Ukraine war latest: Russian forces use chemical weapons to storm Ocheretyne

Key developments on April 23:

  • Military: Russian forces using chemical weapons to storm Ocheretyne, situation 'difficult'

  • Reuters: US preparing $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine

  • Media: Greece preparing to give Ukraine at least 1 Patriot system, possibly 2

  • Ukraine suspends consular, passport services for military-age men abroad

  • Governor: Over 20 Russian missiles targeted Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant in 2024

  • SBU detains man suspected of directing Russian attacks on Ukrainian special forces base

Russian forces are deploying chemical weapons in an attempt to capture the village of Ocheretyne in Donetsk Oblast, Nazar Voloshyn, the spokesperson for Ukraine's Khortytsia Group of Forces, said on April 23.

In a post on Telegram, Voloshyn said Moscow’s troops were using the "entire arsenal of weapons available… including chemical poisons" to attack Ukrainian positions, adding the situation was "difficult."

He did not specify which types of chemicals were being deployed, but hundreds of cases of the use of suffocating and tear gas grenades usually dropped from drones have been recorded since the start of the full-scale invasion, with the number of incidents increasing significantly in 2024.

Russian naval infantry units themselves confirmed they were using prohibited chemical weapons in the village of Krynky, located 30 kilometers northeast of Kherson, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Dec. 23.

Riot control gasses such as tear gas are classed as chemical weapons when deployed on the battlefield and, as such, are prohibited in warfare under the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

Ocheretyne is a village some 50 kilometers south of Chasiv Yar, the Ukrainian town currently at the center of Russia’s military push to take more territory in Donetsk Oblast.

In an interview with NBC News published on April 21, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia will attempt to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9.

Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9, a heavily militarized holiday marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany during World War II.

Read also: Government allocates additional over $200 million for fortifications

Reuters: US preparing $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine

The U.S. is preparing a military aid package for Ukraine worth $1 billion, Reuters reported on April 23, citing two unnamed American officials.

The reports followed the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives after months of congressional gridlock, when a key foreign aid package for U.S. allies was passed, providing over $60 billion in assistance for Kyiv.

This is the first defense package Ukraine may receive under the yet to be signed aid bill. The previous one worth $300 million was pledged by Washington on March 12.

Reuters reported, citing its sources, that the new package will include vehicles, Stinger air defense munitions, TOW and Javelin anti-tank munitions, additional ammunition for high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).

The new tranche will also include 155 millimeter artillery shells and "other weapons that can immediately be put to use on the battlefield," Reuters wrote.

Some of the U.S. military aid for Kyiv is already reportedly in Germany and Poland, cutting down the time needed for the weapons and equipment to reach the front line.

Since the delays in U.S. aid began, Ukraine has lost a key front-line city of Avdiivka and other settlements, and its energy infrastructure suffered heavily as a result of Russian strikes.

Many observers and officials have tied these losses directly to artillery and air defense ammunition shortages, compounded by the lack of American supplies. CIA Director William Burns went as far as to say that Ukraine could lose the war this year without U.S. assistance.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said U.S. aid gives Ukraine "a chance at victory" in Russia's full-scale war.

Read also: CNN: Some US military aid for Ukraine already in Poland, Germany

Media: Greece preparing to give Ukraine at least 1 Patriot system, possibly 2

Greece is preparing to give Ukraine at least one Patriot air defense system, the Greek media outlet Pronews reported on April 22, citing government sources.

The figure could possibly be two, the source added.

The news follows a story by the Financial Times (FT) on April 22, in which official sources said that Greece and Spain were under specific pressure from the EU to provide additional air defense systems to Ukraine.

"European leaders personally urged Spanish and Greek prime ministers Pedro Sanchez and Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a summit in Brussels last week to donate air defense systems to Ukraine, according to people briefed on the discussions," the FT wrote.

"The two leaders, whose armed forces possess between them more than a dozen Patriot systems plus others such as S-300s, were told that their needs were not as great as Ukraine's and that they did not face any imminent threats."

Government sources told Pronews that the U.S. had provided an undisclosed "guarantee" regarding the possible provision of the Patriot systems, and assurances of assistance against any threat from Turkey, Greece's primary geopolitical foe.

The U.S. also reportedly promised that any damaged Greek Patriot systems would be replaced.

Escalating Russian strikes and resulting civilian casualties underscore Ukraine's dire need for additional air defenses, and while the potential passing of the U.S. aid bill should alleviate some of the need, President Volodymyr Zelensky told an online session of the NATO-Ukraine Council on April 19 that European countries can still do more.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel), which tracks international aid for Ukraine, Greece has committed 185 million euros ($197 million) to Ukraine as of February 2024.

