Adds statements Zelensky, of the governor of Lugansk, Russian negotiator
kyiv (awp/afp) – Russia continued to shell eastern Ukraine on Saturday and claimed to have destroyed with cruise missiles a stockpile of weapons delivered by the West, when US President Joe Biden signed the law bringing a gigantic new aid of 40 billion dollars to Kyiv.
In kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that the current phase of the war, where the Russians are concentrating their efforts in the east, “will be bloody”, but that in the end it will have to be resolved “via diplomacy”.
“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will inevitably take place,” he told Ukrainian television ICTV, as talks that were sketched out in Turkey a few weeks ago remained a dead letter.
He said he was once again ready if necessary for a meeting “at presidential level” with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who has so far never followed up.
“These are our territories, and step by step we will liberate our territories”, he added a few hours later during a press conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, to whom he repeated that Ukraine had at this stage especially “need for armored vehicles”.
Russia claimed to have struck with cruise missiles in the northwest of the country a large stockpile of weapons supplied by the West to Ukraine.
Mr. Zelensky, in his usual video message posted in the evening, noted that the military situation had “not changed significantly” on Saturday “but it was very difficult”.
“The situation in Donbass is extremely difficult,” he insisted. But the Ukrainian army “repels this offensive. Each day that our defenders disrupt the plans of the Russians brings us closer to the crucial day, (…) which we all desire and for which we fight. The day of victory”.
“Long-range, high-precision Kalibr missiles, launched from the sea, destroyed a large consignment of arms and military equipment supplied by the United States and European countries, near Malin railway station, in the Zhytomyr region,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. It was not possible to verify this information from an independent source.
For his part, Mr. Biden signed, during an official visit to Seoul, the law adopted Thursday by Congress providing a gigantic envelope of 40 billion dollars in support of Ukraine, in particular for its war effort.
Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed in a tweet, in Ukrainian and English, the release of aid “now more necessary than ever”.
Moscow immediately released a new list of 963 American personalities banned from entering Russia. These “counter-sanctions” aim to “force the American power in place, which is trying to impose a neocolonial + world order + on the rest of the planet (…) to change its position and recognize new geopolitical realities”, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
To the names of a handful of officials including Joe Biden, his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Minister Lloyd Austin and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, were added government officials, parliamentarians but also members of the civil society. Up to Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, who is accused of having recorded a video in 2017 in which he claimed that Russia was orchestrating a “plot” against the United States.
On the ground, after failing to take control of kyiv and its region at the end of February and in March, Russian troops are now concentrating their efforts in an offensive against eastern Ukraine, where fighting is intense.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stressed on Friday that the situation in this region “showed signs of aggravation” with “intense fire” from Russian forces “along the entire front line”.
Seven civilians were killed and ten injured on Saturday in the Donetsk region, its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko announced on Saturday.
According to Serguiï Gaïdaï, Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region, “the Russians are throwing all their efforts to capture Severodonetsk” where the strikes “have been multiplied several times in recent days”.
“The city is being destroyed, as before they destroyed Rubizhne and Popasna”, he denounced, saying that the Russian forces had destroyed the Pavlograd bridge “which will greatly complicate the evacuation of civilians and deliveries from humanitarian trucks”.
Ukrainian police said they evacuated around 60 people, including children, from a bombed church in Bogorodychné, a village in this region, adding that there were no casualties.
Further north, Kharkiv region governor Oleg Sinegoubov said nearby towns had been targeted by heavy artillery fire in the past 24 hours, which left one dead and 20 injured.
Near Kharkiv, the second city of the country near the Russian border, the time was Saturday for burials in the military square of the cemetery of Bezliudikova, a village liberated a month ago at the cost of fierce fighting.
“They were found with five other bodies that we could not identify. We suspect that they were executed. They were killed with bullets in the back of the head”, confides on condition of anonymity a military, about two buried soldiers. It was not immediately possible to find out more or to verify these suspicions.
In Rivne (north-west), a Russian missile targeted a “military infrastructure” in the city, said regional governor Vitaliï Koval. Close to the Polish border, this city has very rarely been attacked since the beginning of the conflict.
In the martyr city of Mariupol (south-east), largely destroyed, nearly 2,500 men of the Ukrainian forces were made prisoners this week, according to the Russians.
These resisters, entrenched for weeks in the bombed Azovstal steel complex after the city was taken by the Russians, “will be brought home”, promised Mr. Zelensky on ICTV, referring to ongoing discussions with France, Turkey and Switzerland on this subject, without further details.
This last pocket of resistance in the strategic port on the Sea of Azov has “passed under the complete control of the Russian armed forces” after the surrender of the last Ukrainian soldiers, the spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Friday evening.
kyiv rejects the term surrender, referring to an operation aimed at “rescuing our heroes” and exchanging them for Russian prisoners.
Russia will “study” the possibility of exchanging fighters from the Ukrainian Azov regiment taken prisoner for Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, Russian deputy and negotiator Leonid Sloutski said on Saturday.
Mr. Medvedchuk, 67, is a well-known Ukrainian politician and businessman close to the Russian president who was arrested in mid-April in Ukraine while he was on the run.
“No alternative” to the EU
On the diplomatic field, the Ukrainian president returned on Saturday to the European future of his country, once again rejecting the proposal for a “European political community” by his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
“We don’t need alternatives to Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union, we don’t need such compromises,” he declared at a press conference with the Portuguese Prime Minister.
Mr Macron presented the project for a “European political community” on May 9 in the midst of a debate on the launch of Ukraine’s accession process to the European Union, explaining that it would take Ukraine “decades” to join the EU.
For its part, Finland, a member of the EU, saw its supply of Russian gas cut off on Saturday by the giant Gazprom, which argues that Helsinki refused its new conditions of having to pay in rubles.
The Finnish company Gasum has assured that it can obtain gas from other suppliers and continue its activities “normally”.
The Nordic country, already deprived since mid-May of its imports of Russian electricity, has angered Moscow, like Sweden, by deciding to apply for NATO membership.
Finland thus joins Poland and Bulgaria among the countries to which Gazprom cut gas because they refused to pay in rubles, as it demanded in April.