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‘You have to fight for your life’: Ukrainian newlywed who lost legs in blast hopes to walk down the aisle with prosthetics soon

1 min ago

German and Ukrainian presidents resolve row over Kyiv visit snub

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin and Radina Gigova in London 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone on Thursday and resolved a row over a would-be visit to Kyiv that was turned down in April, Steinmeier’s office said. 

Steinmeier had offered to visit Kyiv in April with the heads of state of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to send a strong signal of common European solidarity with Ukraine, but his trip was not wanted by Kyiv, he told reporters on April 12. “I was ready for it. But apparently […] that was not what was wanted in Kyiv,” he told reporters while visiting Warsaw.

Kyiv’s decision in April came amid sustained criticism over Steinmeier’s close relations with Russia in his previous role as foreign minister, as well as criticism from Kyiv that Germany was hesitant to provide much-needed military support to Ukraine. 

”Both presidents described the talks as ‘very important and very good,'” a statement posted on the German presidential office website read Thursday, adding that ”irritations of the past were cleared up. Both presidents agreed to remain in close contact.”

Following the talks with the German president, Zelensky said Thursday on his official Twitter account that he ”had a good, constructive, important conversation” with Steinmeier. Zelensky thanked him “for strong support for Ukraine,” adding he expects the support “to be intensified.” 

Zelensky said the “German leadership is important to counter Russian aggression” and said he informed Steinmeier about the ongoing ”situation on the frontline” and the ”critical situation in Mariupol.”

See Zelensky’s tweet:

10 min ago

Ukrainian newlywed who lost legs in blast hopes to be walking down the aisle with prosthetics soon

Viktor and Oksana Balandina pose on their wedding day.
Viktor and Oksana Balandina pose on their wedding day. (CNN)

In video shared widely around the world, a Ukrainian nurse who lost both her legs in a blast had her first wedding dance with her husband in a ceremony in the hospital.

About a month ago, Oksana Balandina stepped on a land mine and needed to have her legs amputated.

“I felt like I was flying in the air. I felt a terrible noise in my head. I fell to the ground,” she told CNN’s Scott McLean. “When I looked down, they were gone.”

At that moment, “I didn’t want to live anymore,” she said.

The newlyweds have been a couple since they were teenagers, and the 23-year-olds have two children together. Marriage had always been in their plans someday, but they decided to move forward with a quicker timeline by getting married in a civil ceremony and a small impromptu ceremony at a hospital in Lviv.

“I knew that she was strong, but I never thought she was as strong as she was these last five weeks,” Balandina’s husband Viktor said.

Their children are staying with their grandparents while she recovers. They understand their mother was in pain, and Viktor said they explained she’ll have prosthetic legs in the future.

The last time the kids visited, “they were already fighting over who will be the first to push their mother in her wheelchair,” Viktor said.

Balandina will be going to Germany to be fitted for prosthetics, and she hopes to be walking down the aisle at a formal church wedding ceremony soon.

“You don’t need to give up,” she said. “…You have to fight for your life.”

See Ukrainian newlyweds share first dance from a hospital room:

1 hr 4 min ago

Germany starts construction of liquified natural gas terminals in effort to shake off Russia oil

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

The first pile driving takes place at the future jetty for the FSRU (Floating Storage and Regasification Units) for liquefied natural gas imports to Germany in Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony, on May 5.
The first pile driving takes place at the future jetty for the FSRU (Floating Storage and Regasification Units) for liquefied natural gas imports to Germany in Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony, on May 5. (Sina Schuldt/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany marked the start of construction work on Thursday for its first floating terminals for liquified natural gas (LNG) in Wilhelmshaven, a city and port located in Lower Saxony. The construction is part of the country’s efforts to become independent of Russian gas in the wake of the Kremlin’s ongoing war in Ukraine. 

Germany is attempting to speed up the construction of the terminal in order to import LNG from various countries, including the US. 

“We have a good chance to do what is actually normally impossible in Germany: To build an LNG terminal within about 10 months, and to connect it to the German gas supply,” Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said while watching the start of the construction work for the LNG terminal aboard a ship. 

Germany has been under pressure from Ukraine and other nations in Europe to make progress in weaning itself off Russian energy supplies since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

Habeck last month called for unprecedented measures to reduce Germany’s reliance on Russian gas and counter what some German politicians call the Kremlin’s “energy blackmail.”

Habeck said becoming independent of Russian energy supplies is paramount for Germany, even if that meant pushing for alternative solutions previously considered ”unrealistic.” Habeck added that Europe’s largest economy has reduced the share of Russian energy imports from 35% to 12% for oil, from 50% to 8% for coal and from 55% to 35% for natural gas. 

1 hr 23 min ago

Teenager killed by shelling near Kharkiv while moving animals from zoo

From CNN’s Tim Lister

For weeks, volunteers and staff at an EcoPark near Kharkiv have been helping to evacuate the animals at the facility, with species from kangaroos to tigers and lemurs and lions loaded into the back of vans during sporadic incoming fire.

This week, volunteers were moving the African buffalos. As the animals were loaded onto transports Wednesday, the park came under artillery fire again.

Holding back tears, Oleksandr Feldman, the park’s owner, said later in a Facebook post that a 15-year old volunteer had been killed in the strike. He had been helping his parents to feed and get the animals evacuated.

Feldman said the teenager was the sixth member of the EcoPark’s team to have been killed.

1 hr 26 min ago

Ukraine’s prosecutor general testified about alleged Russian war crimes at US Helsinki Commission hearing

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs in London

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova speaks to the media next to a mass grave in the town of Bucha, Ukraine, on April 12.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova speaks to the media next to a mass grave in the town of Bucha, Ukraine, on April 12. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova testified at the hearings of the Helsinki Commission on alleged war crimes of Russia in Ukraine, Venediktova said in a Facebook statement on Thursday.

