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As Russia piles on the pressure in Ukraine’s Donbas, Zelensky warns of “hell”

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the renewed Russian offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas has transformed the eastern region into “hell.” On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of weaponizing food and holding hostage grain for millions of people around the world.

11:33 a.m.: The judge presiding over Ukraine’s first war crimes trial declared that the verdict will be announced on Monday.

The defense lawyer for the Russian soldier appearing in the first Kyiv war crimes trial, Viktor Ovsyannikov, said his client was not guilty of premeditated murder and war crimes, despite admitting to killing a civilian, and asked for his acquittal.

Vadim Shishimarin, a Russian soldier, apologized for his actions.

The verdict will be announced on Monday, according to the judge presiding over this trial.

10:55 a.m.: The Russian parliament will start letting people over the age of 40 to join the military.

In an indication of Russia’s urgent need to bolster its war effort in Ukraine, the country’s parliament announced on Friday that it would consider a bill allowing Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to enter the army.

8:57 a.m.: Germany’s lower house approves a €40 billion supplemental budget to cover Ukraine costs.

On Friday, Germany’s parliamentary budget committee approved plans to incur nearly €40 billion in additional debt this year to cover costs resulting from the Ukraine conflict.

7:46 a.m.: The regional governor of Luhansk reports that Russian shelling has killed 13 civilians.

Russian shelling in Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk has killed 13 civilians in the last 24 hours, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Friday.

Twelve people were killed in the town of Sievierodonetsk, where a Russian assault had failed, he said. The town and Lysychansk are located in an area where Russian troops have launched an offensive.

7:25 a.m.: The United States approves a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia’s renewed offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas had turned the eastern region into “hell,” and he thanked the United States for approving a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

At 2:55 a.m., Blinken publicly accused Russia of using food as a weapon.

Blinken told a UN Security Council meeting convened by the US that the war has stopped maritime trade in huge regions of the Black Sea and made the region unsafe for navigation, trapping Ukrainian agricultural exports and jeopardizing global supplies of food.

According to Blinken, the meeting is taking place “at a time of unprecedented global hunger” caused by climate change and COVID-19, and “made even worse by conflict.”

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, he said, its naval operations have sought to control access to the northwestern Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, as well as to block Ukrainian ports, which the US regards as a “deliberate effort” to obstruct safe passage and shut down shipping.