Read also: Bloomberg: Germany urging US to send another Patriot system to Ukraine

Ukraine suspends consular, passport services for military-age men abroad

Ukraine has suspended new applications for consular support for military-age men abroad, the Foreign Ministry announced on April 23.

Following the adoption of the new law on mobilization, a number of by-laws that regulate the work of Ukraine's consular services "need to be updated to bring them into line with its requirements," the Foreign Ministry said.

Ukrainian embassies and consulates are therefore no longer accepting new applications for consular services for Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, "with the exception of applications for registration of identity cards for return to Ukraine."

The suspension does not apply to Ukrainians who find themselves in emergencies abroad, such as road accidents or natural distasters, the Foreign Ministry said.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also wrote on X that he "ordered measures to restore fair attitudes toward men of conscription age in Ukraine and abroad."

Ukrainian media outlet Dzerkalo Tyzhnia published a copy of a letter signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrii Sybiha on the evening of April 22, that appeared to show that consular services for men aged 18-60 located abroad would be temporarily suspended.

Suspilne reported earlier on April 23 that Ukrainian consulates in Prague and Barcelona had suspended services for military-age men.

The move comes a week after Ukraine finally passed a hotly debated bill on mobilization as the country seeks to bolster its armed forces. Ukraine is facing a manpower shortage, and has had to resort to introducing some punitive measures for those deemed to be dodging the draft.

Kuleba also criticized men of fighting age who have left the country during the war.

"How it looks like now: a man of conscription age went abroad, showed his state that he does not care about its survival, and then comes and wants to receive services from this state," Kuleba said.

"It does not work this way. Our country is at war. Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the Homeland."

The BBC estimated in November 2023 that some 650,000 military-age Ukrainian men have left the country for the EU since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Read also: National Guard: Russia needs years to capture Kharkiv

Governor: Over 20 Russian missiles targeted Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant in 2024

Russian forces have launched over 20 missiles at the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) since the beginning of this year, Zaporizhzhia Oblast Governor Ivan Fedorov said on national television on April 23.

Ukraine's largest hydroelectric power plant was hit with eight Russian missiles on March 22 during one of the biggest attacks on the country's energy infrastructure, which reportedly led to the loss of a third of its capacity.

The Hydroelectric Power Station-2 (HPS-2), one of the two stations of Zaporizhzhia's Dnipro HPP, was in "critical condition" following the attack, said Ihor Syrota, the head of Ukrainian state-owned energy company Ukrhydroenergo. The dam itself suffered damage as well, but officials said that there was no risk of a breach.

"We are not talking about the resumption of power generation at the moment, but only about the logistics at the dam. We promptly launched one lane of traffic in both directions," Fedorov said.

The timing for the plant's restoration is unclear, as debris removal and dismantling are still reportedly ongoing.

"The destruction is extremely extensive," the governor said.

Ukraine's state grid operator Ukrenergo is signing agreements with contractors who will design and implement the restoration of the plant, while Ukrhydroenergo attracts international financing for its reconstruction, according to Fedorov.

Following the attack on Dnipro HPP, Russian troops targeted the Kaniv Hydroelectric Power Plant in Cherkasy Oblast and the Dnister Hydroelectric Power Plant in Chernivtsi Oblast in late March, President Volodymyr Zelensky said. No damages were reported.

Zelensky said that Moscow "wanted to repeat" the Kherson Oblast disaster, referring to the Kakhovka Dam destruction in June 2023.

Ukraine's air defenses have been particularly strained in recent months amid the onslaught of Russian missile and drone attacks and the delay in aid from the U.S.

Meanwhile, Russia has stepped up targeted attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, overwhelming local air defenses and destroying some of Ukraine's largest thermal power plants.

Read also: Ukraine faces energy deficits, to restrict power supply for business, industry

SBU detains man suspected of directing Russian attacks on Ukrainian special forces base

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has detained a man in Kharkiv suspected of helping direct Russian aerial attacks on the base of an elite Ukrainian military unit.

In a post on Telegram on April 23, the agency said the man helped Moscow’s forces to identify the location of the Military intelligence’s (HUR) Kraken special unit.

Russian forces planned to carry out the attack using "ballistic missiles and guided aerial bombs of the KAB-500 type," the post said.

Moscow has recently intensified attacks against Kharkiv using missiles, glide bombs, and drones to destroy infrastructure and kill civilians.

The SBU claimed the man had been recruited at the beginning of April via social media where he had been posting anti-Ukraine content, describing him as an “ideological supporter of racism.”

He was arrested in his home and his mobile phone, which allegedly contained incriminating messages with Russian security services, was seized.

The man has been charged under part 2 of Art. 114-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (unauthorized dissemination of information about the movement, movement or location of the Armed Forces if it is possible to identify them on the ground).

The man faces up to eight years in prison.

Read also: Governor: 5 injured in Russian attack on Kostiantynivka

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