Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Aid Goes to Balkan Refugees

Despite hardship at home, Russia is sending more than $1 million in humanitarian aid to refugees in Yugoslavia, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Monday.

"In some ways, Russia needs help," Shoigu said at a news conference. "In some ways, Russia can help others."

Shoigu stressed that the aid would go to needy people regardless of ethnic group - not just to the Serbs supported by most Russian politicians. And it won't include any items that Russia itself is getting from the West as food aid, he said.

A convoy of emergency ministry trucks is to leave Moscow on Wednesday with the first delivery - 900 tons of food, clothing, tents and other provisions, he said.

Patriarch Alexy II will bless the trucks Tuesday before they depart, heading first for Belarus, where they will turn south toward Yugoslavia, to arrive April 11. Delivery in Montenegro, which along with Serbia makes up Yugoslavia, will be coordinated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Help will also go to northern Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian refugees from the embattled province of Kosova have fled from Serbian attacks.

Hundreds of thousands ethnic Albanians have poured out of Kosovo and into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro since NATO attacks began March 24, overwhelming aid agencies.

The United States and members of the European Union are sending $1.5 billion in food aid to Russia this year. But Shoigu said Russia could spare domestically produced things: cooking oil, salt, sugar, canned fish, medicine, tents, bed linens, tents, soap and toothpaste.

Other items, such as children's powdered milk, had to be crossed off the list. "We aren't allowed to send them because we receive them ourselves," Shoigu told reporters. Russia and Western donor nations had agreed on what could be shipped, he said.

A 4,200 ton Irish beef shipment which was held up Friday morning by St Petersburg customs for incorrect paperwork will be fully unloaded by Wednesday, port officials said.

Unloading of the shipment, part of a $500 million aid package from the European Union, started Friday evening after Expressmortrans, the freight forwarder responsible for the delivery, provided the necessary documentation.

But the unloading is going slowly, said Igor Trofimov, deputy head of the freight forwarding department of the St. Petersburg port. That's because the consignments are moved to refrigerators being put on trains bound forthe regions.

The unloading will be finished Wednesday, Trofimov said.