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Ukraine's Zelenskyy declares 'historic week'

June 20, 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that a "historic week" has begun, as Kyiv awaits a decision from Brussels as to whether the country will be conferred EU candidate status.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with local authorities in Mykolaiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukraine's accession to the EU will meet 'all of Europe's interests' Image: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/REUTERS
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks of a 'historic week' as Kyiv awaits EU candidate status

  • Moscow says its forces seized the village of Metiolkine near Sievierodonetsk

  • Austria to reopen coal plant due to reduced gas deliveries from Russia

  • EU foreign ministers are meeting to discuss ways to free grain stuck in Ukraine due to a Russian blockade

This live updates article is closed. For the latest on Russia's invasion, please click here.    

Germany, France call on EU member states to approve candidate status for Ukraine, Moldova

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg Monday, Germany's Annalena Baerbock and her French colleague Catherine Colonna called on member states to approve EU membership candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova at the bloc's upcoming summit on June 23-24. 

Baerbock said not to do so at this "historic moment" would be a "fatal decision." Colonna urged "immediate candidate status" for both countries. 

Still, other countries, such as Austria, were cool toward the idea, arguing the bloc should not give the impression that the two are being put in "the passing lane" while countries in the Western Balkans are forced to wait. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said his country expects, "a clear signal to the East but also the Southeast at the EU summit."

The Netherlands have signaled a willingness to overlook previous opposition and vote for approval of candidate status, albeit pointing out that Ukraine, for instance, still has a lot of "homework to do" regarding democracy and rule of law.

European Council President Charles Michel also called on member states to extend candidacy status to both states. 

Hollywood star Stiller meets with Zelenskyy on World Refugee Day

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ben Stiller on Monday met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a trip to Poland and Ukraine. To mark World Refugee Day, the Hollywood actor, director and screenwriter first traveled to the Polish border where he met aid workers and refugee families. He then toured the devastated Kyiv suburb of Irpin before meeting Zelenskyy.

"Ukrainians feel the support of the whole world," wrote Zelenskyy on his Instagram account, along with a video of the visit. "And Ben Stiller's visit once again confirms this. Your trip to Irpin and Makarov, meetings with our people say a lot. We appreciate that you are here at this difficult time for our country."

Stiller, also writing on Instagram, urged people to share "support for people who have been forced to flee all over the world. Everyone has the right to seek safety. Whoever, wherever, whenever."

The UN Refugee Agency says more than 100 million people are currently displaced by violence and persecution globally, 8.3 million of them Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. 

Germany's Scholz: Putin fears 'spark of democracy'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says President Vladimir Putin "fears the spark of democracy" will spread to Russia. 

Scholz made the statement during an interview with the Munich-based newspaper Münchner Merkur

When asked if Putin would accept Ukraine and the European Union growing closer together, Scholz said: "The Russian President must accept that there is a community of law-based democracies in his neighborhood that is growing ever closer together. He clearly fears the spark of democracy spreading to his country."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by saying, "German sparks have spread onto us a couple of times. We will not allow any more fires."

Last week, Scholz traveled to Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to signal solidarity with Ukraine. The trip immediately preceded the European Commission recommending Ukraine for EU candidate status the following day.

NATO, Turkey, Finland and Sweden seek resolution on accession plans

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that Turkey, Finland and Sweden held "constructive" talks in Brussels on Monday concerning Ankara's opposition to the long-neutral Nordic countries' desire to join the security alliance. 

"We will continue our talks on Finland and Sweden's applications for NATO membership, and I look forward to finding a way forward as soon as possible," Stoltenberg said after the talks at NATO's HQ in the Belgian capital. 

Turkey, meanwhile, acknowledged the ongoing talks but offered no hope of a rapid resolution. The talks precede a major NATO summit next week, but Ankara's representative said this date was not seen as the deadline for an agreement. 

"The Madrid NATO summit is not the deadline, so our negotiations will continue," Erdogan's foreign policy chief Ibrahim Kalin said. "The existence of terrorist organizations must end in those countries. That is what we expect from both Finland and Sweden."

Ankara accuses Finland and Sweden of harboring "terrorists." This could be a reference to members of the Kurdish PKK group that the EU and US also label as a terrorist organization. Or it could refer to supporters of the dissident former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US.

Decades of fighting with Kurds primarily in Turkey's southeast has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, while many Gulen supporters have fled the country in more recent years amid a government crackdown. 

