Two-thirds of Ukrainian kids forced to flee homes: Live updates.

Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment of towns and villages in eastern Ukraine will force Western countries to step up support for Ukraine’s government and military, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday.

Shortly after the remarks, President Joe Biden backed this up by announcing that the United States would contribute an additional $1 billion in security assistance and $225 million in humanitarian assistance following a phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Austin, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, noted that the United States and its allies have recently provided long-range rocket-assisted artillery. These weapons almost double the range of conventional artillery howitzers that were also sent to the front line.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted this week that Kyiv desperately needs 1,000 155mm howitzers, 300 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones.

The demand for more firepower comes amid revelations that Moscow may increase its own defense spending by 20% to fight a war that shows no signs of ending soon.

“Russia is using its long-range fire to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions, and Russia continues to indiscriminately bombard Ukrainian sovereign territory and recklessly endanger Ukrainian civilians,” Austin said. “We must therefore intensify our joint commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”

Latest developments

►Russian energy giant Gazprom’s announcement that it would cut natural gas flows through a key European pipeline by around 40% appears to be a political decision rather than a result of technical issues, a said the German vice-chancellor on Wednesday.

►A Moscow court has extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner until at least July 2, Russian news agency TASS reported on Tuesday. Griner has been in custody since February 17, accused of smuggling vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil into the country. The US State Department considers her to be wrongfully detained.

►Russia has banned dozens of British media and defense figures from entering the country in response to what the country’s Foreign Office has called a biased British media portrayal of Moscow and its actions in Ukraine.

Biden announces new aid to Ukraine: ‘We will not waver in our commitment’

President Joe Biden said he told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call Wednesday that the United States remains committed to helping Ukrainians fight the Russian invasion, adding $1 billion in military aid and 225 million dollars in humanitarian aid to previous US support.

Biden said the new package includes more artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition to boost Ukrainian efforts to defend the eastern Donbass region from a concerted Russian attack. Biden also pointed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin coordinating increased international support during his trip to Brussels.

“The bravery, resilience and determination of the people of Ukraine continue to inspire the world,” Biden said in a statement. “And the United States, along with our allies and partners, will not waver in our commitment to the people of Ukraine as they fight for their freedom.”

Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have fled their homes, UNICEF says

Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have fled their homes, with families sometimes leaving their fathers behind to wage war, according to UNICEF. Some of the families have moved to western Ukraine, which has been relatively quiet, while others have fled across the border to Poland or other countries. Trauma and fear can have lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health, said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Children are forced to leave their homes, friends, toys and precious possessions, family members and face uncertainty about the future,” Khan said. “This instability robs children of their future.”

Russian forces indiscriminately shelled Ukrainian towns, sometimes cutting off humanitarian evacuation corridors. Result: at least 277 children died and 456 others were injured.

“This use of explosive weapons in populated areas and attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop,” Khan said. “It kills and maims children and prevents them from resuming a normal life in the towns and villages that are their homes.”

Global Defense Ministers Meet in Support of Ukraine

Today’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, led by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, brings together dozens of defense ministers from around the world who are trying “to identify and consider next steps needed to help Ukraine defend against Russian aggression,” the State Department said. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Ukraine used 5,000 to 6,000 artillery shells a day – and Russia used 10 times as many.

“No matter how hard Ukraine tries, no matter how professional our army is, without the help of Western partners we cannot win this war,” Malyar told a televised news conference.

It looks like Russia will significantly increase its military budget to continue its slow but steady attack on Donbass: British defense officials said Russian defense spending could increase by US$12 billion, a 20% increase in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defense budget.

The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia was allowing the country’s defense industrial base “to slowly mobilize to meet the demands imposed by the war in Ukraine. However, industry may struggle to meet many of the these requirements, in part because of the effects of sanctions and lack of expertise.”

Ikea sells factories in Russia and closes its stores

Global furniture giant Ikea said on Wednesday it would sell its four factories in Russia and liquidate inventory at its 17 stores due to supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. The company, which suspended operations in Russia a week after the invasion, said it would cut its workforce sharply. The Swedish company said it would continue to pay its employees until the end of August. Ikea has also suspended operations in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and strongest ally.

“The war in Ukraine…is a human tragedy that continues to affect people and communities,” Ikea said in a statement posted on its website. “Businesses and supply chains around the world have been heavily impacted and we don’t believe it is possible to resume operations anytime soon.”

“We are not terrorists”: Zelensky will not fire missiles at Russian cities

Ukraine will not use any long-range missile systems the West may provide to strike civilian neighborhoods in Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

Zelenskyy spoke remotely to Danish media on the eve of a meeting of global defense ministers in Brussels that could determine the weight and amount of armaments that supporting nations will supply to Ukraine’s military, but unshakeable. Ukrainian towns have been pounded from afar by long-range Russian weapons that his army cannot reach.

“We are not interested in bombing civilians, we are not terrorists,” Zelenskyy said. “We need the right weapons…that work at such a distance.”

Zelenskyy said he was ready to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with or without mediators, about ending the war and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

“Only President Putin decides whether the Russian military will stop or not,” Zelenskyy said. “In Russia there is a person who decides absolutely everything for Russian citizens and for the Russian army.”

Contribute: The Associated Press

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