© Reuters. A woman walks past destroyed structures in a local market after the latest shelling in connection with the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in Donetsk, Ukraine on June 19, 2022. REUTERS / Alexander Ermochenko
By Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy predicted that Russia will escalate its attacks this week as EU leaders consider supporting Kyiv’s attempts to join the bloc, and Moscow presses its campaign to gain control of the country’s eastern share.
“Of course, this week we should expect from Russia an intensification of its hostile activities,” Zelenskiy said in his video speech on Sunday night. “We are preparing. We are ready.”
Ukraine applied to join the EU four days after Russian troops poured across the country’s border in February. The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, on Friday recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status.
Leaders of the 27-nation union will consider the issue at a summit on Thursday and Friday and are expected to support Ukraine’s application despite concerns from some member states. The process can take many years to complete.
The EU’s embrace of Ukraine would disrupt one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine: to keep Moscow’s southern neighbor out of the West’s sphere of influence.
Putin said on Friday that Moscow “had nothing against” Ukraine’s EU membership, but a Kremlin spokesman said Russia was following Kyiv’s bid closely, especially in light of increased defense cooperation between member states.
On the battlefield, Russian forces are trying to take complete control of the eastern Donbas region, parts of which were already held by Russian-backed separatists before the 24 February invasion.
A primary target of Moscow’s eastern attack is the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk. Russia said on Sunday it had seized Metyolkine, a village on the outskirts, and the Russian state news agency TASS reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there. Ukraine’s military said Russia had “partial success” in the region.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian TV that a Russian attack on Toshkivka, 35 km (20 miles) south of Sievierodonetsk, also “had some success.”
In Sievierodonetsk itself, a city with 100,000 inhabitants before the war, Gaidai said Russia controlled the “main body” but not the entire city after intense fighting. Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.
Both Russia and Ukraine have continued heavy bombardment around Sievierodonetsk “with little change of front line,” Britain’s defense ministry said Sunday.
In Sievierodonetsk’s twin city of Lysychansk, residential buildings and private houses had been destroyed by Russian shelling, Gaidai said. “People are dying in the streets and in shelters,” he added.
He later said 19 people had been evacuated on Sunday. “We are able to bring in humanitarian aid and evacuate people as best we can,” Gaidai said.
‘WAR COULD LAST YEAR’
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a note that “Russian forces are likely to be able to conquer Sievierodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the expense of concentrating most of their available forces. in this small area. ”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Ukraine conflict could last for years and urged Western governments to continue sending advanced weapons to Ukrainian troops, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported.
“We must prepare for the fact that it may take years. We must not stop supporting Ukraine,” Stoltenberg was quoted as saying.
Russia has said it launched what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and protect Russian-speakers there from dangerous nationalists. Kiev and its allies dismiss it as an unfounded pretext for a war of aggression.
The British military assessment said the morale of Ukrainian and Russian combat units in the Donbas was likely “variable”.
“Ukrainian forces have likely been subjected to desertion in recent weeks, but Russian morale is likely to remain particularly troubled. Cases of entire Russian units refusing orders and armed stand-offs between officers and their troops continue to occur,” he said. the British Ministry of Defense on Twitter (NYSE :).
In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, northwest of Luhansk, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its Iskander missiles had destroyed weapons recently supplied by Western countries.
Russian forces tried to approach Kharkiv, which experienced intense shelling earlier in the war, and turn it into a “frontline city,” a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official said.
In southern Ukraine, Western weapons had helped Ukrainian forces advance 10 km (6 miles) toward Russian-occupied Melitopol, its mayor said in a video posted on Telegram outside the city.
An EU decision in favor of Kyiv’s final membership would put Ukraine on track to realize an aspiration that would have been out of reach of the former Soviet republic before the Russian invasion.
“Entire generations fought for a chance to escape from the prison of the Soviet Union and, like a free bird, to fly to European civilization,” the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, said in a statement.