Countries can only join NATO with the unanimous support of existing members.

Hungary proposes route for Ukraine grain exports: minister

Hungary has proposed its territory as a possible route for Ukrainian grain exports.

The proposal comes as exports are suffering a severe disruption due to a Russian blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

Hungary's Peter Szijjarto made the offer at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"We have offered to let through Hungary's territory, moreover, to facilitate the passage of any food shipments destined for various parts of the world from Ukraine, mainly to North Africa or the Middle East," Szijjarto said.

Budapest's foreign minister also said he expected no disruption to Russian gas supplies to Hungary.

Baerbock: EU should be decisive, show Ukraine it 'belongs' in the bloc

The European Union needs to show Ukraine that the besieged country belongs in the bloc, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

"It is important now not to go by the book, but to take advantage of this historic moment and make it clear to Ukraine with a view to its prospects: You belong in the center of the European Union," she said.

"We are now in a moment where we have to make a decision," Baerbock said and warned the EU must not "find excuses and follow a pattern of postponing big decisions."

Ukraine's Kuleba: 'Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania'

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday criticized Russia after Moscow accused Lithuania of imposing trade restrictions on the transit of EU goods to Kaliningrad.

"Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania. Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine," Kuleba wrote in a statement on social media. "We commend Lithuania’s principled stance and stand firmly by our Lithuanian friends."

Earlier on Monday, the Kremlin demanded the immediate lifting of Lithuania's "openly hostile" restrictions on the rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland.

Crimea official accuses Ukraine of attacking oil platforms

The head of Russian-occupied Crimea on Monday said Ukraine had fired at oil drilling platforms off the coast of the peninsula that was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

"This morning the enemy attacked the drilling platforms of Chernomorneftegaz," Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram, referring the oil and gas company located in Crimea.

"I am in contact with our colleagues from the defense ministry and the FSB (security agency), we are working on saving people," he added. 

This is the first reported strike against offshore energy infrastructure in Crimea since Russia began its war on Ukraine on February 24.

Baerbock: Germany working with Poland, Romania on freeing up grain

Germany supports Poland and Romania in adapting their railways to enable the export of grain currently stuck in Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

"The railway tracks need to be modernized, we need the right cargo wagons — the German government is working on this with many other actors," she said upon arrival at a meeting with her European Union counterparts in Luxembourg.

"It is clear that, in the end, we will certainly not be able to get out all grain but if we even just manage to free part of it, on various routes, then this will help as we are facing this global challenge."

Millions of metric tons of grain are unable to leave Ukraine due to an ongoing Russian blockade in the Black Sea ports of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Germany will host a meeting on the looming global food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those attending.

Baerbock tweeted that the summit, set to take place on Friday, would aim to "stabilize food supplies worldwide."

Ukrainian troops wait for promised weapons

Russia's blockade of grain exports 'a war crime' says Borrell

Russia's blockade of Ukrainian grain is a war crime, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.

"We call on Russia to deblockade the (Ukrainian) ports. It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger," he told reporters when arriving at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer."

Zelenskyy vows to take back southern Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to take back areas of southern Ukraine that are currently under Russian occupation.

"We will not hand over the south to anyone," Zelenskyy said, promising to retake "everything that belongs to us."

Zelenskyy's comments came shortly after returning from a visit to the southern front lines.

Russian troops seized large parts of southern Ukraine shortly after the conflict began at the end of February, having already annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Zelenskyy expects 'greater hostile activity from Russia'

Russian journalist sells Nobel Peace Prize 'to give Ukrainian children refugees a chance'

On Monday evening Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov will auction off his Nobel Peace Prize medal. The proceeds will go directly to UNICEF in its efforts to help children displaced by the conflict in Ukraine.

Muratov, who was bestowed the honor in October 2021, helped found the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was the publication's editor-in-chief when it shut down in March amid the Kremlin's clampdown on journalists and public displays of dissent over the war.

The reporting focuses on the Russian invasion of its neighbor, a topic which has become increasingly difficult to independently report on due to the threats from the Kremlin.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muratov was attacked with paint on a train in Russia on April 7. Novaya Gazeta had long been critical of the Kremlin and several of its staff have been killed over the years.

It was Muratov's idea to auction off his prize, having already said he was donating the accompanying $500,000 (€475,000) to charity. He wanted to make the donation in order to "give the children refugees a chance for a future."

