Ukraine reports downing 5 Russian drones as US Senate nears vote on aid bill

US House approves aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelming passed a $95 billion foreign aid bill on Saturday. The measure now heads to the U.S. Senate, which is expected to take up a vote early this week. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports.

Ukraine’s salt mines become explorable in Minecraft game 

A Ukrainian version of the Minecraft game features Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, and other celebrities from around the globe. The new game, called Minesalt, is based on Ukraine’s famous Soledar salt mines. Anna Kosstutschenko reports. Camera: Pavel Suhodolskiy.

Polish voters choose mayors in hundreds of cities in runoff election  

WARSAW — Polish voters are casting ballots Sunday to choose mayors in hundreds of cities and towns where no candidate won outright in the first round of local election voting two weeks ago. 

Mayors will be chosen in 748 places, including Krakow, Poznan, Rzeszow and Wroclaw. Those are places where no single candidate won at least 50% of the vote during the first round on April 7. 

The local and regional elections are being viewed as a test for the pro-European Union government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk four months after it took power at the national level. 

Tusk’s party did well in big cities including Warsaw, where his party’s candidate, Rafał Trzaskowski, easily won reelection as mayor two weeks ago. 

However, Tusk failed to win a decisive victory overall. The main opposition party, Law and Justice, which held power at the national level from 2015-23, won a greater percentage of votes in the provincial assemblies. 

Tusk’s socially liberal Civic Coalition has strong support in cities while the Law and Justice party has a stronger base in conservative rural areas, particularly in eastern Poland. 

In the election of the provincial assemblies, Law and Justice obtained 34.3% of the votes nationwide and Tusks’ Civic Coalition got 30.6%. 

Zelenskyy: More US weapons gives Ukraine ‘a chance’ to defeat Russia 

US House speaker, who strongly opposed Ukraine aid, ushers it through

Washington — Republican Mike Johnson came out of nowhere six months ago to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, before emerging as an ardent defender of military aid to Ukraine, which the chamber approved Saturday.  

The evolution of this 52-year-old Southerner with carefully coiffed hair has been stunning.  

An arch-conservative Christian from Louisiana, he shot to the top leadership position in the House in October after the unprecedented ouster of then-speaker Kevin McCarthy in a rebellion by far-right lawmakers allied with Donald Trump.  

After several candidates were proposed, then discarded, Johnson’s name came up — he was a virtual unknown to the American public — and with the blessing of Trump, Johnson become leader of the House and of a Republican congressional caucus at war with itself.

Johnson had for months blocked a vote on the aid desperately needed by Ukraine’s army as it defends against Russian invasion forces.

But recently his tone began to soften. And then, in a head-spinning shift, Johnson last week emerged as a passionate defender of a long-delayed aid package.  

That culminated in the vote Saturday in which his chamber, by a strong bipartisan majority, passed more than $60 billion of additional military and financial support for Ukraine.  


What was behind Johnson’s metamorphosis?  

“I believe Johnson has been convinced, gradually, that America must support Ukraine in our own interests, and that the far-right Republicans demanding otherwise were simply wrong,” Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, told AFP.  

In December, as previously approved U.S. funding for Kyiv was drying up, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine made a last-ditch visit to Washington to plead for a new aid package.  

Zelenskyy made his way through the halls of Congress accompanied by the Senate’s top Democrat and Republican, both vocal supporters of President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion.  

But his meeting with Johnson was held behind closed doors.  

Johnson afterward said Biden was asking for “billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win, and none of the answers that I think the American people are owed.”

Since then, however, a series of U.S. and world figures — including British Foreign Secretary David Cameron — worked to persuade Johnson of the high stakes, with some warning that Ukraine could fall by year’s end unless the U.S. aid came through.

One concession  

On Monday, Johnson announced the House would, after all, take up separate bills to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and that he would support them.  

Johnson did make one concession to Trump — who had demanded that aid to Ukraine be at least partly in the form of loans — making a part of the package subject to repayment.  

