Ukraine’s Zelensky takes a defiant tone as Russia withdraws from Kharkiv

Latest political developments

  • Swedish officials expect to announce a decision on Sunday on whether or not to apply for NATO membership.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vows that the controversial city of Mariupol will one day host the Eurovision Song Contest, after the country’s victory.

Updates from the ground on Day 81 of the war

  • Russian missile hits “military infrastructure facilities” in western city of Lviv, governor says

  • Russia continues to suffer “consistently high depletion levels”, UK Ministry of Defense says:

  • Authorities negotiate evacuation of 60 seriously injured Ukrainian troops at Mariupol steel plant, deputy prime minister says

Fresh off his country’s Eurovision victory, a defiant Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed early on Sunday to one day host the song contest in the embattled Russian-owned city of Mariupol, save for a hefty group of a few. a hundred Ukrainian fighters who continue to hold out in a steel factory.

The Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra won the popular competition with its song Stefaniathat became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war, and its victory was a morale booster.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelensky said on Facebook. “Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!”

The band made a passionate plea during the show to help the fighters who are still at the Azovstal steel mill in the port city, and Zelensky said the match would be held “one day in a Ukrainian Mariupol”.

Ukrainian military personnel celebrate after Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, at their position in the Kiev region on Sunday. (Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters)

The president’s optimistic words come as Russian troops pull out of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, after bombing it for weeks, and Moscow’s forces continue to be engaged in a long-running battle for eastern industrial heart of the country, the Donbas.

Russia has now probably lost a third of the ground forces it deployed in February and continues to suffer from “consistently high levels of depletion” while failing to make substantial territorial gains in the past month, the British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update Sunday. .

“The Russian Donbas Offensive has lost momentum and is significantly behind schedule,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the troops are suffering “persistent low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”

“Under the current circumstances, it is unlikely that Russia will drastically accelerate its advance in the next 30 days,” the ministry said.

Ukrainian servicemen from the Territorial Defense Forces fire an anti-tank grenade launcher on Saturday as they participate in a training exercise in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

Military facilities hit in Lviv, governor says

In the western city of Lviv, a Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” early Sunday morning, but there was no immediate information about deaths or injuries, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia has targeted rail facilities and other critical infrastructure in and around Lviv, which is near the Polish border and has been a major gateway for NATO-provided weapons.

Western officials have said there has been no significant impact on Ukraine’s ability to supply its troops despite the attacks.

As Russian forces withdraw from the northeastern city of Kharkov, the Ukrainian military has said Moscow is now concentrating on guarding supply routes while conducting mortar, artillery and air strikes in the eastern region of Donetsk in an attempt to push out Ukrainian forces. to sink and destroy fortifications.

Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped area in the Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are part of the Donbas region, the border region where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

A couple is collecting their luggage from their destroyed house on Saturday in the village of Vilkhivka, near Kharkov. Dozens of houses in Vilkhivka, a village of about 2,000 inhabitants, were destroyed by shells, explosions or fires. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

A shell crater was pictured Saturday in a damaged residential area in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kiev. (Marius Bosch/Reuters)

Fighting continues in Eastern Region

In the southern Donbas, the Azov Seaport of Mariupol is now largely under Russian control, with the exception of the few hundred men remaining in the steel plant.

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of the city was reportedly able to reach the Ukrainian-occupied city of Zaporizhzhya on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured troops at the steel factory. †

After failing to take Kiev after the February 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, aiming to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped troops and capture territory still under Ukraine state.

Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol sit in a car on Saturday as they arrive at a registration and humanitarian aid center for internally displaced persons in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

Air strikes and artillery fire make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth with no major breakthroughs on either side.

Russia has taken some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, which had a pre-war population of about 55,000.

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces have also made progress in the east by retaking six towns or villages in the past day. In his late-night speech on Saturday, he said that “the situation in Donbas remains very difficult” and that Russian troops are “still trying to at least be somewhat victorious”.

“Step by step,” Zelensky said, “we are forcing the residents to leave the Ukrainian country.”

Kharkiv, near the Russian border and just 80 kilometers southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has been subject to heavy shelling for weeks. The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a major military target earlier in the war, as Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling on Kharkiv in the past day.

He added that Ukraine launched a counter-offensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers south of Kharkiv that has been in Russia’s hands since at least the beginning of April.

VIEW | Ukraine claims victory in battle for its second largest city:

Ukrainian officials claim victory in Kharkiv

The Ukrainian army says Russian forces are now withdrawing from the country’s second-largest city and focusing on the eastern Donetsk region.

Sweden’s decision on NATO imminent

Putin has justified the war in Ukraine by claiming it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

But the invasion has scared other countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next, and last week Finland’s president and prime minister said they prefer to seek NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether or not to join the Western military alliance.

In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there are no threats to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and “adversely affect Russian-Finnish relations”.

VIEW | Finland applies to join NATO:

Finland applies to join NATO

Finland’s leaders have signaled plans to sign up to join the NATO alliance as a result of the war in Ukraine. It’s a move that would end nearly 80 years of non-alignment.

The Scandinavian countries’ potential bids were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “has no favorable opinion”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet his NATO colleagues in Germany this weekend, including the Turkish Foreign Minister.

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