A grim-faced Anthony Albanese has visited war-ravaged Ukraine towns, where some of the worst atrocities were allegedly committed against civilians, and announced $100 million in extra support from Australia.
The Prime Minister toured Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel, outside the capital Kyiv, where the bodies of Ukrainian people had been found shot dead on the streets when Russia’s troops departed in April.
He also met Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv and promised 34 extra armoured vehicles and more Australian sanctions on Russian ministers and oligarchs.
The visit on Sunday, on Mr Albanese’s return to Australia from Paris, required tight security and a media blackout was imposed on journalists on advice from the Australian Defence Force.
But a local Ukrainian official, Governor Oleksiy Kuleba, posted some details on Facebook, saying Mr Albanese was “shocked” by the devastation, and foreign media also released reports.
Australia's PM Anthony Albanese pays a visit to Ukraine right now pic.twitter.com/aet2iDNf3H
— UkraineWorld (@ukraine_world) July 3, 2022
Reuters reported that Mr Kuleba quoted Mr Albanese as saying: “Australia supports Ukraine and wants to see justice meted out for the crimes committed here.”
Mr Albanese appeared disturbed by the sight of ruined residential buildings as he walked the streets of Irpin and saw first-hand the physical impact of Russia’s war.
“Here we have what’s clearly a residential building,” he reportedly said.
“Another one just behind it, brutally assaulted.
“This is a war crime.
“These are homes and these are livelihoods and indeed lives that have been lost here in this town.
“The fact that you had such a significant force – you can see the use of tanks, missiles, heavy artillery being used in a civilian area – it’s just devastating.”
Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv alongside Mr Zelensky, Mr Albanese said Australia would impose sanctions and travel bans on 16 more Russian ministers and oligarchs, bringing the total number of Russians sanctioned by Australia to 843.
He increased Australia’s military support with the promise of 14 more armoured personnel carriers and 20 Bushmaster vehicles.
Australia has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pledged $285 million of military aid including armoured personnel carriers and Bushmaster vehicles.
During his Europe visit, Mr Albanese indicated Australia would look to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Ukraine. Australian embassy staff have been working from neighbouring Poland since the Ukraine crisis began.
The trip follows an invitation in June from Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, to Mr Albanese to visit the nation’s capital Kyiv.
Mr Albanese is expected back in Australia on Tuesday.
His visit came as Russia claimed it had taken control of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, after capturing the final Ukrainian holdout of Lysychansk.
Moscow turned its focus to Luhansk and Donetsk after fierce Ukrainian resistance prevented Russian seizing the capital Kyiv.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been “liberated”, the defence ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and encircled the city.
The minister on Sunday said Russian forces and their allies in the area had “gained full control over the city of Lysychansk”.
The BBC reported that Ukraine’s military confirmed the eastern city had fallen to Russian forces.
“After heavy fighting for Lysychansk, the defence forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines,” the army general staff said.
Ukrainian officials, who say references to “liberating” Ukrainian territory are Russian war propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.
“Ukrainian forces likely conducted a deliberate withdrawal from Lysychansk, resulting in the Russian seizure of the city on July 2,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a briefing note.
They based their assessment on footage showing Russia forces walking casually in northern and eastern neighbourhoods of Lysychansk, saying it suggested few or no Ukrainian forces remained.
It said the footage included images posted on social media and geolocated to confirm where it was filmed.
“The Russians are strengthening their positions in the Lysychansk area, the city is on fire,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai had written on the Telegram app before Russia announced its advance.
“They attacked the city with inexplicably brutal tactics.”