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Pentagon Slams Russia for ‘War Crimes’ in Ukraine

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Miners check a damaged building following Russian strikes in Kyiv on April 29, 2022.

The Pentagon on Friday blasted the conduct of Russian troops in Ukraine. "It's very clear that Russian forces have committed war crimes," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a daily briefing. "There's no question about that."

Citing the bombing of hospitals and "pregnant women being killed," he called it "brutality of the coldest and most depraved sort." He also commented on how the United States underestimated the depth of Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruthlessness toward Ukrainians.

"We were certainly working under an assumption that Mr. Putin was capable of pursuing what he believed Russia's national interest to be with cold steel and with brutal determination," Kirby said. "I don't think we fully appreciated the degree to which he would visit that kind of violence and cruelty — and, as I said, depravity — on innocent people, on noncombatants, on civilians, with such utter disregard for the lives he was taking."

Russia has denied targeting civilians during its military campaign in Ukraine.

Kirby also slammed the Russian president's stated rationale for the invasion.

"Let's just call it what it is, his BS, that this is about Nazism and about protecting Russians in Ukraine ... when none of them, none of them were threatened by Ukraine."

Deaths in Ukraine

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department expressed sorrow over the death of an American citizen who was killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces as Russia launched new attacks in eastern Ukraine.

Former U.S. Marine Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was working with a private military contracting company when he was killed on Monday, and he is the first known U.S. citizen to die while fighting in Ukraine.

"We are aware of these reports and certainly stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the family," deputy State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said in a daily briefing Friday. "However, out of respect to the family during this very difficult time, we don't have anything further to announce."

Porter also conveyed sadness over the death of Vira Hyrych, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a sister network of VOA.

"We express our most heartfelt condolences to her family, as well as her colleagues. The Kremlin's war continues to wreak havoc on Ukraine and its people, with dire consequences for those who continue to stand for justice and tell the truth about its brutality," Porter said.

Rescue workers discovered Hyrych's body Friday morning, after a Russian airstrike had hit her residential building in Kyiv the night before.

The news followed reports that two British volunteers helping to provide humanitarian relief in Ukraine had been detained by the Russian military at a checkpoint south of Zaporizhzhia.

The British nonprofit Presidium Network said the two men, both civilians, were working independently as part of a project in Ukraine to provide food, medical supplies and evacuation support.

Dominik Byrne, Presidium Network's co-founder, said the men had gone missing on Monday after entering Russian-held territory, where they were planning to help evacuate a woman.

Britain will deploy a team of war crimes experts to support Ukraine with investigations into Russian atrocities, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced Friday during a visit to The Hague, Netherlands.

Missile strikes

Russia confirmed Friday that it had carried out an airstrike on Kyiv Thursday as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting the city.

The Russian Defense Ministry said "high-precision long-range air-based weapons ... destroyed the production buildings of the Artyom missile and space enterprise in Kyiv."

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the move was a deliberate attempt to humiliate the U.N.

"This says a lot about Russia's true attitude toward global institutions, about attempts of Russian authorities to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents," he said Friday in an overnight video address to the nation. "Therefore, it requires corresponding powerful reaction."

Ukraine's presidential adviser said Thursday that Ukraine should decide whether to strike Russian military facilities.

When asked if this could escalate the conflict, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told VOA, "What we're talking about here is not any intention of Ukraine invading Russia and trying to take Russian territory, going after Russian civilians, going after Russian hospitals. We're talking about consideration of military targets. It's something very different."

Peace talks

Zelenskyy said on Friday there was a high risk that peace talks with Moscow would end.

During an interview with Polish media, he said that "only direct negotiations and direct agreements" could lead to a successful deal between Russia and Ukraine.

However, the risks that negotiations "will cut off entirely are very high," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of sabotaging Russia's peace talks with Ukraine. During an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, he said that negotiations had been progressing last month in Turkey until Western nations intervened.

"We are stuck because of their desire to play games all the time," Lavrov said, "because of the instructions they get Washington, from London, from some other capitals, not to accelerate the negotiations."

Mariupol

Lavrov was also asked about the U.N. chief's proposals to set up humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.

"There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors," he said, adding that the real problem is that "humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultranationals."

The Kremlin has claimed that far-right Ukrainians are blocking evacuation efforts and says such right-wing military regiments are one of the reasons it launched its military operation in Ukraine.

Guterres had said during his visit to Kyiv on Thursday that discussions were underway to evacuate civilians from the steel works in the port city of Mariupol, which has been heavily attacked by Russia.

Ukrainian officials said an operation was planned on Friday, but Reuters reported there were no signs of an evacuation by nightfall.

A senior U.S. official said Friday that Russia was predominantly using ordnance in Mariupol that was not precision guided.

"We think that speaks to the challenges that the Russians are having with PGM (precision-guided munition) replenishment," the official said.

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and VOA State Department Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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