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Russia steps up Donbass offensive as Poland’s Duda heads to Kyiv

Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region on Sunday, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the outcome of the grueling conflict would determine whether his country’s fate lay in his hands. of the West or under the domination of Moscow.

After declaring full control of Azovstal, a sprawling steelworks complex that was the last point of defense for the port city of Mariupol, the Russian military launched strikes into Ukraine’s industrial heartland, seeking to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014.

In a Saturday evening video address to the nation, Zelenskyy described the situation in Donbass as “really difficult”, but “the fact that we can say this on the 87th day of a full-scale war against Russia is good news . “

“Every day that our defenders take away from these offensive Russian plans, disrupting them, is a concrete contribution to the approach of the main day. The desired day that we all look forward to and fight for: the Day of the Victory,” said Zelenskyy. .

Duda talks to Rada

Zelenskyy’s remarks came as the Polish president prepared to meet him in support of Ukraine’s aim to become a candidate for EU membership, a matter that is expected to be decided at the bloc’s summit in late June. .

As the West rallied behind Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda paid an unannounced visit to kyiv and on Sunday became the first foreign leader to address Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, since the start of the war.

Poland, which has hosted millions of Ukrainian refugees since Russia invaded its neighbor, has become an important gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons entering Ukraine. The government in Warsaw also strongly supports Ukraine’s wish to join the EU.

Zelenskyy stressed on Saturday that Brussels should consider Ukraine’s desire to join the 27-nation bloc as soon as possible against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion.

“I want to emphasize that our path to European integration is not just a matter of politics,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s about quality of life. And the fact that Ukrainians perceive the values ​​of life in the same way as the vast majority of Europeans.”

Fighting in the Donbass intensifies

Russia appears to have made slow progress in Donbass in recent days. It intensified its efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in the province of Luhansk, which together with the province of Donetsk constitutes the Donbass.

Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the city’s only functioning hospital had only three doctors and enough supplies for 10 days.

On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense said that Russia’s only operational company of BMP-T Terminator tank support vehicles, designed to protect main battle tanks, “probably was deployed on the Sievierodonetsk axis of the offensive of the Donbas”.

He said, however, that with a maximum of 10 of the vehicles deployed, “they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign”.

In a morning report from the General Staff, Russia also said it was preparing to resume its offensive towards Sloviansk, a city in Donetsk province critical to Russia’s goal of capturing all of the eastern Ukraine and saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops withdrew from kyiv.

Saturday’s Russian shelling killed seven civilians and injured 10 others elsewhere in Donetsk province, the regional governor said.

A monastery in the village of Bohorodichne has been evacuated after being hit by a Russian airstrike, regional police said on Saturday. About 100 monks, nuns and children had sought safe shelter in the basement of the church, and no one was injured, police said in a Facebook post.

Zelenskyy stressed that Donbass is still part of Ukraine and its forces are fighting to liberate it.

The fall of Azovstal a victory in the eyes of Putin

As Russia claims to have taken nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters prisoner from the beleaguered Mariupol steelworks, concerns are growing over their fate and the future of the remaining residents of the city, now in ruins with more than 20 000 inhabitants feared dead.

The Russian Defense Ministry has released a video of detained Ukrainian soldiers after announcing that its forces had removed the last resisters from the vast underground tunnels of the Mariupol factory. He said a total of 2,439 had surrendered.

Family members of the fighters, who came from various military and law enforcement units, pleaded for them to be granted rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday that Ukraine “will fight for the return” of each of them.

On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of its troops taking into custody Serhiy Volynskyy, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy’s 36th Special Brigade, which was one of the main forces defending the steel plant.

The Azovstal steel plant has become a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity for its weeks-long persistence in yielding to Russian attempts to seize it. His downfall gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a much-desired victory in the war he started nearly three months ago.

Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, vowed that the Ukrainian fighters at the factory would be brought to justice. He said the soldiers included foreign nationals, although he did not provide details.

A senior member of the Russian parliament, Leonid Slutsky, said Moscow was exploring the possibility of swapping the Azovstal fighters for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian with close ties to Putin who faces criminal charges in Ukraine, the report reported. Russian news agency Interfax.

Slutsky later backtracked on those remarks, saying he agreed with Pushilin that a court should decide their fate.

The southern port facing a health disaster

The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia’s claim to capture Azovstal. The Ukrainian army had told the fighters that their mission was over and they could go out. He described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.

Mariupol, which is part of Donbass, was blocked at the start of the war and became a chilling example for people in the rest of the country of the hunger, terror and death they could face if the Russians surrounded their communities.

The mayor of Mariupol warned on Saturday that the city was facing a health and sanitation “catastrophe” due to mass burials in shallow pits across the crumbling city and the breakdown of sewage systems.

Mayor Vadim Boychenko said summer rains threatened to contaminate water sources as he pressed Russian forces to allow residents to leave the city. It is estimated that 100,000 of the 450,000 people who resided in Mariupol before the war remain.

“In addition to the humanitarian disaster created by the occupiers and collaborators, the city is on the brink of an epidemic of infectious diseases,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.

With Russia controlling the city, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the shelling of a maternity ward and theater where hundreds of civilians had gathered. refugees.

Satellite images from April showed what appeared to be mass graves just outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of covering up the massacre by burying up to 9,000 civilians.

euronews Gt

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