NATO ready to support Kyiv in a war against Russia that could last years

1,150 corpses recovered in Kyiv region overall • Russian official says return of Kherson to Ukraine is "impossible" • Ukraine military sites struck overnight

 An aerial view shows damaged buildings, amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this handout picture taken with a drone released April 24, 2022.  (photo credit: Azov Handout/ via REUTERS)
An aerial view shows damaged buildings, amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, Ukraine in this handout picture taken with a drone released April 24, 2022.
(photo credit: Azov Handout/ via REUTERS)

NATO is ready to support Ukraine for years in the war against Russia, including helping Kyiv to advance from old Soviet-era weapons to modern Western military equipment, the alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

"We need to be prepared for the long term...There is absolutely the possibility that this war will drag on and last for months and years," Stoltenberg told a youth summit in Brussels, adding that NATO allies were preparing to help Ukraine to move on to NATO-standard weapons.

Local authorities in Ukraine say Russia has appointed its own mayor in the city of Kherson and taken over the regional headquarters, the first big urban center to be seized by Russia after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24. Kirill Stremousov, deputy chairman of the Russian-appointed administration of the region, stated that return to Ukrainian control is "impossible," CNN reported. 

On Tuesday, Russia announced it had gained full control of the Kherson region, which is strategically important as it provides part of the land link between the Crimea peninsula and Russian-backed separatist areas in the east.

The bodies of 1,150 civilians have been recovered in Ukraine's Kyiv region since Russia's invasion and 50-70% of them have bullet wounds from small arms, Kyiv police said on Thursday.

Kyiv regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said in a video posted on Twitter that most of the bodies had been found in the town of Bucha, where hundreds of corpses have been discovered since Russian forces withdrew.

"To date, we have found, examined and handed over to forensic institutions 1,150 bodies of dead civilians," Nebytov said in the video, in which he stood in the rubble of buildings destroyed during heavy fighting in the Kyiv region.

"I want to emphasize that these are civilians, not military," he said.

Ukraine says the civilians found dead in Bucha were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area. Reuters has not been able to verify the number of people found dead in Bucha or the circumstances of their deaths.

Fighting on the seas

Russia's Black Sea fleet retains the ability to strike Ukrainian and coastal targets, despite its losses of the landing ship Saratov and the cruiser Moskva, Britain's defense ministry said on Thursday.

About 20 Russian Navy vessels, including submarines, are in the Black Sea operational zone, the ministry said on Twitter.

"The Bosphorus Strait remains closed to all non-Turkish warships, rendering Russia unable to replace its lost cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea," the ministry added.

Fighting in the skies

Russia's defense ministry said on Thursday that Russian missiles had struck four Ukrainian military targets overnight, destroying two missile and ammunition depots near the settlements of Barvinkove and Ivanivka in the east of the country.

It said Russian forces had also downed a Ukrainian Su-24 aircraft near Luhansk.

Air defense systems were active in the Russian city of Belgorod in the early hours of Thursday, TASS reported.

Another TASS report stated that Russian aircraft struck 67 military sites, killing 300 people overnight.

The Belgorod province borders Ukraine's Luhansk, Sumy and Kharkiv regions, all of which have seen heavy fighting since Russia invaded the besieged country two months ago. Moscow has accused Kyiv of carrying out strikes on targets in the region.

A Ukrainian presidential aide said on Thursday the world recognizes that his country has the right to defend itself by carrying out attacks on Russian military bases and warehouses.

"Russia has attacked and (is) killing civilians. Ukraine will defend itself in any way, including strikes on the warehouses and bases of the killers. The world recognizes this right," presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

Fighting on the ground

Russia is not allowing wounded Ukrainian fighters to be evacuated from the Azovstal steel works where they are holed up in the southern city of Mariupol, the local governor said on Thursday.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk region's governor, said Russia was also not allowing humanitarian corridors to be established to evacuate civilians in the region. But he said only 370,000 residents remain in Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donetsk region compared to 1.67 million before Russia's invasion.

Ukraine's southern Kherson region will start using the Russian rouble from May 1, an official from a pro-Russian committee that styles itself as the region's "military-civil administration" told Russian news agency RIA.

The official, Kirill Stremousov, said that the transition to the Russian rouble will take up to four months, during which time it will circulate alongside the hryvnia, Ukraine's official currency (which is worth 2.4 roubles), RIA reported.

 Smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 25, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters) Smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 25, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Also on Thursday, Ukrainian forces repelled six different attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, according to the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation.

The Ukraine-Russia war will not end until Russia decides to end the conflict, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told CNN on Wednesday. The day before, Guterres traveled to Moscow for a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Guterres arrived in Ukraine on Wednesday and will meet with President Zelensky and travel to Bucha and Irpin, and said on Twitter that his team would “continue our work to expand humanitarian support” to Ukraine and “secure the evacuation of civilians.”

Western countries are openly calling on Ukraine to attack Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday, adding that the West should take Moscow seriously when it says strikes on Russian territory will lead to a response.

Russia reported a series of blasts in the south of the country and a fire at an ammunition depot on Wednesday, the latest in a spate of incidents that a top Ukrainian official described as payback and "karma" for Moscow's invasion.

Read more of our Ukraine-Russia war coverage: 

UK says Ukraine can attack Russian logistics, unlikely to use its weapons

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday it would be legitimate for Ukrainian forces to target Russian logistics but they were unlikely to use British weapons.

Moscow has accused London of provoking Ukraine to strike targets in Russia, saying there would be an immediate "proportional response" if it continued.

"If Ukraine did choose to target logistics infrastructure for the Russian army, that would be legitimate under international law," Wallace told BBC TV.

He said any long-range weapons were unlikely to come from Britain, however, because Ukrainian forces tend to use mobile launchers while the British army would deliver them from the air or sea.

The head of the Ukrainian parliament's energy committee said on Thursday that Ukraine has enough gas and electricity to meet its needs at the moment but that he was less certain it would be able to do so in the late autumn.

"Today, if we talk about gas volumes, we have enough. We consume less gas than is produced and even today gas is pumped into underground storage facilities," Andriy Herus said on national television. "The same goes for electricity."

He added: "There are enough gas and electricity resources in the country."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, commenting on remarks about arming Ukraine from British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, said on Thursday that giving Kyiv heavy weapons would threaten the security of the European continent.

Evacuations

Approximately 67,000 people evacuated Ukraine on Wednesday, nine thousand more than on Tuesday.

Casualties

The Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation updated Thursday that their forces had destroyed five tanks, one artillery system, three Orlan-10 unmanned aircraft and 21 units of armored equipment.

Overall, Russian casualties since the start of the invasion include 22,800 personnel, 970 tanks, 431 artillery systems, 72 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 155 helicopters, 1,688 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks and eight boats, according to a Thursday morning update by the Ukrainian General Staff of Armed Forces.