Sun, 28 May 2023

EU ministers on Tuesday backed granting war-torn Ukraine candidate status to join the bloc ahead of a summit expected to formally greenlight the move later this week, France's Europe minister said. In fighting on the ground, Ukraine said it was encountering difficulty in the east as Russian forces captured more territory and intensified pressure on two cities. Catch up with the latest developments on FRANCE 24's liveblog. All times Paris time (GMT+2).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

2:05am: Zelensky says Luhansk region is the 'toughest spot'

Ukrainian and Russian forces remained entrenched in eastern Ukrainian battlegrounds going into Wednesday, a day of commemoration in both countries to mark the anniversary of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

Fighting in the months-long war has favoured Russia in recent weeks because of its huge edge in artillery firepower, a fact Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged in a late Tuesday night address.

"Thanks to tactical manoeuvres the Ukrainian army is strengthening its defences in the Luhansk region," he said. "That is really the toughest spot. The occupiers are also pressing strongly in the direction of Donetsk."

12:30am: Russia warns Lithuania after it blocks rail shipments

Russia warned Lithuania on Tuesday that it would face measures of a "serious negative impact" for blocking some shipments by rail to Moscow's Baltic Sea coast exclave of Kaliningrad, in its latest dispute over Western sanctions imposed on the country for the war in Ukraine.

Russian forces and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine made further advances, pushing towards the city of Lysychansk, the Ukrainian forces' main bastion in an area that is part of the Donbas region Russia claims for the separatists.

10:20pm: Ukraine's Zelensky says military situation is very 'tough'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday said the military situation in the eastern region of Luhansk was very difficult as Russia stepped up an effort to evict Ukrainian troops from key areas.

"That is really the toughest spot. The occupiers are pressing strongly," Zelensky said in an evening video address.

9:45pm: Estonia summons Russian ambassador over violation of national airspace

Estonia summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday to protest the violation of its national airspace by a Russian helicopter on June 18, the Baltic nation's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Estonia considers this an extremely serious and regrettable incident that undoubtedly causes additional tensions and is completely unacceptable," the ministry said, repeating calls for Russian troops to leave Ukraine.

7:50pm: Russian shelling in Kharkiv region kills 15, governor says

At least 15 people, including an eight-year-old child, were killed by Russian shelling in the eastern Kharkiv region on Tuesday, its governor said.

"Fifteen people died and 16 were wounded. Such are the terrible consequences of Russian daytime shelling in the Kharkiv region," Oleg Synegubov said on his Telegram channel, indicating the deaths and injuries occurred in four separate incidents.

6:35pm: Ukraine says Black Sea oil platform used by Russia troops struck

Ukraine admitted striking an oil drilling platform in the Black Sea, saying Tuesday it was being used by Russian troops as a military installation.

Sergiy Bratchuk, spokesman for Odesa's regional military administration said Russia was using the platform as a military installation for storing "equipment for air defence, radar warfare and reconnaissance" which was "helping the Russians achieve full control of the northwestern part of the Black Sea".

6pm: Russian forces capture Toshkivka settlement, near Lysychansk, pro-Kyiv regional governor says

Russian forces captured the settlement of Toshkivka southeast of the embattled city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, its pro-Kyiv governor said on Tuesday. "Unfortunately, the enemy threw at it huge amounts of armament and soldiers, and captured Toshkivka," governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukraine's national broadcaster.

Russian heavy artillery is shelling Lysychansk intensively, but Ukrainian forces are holding the ground there, he added.

5:45pm: Germany calls Russian gas cut an 'attack'

Russian energy giant Gazprom's slashing of gas supplies to Europe amounts to an "attack" by Moscow, the German economy minister said Tuesday. "The reduction of gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is an attack on us, an economic attack on us," Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a speech to a German industry conference.

Gazprom said last week it would reduce supplies of the fuel to Germany via the pipeline due to delayed repairs, while the German government has called the decision "political".

As a result of the cut, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, decided to reactivate mothballed coal power plants to reduce their gas consumption. Germany has also mandated the filling of gas reserves to 90 percent ahead of the European winter, to hedge against a further reduction in supply.

4:50pm: Turkish team to discuss Black Sea grain corridor during visit to Russia

A Turkish military delegation will travel to Russia this week to discuss details of a possible sea corridor in the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain exports, Turkish broadcasters said on Tuesday, citing sources from Turkey's presidency.

Russia's TASS agency confirmed plans for the talks, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Broadcaster Haberturk said a four-way meeting between Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations would be held in Istanbul within 10 days, and President Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres could join the meeting.

The sources cited by Haberturk said three corridors could be created under the plan at four separate ports in Ukraine's Black Sea city of Odesa, and that both Ukrainian and Russian food products would be shipped from there. They said 30-35 million tonnes of grain were expected to be shipped from there in 6-8 months.

4:35pm: Russia slashing EU gas flows 'for far-fetched and illegal reasons', Ukraine says

Ukraine accused Russian energy giant Gazprom on Tuesday of illegally cutting natural gas supplies to European countries in a move that has seen EU member states scramble to fill the energy shortfall.

"Gazprom has limited gas supplies to Europe for far-fetched and illegal reasons, justifying this by saying Nord Stream 1 is not operating at full capacity," said Yuriy Vitrenko, the head of Ukraine state energy company Naftogaz.

"This is unscrupulous behaviour on the part of Gazprom," he added.

3:45pm: 'Total consensus' in EU on granting Ukraine candidate status

EU ministers on Tuesday backed granting war-torn Ukraine "candidate status" to join the bloc, ahead of a summit expected to formally greenlight the move later this week, France's Europe minister said.