But the debt can still be forgiven, and the aid package is almost exactly for the amount requested months ago by Biden.

What was behind Johnson’s rethinking?

“He didn’t want the fall of Ukraine on his hands,” Sabato said.

Johnson provided further insight during a news conference Wednesday.  

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys,” he said, before adding, his voice choking with emotion, that his son is about to enter the U.S. Naval Academy.

“This is a live-fire exercise for me, as it is for so many American families,” Johnson said.

It remains unclear whether some of the far-right legislators behind last year’s ouster of McCarthy might work to unseat Johnson after the perceived betrayal.

The House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, struck a philosophic tone when describing Johnson’s thorny choices.

“This,” he said, “is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment” — referring first to the wartime British prime minister known for his steely determination and then to Churchill’s predecessor, his name forever linked to a policy of appeasement.

Without quite casting himself in those terms, Johnson said he views himself as “a wartime speaker.”

In a somber tone, he added, “We have to do the right thing — and history will judge us.” 

Once foreign aid bill signed, this is how US can rush weapons to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon could get weapons moving to Ukraine within days once Congress passes a long-delayed aid bill. That’s because it has a network of storage sites in the U.S. and Europe that hold the ammunition and air defense components that Kyiv desperately needs.

Moving fast is critical, CIA Director Bill Burns said this past week, warning that without additional aid from the U.S., Ukraine could lose the war to Russia by the end of this year.

“We would like very much to be able to rush the security assistance in the volumes we think they need to be able to be successful,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

The House approved $61 billion in funding for the war-torn country Saturday. It still needs to clear the Senate and President Joe Biden’s signature.

Once that happens, “we have a very robust logistics network that enables us to move material very quickly,” Ryder told reporters this past week. “We can move within days.”

Ready to go

The Pentagon has had supplies ready to go for months but hasn’t moved them because it is out of money. It has spent the funding Congress previously provided to support Ukraine, sending more than $44 billion worth of weapons, maintenance, training and spare parts since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

By December, the Pentagon was $10 billion in the hole, because it is going to cost more now to replace the systems it sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.

As a result, the Pentagon’s frequent aid packages for Ukraine dried up because there had been no guarantee that Congress would pass the additional funding needed to replenish the weapons the U.S. has been sending to Ukraine.

The lag in weapons deliveries has forced Ukrainian troops to spend months rationing their dwindling supply of munitions.

How US can quickly move weapons

When an aid package for Ukraine is announced, the weapons are either provided through presidential drawdown authority, which allows the military to immediately pull from its stockpiles, or through security assistance, which funds longer-term contracts with the defense industry to obtain the systems.

The presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, as it’s known, has allowed the military to send billions of dollars’ worth of ammunition, air defense missile launchers, tanks, vehicles and other equipment to Ukraine.

“In the past, we’ve seen weapons transferred via presidential drawdown authority arrive within a matter of days,” said Brad Bowman, director at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies center on military and political power.

Those stocks are pulled from bases or storage facilities in the U.S. or from European sites where the U.S. has surged weapons to cut down on the amount of time it will take to deliver them once the funding is approved.

Storage in US

The military has massive weapons storage facilities in the U.S. for millions of rounds of munitions of all sizes that would be ready to use in case of war.

For example, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma sprawls across more than 16,000 hectares connected by rail and has a mission to surge as many as 435 shipping containers — each able to carry 15 tons worth of munitions — if ordered by the president.

The facility is also a major storage site for one of the most used munitions on Ukraine’s battlefield, 155 mm howitzer rounds.

The demand by Ukraine for that particular shell has put pressure on U.S. stockpiles and pushed the military to see where else it could get them. As a result, tens of thousands of 155 mm rounds have been shipped back from South Korea to McAlester to be retrofitted for Ukraine.

