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Ukraine news – live: Zelensky on phone marathon with EU leaders as Russia pounds Donbas

Russia wants to destroy Ukraine’s eastern region ‘step by step’ and turn besieged cities into Mariupol, president says

Ukrainian drone strikes major Russian oil refinery

Volodymyr Zelensky dialled nearly a dozen European leaders in the last 24 hours as Ukraine raced in its bid to secure its candidacy in the European Union.

European leaders are expected to set Ukraine on the path to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday night.

The wartime president said he expected a “key European decision” after speaking about Ukraine’s candidacy with the leadership of Bulgaria, Latvia, Greece, Sweden, Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Moldova and Lithuania.

But away from Kyiv, the battle in the country’s east showed signs of worsening as Russian forces shelled Donbas.

Russia, Mr Zelensky said, wants to destroy Ukraine’s eastern region “step by step” and wants to turn the besieged cities into Mariupol.

“In Donbas there are massive air and artillery strikes. The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same – they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step,” Mr Zelensky said in his late night address.

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Battle for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk reaching ‘fearsome climax’, says Kyiv

The battle for the east Ukrainian cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, one of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisers has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych made the comment as Ukrainian forces try to cling onto this part of Luhansk province despite fierce Russian attacks.

The Kremlin’s forces continue to make steady progress, after capturing Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.

Rory Sullivan23 June 2022 07: 38

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‘Wind of change’ in Europe as Ukraine to receive candidacy status

European leaders will formally back Ukraine as a candidate to join the bloc, four months after Vladimir Putin invaded the country.

“History is on the march,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, ahead of a two-day summit.

“I am not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression,” she said. “I am talking about the wind of change that once again blows across our continent. With their applications, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are telling us that they want change.”

The process of joining the EU takes time, with countries including North Macedonia and Montenegro waiting for more than a decade so far.

Rory Sullivan23 June 2022 07: 24

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Ukraine controls nearly 45 per cent of Donetsk, says official

Ukrainian forces control less than 50 per cent of the Donetsk Oblast , regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Wednesday.

Ukraine remains in control of nearly half (45 per cent) of the heavily damaged eastern industrial city, which is backed by Moscow, Mr Kyrylenko said, talking to the Radio Free Europe, reported The Kyiv Independent.

The rest of the 55 per cent territory, including Mariupol and Volnovakha, is held by Russia and its proxies.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 07: 05

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Russia captures two settlements near Ukraine’s Lysychansk

Russian soldiers have gained control over two settlements in Ukrainian cities Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday morning.

The two settlements are Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka.

Mr Gaidai said that the Ukrainian forces were continuing to defend Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka.

On Wednesday evening, the governor had said that Russian soldiers were mounting their reserves in the key city of Donbas as they tried to encircle Ukrainian troops.

But he had said that the “battles are continuing” and rejected Russian charges that its military has gained control of the city.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 06: 51

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Russia increasing pressure in Donbas but efforts stalled in Donetsk, says British MoD

The British defence ministry said that the Russian fighters are increasing their grip in Ukraine’s eastern cities Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk but the efforts appear stalled in other parts.

“Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sieverodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance around the fringes of the built-up area,” the British MoD said in its latest intelligence update on Thursday.

It added that the Russian “efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled”.

According to the ministry, in the last four days, “Russian forces have highly likely advanced over 5km towards the southern approaches of the Donbas city of Lysychansk”.

“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled. Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” the ministry said.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 06: 24

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Russia claims it has captured village in Sievierodonetsk

Pro-Moscow separatists said they have captured another village outside Sievierodonetsk, their latest territorial gain in Ukraine’s eastern region, reported Russian news agency Tass.

Officials in Kyiv have not confirmed the loss of territory to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Russian forces continued their military assault on Ukraine’s second biggest city Kharkiv.

Kharkiv’s governor Oleh Synehubov said: “There is no letup in the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers.

“This is evidence that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure,” he said.

Kharkiv has witnessed a spike in shelling and strikes from Russian forces, which comes just a month after Ukrainian troops had regained control on the city after pushing Moscow’s troops out.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 05: 16

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Massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of wanting to destroy Ukraine’s eastern region “step by step” and wanting to turn the besieged cities into Mariupol.

“In Donbas there are massive air and artillery strikes. The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same – they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step. Entire. Lysychansk, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk – they aim to turn any city into Mariupol. Completely ruined,” Mr Zelensky said in his late night address.

He added that the Russian forces rained seven missiles at Mykolaiv, a city near the Black Sea.

The president said that no one was killed but five people were injured.

“There were strikes in the Kharkiv region as well. There are casualties. There were strikes at the borders of the Chernihiv and Sumy regions,” the wartime president said in his nightly address.

Reiterating Ukraine’s demand for weapons supply from allies, Mr Zelensky added: “That is why we repeatedly emphasise the acceleration of weapons supplies to Ukraine.”

Parity is needed on the battlefield as soon as possible to stop this devilish armada and move it beyond the borders of Ukraine, Mr Zelensky said.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 04: 57

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Zelensky says expecting ‘key European decision’ tonight

Volodymyr Zelensky has said he is expecting a “key European decision” on Thursday night, ahead of anticipated clearance of Ukraine’s candidacy in the European Union, as he addressed the citizens in his nightly address.

He added that he spoke with 11 European leaders in a telephone marathon for a “positive decision on the candidacy for Ukraine”.

“Tomorrow I will continue this marathon – we must provide maximum support to our state. We expect a key European decision tomorrow night,” Mr Zelensky said late on Wednesday.

Mr Zelensky thanked the leadership of Bulgaria, Latvia, Greece, Sweden, Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia,

Moldova and Lithuania as he extended bilateral support from Ukraine to the nations and invited the leaders to visit the battle-marred country.

Arpan Rai23 June 2022 04: 38

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Mexican scientist turned Russian spy sentenced to four years

A Mexican scientist has been sentenced to four years and one day in prison after becoming a Russian spy.

Hector Cabrera Fuentes, 37, pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent in February and was sentenced in Miami on Tuesday. He has already served more than two years.

Cabrera was detained on 16 February 2020 by FBI agents at Miami International Airport while he was on his way back to Mexico.

Two days previously, Cabrera had been seen attempting to conduct surveillance on an FBI informant alongside his wife.

Gustaf Kilander reports.

Joe Middleton22 June 2022 22: 02

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Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine continues to rage following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of his “special military operation” against the country in the early hours of 24 February, the Russian leader declaring, groundlessly, a need to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” the neighbouring state after eight years of fighting in the Donbas.

As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky leads by example from the streets of Kyiv, tirelessly rallying the international community for support, his people mount an impressive resistence, holding back Russia’s armed forces as best they can.

The aggressor meanwhile continues to employ brutal siege warfare tactics, surrounding the country’s cities and subjecting them to intense shelling campaigns, a strategy previously seen in Chechnya and Syria.

But what are the key issues behind the conflict, where did it all begin and how might the crisis unfold?

Joe Middleton22 June 2022 21: 30

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