The battle for two key cities in eastern Ukraine is edging towards “a fearsome climax” as Russian forces attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, officials say.
Russia’s efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk – the two remaining cities under Ukrainian control in Luhansk – have turned into a bloody war of attrition, with both sides inflicting heavy casualties. Moscow, over the last two weeks, has managed to make steady gains.
“The fighting is entering a sort of fearsome climax”, Oleksiy Arestovych said.
Russian forces are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, senior Ukrainian defence official Oleksiy Gromov said in a briefing on Thursday.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, one of two in the eastern Donbas, added that Russian forces had been successful in their advances.
He said that enemy forces had captured Loskutivka, a settlement to the south of Lysychansk, which threatened to isolate Ukrainian troops.
The official also said that all Lysychansk was within reach of Russian fire and that Ukrainian troops there might retreat to new positions to avoid being trapped.
“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions,” Haidai said in a post on Telegram.
The Russian state news agency, Tass, cited Russian-backed separatists saying Lysychansk was surrounded and cut off from supplies after Russia captured a road linking the city to Ukrainian-held territories.
Zelenskiy immediately welcomed the move to grant Ukraine EU candidate status, calling it “a unique and historic moment” in relations with the 27-nation bloc.
“Ukraine’s future is in the EU,” he tweeted.
“It’s a victory,” he later added on Instagram. “We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he said, referring to the duration of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent on the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”
In a televised address shortly after the announcement from Brussels, Zelenskiy said:
I believe this is what will always be the starting point of Europe’s new history. Europe without division. Europe without ‘grey’ zones. Europe that is truly united and that knows how to defend itself, its values, its future.
Today you have adopted one of the most important decisions for Ukraine in all 30 years of independence of our state.
However, I believe this decision is not only for Ukraine. This is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, in our time and in such difficult conditions, when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity.”
European leaders granted Ukraine candidate status late on Thursday, in a historic decision that opens the door to EU membership for the war-torn country and deals a blow to Vladimir Putin.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels approved Ukraine’s candidate status nearly four months after the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, launched his country’s bid to join the bloc in the early days of the Russian invasion. Moldova was also given candidate status.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, declared it was “a good day for Europe”. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said it was historic decision that sent “a strong signal towards Russia in the current geopolitical context”.
The move from applicant to candidate usually takes years, but the EU has dramatically accelerated the process, amid outrage over the brutality of the unprovoked Russian attack, and to show solidarity with Ukraine’s defenders.
“Ukraine is going through hell for a simple reason: its desire to join the EU,” von der Leyen had tweeted on the eve of the summit. The commission last week called on EU leaders to grant Ukraine’s candidate status.
Earlier, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said candidate status would “draw a line under decades of ambiguity and set it in stone: Ukraine is Europe, not part of the ‘Russian world’”.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, said earlier this week that the EU had moved at “lightning speed” by its standards.
Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you as we continue to report all the latest news from Ukraine.
Here are all the major developments as of 8am in Kyiv.
- The European Union has approved the application of Ukraine to become a candidate country for admission to the 27-strong bloc in a step Kyiv and Brussels hailed as an “historic moment”. EU leaders meeting in Brussels followed the recommendation of the European Commission, which was made on 17 June.
- Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, immediately welcomed the move, saying: “Ukraine’s future is in the EU.” “It’s a victory … we have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he added, referring to the duration of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent on the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”
- The US will send another $450m in military aid to Ukraine, including some additional medium-range rocket systems. The latest package includes four high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) and tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition as well as patrol boats, Pentagon officials announced on Thursday. With the latest shipments, the US contribution to Ukraine’s military will amount to $6.1bn so far, White House spokesperson, John Kirby, added.
- Russian forces captured two villages in eastern Ukraine and are fighting for control of a key highway in a campaign to cut supply lines and encircle frontline Ukrainian forces, according to British and Ukrainian military officials.
- The battle for two key cities in eastern Ukraine is edging towards “a fearsome climax”, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, has said. Russia is now believed to control all of Sievierodonetsk with the exception of the Azot chemical plant.
- No town is safe for residents in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk as fighting intensifies, local officials claim. “There is no place, no town in Donetsk region where it would be safe,” Pavlo Kyrylenko told Agence France-Presse, citing latest intelligence data. “It is extremely dangerous for residents to stay in any places of the region.”
- The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, said Britain was willing to assist with de-mining operations off Ukraine’s southern coast. Asked if Britain was ready to help Ukraine de-mine the area, Johnson said: “Yes, I don’t want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help themselves protect that we are certainly talking to them at a technical level to help de-mine Odesa.”
- The UK is also offering its expertise to help escort Ukraine’s grain from its ports, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said. Boris Johnson added Britain was considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tonnes of grain stuck in the country, telling Reuters: “What the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea.”
- More than 150 cultural sites in Ukraine have been partially or totally destroyed, according to a Unesco report. The damage includes 70 religious buildings, 30 historical buildings, 18 cultural centres, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries.
- Ukraine is recording 200 to 300 war crimes committed by Russian forces on its territory every day, the prosecutor general has claimed. “War crimes are our trouble. Every day we have 200 to 300 of them … We have a duty: when there is a crime, we have to start an investigation,” Iryna Venediktova told Ukrainian television.
- Ukraine has held a preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman during Moscow’s invasion – the first of what could be dozens of such cases. The suspect, Mikhail Romanov, 32, who will be tried in absentia, is accused of breaking into a house in March in a village in the Brovarsky region outside Kyiv, murdering a man and then repeatedly raping his wife while threatening her and her child.
- The US embassy in Russia has been pressing the Kremlin this week to reveal the whereabouts of two Alabama men captured in Ukraine, according to the mother of one of the taken Americans. Lois “Bunny” Drueke also said that her son, Alexander Drueke, and the other captured US military veteran, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, were not mercenaries but volunteers, pushing back on statements from a Kremlin spokesperson who said the American pair were facing execution.