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Ukrainian troops may retreat to avoid encirclement in Luhansk, the regional governor has said. Officials say Russia is striking Kharkiv in an attempt to divert troops from the key Donbas region.
This article was last updated at 20:41 UTC/GMT
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DW's Nick Connolly in Kyiv said that although there was elation and relief in Ukraine over the news that the country had been granted EU candidate status, "Celebrating on the streets is not an option because there's a curfew here."
Connolly said the announcement was "definitely a big deal."
"Polls show that there is huge support for EU membership, across all ages, across all regions of Ukraine," he said. "It's basically the question that unites this country more than anything else. Even in the east you'll find upwards of 85% of people in favor of EU membership."
Connolly called the news a "morale boost" after the "disappointment" of weapons coming only slowly from European nations. He said the impression in Kyiv is that there have been "lots of visits and declarations of solidarity, but nothing very concrete so far, so this is really the first step where Ukrainians say, 'this is something we can build on … this is something … we can imagine our future in Europe.'"
Washington will send another $450 million (€428 million) in military aid to Ukraine, said US officials Thursday. The package, which comes on the heels of a $1 billion military aid package announced last week, will include additional HIMAR medium-range missile systems.
An initial delivery of HIMARS arrived in Ukraine earlier in the day. The new package will also include ammunition and other materiel.
Ukraine has consistently asked for such aid from Western partners as Russia's invasion grinds on. Kyiv says the arrival of HIMARS will allow its troops to attack Russian forces much farther afield. Currently, it has mainly been confined to fighting the invaders in close quarters while at the same time being subjected to permanent long-range Russian shelling.
US officials say Ukraine's forces underwent three weeks of training before the new weaponry could be moved into the theater.
Overall, the US has provided over $6 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The weapons promised in this latest package will be taken from the US' own stockpile of arms.
As fighting in Luhansk continues, the southern port cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa came under attack as well. Three cruise missiles are reported to have struck Mykolaiv, whereas Ukraine says it shot down two more missiles near Odesa.
The Russian military claims the strikes in Mykolaiv hit army fuel tanks and military equipment.
Regional Governor Serhiy Haidai on Thursday said Ukrainian troops in the key city of Lysychansk may be forced to retreat. Lysychansk and neighboring Sievierodonetsk are the last cities in the Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control.
Gaidai said troops were under threat of encirclement by invading Russian forces after these captured two nearby villages. Should both Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk fall, Moscow would be closer to taking the entire region — one of its primary objectives in the war.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces confirmed the situation, though did not say whether troops would in fact be retreating.
Speaking on national television, Governor Haidai said, "In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions. All of Lysychansk is within reach of their [the Russian army's] fire. It is very dangerous in the city."
Russia has pummeled the eastern industrial region in an attempt to wrest total control of it for separatists it has supported there since 2014.
In what has become a brutal war of attrition, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian army's commander-in-chief, say his troops have been, "forced to conduct a mobile defense to occupy more advantageous lines and positions."
Leaders of the European Union have decided to make Ukraine and Moldova official candidates for membership of the bloc.
European Council President Charles Michel made announcement after discussions among leaders of the EU's 27 member states.
The EU's 27 nations have been largely united in backing Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow. Just four days after Russia launched its war, Ukraine applied to become a member of the EU.
Earlier on Thursday, the European Parliament voted in favor of granting Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status.
Member states were initially divided on how quickly the bloc should accept Ukraine as a member, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark among the most skeptical.
But Ukraine's bid got a boost last week when the European Commission gave its endorsement based on Kyiv's answers to a questionnaire.
In a symbolic move, Kyiv has formally filed a court case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights.
Ukraine says it is demanding an end to "gross human rights violations" by Moscow's forces.
The effort has no real chance of success. The Russian parliament having approved two bills earlier in June to end the court's jurisdiction in Russia.
"The Court will be invited to find that Russia has been guilty of the most flagrant, serious and sustained violations of the Convention ever placed before the Court, and to award just satisfaction on an equally unprecedented scale," a Ukrainian Justice Ministry statement said.
The filing covers the first period of the war, from February 24 until April 7, when Russia effectively withdrew its ground forces from around Kyiv and other northern cities.
The ministry said there would be subsequent filings to cover later events.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday offered his country's assistance in demining waters in the Black Sea in order to facilitate grain shipping. He also said the UK could provide maritime insurance for vessels traveling those waters.
Speaking in Rwanda, Johnson told reporters, "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."
