POW 'pleading for forgiveness' from Ukraine widow; Senate OKs $40 billion aid package: Live updates

A Russian POW who could face life in prison after fatally shooting a Ukrainian civilian asked the victim's wife for forgiveness Thursday. A day earlier, Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty in the same Kyiv court, saying he was following orders from a Russian officer when he shot Oleksandr Shelipov, 62, through a window of a car the Russians had hijacked in Ukraine's Sumy region.

Shishimarin, 21, said his group was fleeing a Ukraine advance and the officer feared the man could pinpoint their location to Ukrainian forces. He said he at first disobeyed his immediate commanding officer’s order but had to follow the order when it was repeated by another officer.

“I realize that you can't forgive me, but I'm pleading for forgiveness,” Shishimarin said.

Kateryna Shelipova described her husband as "my defender" and said the soldier deserves a life sentence. But she added that he could be swapped with Russia for a Ukrainian POW.

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Latest developments

►Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine led to the firing of senior officers, including the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, according to British Defense Intelligence. He likely lost his job after the Ukrainians in April sank the cruiser Moskva, Russia's flagship in the Black Sea, according to the assessment.

►Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Thursday with his Russian counterpart, Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, according to Milley’s spokesman, Army Col. Dave Butler. The generals discussed several security-related issues, agreed to stay in contact and kept details of their conversation private, Butler said.

►Ivan Kuliak, the Russian gymnast who wore a "Z'' representing support for his country's invasion of Ukraine during a World Cup competition in Doha in March, has been suspended for a year by the International Gymnastics Federation. Kuliak, who was also stripped of his bronze medal, stood at the podium wearing the "Z'' next to the gold-medal winner from Ukraine.

►The anti-corruption foundation headed by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Congress on Thursday to impose a new round of sanctions that targets Russian government officials, mid-level politicians and public figures.

►German lawmakers agreed Thursday to strip former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he defended his long-standing ties with Russia and its energy sector despite the invasion of Ukraine.

Senate approves $40B Ukraine aid bill, sends it to Biden

The Senate approved more than $40 billion of additional humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine on Thursday, as the last aid package was expected to run out this week. The bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature, is triple the amount of aid the U.S. has already committed to the war-torn country trying to beat back Russia's invasion. It passed 86-11 with most Republicans joining every Democrat in approving the bill.

Biden thanked Congress in a statement for swiftly passing the bill and added: "Together with the contributions of our Allies and partners, we will keep security, economic, food and humanitarian assistance flowing to Ukraine, across the region, and around the world, and further strengthen Ukraine – both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.''

Merdie Nzanga

Latest weapons package for Ukraine worth $100 million; bigger ones coming

Using the remaining funds left before Thursday's Senate approval of a new aid package for Ukraine valued at $40 billion, the Biden administration said it would send $100 million worth of weapons to help the Ukrainians fight off the Russian invasion.

The Department of Defense said these arms are "tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs'' and they include 18 Howitzer canons and the vehicles that tow them, three counter-artillery radars and other field equipment.

"The United States will continue to use its available tools to help Ukraine defend itself,'' the Pentagon said.

Increased Russian shelling making Donbas a living hell, Zelenskyy says

Russia's intensified bombardment of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region is making for hellish conditions there, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday in his nightly video address, adding that 12 people had been killed and dozens were wounded in one day in the Luhansk city of Severodonetsk.

Rescuers were still sifting through the rubble left by a deadly strike in the village of Desna in the northeastern Chernihiv region, Zelenskyy said.

“The bombing and shelling of our other cities, the air and missile strikes by the Russian army, are not simply military operations in a time of war. ... It is a conscious and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible,” Zelenskyy said. “To destroy more homes, public sites, businesses. This is what will be qualified as genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice.”

UN food chief warns of 'unprecedented crisis' because of rising prices

The executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program is sounding the alarm about an "unprecedented crisis'' in spiking food prices created by the war in Ukraine. David Beasley said growing hunger will add at least 47 million people to the 276 million “marching to starvation” even before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Beasley told a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door.” Ukraine, one of the world's leading wheat exporters, has seen production disrupted by the war, and a Russian blockade has impeded shipping of the grain.

The Group of Seven nations are trying to address the growing problem by creating a new Global Alliance for Food Security, with the goal of better coordinating the efforts of aid donors and ensuring looming crises don’t get overlooked.

Biden greets leaders of Sweden, Finland and backs their NATO bids

President Joe Biden on Thursday offered full support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO, saying they have the “full, total complete backing" of the U.S.

