EU debates Ukraine bid as Russia makes life ‘hellish’ in East

EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss calls to formally grant ‘candidate status’ to war-torn Ukraine to join the bloc, as Russian forces slowly advance in the eastern Donbass region despite fierce resistance from the Kyiv army.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he led a “telephone marathon” on behalf of his country ahead of the meeting, pleading his country’s case to 11 European leaders on Wednesday alone.

“We are preparing for the historic decision of the European Council. There are only a few hours left before it,” he said in his daily address.

But while the European Commission-backed bid is expected to be approved, some members have been lukewarm about Ukraine’s status, and any accession process is expected to take years, if not decades.

On the ground, in the Donbass battlefield in eastern Ukraine, heavy Russian shelling is making life “hellish”, Kyiv said on Wednesday, while insisting its soldiers would last “as long as than necessary”.

Troops from Moscow have been battling the Luhansk region and the strategically important city of Severodonetsk for weeks and are making slow progress, despite fierce resistance from the outnumbered Ukrainian army.

As President Vladimir Putin’s forces tighten their grip on Severodonetsk, its twin city of Lysychansk – located just across the Donets River – is now coming under more intense shelling.

Taking both cities would give Moscow control of all of Lugansk, allowing Russia to push further into the Donbass.

“The Russian army is destroying everything” in Lysychansk, Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Luhansk region, which includes the two cities, wrote on Telegram.

“It’s just hell over there”, after four months of bombardments in Severodonetsk, he wrote later.

“Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold as long as necessary,” he added.

Pro-Russian separatists claimed they were close to encircling both Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

“Over the past few days, a tremendous amount of work has been done,” Andrei Marochko, an officer with the separatist army from Luhansk, told Russian state television.


Key Ukrainian city under ‘massive’ Russian bombardment

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“There are only grannies left”

After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine following their invasion in February, Moscow is seeking to seize a large swath of the country’s east.

But the daily bombardments continue elsewhere.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, was nearly empty on Wednesday, AFP journalists said, a day after shelling by Moscow forces killed five people there.

Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house, said the situation was “very bad”.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from bombardment while I was sleeping,” she said.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old wearing a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the town.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again urged Western allies to provide weapons quickly, after accusing the Russian military of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern region of Kharkiv, where the governor said 15 people had been killed in one day.

As Ukraine awaits delivery of advanced rocket systems, a new report from the Institute for the Study of Warfare suggests its use of drones, a key factor in early success against Russian forces, is growing. further hampered by improving Moscow’s air defense capabilities.

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed responsibility for a missile strike it said killed a number of Ukrainian soldiers in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, meanwhile, women practiced using Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces closed in.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to pick up a machine gun,” 29-year-old Ulyana Kiyashko said after walking through a makeshift basement combat zone.

Separately, Iulia Tserkovnikova, a lawyer for captured British fighter Shaun Pinner, told Russian news agency TASS that she and her staff were preparing an appeal against his recent death sentence.

Pinner, along with fellow Briton Aiden Aslin and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, were sentenced to death by pro-Moscow separatists in the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic earlier this month.

The trio were accused of being hired mercenaries, a description Russia has widely applied to foreign volunteers fighting for Kyiv.

G7 for “increase pressure”

Away from the battlefield, a senior US official in Washington said President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders holding a summit this weekend in Germany would announce further steps to punish Russia for the invasion.

“We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia,” the official said, adding that Zelensky would speak at the summit.

Moscow this week summoned the Brussels ambassador in a dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.

The territory, annexed to Germany after World War II, lies about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Moscow, bordering Lithuania and Poland.

By blocking goods from Russia, Lithuania claims it is merely adhering to European Union-wide sanctions against Moscow.

The United States has made clear its commitment to Lithuania as a NATO ally, which views an attack on one member as an attack on all.

And Germany has urged Russia not to “violate international law” by retaliating against Lithuania.

On Wednesday, a Turkish cargo ship left the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol on Ukraine’s Sea of ​​Azov coast.

Moscow and Ankara negotiated for weeks to get millions of tons of desperately needed grain out of the war zone and into Africa and the Middle East.

But it was not immediately clear if the Azov Concord was carrying wheat.

Ankara’s defense ministry said quadripartite talks would take place ‘in the coming weeks’ between Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations, with media reporting the meeting could take place next week .

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