Russian sea blockades have prevented the shipment of more than 20 million tons of grain currently stored in silos. Ukraine is one of the world's largest grain exporters and the blockade has driven food prices to record highs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, earlier this month, said the blockade of his country's ports had put the world, "on the brink of a terrible food crisis."
Johnson called the Russian blockade, "absolutely unconscionable," adding, "That supply could help people around the world, it could help some of the poorest countries in the world."
London's insurers have labelled the entire region "high-risk."
Organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), a popular international music competition, have confirmed that next year's installment cannot be hosted by Ukraine due to safety concerns arising from the ongoing war in that country.
Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra won the 2022 installment, which would traditionally mean that Ukraine automatically host next year's event.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes what is the world's largest live music event, said it, "fully understands the disappointment that greeted the [June 17] announcement that the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest cannot be staged in Ukraine, this year's winning country."
"The decision was guided by the EBU's responsibility to ensure the conditions are met to guarantee the safety and security of everyone working and participating in the event, the planning of which needs to begin immediately," read a statement released Thursday.
Attendance for the event would include 10,000 accredited crew, staff and journalists, as well as up to 30,000 fans.
The EBU said, "Their welfare is our prime concern."
Russia's Finance Ministry on Thursday announced that it had made payments on dollar-denominated debt interest in rubles in order to avoid default.
"Funds for the payment of coupons on external bonds of the Russian Federation maturing in 2027 and 2047 in the total amount of 12.51 billion rubles [the equivalent $274.06 million / €274 million] have been received by the National Settlement Depository (NSD) eurobond payment agency. Thus, the obligations of the Russian Federation are fulfilled in full by Russia's Finance Ministry," read a statement.
The NSD is a new mechanism by which creditors are reimbursed at Central Bank exchange rates, "to ensure the maximum equivalent in payments."
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the country is not at risk of defaulting on its international debt. He said the the difficulty of making the payments was due to Western sanctions and called Washington's insistence that Moscow not be allowed to make payments in dollars "a farce."
The new temporary payment mechanism came into force on June 22. The NSD is currently under EU sanctions. Experts say ruble payments are invalid unless specifically stipulated in bond payment options.
Though Russia says it is willing and able to service its debt, Western sanctions have made that increasingly impossible. Should Russia be found to have defaulted on its payments it could be forced into bankruptcy.
Norway and the European Union on Thursday announced an agreement in which the Scandinavian country — Western Europe's largest gas producer — will increase gas exports to its partners in the EU.
After a meeting between the EU's Frans Timmermans and Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland in Brussels, the two announced they would, "step up cooperation in order to ensure additional short-term and long-term gas supplies from Norway."
The news comes as several EU countries face gas shortages as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Before Moscow's February 24 invasion, the EU was importing about 20% of its gas from Norway as compared to 40% from Russia.
The EU says it expects demand for gas to drop 30% by the year 2030 as it seeks to achieve its climate change targets as laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The bloc says Norway will remain a "large supplier" after that date.
Norway has also pledged cooperation on renewable energy and green technologies like hydrogen.
Moscow has already halted gas exports to Poland and the Netherlands as a result of the conflict. Germany on Thursday announced that it had officially entered Phase 2 of its Emergency Energy Plan, which could trigger higher prices as well as increased dependency on the country's coal industry.
UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan on Thursday called for more countries to join in sanctioning Russia's, "outrageous, unprovoked and illegal war" in Ukraine. The secretary made the comments during an interview in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Dubai, the UAE's financial center, has become a haven for wealthy Russians seeking to protect their assets against seizure by Western nations.
"We encourage all countries to stand alongside us in making that very clear and bringing in the sorts of sanctions and limitations to those who choose to support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," said Trevelyan.
Her statement comes as it was reported that the $156 million (€148 million) superyacht Madame Gu, belonging to billionaire Russian parliamentarian Andrei Skoch is currently moored at Dubai's Port Rashid, highlighting the tense relationship between the Emirates and Western trading partners.
Skoch, who Forbes magazine says is worth $6.6 billion, was first put on US sanctions lists in 2018, for his role in government and his, "longstanding ties to Russian organized criminal groups, including time spent leading one such enterprise.'' Skoch is also under EU sanctions.
Though satellite images show the 98-meter (324-foot) yacht has been moored at Port Rashid since at least March 24, journalists from news agency AP on Thursday reported the Cayman Islands-registered vessel flying an Emirati flag.
The UAE has welcomed a massive influx of Russian cash as oligarchs bunker private jets and yachts there, as well as buying up luxury hotels and beachfront villas.
