KYIV, Ukraine – Fresh off his country’s Eurovision victory, a defiant Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed early on Sunday to one day host the song contest in the embattled Russian-owned city of Mariupol, barring a firm foothold. group of a few hundred Ukrainian fighters who persist in a steel factory.
The Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra won the popular competition with its song “Stefania”, which has become a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war, and the victory was a morale booster.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelenskyy 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 Zelenskyy said that “one day” the match would be held “in a Ukrainian Mariupol.”
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.
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 expel 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.
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.
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.
Zelenskyy 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,” Zelenskyy said, “we are forcing the residents to leave the Ukrainian country.”
Kharkiv, near the Russian border and just 80 kilometers (50 miles) 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 (78 miles) south of Kharkov that has been in Russia’s hands since at least early April.
Putin has justified the war in Ukraine by claiming it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.
But with the invasion, other countries along Russia’s flank fear they may 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”.
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.