Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday hailed the European Union’s expected offer of candidate status for its war-weary nation, as Russian forces besieged Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and the eastern Donbass region.
European leaders will formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Although primarily symbolic, the move would help lift national morale at a very difficult time in the four-month conflict that left thousands dead, millions displaced and towns and cities leveled.
The war has also had a massive impact on the global economy and European security regimes, raising gas, oil and food prices, prompting the European Union to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy, and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
The EU will temporarily return to coal to deal with dwindling Russian gas flows without affecting long-term climate targets, an EU official said on Wednesday.
Zelensky said he had spoken to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would call more on Thursday. He said that he previously believed that all 27 EU countries would support Ukraine’s candidate status.
“We deserve it,” Zelensky told the crowd in Amsterdam via video link.
Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria to join the European Union. But EU leaders say the bloc should make a gesture that recognizes Ukraine’s sacrifice.
As a fierce battle in the Donbass sees its forces running low on ammunition, Ukraine has more urgent priorities in the near term.
‘No letup’ in civilian shelling
Russian strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday on Kharkiv, near the Russian border, were the worst for weeks in a region where normal life was returning as Ukraine pushed back Moscow’s forces last month.
Kyiv characterized the attacks, which reportedly killed at least 20 people, as a bid to force Ukraine to pull resources from the main battlefields in the Donbass to protect civilians.
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinehubov said Russia continued to shell Kharkiv’s residential districts and towns within the Kharkiv region.
“There is no shortage of civilian shelling by Russian occupiers,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “This is evidence that we cannot expect a scenario similar to Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure.”
Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Oleksey Erestovich, said in a video address that Russian forces were attacking Kharkiv to terrorize the population and force Ukraine to withdraw troops.
Zelensky has warned that fighting could escalate ahead of the EU summit. Russia has long opposed close ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet state, and Western clubs such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
“There were massive air and artillery strikes in the Donbass,” he said in a video address released early Thursday, adding that Russia wants to “destroy the entire Donbass in a phased manner.”
In a sign that the military situation in the Donbass was becoming more difficult for Ukraine, the Tass news agency indicated that Russian forces were on the verge of capturing the village of Vovchoyarivka, about 12 km southwest of Lisichansk.
Tass cited sources close to the self-proclaimed separatist soldiers fighting for the Russian-speaking Luhansk region. The village is located close to a major highway, which runs from Lischansk to the town of Bakhmut in the southwest.
Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the report.
In an evening military update, Ukraine’s General Staff continued heavy Russian shelling in Kharkiv and other towns and villages around it and launched airstrikes on the devastated city of Severodnetsk.
Serhi Gaidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said in an online post Wednesday evening that Russian forces were continuing to build up reserves in Severodnetsk in an effort to encircle Ukrainian troops.
He rejected Russian claims that his army already controlled the city. “The fighting is on,” he told Ukrainian television. “Russian forces do not have complete control.”
Moscow says Ukrainian forces are trapped in Severodonetsk, the scene of the heaviest recent fighting. It ordered him to surrender or die last week when the last bridge over the Siversky Donets River was destroyed.
In a sign that the military situation in the Donbass was becoming more difficult for Ukraine, Tas – citing Russian-speaking separatists fighting for Moscow – said that Russian forces were about 12 km (7 km) south-west of Lisichansk. mi) a village on the verge of capturing Vovchoyarivka. ,
The village is located close to a major highway that exits Lischensk, a sister town across the river from Severodonetsk.
Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the report.
Inside Russia, fires raged through an oil refinery just 8km (5 miles) from the border with the Donbass region controlled by pro-Russian separatists, in what the refinery described Wednesday as a cross-border attack by two drones.
There was no immediate Ukrainian comment on the strike, which suspended production at the Novoshkhtinsk refinery.
Ukraine usually does not comment on reports of attacks on Russian infrastructure near the border, which it called “karma” for Russian attacks on Ukraine.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)