Australia sends APC vehicles to Ukraine

Australia has sent Ukraine 14 M113AS4 armored personnel carriers (APC), Australia's defense ministry announced.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said that the vehicles were loaded onto a Ukrainian plane last week.

"Australia stands with Ukraine, and again calls on Russia to cease its unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine," Marles said in a statement.

The vehicles are part of the AU$285 million (€188 million, $198 million) in funds Canberra has earmarked for Ukraine.

China's crude oil imports from Russia reach record level

China's crude oil imports from Russia increased 55% in May compared to a year earlier.

Russia is now China's top supplier, having edged out Saudi Arabia.

Refiners have cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow.

Imports of Russian oil totaled nearly 8.42 million tons, according to the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

European Commission chief von der Leyen 'confident' Ukraine will get candidate status

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she was confident Ukraine will be conferred EU candidate status.

"I firmly believe that we will get a positive decision, that we will get support," Von der Leyen told German public broadcaster ARD.

"This is also a historic decision that the European Council now has to make," she said, adding that she was "confident" of Ukraine's prospects.

On Friday, the commission came out in favor of giving Ukraine and neighboring Moldova candidate status.

EU ministers to discuss impact of Ukraine war on food and energy security

The EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the impact of Russia's invasion on global food security and European energy security at a meeting of its Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

Top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Sunday that the EU was considering providing Egypt with up to €100 million ($105 million) to support the country's agricultural sector and food reserves.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is expected to join the ministers on Monday.

African countries have been left especially vulnerable by the war's impact on global food distribution. Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters of wheat and sunflower oil.

Zelenskyy expects Russia to intensify attacks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia was likely to intensify its "hostile activity" this week, as Kyiv awaits a historic decision from the European Union on its membership bid.

"Only a positive decision is in the interests of the whole of Europe," he said in his evening address Sunday. "Obviously, we expect Russia to intensify hostile activity this week ... We are preparing. We are ready.

"Moscow's forces have been attacking eastern Ukraine for weeks as they try to seize the Donbas region, after being repelled from other parts of the country. Ukraine's armed forces said on Sunday they had pushed back Russian attacks on villages near Sievierodonetsk. Lysychansk, which sits across a river from Sievierodonetsk, is also under heavy bombardment.

NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile warned that the war could grind on "for years" and urged Western countries to be ready to offer long-term military, political and economic aid.

Russia seizes village near Sievierodonetsk

Russia said that its forces have seized the village of Metiolkine near Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk region.

The village had fewer than 800 inhabitants before the invasion began. It is located around six kilometers (four miles) southeast of the major industrial center of Sievierodonetsk.

Ukraine's military said Russian forces had seen "partial success" in the area.

Fire at the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk following a Russian military strike
Sievierodonetsk has been the site of fierce fighting between Moscow and Kyiv. Pictured is the aftermath of a military strike on the Azot chemical plant where remaining Ukrainian forces in the city have been holed up.Image: Oleksandr Ratushniak/REUTERS

Austria to reopen coal plant amid reduced Russian gas deliveries

Austria's government has announced that it will reopen a previously closed coal power station on account of shortages due to reduced Russian gas deliveries.

The station is located in the southern city of Mellach in the state of Styria.

The Austrian chancellery said that authorities will work together with the country's main supplier Verbund to reopen the station.

Austria's Environmental Ministry told the APA news agency that the process will likely take several months.

What happened in Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Sunday

Moldovan President Maia Sandu signed a law banning the broadcasting of news programs, political TV shows, and war films from countries that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, such as Russia.

EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore arrived in Kyiv to show his solidarity with Ukraine.

Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada parliament passed a law banning music created by Russian citizens from the radio, TV, and public spaces.

Russian forces targeted a Ukrainian command post while senior Ukrainian military officers were holding a meeting, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry said the strike killed over 50 Ukrainian "generals and officers."

Leading Russian policy figure Konstantin Kosachev slammed Lithuanian restrictions on rail transport between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and the rest of Russian territory, calling them an "illegal" ban and an "incipient blockade."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to "take back everything that belongs to us" in the south of Ukraine.

An intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense said that Russian troops invading Ukraine are probably suffering from "especially troubled morale" amid high casualties, combat stress, pay problems and perceived poor leadership.

You can revisit our updates from Sunday here.

jsi, sdi/sri (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)