Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
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McConnell, GOP senators meet Zelenskyy in surprise Kyiv stop

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By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and DAVID KEYTON

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a delegation of GOP senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv during an unannounced visit Saturday, delivering the latest show of American solidarity with the country at war with Russia.

A video posted on Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, R-Ky., and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas greeting him in the capital. Zelensky, in an Instagram post, called the visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the United States Congress and the American people.”

The trip came at a time when the Senate is working to approve a nearly $40 billion package for Ukraine, a substantial infusion of support that will push American aid to the region well above $50 billion. The measure includes $6 billion for Ukraine for intelligence, equipment and training for its forces, plus $4 billion in financing to help Ukraine and NATO allies build up their militaries.

Passage was delayed Thursday by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who demanded the inclusion of a proposal to have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending. But final approval is not in doubt and could come in the week ahead, reflecting overwhelming support in Congress for replenishing the Ukrainian war effort.

“They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said this past week of the Ukrainians. “And they need this help right now.”

It was the second high-profile congressional delegation to stop in Ukraine in as many weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited on May 1 with a group of House Democrats and promised Zelenskyy that the United States will “be there for you until the fight is done.”

First lady Jill Biden visited western Ukraine last weekend for a Mother’s Day meeting with Zelenskyy's wife, Olena Zelenska.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were withdrawing from around Ukraine’s second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow's forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine’s general staff said the Russian forces were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new — long-term — phase of the war.”

After failing to capture Kyiv following the Feb 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukraine has battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

The offensive aims to encircle Ukraine's most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are deployed in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine's control.

Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move around in the east, hindering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it appears to be a back-and-forth slog without major breakthroughs on either side.

Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, which had a prewar population of around 55,000.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces have also made progress in the east, retaking six towns or villages in the past day. In his nightly address Saturday, he said “the situation in Donbas remains very difficult” and Russian troops were “still trying to come out at least somewhat victorious.”

“Step by step,” Zelenskyy the president said, “we are forcing the occupants to leave the Ukrainian land.”

Kharkiv, which is near the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key military objective earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.”

Regional Gov. Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.

He added that Ukraine launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least the beginning of April.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.

“The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided — there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said.

Britain’s defense ministry said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of “the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy has warned of a global food crisis as Russia blockades Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

The Group of Seven leading economies echoed that Saturday, saying that “Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe.”

Putin launched the war in Ukraine aiming to thwart NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe.

But the invasion has other countries along Russia’s flank worried they could be next, and this week the president and prime minister of Finland said they favor seeking NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to announce a decision Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

In a phone call Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there are no threats to Finland’s security and joining NATO would be an “error” and “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a “frank exchange of views.”

Niinisto said the discussion “was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important.”

Russia’s response to the moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, though Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said their accession to NATO would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “turning it into an arena of military competition.”

Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended deliveries of electricity to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electrical grid operator. But only around 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and authorities did not expect shortages.

The Nordic nations' potential bids were thrown into question Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not of a favorable opinion.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including Turkey's foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

In other developments:

— Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant in the ruined southern port of Mariupol faced continued attacks on the city's last stronghold of resistance. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops, but Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the steelworks, who number in the hundreds.

— An adviser to Mariupol Mayor Petro Andryushenko said via Telegram that a convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians from the city was allowed to enter Ukraine-controlled territory and was headed for Zaporizhzhia, the first major city beyond the front lines.

— The deputy speaker of Russia's parliament, Anna Kuznetsova, visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since early in the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration, and Britain’s defense ministry said Russia could stage a local referendum on joining Russia with results likely manipulated to show majority support.

— Zelenskyy signed into law a measure allowing for the banning of political parties found to be supporting or defending Russia’s invasion, the head of the national parliament’s legal policy committee reported.


Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odesa, Jill Lawless in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


8 Comments

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Ukraine is lying about amount of Russian material destroyed by Ukraine,why and how are they destroying with outdated equipment,they say Ukrainian have destroyed less than 30 jets ,they say they destroying 200

-7 ( +5 / -12 )

In a phone call Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there are no threats to Finland’s security and joining NATO would be an “error” and “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

Like there was no chance of Russia invading Ukraine. Joining NATO wouldn’t negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations anymore than the invasion already has, and it’s not just Finland and Sweden that have realized this.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

It’s important for the GOP to have lots of TV time with Zelensky after embracing “genius” Putin and “smart” Russian policies to the extent they did. At this point, for political favor, they will be naming their grandchildren after him, though Volodymyr doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Do you wanna bet that Zelensky is praying for Trump to lose if he runs again?

quid pro quo

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Passage was delayed Thursday by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who demanded the inclusion of a proposal to have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending. 

So what did McConnell say?

Sorry Mr President, I would have liked to be bringing you $40 billion in aid to your defense of freedom but one of my Repub Senate members said Ukraine isn't worth it....he think's Putin is more "trustworthy"....

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Kentucky Bribed Chickens fly to Kiev to roost with a bird of a different feather. Zelenskyy may be all polite smiles, but the Ukrainian "Hawk-Eye" is savvy enough to know he's dealing with a forked-tongued Republican rattlesnake den.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

It’s amazing how much Rand Paul has supposedly complicated things by simply asking for receipts how it’s spent. Liberals were big on “oversight” until this.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

How much did this needless trip cost taxpayers? Meeting could have been done on Zoom or something equivalent.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

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