Ukraine war updates: Deadly helicopter crash kills kids, top official – USA TODAY

The Pentagon has designated stockpiles of its artillery shells in Israel to supply Ukrainian forces engaged in heavy combat with Russia in the Donbas region, a U.S. official confirmed Wednesday to USA TODAY. 
The two sides have been firing thousands of shells a day at each other, a pace that has forced the U.S and its allies to scour the world for ammunition to feed Ukrainian guns. News of the transfer from Israel was first reported by The New York Times.
The official was not publicly authorized to speak about the transfer of U.S. stockpiles from Israel. Israel has been reluctant to provide aid to Ukraine over concern about its relationship with Russia. Russian military forces are operating in neighboring Syria, and Israel conducts missions there as well. The Pentagon has positioned stocks of materiel in strategic locations around the world. 
This month, a senior military official characterized the artillery duel in eastern Ukrainian as savage. The latest U.S. package in military aid for Ukraine, worth $3 billion and announced earlier this month, included 18 self-propelled 155 mm Paladin howitzers, 36 105 mm howitzers towed by trucks and thousands of rounds of artillery shells.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told workers at a manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg on Wednesday that Russia builds as many missiles in a year as the rest of the world combined. He lauded “the work of the military-industrial complex.”
MISSILE ATTACK: Images capture devastation of Ukrainian apartment complex
MORE: Netherlands will join US, Germany in providing Patriot help to Ukraine
Other developments:
►Ihor Klymenko, head of the Ukrainian national police force, was appointed interim minister of Internal Affairs. Klymenko succeeds Denys Monastyrskyi, who was killed in Wednesday’s helicopter crash.
►The International Atomic Energy Agency is placing teams of experts at all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants to reduce the risk of severe accidents during the war, agency head Rafael Grossi said Wednesday.
►Rolling blackouts are underway in eight regions – among them Kharkiv, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia – as Russian missile attacks cripple Ukraine’s electricity generation, which covers only about 75% of demand, according to power system operator Ukrenergo.
►Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko called Boris Johnson “one of us” while presenting the former British prime minister an honorary “Citizen of Kyiv” medal for his support of Ukraine during the Russian invasion.
►World Food Program chief David Beasley said support from donors like the U.S. and Germany have allowed Horn of Africa countries like Somalia to hold off famine after years of drought, but he stressed that “we’re not out of this yet.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling for a quicker worldwide reaction to challenges like climate change, hunger and especially military aggression because “the time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill.”
In a video address to participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy underscored the importance of his country receiving the weapons it needs to fend off the Russian invasion, saying, “Tragedies are outpacing life; the tyranny is outpacing democracy.”
His words found a receptive audience in NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said at Davos that Ukraine’s Western supporters will explore how to deliver more powerful and sophisticated weapons when they meet Thursday and Friday in Germany.
The group of about 50 top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, coordinate military contributions to Ukraine. The U.S. is expected to soon finalize an aid package worth up to $2.6 billion — including 100 Stryker combat vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles — and announce it at the gathering in Germany.
“The main message there will be: more support, more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons,” Stoltenberg said. 
Also Wednesday, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana told European military chiefs that Putin’s goals in Ukraine haven’t changed, “So we must be prepared for the long haul. 2023 will be a difficult year and we need to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
A helicopter crashed into a kindergarten in a Kyiv suburb Wednesday, killing at least 14 people, including a top government official and a child on the ground, Ukrainian authorities said. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said 25 people were injured, including 11 children.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, who oversaw Ukraine’s police and emergency services, appears to be the most senior Ukrainian official killed since the start of the war. Two of his top deputies, their assistants and the helicopter crew were among the dead, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Telegram. 
Nine of those killed were aboard the chopper when it crashed in Brovary, an eastern suburb of the Ukrainian capital. Other victims were on the ground. 
“Unspeakable pain,” Zelenskyy said. “Bright memory to everyone whose life was taken by this black morning.”
Zelenskyy said the national police and security services were working to determine the cause of the crash. There was no initial information indicating the helicopter, which was flying in foggy conditions, was shot down. Images posted on social media from near the scene appear to suggest it crashed close to a residential building after striking the kindergarten. 
President Joe Biden issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We grieve with all those who are mourning this heartbreaking tragedy.” He added that Monastyrskyi and his aides “were deeply involved in the preservation of Ukraine’s democracy.”
At the World Economic Forum session in Davos, Switzerland, Ukraine first lady Olena Zelenska fought back tears, and forum President Borge Brende of Norway requested 15 seconds of silence after opening the session to honor the victims.
Ukrainian troops have most likely pulled out of the town of Soledar in the Donetsk province after a pitched battle with Russian forces and mercenaries from the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, the British Defense Ministry said in its latest war assessment.
The Russians have their sights on the strategically important city of Bakhmut, 11 miles to the southwest, which has been the subject of intense fighting for weeks. After the Russian victory in Soledar, “One of Ukraine’s two main supply routes into Bakhmut is now under increasing pressure,” the ministry said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago did not start a war – it was intended to stop one that has raged for more than eight years, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday. 
Putin, speaking to veterans in St. Petersburg, said he had no choice but to launch his “special military operation” because Ukrainian authorities refused to negotiate in good faith after Russia-backed separatists began fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Putin has for years accused Ukraine of mistreating ethnic Russians in the region.
“Large-scale combat operations involving heavy weapons, artillery, tanks and aircraft haven’t stopped in Donbas since 2014,” Putin said. “All that we are doing today as part of the special military operation is an attempt to stop this war. This is the meaning of our operation – protecting people who live on those territories.”
Contributing: The Associated Press

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