Storage in Europe

According to a U.S. military official, the U.S. would be able to send certain munitions “almost immediately” to Ukraine because storehouses exist in Europe.

Among the weapons that could go very quickly are the 155 mm rounds and other artillery, along with some air defense munitions. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss preparations not yet made public.

A host of sites across Germany, Poland and other European allies also are helping Ukraine maintain and train on systems sent to the front. For example, Germany set up a maintenance hub for Kyiv’s Leopard 2 tank fleet in Poland, near the Ukrainian border.

The nearby maintenance hubs hasten the turnaround time to get needed repairs done on the Western systems. 

EU politicians embrace TikTok despite data security concerns

Sundsvall,  Sweden — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s short videos of his three-day trip to China this week proved popular in posts on Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, which the European Union, Canada, Taiwan and the United States banned on official devices more than a year ago, citing security concerns.

By Friday, one video showing highlights of Scholz’s trip had garnered 1.5 million views while another of him speaking about it on the plane home had 1.4 million views. 

Scholz opened his TikTok account April 8 to attract youth, promising he wouldn’t post videos of himself dancing.  His most popular post so far, about his 40-year-old briefcase, was watched 3.6 million times.  Many commented, “This briefcase is older than me.”

Scholtz is one of several Western leaders to use TikTok, despite concerns that its parent company, ByteDance, could provide private user data to the Chinese government and could also be used to push a pro-Beijing agenda.


Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has 258,000 followers on TikTok, and Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris has 99,000 followers. 

U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign team opened a TikTok account in February, despite Biden himself vowing to sign legislation expected to be voted on as early as Saturday to force ByteDance to divest in the U.S. or face a ban. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to ban TikTok in 2020, in March reversed his position and now appears to oppose a ban. 

ByteDance denies it would provide user data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating it could be at risk, and China has firmly opposed any forced sale.

Kevin Morgan, TikTok’s director of security and integrity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says more than 134 million people in 27 EU countries visit TikTok every month, including a third of EU lawmakers. 

As the European Union’s June elections approach, more European politicians are using the popular platform favored by young people to attract votes. 

Ola Patrik Bertil Moeller, a Swedish legislator with the Social Democratic Party who has 124,000 followers on TikTok, told VOA, “We as politicians participate in the conversation and spread accurate images and answer the questions that people have. If we’re not there, other forces that don’t want good will definitely be there.”

But other European politicians see TikTok as risky.  

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store on Monday expressed his uneasiness about social media platforms, including TikTok, being “used by various threat actors for several purposes, such as recruitment for espionage, influencing through disinformation and fake news, or mapping regime critics. This is disturbing.”

Konstantin von Notz, vice-chairman of the Green Parliamentary Group in the German legislature, told VOA, “While questions of security and the protection of personal data generally arise when using social networks, the issue is even more relevant for users of TikTok due to the company’s proximity to the Chinese state.” 

Matthias C. Kettemann, an internet researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research in Hamburg, Germany, told VOA, “Keeping data safe is a difficult task; given TikTok’s ties to China doesn’t make it easier.”  But he emphasized, “TikTok is obliged to do these measures through the EU’s GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] anyway from a legal side.”

But analysts question whether ByteDance will obey European law if pressed by the Chinese state.

Matthias Spielkamp, executive director AlgorithmWatch, told VOA, “Does TikTok have an incentive to comply with European law? Yes, there’s an enormous amount of money on the line. Is it realistic that TikTok, being owned by a Chinese company, can resist requests for data by its Chinese parent? Hardly. How is this going to play out? No one knows right now.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

US House passes $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

Washington — The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed with bipartisan support a four-part, $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, putting the legislation on track for enactment following a long, difficult path through Congress.  

The legislation includes $61 billion for Kyiv’s ongoing war against Moscow’s invasion, as well as $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza, and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific region.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, structured the bills so that they can be combined into one after each bill is approved, to prevent opposition to any one piece from derailing the entire deal.

