Ukraine says its troops will "have to be withdrawn" from a mostly Russian-occupied eastern city as Moscow claims it has encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops in Luhansk on the 121st day of fighting.

Russia is focusing its offensive on the eastern Donbass region after being pushed back from Kiev, and its troops are making steady advances despite fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Russia is focusing its offensive on the eastern Donbass region after being pushed back from Kiev, and its troops are making steady advances despite fierce Ukrainian resistance. (AFP)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Ukraine needs 'fire parity' with Russia to defend Luhansk region: Top general

Ukraine needs "fire parity" with Russia in order to stabilise the difficult situation in the country's eastern region of Luhansk, Ukraine's top general has told his US counterpart during a phone call on Friday.

"We discussed the operational situation and the delivery flow of international technical assistance," Ukraine's General Valeriy Zaluzhniy wrote on the Telegram app after a phone call with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Ukraine has said Russia's artillery advantage on the Donbass frontlines is taking a significant toll on Ukrainian troops, and has called on its Western partners to supply more weapons to minimise the deficit. The US will provide an additional $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including more long-range rocket systems, officials said on Thursday.

Putin defends Russia's stance on global food crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow's military action in Ukraine is not responsible for the global food crisis, instead blaming the West for preventing the export of Russian grain.

"The food market is unbalanced in the most serious way," Putin said, addressing a "BRICS Plus" virtual summit that brought together the leaders of 17 countries, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Putin accused Western countries, in particular the United States, of "destabilising global agricultural production" with restrictions on the delivery of fertiliser from Russia and Belarus, and by "making it difficult" for Moscow to export grain.

Russia: EU candidate status for Ukraine, Moldova will have negative consequences

The Russian foreign ministry has said the decision by European Union leaders to accept Ukraine and Moldova as membership candidates would have negative consequences.

"With the decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidate countries, the European Union has confirmed that it continues to actively exploit the CIS on a geopolitical level, to use it to 'contain' Russia," ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

"They are not thinking of the negative consequences of such a step..."

Ukraine will need at least 10 years to demine its territory, official says

Ukraine will need at least a decade to clear all the mines and explosives from its land and territorial waters once its fighting with Russia is over, an emergency services official has said.

Ukraine has managed to clear 620 square kilometres of land that were littered with thousands of explosive devices, including 2,000 bombs dropped from the air, but nearly 300,000 square kilometres are still seen as "contaminated", the official said.

That is an area roughly half the size of Ukraine's territory, and about as large as Italy.

Up to 10 years, that's the optimistic figure. Because we don't know what's happening on the territories where active combat is ongoing right now

Oleksandr Khorunzhiy, spokesperson for Ukraine's State Emergency Service

Ukraine accuses US-sanctioned lawmaker of working for Russia

Ukraine's main domestic security agency says it has uncovered a Russian spy network involving Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach who was previously accused by the United States of being a Russian agent.

The State Security Service (SBU) said Derkach, whose whereabouts were not made clear, set up a network of private security firms to use them to ease and support the entry of Russian units into cities during Moscow's February 24 operation.

Derkach could not immediately be reached for comment. He has previously denied wrongdoing and said he has been targeted for exposing corruption. He was sanctioned by the US Treasury in September 2020 for what it said were attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election.

Poland wants NATO to strengthen defences in Suwalki Gap, says PM

Poland and the Baltic states want to see a stronger NATO defensive presence in the Suwalki Gap, the stretch of land that separates the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from Belarus, the Polish prime minister has said.

"We are going to seek the reinforcement of this corridor... in our talks with our partners from NATO," Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference in Brussels after a European Union summit.

A ban by Baltic state Lithuania on sanctioned goods crossing from the Russian mainland via its territory to Kaliningrad has increased already high tensions between Moscow and the West.

Russia trying but unable to impede weapons flow to Ukraine, US official says

Russia is trying but has been unable to target Western weapons flowing into Ukraine, including longer-range systems that Kiev hopes will be decisive on the battlefield, a senior US defence official has said.

The official also appeared to play down the significance of Russian advances in Ukraine and said a Ukrainian pullback from Sievierodonetsk would allow them to take a better defensive position.

"In moving the Ukrainian armed forces from Sievierodonetsk back, what they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian court upholds dismissal of university professor over stance on Ukraine

A Russian court has confirmed the dismissal of a university lecturer, who lost his job for publicly speaking out against Russia's military action in Ukraine. A day after the court hearing, Roman Melnichenko said in a Facebook post on Friday that the judge refused to reinstate him.

The 49-year-old law professor, whose parents live near the frontline in Ukraine, was fired in mid-April for "immoral conduct" by the State University of Volgograd in southwestern Russia, after sharing social media posts denouncing Moscow's military campaign.

Russia seeks to surround Lysychansk, capture Sievierodonetsk: Kiev

Russian forces seek to surround the embattled city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine and are mounting assaults on its sister city of Sievierodonetsk to establish full control, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry's spokesperson has said.

The region's governor said earlier that Ukrainian troops would "have to be withdrawn" from Sievierodonetsk to avoid encirclement and that they had been ordered to take up new positions.

The city of Sievierodonetsk, the administrative centre of the Luhansk region, has faced relentless Russian bombardment. Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to the huge Azot chemical factory on the city's edge, where they remain holed up in its sprawling underground structures in which about 500 civilians also found refuge.

Ukraine's Zelenskyy urges Glastonbury to help end Russian offensive

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has put in an appearance at the Glastonbury music festival, urging revellers to band together to try to stop the conflict with Russia. Wearing his now-trademark military green t-shirt, he told the festival at Worthy Farm that "Russia has stolen our peace".

