said they were placed in Zindans for misdemeanors, including attempting to terminate their contracts and drunkenness.
The harsh measures began in the fall but became even harsher when Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov was placed in control of the operation in January, the ministry added.
Ukraine and Russia are trading claims on who controls most of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut. Ukraine said Sunday its troops were holding onto vitally strategic parts of the city, while the head of a major pro-Moscow force said his men were making progress.
"Fierce fighting continues in the city of Bakhmut. The enemy is unable to take control over the city, despite throwing all its forces into the battle and having some success," Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram post.
Separately, Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukrainian troops in the east, told the ICTV channel it was still possible to supply the Bakhmut defenders with food, ammunition and medicine, and evacuate the wounded.
Russia's defense ministry earlier said its forces had taken four blocks in western Bakhmut on Sunday. Reuters could not independently confirm the claim.
The leader of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Telegram that his men had advanced up to 230 meters (750 feet) in some directions in Bakhmut on Sunday. Pro-Kyiv units control less than 3 square kilometers (1.2 square miles), he said, a claim that could not be verified.
Prigozhin, who has repeatedly launched complaints against the Russian military leadership, said that Moscow was not supplying his forces with enough ammunition. As a result, he revealed, Wagner had suffered unnecessarily high losses.
Meanwhile, Russia blamed Ukraine for a drone strike early Saturday that set fire to a fuel storage facility in the Russian-occupied Crimean port city of Sevastopol, Moscow-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said Saturday in a Telegram post, without providing evidence. The fire was extinguished hours later.
Razvozhaev said the fire would not affect fuel supplies in Sevastopol and that no one had been injured. He said another drone was downed and its wreckage found on the shore near the fuel terminal.
However, Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said more than 10 tanks with a capacity of about 40,000 metric tons were destroyed. The tanks, he said, contained oil products intended for use by Russia's Black Sea Fleet, RBC Ukraine reported.
Yusov did not say Ukraine was responsible for the attack. Instead, he said it was "God's punishment" for the Russian strikes on Uman on Friday.
"This punishment will be long-lasting. In the near future, it is better for all residents of temporarily occupied Crimea not to be near military facilities and facilities that provide for the aggressor's army," RBC quoted Yusov as saying.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.