Ukraine live briefing: European leaders in Kyiv for show of support during famine commemoration

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discuss their efforts to ship grain from Ukraine. The two met with other international officials earlier Saturday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
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KYIV, Ukraine — As foreign leaders arrived to help Ukraine commemorate the country’s famine of 1932-1933, Ukraine announced that it would send shiploads of Ukrainian-grown produce to poor countries next year. The program, announced after a summit in Kyiv with the foreign leaders, will aim to help alleviate hunger in parts of Africa and Asia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a news conference. Ukrainian officials have drawn direct parallels between the Soviet-orchestrated famine of the 1930s and Russia’s tactics in today’s war.

Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians who had been without power in the past few days had electricity restored, but about 3 million remain disconnected from the power grid, Zelensky said Saturday in his daily address. About 12 million Ukrainians lost power Wednesday, with power restored for 6 million by Friday and another 3 million Saturday, according to Zelensky. The number of outages could increase as energy consumption spikes, he said, urging residents to conserve power.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • The leaders of Belgium, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania were in Kyiv on Saturday, offering a show of support as Ukraine commemorated those who died in the 1932-1933 famine, known as Holodomor. The famine, which was caused by the edicts of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, killed 4 million people and has been recognized by the European Parliament as a “crime against humanity.”
  • The visiting European leaders attended a food security summit in Kyiv, appearing alongside Zelensky. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also addressed the summit on Saturday, accusing Russia of “using hunger as a weapon of war against Ukraine” and drawing parallels with the Holodomor famine.
  • Ukraine announced that it would send produce to some of the world’s poorest countries. The “Grain from Ukraine” program will send 60 ships of food in the first half of next year, Zelensky said at a news conference with the visiting leaders after their meeting. The countries receiving aid may include Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and others, he said on Telegram, with each ship providing food for about 90,000 people. The effort comes in addition to the Black Sea Grain Initiative through which shipments have gone to various countries. Other countries, including the United States, have agreed to help with the new program, sending Ukraine about $150 million, Zelensky said in his daily address.
  • Ukrainian officials drew on the 90th anniversary of Holodomor to rally their citizens against Russian troops. “The Holodomor of 1932-1933 was a genocide of the Ukrainian people,” presidential official Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter. “Now, 90 years later, Russia unleashed a full-scale war against us and wants to organize Holodomor 2.0. But this time not in Ukraine alone, but also in the world,” he said, as the country’s defense ministry condemned Russia’s “theft and destruction” of Ukrainian grain and its impact on global food supplies.

2. Battleground updates

  • About 30 civilians have been killed by Russian strikes in the Kherson region since Russia withdrew from its eight-month occupation of the southern Ukraine city and surrounding area on Nov. 9, Ihor Klymenko, the head of Ukraine’s National Police, said Saturday on Facebook. The city is still coming under Russian strikes, which led several hospitals to evacuate patients on Friday, authorities said. The Washington Post could not independently confirm the number of deaths. Klymenko said police have been searching liberated areas and have found more than 3,500 explosive devices.
  • People were fleeing Kherson in a kilometer-long line of vehicles on Saturday, the Associated Press reported. They told the news outlet that they were trying to escape intense shelling in the area a few weeks after Ukrainian retook the regional capital.
  • NATO forces drilled in the Suwalki Gap, a tiny stretch of land along the Polish-Lithuanian border that is seen as a point of vulnerability for the alliance in event of a Russian attack. The troops are practicing crossing water and landing, according to Reuters. “We saw that the soldiers work well together. They are prepared to take responsibility for the security of our homeland and the entire eastern flank of NATO,” said Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.
  • Russia is probably using older cruise missiles stripped of their nuclear warheads, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday, in an attempt to divert Ukraine’s air defenses. “Whatever Russia’s intent, this improvisation highlights the level of depletion in Russia’s stock of long-range missiles,” the ministry said in its daily update.
  • Russia attacked the suburbs of Zaporizhzhia city, with rockets hitting a hospital and service station, Oleksandr Starukh, head of the regional military administration, said Friday on Telegram. No casualties were reported after Friday’s strikes.

3. Global impact

  • Belgium’s prime minister signed a declaration of support for Ukraine’s full membership in NATO. Meeting with Zelensky as part of what the Ukrainian president called “a very busy diplomatic day,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo signed the declaration, which also supports Ukraine’s joining the European Union. “This is an important signal,” Zelensky said in his Saturday address. The Lithuanian and Polish leaders signed a similar agreement, the Ukrainian government said Saturday.
  • European talks on a potential price cap for Russian oil have been delayed until next week, after nations did not reach an agreement on measures to put further pressure on Moscow’s ability to fund the war in Ukraine. European Union member states have been divided over a proposed limit, which is due to come into effect on Dec. 5, with plans of $65 to $70 per barrel seen as too high by some and too low by others.
  • Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has died, state media reported Saturday. The cause, location and other details of the death were not immediately known. Throughout the war, Belarus has remained a close ally to the Kremlin, with President Alexander Lukashenko hosting Russian troops and equipment, allowing Russia to use his nation as a launchpad for hundreds of airstrikes against Ukrainian targets and detaining hundreds of antiwar demonstrators.

4. From our correspondents

Putin tells mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine he ‘shares’ their pain: As anger over the drawn-out invasion simmers in Russia, President Vladimir Putin on Friday held his first public meeting of the nine-month-long war with mothers of soldiers who had been fighting in Ukraine, a move probably aimed at quelling discontent.

In a clip broadcast by Russian state media, Mary Ilyushina reports, Putin is seen sitting down with a group of women around a table adorned with ornate tea cups and fresh berries for a talk coinciding with Russian Mother’s Day.

“I want you to know that I personally, the entire leadership of the country, we share your pain,” Putin said, pausing and clearing his throat. “We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child, especially for the mother, to whom we all owe the birth.”

President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 25 spoke to mothers of fallen Russian soldiers who had been fighting in Ukraine. (Video: Reuters)

The meeting comes as grievances of ordinary Russians, especially those who have been recently mobilized to replenish depleted ranks, are starting to enter the public space, despite the grave legal consequences for criticizing the war.

Bisset reported from London, Ang from Seoul and Somasundaram, Salcedo and McDaniel from Washington.