Zelenskyy made his appeal in English in a recorded video message to tens of thousands of festival-goers in southwest England before the start of a set by The Libertines. He urged the crowds, returning to the festival for the first time since 2019, to "spread the truth about Russia's war" and help Ukrainian refugees.

"The pandemic has put on hold the lives of millions of people around the world," he said. "We in Ukraine would also like to live life as we used to and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer. But we cannot do that because the most terrible (thing) has happened."

Put pressure on all the politicians you know to help restore peace in Ukraine. Time is priceless and every day is measured in human lives

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Moscow-installed official killed in Ukraine's Kherson

A Moscow-appointed official in Ukraine's southern Kherson region has been killed in an explosion, local authorities have said, the latest in a string of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Ukrainian regions under Russian control. It was the first confirmed death of pro-Russian official in an attack.

"Today, my friend, head of the department of family, youth and sports of the Kherson region, Dmitry Savluchenko, passed away," the Moscow-appointed deputy head of Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said on Telegram. He added that Savluchenko died "as a result of a terrorist act in the city of Kherson".

The Interfax news agency had earlier reported that the Moscow-installed official died in an explosion after a bomb was planted in his car. The press service of the city's civilian and military administration told TASS news agency it was a "targeted assassination", adding that the official was the only victim in the blast.

BRICS nations call for Ukraine-Russia talks in declaration

An influential group of emerging economies says members have backed talks between Moscow and Kiev, at the end of a two-day summit held against the backdrop of Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said in a declaration issued late Thursday that they "support talks between Russia and Ukraine" but did not lay out a pathway towards ending the conflict. They said they "discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine" and expressed support for international agencies "to provide humanitarian assistance".

Beijing has been hosting a virtual forum of the BRICS nations, which account for over 40 percent of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world's gross domestic product. Three members — China, India and South Africa — have abstained from voting on a UN resolution condemning Russia's offensive.

IAEA voices concern for staff at Ukrainian nuclear plant, demands access

The UN nuclear watchdog is increasingly concerned about the welfare of Ukrainian staff at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe's largest, it has said, adding that it must go there as soon as possible.

"The IAEA is aware of recent reports in the media and elsewhere indicating a deteriorating situation for Ukrainian staff at the country's largest nuclear power plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

It added that it was "increasingly concerned about the difficult conditions facing staff".

Kremlin says Ukraine's EU candidacy is a 'domestic' European issue

The Kremlin has said the European Union's decision to grant official EU candidate status to Ukraine, where Russia is conducting a military campaign, and neighbouring Moldova is a "domestic" matter.

"These are domestic European affairs. It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of these countries with us," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Separately, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine and Moldova joining the 27-nation bloc presented "no risks" for Russia, because the EU is not a military alliance. However, he accused the EU and NATO of wanting to wage war on Russia, comparing them to the Axis powers in World War II.

G7 countries agree Russia is responsible for food crisis: Japan minister

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy countries have agreed that Russia's operation against Ukraine brought about the current global food crisis, and Moscow is responsible for the matter, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has said.

Hayashi made the comment to reporters after a G7 foreign ministers' meeting, in which he had participated remotely.

Japan intends to support grain exports from Ukraine, and plans to look into further food assistance to respond to the global food crisis, Hayashi said.

Russia's offensive to cast 40-50M people into hunger: Blinken

Russia's offensive against Ukraine, not Western sanctions, will add another 40 or 50 million more people to the ranks of the hungry, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said in Berlin.

"There is no reason other than Russia's blockade of Ukraine and Russia's refusal in many cases to export its own grain for political reasons," Blinken said at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday.

Poland gets a loan to help it look after Ukraine refugees

Poland is getting a loan of 450 million euros ($474 million) from a bank linked to a European human rights group to help it cope with the influx of refugees fleeing Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

Poland and the Council of Europe Development Bank signed the loan agreement on Friday.

Some 4.3 million refugees crossed into Poland after Russia attacked Ukraine in February. Poland is providing them with free shelter, social and medical care, education and job opportunities.

Ukraine army ordered to retreat from Sievierodonetsk: Governor

Ukraine's forces will have to retreat from Sievierodonetsk, a regional governor said, after weeks of fierce fighting against the Russians in the battleground eastern city.

"Ukrainian armed forces will have to retreat from Sievierodonetsk. They have received an order to do so," Sergiy Gaiday, governor of Luhansk region which includes the city, said on Telegram. 

Ukraine repels Russian attack on Lysychansk but loses key town: governor

Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack on the southern outskirts of Lysychansk, the last fully Ukrainian-controlled city in the region of Luhansk, the area's governor said.

Sergiy Gaiday wrote on the Telegram messaging app that Russia had, however, taken control of the village of Mykolaivka, located near a key highway to Lysychansk, which has been the focus of heavy fighting.

Fighting continues, he added, in the battleground twin city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russia has advanced slowly over several weeks. 

Ukraine's EU candidacy will strengthen Europe as Russia threatens freedom: Zelenskyy

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine's formal candidature to join the European Union was a big step towards strengthening Europe at a time when Russia was testing its freedom and unity.

Zelenskyy told EU leaders in Brussels that their decision to accept Kiev's candidacy was among the most important for Ukraine since it broke from the Soviet Union 31 years ago.

"But this decision is not just being made for the benefit of Ukraine. It is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could have been made right now, in our time, and when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity," he said. 

US welcomes Türkiye's efforts on Ukraine grain issue

The United States welcomes Türkiye's involvement in brokering an agreement to get grain out of Ukraine, John Kirby, the national security spokesman said.

The United States is working with allies and partners to get some grain out of Ukraine, exports that have been thwarted by Russia's incursion on Ukraine, Kirby said.

"We certainly welcome Türkiye's involvement in trying to broker some kind of arrangement to allow shipping of grain," he said, noting there was a blockade in the Black Sea.

For live updates from Thursday (June 23), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies