Poland pledged to send dozens of tanks to Ukraine’s military to help it expel the Kremlin’s invasion force, as the United Nations refugee agency said Moscow was breaching “fundamental principles” by giving Ukrainian children Russian citizenship and putting them up for adoption in Russia.
Heavy fighting continued around the towns of Bakhmut and Vuhledar in the partly occupied Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where the country’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said its military was still outnumbered and outgunned by Russian forces and needed “300-500″ tanks to launch a successful offensive against Moscow’s forces.
The United States announced this week that it would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and Berlin said it would supply 14 of its Leopard tanks and allow other countries to send the German-made Leopards to Kyiv from their own stocks.
“Right now, we are ready to send 60 of our modernised tanks, 30 of them the PT-91. And on top of those tanks, 14 Leopard 2 tanks,” said Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, noting that his country had already provided some 250 modernised Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine since Russia launched its full invasion last February.
“We were, are and will continue to be together… This is not the end of Poland’s assistance to Ukraine. Only one thing can end our support: victory,” he added, in response to a message of thanks on social media from Mr Zelenskiy.
Speaking to Sky News, the Ukrainian leader said his country was repairing its own tank stock but also needed help from allies to face down “thousands of Russian tanks”.
“That’s why we need 300-500 tanks now … to carry out an offensive on our territory, on our land. We need armoured vehicles to protect our people, that’s all,” he said.
[ The moral case for Germany giving Ukraine the Leopard tanks it needs ]
At a meeting earlier this week with Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Mr Zelenskiy said he focused on the plight of “our people who were forcibly deported to Russia by the occupiers. These are both adults and our children”.
“The world needs a global mechanism of influence in such situations. We need a mechanism to protect and return such people, to bring to justice all those responsible for deportation. I am confident that the UN institutions can show their leadership in resolving this issue,” he added.
At the end of his visit to Ukraine on Friday, Mr Grandi said that “in a situation of war, you cannot determine if children have families or guardianship. And therefore, until that is clarified, you cannot give them another nationality or have them adopted by another family”.
“Giving them [Russian] nationality or having them adopted goes against the fundamental principles of child protection in situations of war… This is something that is happening in Russia and must not happen,” he added.
Ukraine says that in numerous occupied areas, Moscow’s forces refuse to let civilians flee fighting by travelling to Kyiv-held territory and only allows them to move to Russia, in what are effectively deportations. Kyiv also says it has evidence to show that Russia is putting children taken from Ukraine up for adoption; Moscow denies both charges.
Justice ministers from European Union states, including Ireland’s Simon Harris, met in Sweden to discuss how to prosecute war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to fund reconstruction of the country.
“There absolutely will have to be accountability for horrific international crimes and the brutality of what we’re seeing in Ukraine…the clear and apparent war crimes,” Mr Harris said.
Swedish justice minister Gunnar Strommer said: “Nobody doing this kind of war crimes shall go free. It’s very, very important that we will find a way to hold responsible people accountable.”