“Today, members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage. At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday. 

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law, and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” he noted. 

The Democratic-majority Senate is to take up the legislation early next week and then send it to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, confirmed in a statement on Saturday that the Senate would “finish work on the supplemental with the first vote on Tuesday afternoon.”

“To our friends in Ukraine, to our allies in NATO, to our allies in Israel, and to civilians around the world in need of aid: rest assured America will deliver yet again,” he added.

The bill imposing new limits on the social media platform TikTok was the first of the four measures to pass Saturday, with a vote of 360-58. That measure requires Bytedance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to sell its stake within a year or face a ban in the United States. It would also allow the president to level new sanctions against Russia and Iran.  

The second bill, which passed with a bipartisan majority of 385-34 votes, provided billions in aid to the Indo-Pacific region. The $8 billion bill is intended to counter China through investing in submarine infrastructure and helping Taiwan through military financing. 

The third bill to pass was a significant aid package — $61 billion — for Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia. The bill passed with a vote of 311-112.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Congress for the passage of the aid bill. 

“I am grateful to the United States House of Representatives, both parties, and personally Speaker Mike Johnson for the decision that keeps history on the right track,” Zelenskyy wrote in a post on X.

The bill has important implications not just for Ukraine but for all of Europe, according to Steven Moore, founder of the Ukraine Freedom Project, which delivers humanitarian and military aid to the front lines. 

“[Russian President] Vladimir Putin has made it clear that if he takes Ukraine, then NATO countries are next,” he told VOA. “This is not just about Ukraine. This is about standing up to a terrible human being who wants to subjugate the rest of Europe.” 

“This sends a message to Vladimir Putin, to Iran, to North Korea, and to China, that we are not abdicating our role as a leader in the world,” added Moore, who is

based in Kyiv.  

The bill’s passage in the House comes after a monthslong Republican effort to block additional aid to Ukraine.  

“The Republican leadership, I think, delayed this unnecessarily,” Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, told VOA’s Ukrainian service on Saturday.  

Smith said he expected the aid to be delivered to Ukraine “almost immediately” once the legislation is passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden.  

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Saturday that U.S. legislation providing military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan would “deepen crisis throughout the world.”

The final measure to pass Saturday was a $26 billion aid package for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs.  

Biden reaffirmed support for the aid package earlier this week.  

“Israel is facing unprecedented attacks from Iran, and Ukraine is facing continued bombardment from Russia that has intensified dramatically in the last month,” he said in a statement.  

“The House must pass the package this week and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden added. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”  

The weekend votes follow a rare show of bipartisanship Friday, when a coalition of lawmakers in the House helped the foreign aid package clear a procedural hurdle to advance the four-part legislation. That Friday vote passed 316-94.  

Johnson went ahead with the vote despite strong opposition from some factions of his party.  

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia threatened to try to force a vote to oust Johnson from the speakership if he went ahead with the Ukraine aid vote. Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky has also called for Johnson to resign. 

Still, other members of the Republican Party support Johnson and the aid package. 

“You’re never going to agree with every little aspect of legislation. There’s always going to be things you may quibble with, but the reality is that we need to get aid to our allies,” Representative Mike Lawler, a Republican from New York, told VOA’s Ukrainian service.  

“The time for debate and discussion over this has long passed, and the time for action is here,” he said.  

VOA’s Kateryna Lisunova contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

China’s imports of Russian oil near record high in March

BEIJING — Russia remained China’s top oil supplier in March, data showed Saturday, as refiners snapped up stranded Sokol crude shipments.  

China’s imports from Russia, including supplies via pipelines and sea-borne shipments, jumped 12.5% on the year to 10.81 million metric tons, or 2.55 million barrels per day (bpd) last month, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.  

That was quite close to the previous monthly record of 2.56 million bpd in June 2023.  

Seven Russian tankers under sanctions offloaded Sokol cargoes in Chinese ports in March, as Russia worked to clear a glut of stranded supply in the wake of tightened U.S. sanctions.  

