Key developments on Oct. 20:
- White House requests $61 billion for Ukraine
- Zelensky visits southern oblasts, meets military, local officials
- Russian media: Putin visits military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don after China trip
- PM Shmyhal: Russia's damage to Ukrainian environment amounts to nearly $60 billion
U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve $61.4 billion in assistance for Ukraine, including $44.4 billion in defense aid.
The Ukraine funding is part of a massive $105 billion request to provide Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with emergency support, reinforce the U.S. border with Mexico, and for other humanitarian needs, according to the White House.
The White House asked for $14.3 billion for Israel and $9.15 billion for the State Department to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza.
The request is addressed to acting House Speaker Patrick McHenry.
The majority of legislative action in the U.S. Congress, including the approval of new aid packages for Ukraine, has ground to a halt after the ouster of the previous speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy.
Biden delivered a national address on Oct. 19, announcing an "urgent" funding request for aid to Ukraine and U.S. long-standing ally Israel, embroiled in the ongoing war with Gaza.
In his address, Biden made the case that supporting Ukraine was a "smart investment." He said maintaining military aid to Ukraine was vital for both U.S. security and global stability.
Zelensky visits southern oblasts, meets military, local officials
President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts and met with the military, local officials, and Ukrainian soldiers, the President's Office reported on Oct. 20.
In Kherson, Zelensky discussed the situation on the battlefield with Ukraine's Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Chief of the General Staff Serhii Shaptala, Commander of the Marines Yurii Sodol and Commander of the Odesa Operational and Strategic Group Andrii Hnatov.
The meeting reportedly focused on the fighting in the Avdiivka and Kupiansk areas, Ukraine's operations in the south, and weapons supply on the front lines.
Zelensky also visited positions of a border guard unit in Kherson Oblast, discussing service conditions and needs of Ukrainian border guards in front-line regions with Serhii Deineko, the head of Ukraine's State Border Service.
After that, the president left for the neighboring Mykolaiv Oblast to discuss the defense and humanitarian situation in the region.
Mykolaiv Oblast Governor Vitalii Kim and Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych briefed Zelensky on the restoration of water and gas supply in liberated settlements and the regional capital, as well as the preparation for the heating season.
Hnatov told the president about the security issues in the Black Sea, threats to shipping posed by Russia's aggression, and protection of Ukraine's port infrastructure.
Zelensky also visited a military hospital in Mykolaiv Oblast, presenting wounded soldiers with state awards and thanking medics for their work.
Russian media: Putin visits military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don after China trip
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Russian military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don overnight on Oct. 20, the Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported.
Putin was said to have received a situation report from Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, who also commands Russian invasion troops in Ukraine.
"Other conversations took place with representatives of the senior leadership of the Ministry of Defense," the Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told Russian media.
The Russian dictator's reported visit to Rostov followed his trip to the city of Perm near the Ural Mountains. He has recently returned from China, where the Russian leader took part in the Belt and Road Forum.
Putin previously visited the Rostov headquarters, which commands the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on Aug. 19 to "project his authority" after the city was briefly captured during Wagner Group's rebellion earlier in the summer, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported.
PM Shmyhal: Russia's damage to Ukrainian environment amounts to nearly $60 billion
The total environmental damage caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine amounts to more 55.6 billion euros ($58.9 billion), Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a speech on Oct. 20, citing figures from the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Speaking at the International Forum United for Justice - United for Nature, Shymhal said that "half of these losses are due to air pollution from forest fires, missile attacks, and the burning of oil products."
He did not specify whether this includes damages caused prior to the full-scale invasion.
Mines and unexploded ordnances left behind by Russian troops cover an estimated 174,000 square kilometers of Ukraine's territory, and more than 3 million hectares of forest have been affected by the war, according to the ministry’s figures.
The damage resulting from the destruction of the Kahkovka dam amounts to 3.8 billion euros ($4 billion) and is "the largest act of ecocide in the last 70 years," Shmyhal said.
The flooding destroyed irrigation systems on farmland that usually grows around 2 million metric tons of grain per year, he explained.
"This amounts to 70% of the grain exported by Ukraine to Africa in 2022," the Prime Minister said.
Shmyhal said that Ukraine hopes to set up a "compensation mechanism" together with western partners that will use confiscated Russian assets to pay for the damage.
Ukraine is also working with international partners to help train Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to investigate ecocide, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said at the same summit.
Ukraine is "the first country in history" to investigate the mass destruction of the environment as a war crime, Kostin said.
By purposefully destroying the environment, Russia "is trying to destroy the future life of Ukrainians."
Ecocide is therefore "a crime against Ukraine as a state and our future," Kostin said.