“The Helsinki Commission of the US Congress held a hearing on Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine. I testified at the hearings about the horrific atrocities committed by the Russian army on our land: the deliberate bombing of civilian objects, killings and torture, the use of rape as a weapon,” Venediktova said.

The Helsinki Commission is a US government commission that “promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries,” according to its website. Commissioners include US Senate, House of Representatives and executive branch members.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general claimed that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes in 70 days of war. She added that the unblocking of Mariupol and the end of the occupation of territories would open even more horrific cases for Ukraine to investigate.

She said that “the red lining at the hearings were signs of genocide of the Ukrainian people and the prosecution of the main serial war criminal of the 21st century.” 

“The deportation of our children in order to erase their identity and bring them up as Russians is a direct proof of the plan to destroy Ukraine. The overriding task of the world community is to develop an effective international mechanism of justice and responsibility for Russia’s crimes in Ukraine, which will become a tool now and a safeguard for the future,” Venediktova said.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko has claimed that Russian forces deported almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic.

Russia also said that it has “evacuated” over one million people to Russian territory since Feb. 24.

There is no way to verify the Russian data on evacuations. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that thousands of citizens are being deported to Russia forcibly.

2 hr 3 min ago

Ukrainian commander inside Azovstal plant says Russians violated truce pledge and fierce combat is ongoing

From CNN’s Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

A Ukrainian commander inside the ruins of the Azovstal complex in Mariupol has recorded a video message saying that heavy fighting continues.

“It’s been the third day that the enemy has broken through to the territory of Azovstal. Fierce bloody combat is ongoing,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, the Azov regiment’s deputy commander.  

“The defenders of the city have been fighting alone for 71 days with the overwhelming forces of the enemy and show such endurance and heroism that the country must know what it means to be loyal to the motherland,” Palamar said on Telegram.

He said the Russians had broken their pledge to allow civilians to leave through evacuation corridors Thursday.

“Once again, the Russians violated the promise of a truce and did not allow evacuation for civilians who continue to hide in the basements of the Azovstal plant. I call on the world community to evacuate civilians,” Palamar said.

He also made an appeal to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying: “I personally appeal to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to take care of the wounded soldiers who are dying in terrible agony from improper treatment. Give the opportunity to pick up the bodies of soldiers so that Ukrainians can say goodbye to their heroes. Respond appropriately to a critical situation in which the enemy does not adhere to any ethical norms.”

After about 100 civilians were able to leave the plant Sunday, none have emerged since. There are thought to be between 200 and 300 civilians still inside the plant, including 30 children. Since Sunday, it has been bombarded from land, sea and air.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed reports Thursday that the Russian army had broken into the territory of the plant, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to avoid storming of the plant was still in place.

2 hr 30 min ago

Russia expels Danish embassy employees

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs in London

The Danish Embassy in Moscow, on March 29, 2018
The Danish Embassy in Moscow, on March 29, 2018 (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia declared seven employees of the Danish embassy in Moscow “persona non grata,” saying diplomats must leave the country within two weeks, according to a statement by the Russian foreign ministry published on Thursday.

“The ambassador was informed that, as a response, seven employees of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark in the Russian Federation were declared ‘persona non grata.’ They must leave the country within two weeks. A visa was also denied to a diplomat of the Danish diplomatic mission,” the statement read.

According to the ministry, the reciprocal measure comes after Copenhagen declared 15 employees of the Russian Embassy in Denmark and the Russian Trade Representation in Copenhagen “persona non grata,” as well as the provision of military assistance by the Danish authorities to Kyiv.

The Russian side noted that the “openly anti-Russian policy” of the kingdom causes serious damage to bilateral relations.

The ministry added that the Russian side reserves the right to take additional retaliatory steps to the actions of Copenhagen, which will be reported to the Danish side at a later time.

2 hr 34 min ago

Russian attack on Azovstal “repelled,” Ukrainian presidential adviser says

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

This image taken from a video released by the Internal Affairs ministry of the self-proclaimed pro-Russia Donetsk People's Republic on May 4 shows alleged shelling at the besieged Azovstal complex in Mariupol, Ukraine.
This image taken from a video released by the Internal Affairs ministry of the self-proclaimed pro-Russia Donetsk People’s Republic on May 4 shows alleged shelling at the besieged Azovstal complex in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Eye Press/Reuters)

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych spoke about the latest situation in the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, saying Ukrainian forces “repelled” Russian troops at the plant.

He told Ukrainian television that “we can say that yesterday Russian troops entered the territory of Azovstal and were repelled by our defenders.”

He said a lot of contradictory information was circulating, but added: “We can say that there are ongoing combats. All other information is being clarified.” 

“Negotiations with Russia are ongoing [on new evacuation corridors], and all the diplomatic authorities are involved,” he said.

There is no sign that any civilians have been able to leave the ruins of the steel complex Thursday despite the Russian Ministry of Defense saying it would open evacuation corridors from the plant today.

CNN’s efforts to reach commanders inside the Azovstal plant have been unsuccessful.

36 min ago

15 people injured in Mykolaiv region from Russian shelling

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs

At least 15 people have been injured in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region in the past 24 hours as a result of Russian shelling, Hanna Zamazeeva, the head of the Mykolaiv Regional Council, said in a Telegram post on Thursday.

All the victims were taken to regional hospitals, where they are receiving necessary medical care.

According to Zamazeeva, as of Thursday morning there were 157 civilians in local hospitals who had suffered injuries from Russian attacks in the Mykolaiv region.