More than 10 million barrels of the oil supplied by Sakhalin-1, a unit of Rosneft, had been floating in storage over the past three months amid payment difficulties and sanctions on shipping firms and vessels carrying the crude.

Stockpiling of Russian crude for storage in strategic reserves by state-owned CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) also boosted imports from Russia.  

Data from consultancy Kpler, forecast sea-borne shipments from Russia hitting a record high of 1.82 million bpd, including 440,000 bpd of Sokol and 967,000 of ESPO (Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean) oil pipeline.

Russia was China’s top supplier throughout 2023, shipping 2.14 million bpd despite Western sanctions and a price cap following the Kremlin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.  

In coordination with other OPEC+ members, Russia opted to roll forward a voluntary reduction in crude oil output of 300,000 bpd into the first quarter of the year to support energy prices.

Imports from Saudi Arabia, previously China’s largest supplier, totaled 6.3 million tons in March, or 1.48 million bpd, down 29.3% on the same period last year.  

Riyadh has said it would extend its voluntary cut of 1 million bpd through the end of June, leaving its output at around 9 million bpd.  

The world’s top exporter kept the March official selling price of its flagship Arab Light to Asia at $1.50 over the Oman/Dubai average as the Kingdom sought to secure market share.  

January-March imports from Malaysia, a trans-shipment point for sanctioned cargoes from Iran and Venezuela, soared 39.2% on the year to 13.7 million tons, or 3.23 million bpd.

The data showed 375,296 tons of imports from Venezuela, following a rare shipment of 352,455 tons of Venezuelan crude in February amid a temporary relaxation of U.S. sanctions on Caracas. Sanctions were re-imposed from Thursday after the U.S. said President Nicolas Maduro had failed to meet his election commitments.

Customs recorded no imports from Iran. 

Ukraine shoots down 2 of 7 Russian missiles as Russia says it downs 50 Ukrainian drones

While under Russian attack, Ukraine pleads to West for more military aid

Ukraine has appealed for its European allies to urgently step up weapons supplies as it struggles to hold ground against invading Russian forces. As Henry Ridgwell reports, Germany has called for allies to provide more air defense systems, as Russian drones and missiles rain down on Ukrainian cities.

Librarians in Ukraine and their wartime struggle to save libraries

In Ukraine, more than 200 libraries have been destroyed and about 400 damaged since Russia launched its war, say Ukrainian officials. Lesia Bakalets reports from Kyiv on how librarians are trying to ensure libraries survive the war. Camera: Vladyslav Smilianets

French police detain intruder at Iranian consulate in Paris

Paris, France — French authorities Friday detained a man suspected of entering the Iranian consulate in Paris and falsely claiming to be armed with an explosive vest, police and prosecutors said. 

No explosives or arms were found on the man or the premises after he surrendered to police following the incident. 

The man, born in 1963 in Iran, had been convicted for setting fire to tires in front of the entrance of the Iranian embassy in Paris in 2023, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. 

Police arrested the suspect, who has not been named, when he left the consulate of his own accord after appearing to have “threatened violent action” inside, it said. 

According to a police source, who asked not to be named, he was wearing a vest with large pockets containing three fake grenades. 

Police earlier told AFP that the consulate called in law enforcement after a witness saw “a man enter carrying a grenade or an explosive belt.” 

The neighborhood around the consulate in the capital’s 16th district was closed off and a heavy police presence was in place, an AFP journalist reported. 

Traffic was temporarily suspended on two metro lines that pass through stops close to the consulate, Paris transport company RATP said. 

Iran’s embassy and consulate share the same building but have different entrances on separate streets. 

The incident came with tensions running high in the Middle East and Israel launching an apparent strike on central Iran overnight. 

However, there was no suggestion of any link. 

The office of the Paris prosecutor confirmed that the same man was to appear in court on Monday over a fire at the diplomatic mission in September 2023. 