“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said in remarks from the Rose Garden as the leaders of those countries stood behind him. “And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”

Biden, whose championing of NATO is a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s persistent complaints about the alliance, said any doubts raised in recent years about NATO’s relevance have been dispelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After a long tradition of neutrality, Finland and Sweden on Wednesday applied to join NATO. All current 30 members must agree and Turkey has raised objections. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Finland and Sweden of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists and of imposing restrictions on military sales to Turkey. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said he's confident the issues will be resolved and the Nordic countries will be accepted.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland both said Thursday that they are open to discussing Turkey’s concerns. Niinistö said Biden’s encouragement to join was vital to the process and he thanked Biden “for making history with us.”

Said Andersson: “During dark times, it is great to be among close friends.”

Maureen Groppe

'Intimate' fighting, stiff resistance stymie Russian advance

Close-quarter fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops continued Thursday in eastern and southern Ukraine, with little ground taken or given by either side, according to a senior Defense Department official.

The official described combat between the cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south and in the Donbas region in the east as “intimate.” Russia’s invading forces have faced stiff and nimble resistance from Ukrainian troops in the confined geographic space, according to the official, who described battlefield developments on condition of anonymity.

There have been no major advances by Russia or Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the official said. However, Ukrainian troops continue to push Russian forces away from the city of Kharkiv in the north. A prolonged period of combat between the two sides seems likely, the official said.

Tom Vanden Brook

Seizure of Russian-owned, $300 million superyacht prompts legal battle

The fate of a Russian-owned, $300 million superyacht seized by U.S. authorities in Fiji could soon be determined by an appeals court there.

The court heard arguments Wednesday from the U.S. Justice Department, two weeks after federal agents won a lower court order in Fiji to seize the 348-foot yacht from Fiji's Lautoka harbor. U.S. officials say the vessel belongs to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.

When agents boarded the Amadea and ordered the crew of 20 to sail east, Russian lawyers got involved. Eduard Khudainatov, a former chairman of the state-controlled Russian oil and gas company Rosneft, filed an affidavit to say he owns the Amadea.

Several superyachts have been seized from sanctioned Russians around the world. Khudainatov isn't on a sanctions list, and U.S. officials note that he is also the on-paper owner of another superyacht tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. says Khudainatov is attempting to shield the Amadea – and its lobster tank, swimming pool and helipad – from global sanctions.

“The fact that Khudainatov is being held out as the owner of two of the largest superyachts on record, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unsanctioned straw owner to conceal the true beneficial owners,” the FBI wrote in a court affidavit.

McDonald's sells Russian restaurants to Siberian businessman

McDonald’s announced plans to sell its 850 Russian restaurants to Alexander Govor, a Russian businessman who already owns 25 licensed McDonald's outlets in Siberia. Govor will acquire the restaurants under a new brand, the company said in a statement. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and closing is expected to within weeks, the statement said. McDonald’s has 39,000 locations in over 100 countries, 95% of them owned and operated by local business owners.

The company, which did not disclose the sale price, announced Monday that it was pulling out of the Russian market after more than 30 years because of the war.

Ukraine hopes for 'decent harvest' despite occupation, land mines

Almost 25 million acres of crops have been planted in Ukraine so far this spring and more is being planted every day, a Ukrainian agriculture official said Thursday. Taras Vysotsky, first deputy minister of agriculture and food, said that because of Russian occupation of some areas – and land mines in others – planting will take place on about 9 million fewer acres this year than last year.

Ukraine farms provide wheat, corn and sunflower seed to much of the world, and war-related struggles have helped drive food prices higher, particularly in the developing world. Vysotsky did say the weather conditions have been favorable thus far.

"There is potential for a decent harvest this year, which will begin in late June, early July," Vysotsky said.

Senate confirms Bridget Brink as ambassador just as embassy reopens in Kyiv

The Senate confirmed Bridget Brink as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on Wednesday, the latest signal of American diplomatic efforts during Ukraine's ongoing battle against the Russian invasion. Brink was confirmed unanimously by the Senate without a formal roll call vote. The position had been vacant since 2019.

The same day as Brink’s confirmation, the U.S. reopened its embassy in Kyiv, with diplomats returning on a permanent basis to the capital city. Brink told senators during her confirmation hearing earlier this month that she would work to reopen the embassy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again.”

Russian officials concerned about abuse in Mariupol: US intelligence

New U.S. intelligence revealed that some Russian officials are concerned their forces are carrying out abuses in Mariupol, a U.S official familiar with the findings said Wednesday. The alleged abuses include beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to the intelligence finding.

The U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Russian officials are worried the abuse will further inspire Ukrainian residents in Mariupol to resist the Russian occupation and undermine Russia’s claim that it liberated the port city.

After holding out for weeks in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, most Ukrainian troops have abandoned the city. The soldiers are regarded as heroes in Ukraine, which hopes to negotiate their return home in a prisoner swap.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Russian POW 'pleading for forgiveness'