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War in Ukraine: soon an EU response to accession, fierce fighting in Severodonetsk

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Ukraine’s request for candidate status for the European Union will soon be answered, the President of the European Commission promised on Saturday, visiting kyiv, as Russian forces rage in eastern country. “Today’s discussions will allow us to finalize our assessment by the end of next week,” said Ursula von der Leyen, after a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Ukraine’s request for candidate status for the European Union will soon be answered, the President of the European Commission promised on Saturday, visiting kyiv, as Russian forces rage in eastern country. “Today’s discussions will allow us to finalize our assessment by the end of next week,” said Ursula von der Leyen, after a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russian army shells outskirts of Kharkiv

Ukraine is demanding a “legal commitment” allowing it to obtain official candidate status for the European Union as quickly as possible, but the Twenty-Seven are very divided on the question. “We want to support Ukraine on its European journey,” assured Ms von der Leyen. “We want to look to the future. You have done a lot, but there is still a lot to do, to fight corruption for example”.

For Ukraine, the status of candidate would be “a starting point”, with the key to a long process of negotiations and reforms, recognized Mr. Zelensky. Still, he said in a video message Saturday night, “we’re going to work even harder at all levels to get the right decision. It’s very important to us.”

On the ground, the fighting in eastern Ukraine is intensifying, while the Russian army is still pounding the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The area around Chortkiv in western Ukraine was also shelled in the evening, regional governor Volodymyr Trouch said.

In a sign of Moscow’s determination to get its hands on what the Kremlin considers Russian land, the first Russian passports have been handed over to 23 residents of Kherson, a large city in southern Ukraine occupied and administratively managed by pro-Russian authorities. , according to the official Russian agency TASS.

A hospital is also under construction by the Russian army in Lugansk (east). “Russia still has sufficient potential to wage a long war against our country,” the military intelligence department (GUR) at Ukraine’s defense ministry said.

Cities “without electricity”

Mr. Zelensky on Friday accused Russia of wanting to “devastate every city in Donbass, every one, without exaggeration”. The battle for the key city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysytchansk looks increasingly violent.

“In order to discourage our troops, the enemy is pounding our positions and trying to win the battle with artillery fire,” the Ukrainian operational command of the southern region said overnight from Saturday to Sunday. He said the Ukrainian Air Force had destroyed ammunition depots and equipment in three airstrikes in the past 24 hours, without indicating the location.

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“Fierce street fighting is continuing in Severodonetsk,” President Zelensky said on Saturday evening, while pointing out the recapture by Ukrainian forces of localities such as Tavriyské in the Kherson region, and in that of Zaporizhia. Taking Severodonetsk would open up the road to another major city, Kramatorsk, in Moscow, a stage to conquer the entire Donbass basin, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

According to a member of the Donetsk military administration, “all the major towns in the free territory” of this region “have been without electricity” since early Saturday evening. He cites Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Konstantinovka, Druzhkivka and Bakhmut.

On television, the governor of the Lugansk region Sergiï Gaïdaï described a “difficult” situation in Popasna, Severodonetsk and near the Siversky Donets river, the level of which has dropped so much that he fears new Russian attempts to cross it to establish a new bridgehead near Bilogorivka. “In Tochkivka, very strong fighting is going on,” he also said.

The civilian population under pressure

In Severodonetsk, the Ukrainian defense is entrenched on the site of an Azot chemical plant. “Permanent fighting continues,” said Mr. Gaïdaï. “The enclosure of the Azot factory is bombarded in a powerful way for hours, using large caliber weapons”, he detailed, evoking “street fights with firearms” but also the “floor by floor” destruction by Russian artillery of buildings used as shelters by the Ukrainian forces.

“Severodonetsk is not 100% liberated…In any case…Severodonetsk…Lyssychansk will be ours,” said Leonid Passechnik, leader of the separatist Lugansk region. . In Lyssytchansk, the inhabitants have the choice between fleeing and losing their homes, or remaining exposed to the bombardments.

Yevhen Jyryada, 39, says the only access to clean water is through a distribution center in town. “We have to go there under shelling and under fire”, he says, “that’s how we survive”. For several days, fighting has also been intense in the Mykolaiv region, neighboring the port city of Odessa (south). The Russian advance was halted on the outskirts of the city, however.

The operational command specified that the Russian forces had fired missiles on the suburbs of this city, a “continuous fire which puts under psychological pressure the civilian population”. Last week, “three shells fell on residential buildings and my apartment shook”, describes Igor Karputov, 31.

“I helped a gentleman who was bleeding before the ambulance arrived, then I arrived where another impact had taken place and there, the emergency services were already taking care of someone. But this person was dead. The one I helped died in the ambulance,” he said.

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Blockade of the port of Odessa

The Ukrainians are constantly asking their Western allies for new, more powerful weapons and ammunition. The delivery of multiple rocket launcher systems, including Himars with a range of about 80 km, slightly greater than Russian systems, was announced by Washington and London.

France has said it is ready to help lift the blockade of the port of Odessa, in order to get grain out of Ukraine, the blockage of which is causing a world food crisis. The announcement was made by an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, who received Senegalese President Macky Sall, also President of the African Union, on Friday.

Mr. Sall had called on Thursday for the demining of the port of Odessa and indicated that he had received assurances from President Vladimir Putin that the Russians would not take advantage of it to attack, as the Ukrainians fear. According to the operational command, the Russians have expanded their fleet in the Black Sea by mobilizing “two large landing ships”.

The Russian invasion launched on February 24 paralyzed grain exports from Ukraine – a major player in this sector – and caused a spike in grain and fertilizer prices, threatening a food crisis in many countries, especially in Africa and middle easterners.

Speaking via video to Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia-Pacific security forum, Zelensky reiterated call on international community to press for Russia to end blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports otherwise, he said, “food shortages will inexorably lead to political chaos, which risks bringing about the overthrow of many governments”.

Russian strike on western Ukraine: at least 22 injured

A Russian strike on the city of Chortkiv, in western Ukraine largely spared by violence, left at least 22 injured on Saturday evening, including civilians, according to a first report communicated on Sunday by the regional governor, Volodymyr Trouch. “Yesterday, at 7:46 p.m., Chortkiv was hit by four missiles, all fired from the Black Sea,” Trouch said during a press conference broadcast on Facebook, adding that “there were 22 wounded, all hospitalized “.

Among the victims, “there are seven women and a 12-year-old child,” continued the governor. According to Mr. Trouch, also head of the administration of the Ternopil region, on which Chortkiv depends, “a military installation was partially destroyed” in the strike, “and residential dwellings were damaged”.

Chortkiv, which had just under 30,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion, is located 140 km north of the border with Romania and 200 km south-east of Lviv, a large city in western Ukraine. .

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