Madame Gu is just one of many high-dollar assets Russian oligarchs have hurried to the UAE to protect against seizure
Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Thursday said that his country had just received a shipment of high-tech US arms.
"HIMARs have arrived to Ukraine. Thank you to my colleague and friend @SecDef Lloyd J. Austin III for these powerful tools! Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them," he wrote on Twitter.
High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) are light, truck-mounted, multiple rocket launchers with a range of 480 kilometers (299 miles). These weapons have greater range and precision than howitzers, which have also been supplied by the US and NATO allies.
Kyiv has been pleading for Western partners to supply it with more advanced weaponry as the country seeks to fend off Russian invaders. Thus far, it has only received a fraction of the weapons it has asked for since neighboring Russia attacked on February 24.
US sportswear giant Nike on Thursday announced that it will permanently withdraw its business from the Russian market in opposition to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Nike, which had temporarily halted its business in Russia on March 3, says its website and apps will also be pulled from the market.
"Nike Inc. made a decision to leave the Russian market ... The Nike stores were temporarily closed recently and will not reopen," the Oregon-based company said in a statement.
Last month, the company announced that it would not renew licensing contracts with Russian retailers.
The company's move was largely symbolic in light of the fact that sales in Russia and Ukraine make up less than 1% of its revenues. Nevertheless, Nike joins a growing number of Western businesses — such as McDonald's, Starbucks and Google — that have withdrawn from Russia as a result of its February 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
The Russian military has taken more territory in eastern Ukraine as Moscow focuses its invasion on the industrial Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have already been fighting the Kyiv government since 2014.
Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces have taken over the villages of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka and were trying to capture Syrotyne outside Sievierodonetsk, the administrative center of the Luhansk region.
Russian forces are also attacking Lysychansk, which is located southwest of Sievierodonetsk across the Siverskyi Donets river.
"The enemy is burning everything out in a bid to encircle the Ukrainian group of forces,'' Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region where Sievierodonetsk is located, told The Associated Press.
"The Russians are advancing without trying to spare the ammunition or troops, and they aren't running out of either,'' Haidai said. "They have an edge in heavy artillery and the number of troops.''
The UK Ministry of Defence said Thursday that Russian forces have likely advanced more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) toward Lysychansk since Sunday.
In Donbas, Russian forces currently hold almost the entire Luhansk region and about 50% of the neighboring Donetsk region.
A preliminary hearing in the trial of a Russian soldier accused of raping a Ukrainian woman after murdering her husband is expected to take place in absentia in Ukraine on Thursday.
The crimes, in which a second Russian soldier was also involved, are alleged to have taken place in the Kyiv capital region on March 9.
Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of potential war crimes committed during the Russian invasion, which began on February 24. Moscow has denied all allegations that its troops may have committed war crimes.
So far, 152 cultural and historic heritage sites in Ukraine have been fully or partially destroyed since Russia began its invasion on February 24, experts from the UN's cultural agency, UNESCO, say.
Among the damaged or destroyed sites are museums and monuments, churches and other religious buildings, and libraries and other exceptional buildings, UNESCO said in an updated assessment on Thursday.
Russian troops or officials who are found to have knowingly damaged Ukraine heritage sites could be prosecuted under international law, UNESCO has warned.
Both Russia and Ukraine are signatories to the 1954 Hague convention on culture in armed conflicts, which aims to prevent cultural assets being the target of military actions.
Lawyers for two British citizens and one Moroccan who have been sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) after being captured while fighting for Ukraine are preparing to appeal, Russia's TASS news agency said on Thursday.
The three men were convicted of "mercenary activities and committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the DPR."
The men's families deny that the trio, who were contracted to the Ukrainian armed forces, were mercenaries. As members of a regular army, they would be protected under the Geneva Conventions.
A dozen EU member states have suffered reductions in gas supply from Russia, according to Frans Timmermans, the bloc's climate policy chief.
He said 10 countries had issued an "early warning" on gas supply, the first in the three levels of crisis laid out in EU regulations on security of supply.
On Thursday, Germany moved to the second, "alarm" level of its emergency plan. All EU member states are required to have such a three-stage plan.
Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck on Thursday announced that the country will enter the "alarm" level of its three-stage emergency gas plan.
The move to Phase 2 of the plan comes amid the threat that Russia, Germany's top gas supplier, could stop supplying the fuel amid tensions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
In Phase 2, utilities are theoretically permitted to pass on high prices to customers, thus helping lower demand in a bid to prevent long-term supply shortages. However, this would not happen automatically, requiring the official say-so of the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), which is the regulatory authority for gas and electricity.