Clement Beaune said after a meeting with his counterparts that there was "a total consensus on moving these issues forward, and in particular for Ukraine the possibility of confirming candidate status as soon as possible".

1:16pm: Luxembourg PM condemns 'senseless cruelty' on Ukraine visit

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said Tuesday that Kyiv's war-battered suburb of Borodianka was a symbol of "senseless cruelty and violence" during a visit to Ukraine.

Bettel is the latest high-ranking official to visit Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi travelled to Kyiv last week. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was back in Ukraine last week on a separate visit.

12:09pm: Russia vows 'serious' consequences over Lithuania rail transit ban

Russia's security council chief Nikolai Patrushev on Tuesday warned EU and NATO member Lithuania of "serious" consequences over restrictions on the rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Retaliatory steps "will be taken in the near future. Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania", Patrushev said at a regional security meeting in Kaliningrad, which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland.

11:12am: Kaliningrad govt criticises Vilnius' ban on rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods to Russian exclave

The government of Kaliningrad expressed regret over Vilnius' ban on the rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods from other parts of Russia through Lithuania to the Russian exclave.

The Russian foreign ministry was to summon on Tuesday the EU's ambassador to Moscow, Markus Ederer, over the ban.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that "there is no blockade" of land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia.

"Transit of passengers and goods that are not sanctioned continues," Borrell said.

9:30am: Russian army captures Toshkivka near Severodonetsk; food warehouse destroyed in Odesa

Fierce fighting continues in Ukraine's Donbas, notably around the flashpoint city of Severodonetsk. The governor of the Luhansk region says Ukrainian forces are still holding on to an industrial zone around the Azot chemical plant, but their control over the territory is limited as shelling continues. In Southern Ukraine, Russian missiles struck a grain warehouse on Monday in the port city of Odesa.

FRANCE 24's Catherine Norris Trent reports.

8:19am: Ukraine's Kherson region airs Russian TV, says Russian army

Russian television was now broadcasting in Ukraine's southern Kherson region, the Russian army said on Tuesday, in an area where Moscow already introduced the rouble and began distributing Russian passports.

The Russian armed forces have "reconfigured the last of the seven television towers in the Kherson region to broadcast Russian television channels" for free, it said.

Bordering the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, the Kherson region was occupied by Russian forces in the days following the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

One of the pro-Moscow officials in the region, Kirill Stremousov, said on Tuesday that the territory could join Russia "before the end of the year."

8:15am: Kremlin says Lithuania's decision to bar some rail transit to Kaliningrad 'a violation of everything'

Following Vilnius' announcement last week that it would bar rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods from Russia via Lithuania to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday called it a "violation of everything".

FRANCE 24's correspondent Nick Holdsworth reports from Riga, Lativa.

6:24am: Russia gains ground as Ukrainians acknowledge 'extremely difficult' fighting

Ukraine acknowledged difficulties in fighting in its east as Russian forces captured territory and intensified pressure on two cities ahead of an EU summit this week expected to welcome Kyiv's bid to join the bloc.

The governor of the Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said the situation was "extremely difficult" along the front line as of Monday evening and the Russian army had gathered sufficient reserves to begin a large-scale offensive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had predicted Russia would step up attacks ahead of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. In an address to the nation on Monday evening, he was defiant, while also referring to "difficult" fighting in Luhansk for Severodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk.

"We are defending Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there," he said. "But we have our strong guys and girls there."

Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian forces controlled most of Severodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been sheltering for weeks. The road connecting Severodonetsk and Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire, he said.

"Lysychansk has been suffering from massive Russian shelling all day. It is impossible to establish the number of casualties," Gaidai said.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the Moscow-backed, self-styled Luhansk People's Republic, said its forces were "moving from the south towards Lysychansk" with firefights erupting in several towns.

"The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area," he said on Telegram.

6:12am: US citizen killed in combat in Ukraine, State Department confirms

A US citizen was killed in combat in Ukraine last month, according to an obituary and the State Department, after he joined thousands of foreign fighters who have volunteered to help Ukraine fend off invading Russian forces.

Stephen Zabielski, 52, was killed in fighting on May 15, according to an obituary published in The Recorder, an upstate New York newspaper, earlier this month. Media reports of his death circulated on Monday.

Zabielski, who was from New York and had moved to Florida in recent years, is survived by his wife, five stepchildren, and a grandchild, among other family.

In a statement, a State Department spokesperson confirmed Zabielski's death in Ukraine and said the agency has been in touch with his family and provided "all possible consular assistance".

The spokesperson's statement repeated earlier warnings that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine because of the conflict and the potential for the Russian government to single them out. It added that any citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately.

2:14am: Russian journalist's Nobel medal sells for $103.5 million, destined for Ukraine aid

Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on Monday auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for a whopping $103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war in Ukraine.

All of the proceeds from the sale of the medal - which was snapped up by an as yet unidentified phone bidder - will go to UNICEF's Humanitarian Response for Ukrainian Children Displaced by War, according to Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale.

Muratov won the prize in 2021 alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines, with the committee honouring them "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression".

2:10am: Kremlin spokesman says Americans captured in Ukraine committed 'crimes'

Two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv's military were "endangering" Russian soldiers and should be "held accountable for those crimes", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday in an interview with NBC News.

The interview marks the first time the Kremlin has commented on the cases of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans, according to NBC.

"They're soldiers of fortune and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their lives," Peskov told the network, in English.

"They should be held responsible for those crimes that they have committed," he added in the first bits of the interview made public.

"Those crimes have to be investigated."

When pressed on what crimes the Americans had committed, Peskov admitted their specific offences were not yet known, but claimed that they would not be covered by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

"They are not (in the) Ukrainian army, so they are not subject to the Geneva Conventions," the Kremlin spokesman said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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