KYIV, Ukraine — Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military has faced a bogged down war, a revitalized NATO and a defending nation invigorated by its victory in a music contest hugely popular pan-European on Sunday.
The Ukrainian leader hailed the country’s morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. As Western military officials said the Russian invasion had lost momentum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised his country would claim the usual honor of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers out of Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy Eurovision Song Contest with their song “Stefania,” which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory. .
Senior NATO diplomats, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the war and steps taken by Finland, Sweden and others to join the military alliance the West in the face of growing concern about Russia’s intentions.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the war in Ukraine by saying it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.
Assessments of Russia’s war performance by Ukrainian supporters came as Russian troops retreated from the vicinity of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after shelling it for weeks. They and the Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a fierce battle for the industrial heart of the east of the country, the Donbass.
Russia has now likely lost a third of the ground combat forces it committed in February and continues to experience “persistently high levels of attrition” while achieving no substantial territorial gains over the past month, it said. the UK Ministry of Defense in its daily intelligence update. Sunday.
“The Russian offensive on Donbass has lost momentum and is lagging far behind,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces were suffering from “low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to significantly accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
With Russian forces now withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military said Moscow was now focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, weapons artillery and airstrikes in the eastern region of Donetsk with the aim of exhausting the Ukrainian forces and destroying the fortifications.
Kharkiv, which lies near the Russian border and just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has endured weeks of heavy shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.
Russia also struck railways, factories and other infrastructure across Ukraine. A Russian missile hit “military infrastructure” in Yavoriv district in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. early Sunday morning. There was no immediate information about the dead or injured, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia is targeting railway installations and other critical infrastructure in western Ukraine, a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Western officials said that despite the attacks, there had been no noticeable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.
After failing to capture kyiv after the February 24 invasion, Putin shifted his focus east to the Donbass, aiming to encircle the most experienced and best-equipped Ukrainian troops, and seize the territory still under Ukrainian control.
Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped strip of territory in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which make up the Donbass region, the border area where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.
In his Saturday evening speech, Zelenskyy said that “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to come out at least somewhat victorious”.
In the southern Donbass, the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov is now largely under Russian control, except for the few hundred soldiers who remained in the Azovstal steelworks.
A convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of town could have reached the Ukrainian town of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers from the steelworks. .
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians from Azovstal by boat, according to the official state broadcaster TRT. Kalin said Russian and Ukrainian officials had not given a clear answer to Turkey regarding the evacuation plan, but it was still on the table.
The invasion of Ukraine has raised fears in other countries on Russia’s flank that they might be next, and last week Finland’s president and prime minister said they were in favor of NATO membership.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is due to announce its decision to join NATO on Sunday. If he decides in favor, as expected, an application to join the Western military alliance could occur within days.
In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there was no security threat to Finland and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Russian relations.” Finnish”.
NATO works by consensus and potential offers from the Nordic countries came into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable view”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the two countries of supporting Kurdish rebel groups, but suggested that Turkey would not necessarily prevent them from joining NATO.
“These are the issues that we need to talk about, of course, with our NATO allies,” he said.
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other PA staff from around the world contributed to this report.
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