The move to Phase 2 is also a prerequisite for approval of the government's plan to revive coal-fired electricity plants in a bid to avoid using gas for electricity production.
Russia on Thursday again denied that the reduction in the gas supply to Germany was in retaliation for Berlin's opposition to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, calling such complaints "strange" and saying that the drop in flow was down to technical reasons.
"If a turbine needs to be serviced or returned to its place after repairs but it's not returned ... everything is clear here, there is no double meaning," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Peskov said that Russia remained a "reliable" supplier of natural gas.
In a video address released early on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused invading Russian forces of wanting to completely destroy the eastern Donbas region and called once more for faster arms deliveries to help repel their attack.
"We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly," Zelenskyy said.
"There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier's goal here is unchanged; they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step," he said.
"This is why we again and again emphasize the accelerationof arm deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine's borders."
Russian forces pressuring Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk pocket: UK Ministry of Defence
Invading Russian forces have "highly likely" advanced more than 5 km (3 miles) toward the southern outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region since June 19, according to a UK military intelligence update.
The advance comes as the Russian military steps up pressure on the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk area, it says.
"However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled," says the update.
It attributed Russia's higher success in the region to "recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire."
The update says some Ukrainian units have pulled out, probably for fear of becoming surrounded.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Russia is launching an economic war on Europe, according to German news agency dpa.
In a televised address, Fiala said Russia could soon cut off Europe's gas supply. He said the Kremlin's goal is to destabilize democratic states.
Fiala announced a plan to wean the Czech Republic off Russian gas over a 5-year period during the speech. The plan includes bringing critical Czech power plants under the control of the state.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday characterized Russia's war on Ukraine as having "sounded an alarm for humanity," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"The Ukraine crisis has sounded the alarm for humanity," Xi said at the virtual business forum of the BRICS nations. "Countries will surely end up in security hardships if they place blind faith in their positions of strength, expand military alliances and seek their own safety at the expense of others."
Xi also said sanctions on Russia could be a "double-edged sword."
The EU has previously criticized China for having an "ambiguous position" on the war.
Russia has launched fresh rocket attacks on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in recent days, signaling a possible shift in tactics by Moscow.
Ukraine said at least 20 people were killed on Tuesday and Wednesday in the country's second-largest city, which lies near the Russian border.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that the aim of the strikes is to "terrorize the population" of the city. He also claimed the attacks are an attempt by Russia to divert Ukrainian troops from the key Donbas region.
"The idea is to create one big problem to distract us and force us to divert troops," Arestovych said. "I think there will be an escalation."
Leaders attending the upcoming G7 and NATO summits in Europe will discuss new proposals to pressure Russia amid its ongoing assault on Ukraine.
"We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia," a senior US official told reporters.
US President Joe Biden will attend the G7 summit in the German region of Bavaria this weekend, along with the leaders of UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Biden will later attend a NATO summit in Madrid on the next leg of his European tour.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with 11 European leaders ahead of a key decision on granting the country EU candidate status.
Zelenskyy said he spoke with the leaders of Belgium, Austria, Greece and the Czech Republic, among others. He also spoke with President Maia Sandu of Moldova, another Eastern European nation aspiring to candidate status.
"Tomorrow I will continue this marathon — we must provide maximum support to our state," Zelenskyy said. "We expect a key European decision tomorrow night."
During an address to the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Ukraine needs a massive amount of aid to rebuild, calling it a "task for generations." He also said NATO allies can rely on Berlin.
At the same time, Scholz said it would be "unwise" for NATO to pull out of a 1997 agreement that bolsters cooperation between the alliance and Russia. The German leader said such a move would feed into Kremlin narratives.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's ambassador to Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, expressed regret for calling Scholz the equivalent of a "snowflake" in May. The Ukrainian envoy said he will apologize to Scholz personally.
Tech giant Microsoft said Russian state-sponsored hackers launched attacks on 42 countries outside Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion on February 24.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov fumed over "illegal EU sanctions" which led to Lithuania imposing a rail blockade on goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Peskov said Russia is in the process of preparing retaliatory measures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is redirecting its exports to BRICS nations amid western sanctions. BRICS includes Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said the situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk is "hell" amid weeks of heavy Russian attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged more sanctions on Moscow amid entrenched fighting in the Donbas.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said a Ukrainian journalist and a soldier accompanying him were "coldly executed" by Russian forces near Kyiv in March.
js,wd/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)