The remaining Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal steel plant have received orders to stop fighting and give up their defense of their last foothold in the city of Mariupol, Denis Prokopenko, a commander of the far-right Azov Regiment said in a video Friday. Hundreds of fighters evacuated the besieged facility in a negotiated surrender between Moscow and Kyiv this week, but it was unclear how many were still inside. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday that a total of 1,900 Ukrainian fighters there had laid down their arms – a claim The Washington Post could not independently verify.
In the country’s eastern region, Ukrainian troops are fighting a Russian assault that President Volodymyr Zelensky described as “hell” in a nightly address. “Donbas is completely destroyed,” he said, accusing Russian forces of bombing the city of Severodonetsk.
As the battle rages, the Senate approved President Joe Biden’s $40 billion package of fresh military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine. Biden is set to sign the package into law during a trip to East Asia that starts in South Korea on Friday.
And Finland’s state-owned energy firm Gasum has announced that Russia’s Gazprom will cease supplying it with natural gas on Saturday. The move follows Finland’s official application for membership in NATO this week and a Russian energy company halting electricity exports to the nation.
Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said Gazprom has informed Gasum that the gas will stop flowing at 7 a.m. local time on Saturday.
“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Wiljanen said. “However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months.”
Gasum said gas filling stations in Finland will maintain normal operations. It said it will now obtain gas through the Balticconnector pipeline, which links Finland to Estonia and gives it access to natural gas from Latvia.
Both Finland and neighboring Sweden made their bids to join NATO official this week, with Finland’s potential addition adding 800 miles of NATO member countries to Russia’s border. Their applications must ultimately be approved by each member nation, and while they appear to have widespread support, Turkey is balking.
According to Finnish state media, Gazprom had demanded that Gasum pay for the natural gas in Russian rubles, but Gasum worried that this would run afoul of sanctions against Russia, which the head of the European Commission confirmed. Gazprom has also halted exports to Bulgaria and Poland after making the same demand.
The move by Gazprom is perhaps the first major instance of Russian retaliation against Finland for its effort to join NATO. A Russian state-owned company halted electricity exports to Finland over the weekend, but it wasn’t clear that the move was intended to be punitive. As The Post’s Liz Sly reported, Russia lacks leverage in stopping Finland’s quest to join NATO.
Finland buys most of its natural gas from Russia, but natural gas accounts for only about 5% of Finnish energy consumption.
As fighting continued in Ukraine’s east, Zelensky and local officials, in separate posts Friday, said at least 12 people were dead and dozens wounded in Severodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk region where about 100,000 people lived before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Severodonetsk has become a major Russian focal point in the past day, and some observers fear a siege similar to the gutting of Mariupol. Officials, posting on Telegram, have said Russia has destroyed several residential buildings there. Previously, two people were reported killed and nine injured in an attack on a hospital.
Luhansk’s regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, wrote on Friday that “the Russians are shelling Severodonetsk very strongly.”
“Up to 15,000 people remain in bomb shelters,” Haidai and Alexander Stryuk, head of the city’s military-civil administration, said in a Telegram post. “Wells in the old districts of the city were brought back into use to provide people with water. All the mobile communication towers have had their power lost. Seventy percent of high-rise buildings are destroyed or damaged; many of them will have to be demolished and new ones built.”
The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the attacks.
Zelensky, in his video message, decried Russia’s “deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible” in the region. He characterized it as an effort to “destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”
“This is what will be qualified as the genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice,” Zelensky said.
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