A lower court had handed him an eight-month suspended sentence and prohibited him from entering the area around the consulate for two years and carrying weapons.  

But he is appealing the verdict. 

At the time, the man had claimed the action as an act of opposition to Iran’s clerical authorities as they faced the “Woman. Life. Freedom.” nationwide protests. 

Reports said that the man left Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution and has expressed sympathy toward the former imperial regime. 

France raised its national security alert to its maximum level following an attack on a concert venue in Moscow on March 22, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. 

The incident at the Iranian consulate prompted the Paris embassy of the United States to issue a security alert for its citizens. 

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

Europe falters on boosting weapons supplies to Ukraine, as US military aid held up

london — European nations are struggling to agree on providing urgently needed weapons to Ukraine as Kyiv’s forces struggle to hold ground against invading Russian forces.

Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure faced waves of drone and missile attacks from Russia again on Friday, with at least eight people killed, including two children, in an attack in the central Dnipropetrovsk region. An attack on the city of Chernihiv on Wednesday killed at least 13 people.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for NATO allies to provide more U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine following this week’s two-day European Union Special Council meeting in Brussels.

“NATO has made it very clear that of the systems that are available in the NATO states, several could make a decision like ours — to hand over another system so that better protection is possible against the many attacks currently happening against Ukraine,” Scholz told reporters Thursday. “I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize this appeal once again. We have heard that there should be seven more, one of which is ours. And we hope that six more will be found in the NATO context.”

On the eastern frontlines, Ukraine’s forces say they are outgunned by Moscow’s troops and are slowly losing ground in several areas. Kyiv has made repeated urgent appeals to the West for more military aid, but the Western hesitancy has only encouraged Moscow, said security analyst Amanda Paul of the Brussels-based European Policy Center.

“The Russians have taken advantage of the failure of the West to give Ukraine sufficient military assistance, including air defense systems, to strike their infrastructure,” she said.

Individual European states have sent significant volumes of military aid to Ukraine. In March, the European Union boosted its bloc-wide fund to provide weapons for Kyiv by $5 billion.

A Czech-led initiative aims to supply Kyiv with up to 1.5 million artillery shells over the coming year and is set to deliver the first batch of 180,000 in the coming months.

However, Russian military production appears to be outpacing both Western military aid and Ukraine’s own ability to manufacture weapons.

Meanwhile, several EU states have stopped short of providing the longer-range weapons that Ukraine says it needs to target Russian supply lines. Germany has ruled out supplying its Taurus long-range missiles.

Analyst Paul said that while we’re now seeing some stronger statements from the German Chancellor or from French President Emmanuel Macron, there are still alot of words and not much action, which adds to the problem.

“It’s only when the situation on the battlefield has become quite hot that Europeans have changed their narrative or began to supply Ukraine with more weapons, or at least make commitments,” Paul said. “Some countries have been concerned about the ramifications from Russia. We saw that for a very long period of time: ‘We don’t want to escalate with the Kremlin.’ These sorts of narratives seem to disappear, at least vocally.”

Despite the battlefield struggles, Ukraine’s military continues to strike back at Russia. Its forces claimed to have downed a TU-22 strategic bomber over Russian airspace Friday, some 300 kilometers from its border. Kyiv said the plane had earlier taken part in the bomb attack on Dnipropetrovsk.

In a potentially major boost to Ukraine’s capabilities, its air force is set to receive the first of dozens of F-16 fighter jets from Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States in the coming months. A further three Dutch F-16s arrived at a Ukrainian training facility in Romania Wednesday. Several other NATO states, including Norway, Greece, and Belgium, have committed to supplying Ukraine with F-16s over the coming year.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on March 27 that the jets should appear over Ukraine in mid-summer.

“So far, everything is going according to plan,” Kuleba told reports in an online briefing.

UN resolution recognizing Srebrenica killings as genocide inflames tensions