Russian forces captured territory along a frontline river in eastern Ukraine on Monday, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy predicted that Moscow would step up its attacks ahead of a summit of European leaders expected to welcome the candidacy of Kyiv to EU membership.
Moscow’s separatist proxies claimed to have captured Toshkivka, a town on the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, mostly held by Ukrainians, south of Sievierodonetsk, which has become the main battleground town in recent weeks.
Ukraine acknowledged Moscow’s success in Toshkivka and said the Russians were trying to establish a foothold there to make inroads into the larger, Ukrainian-controlled pocket of the eastern Donbass region. He also confirmed a Russian claim that Metyolkin was captured in the eastern outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.
“Obviously this week we should expect an escalation of its hostile activities from Russia,” Zelensky said in a video address Sunday night. “We are preparing. We are ready.”
Moscow, for its part, has threatened to take unspecified steps to retaliate against EU member Lithuania for banning the transport of commodities to Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea surrounded through the territory of the EU. The Lithuanian ban, which came into effect on Saturday, blocks shipments of coal, metals, building materials and advanced technologies to the outpost.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the head of Lithuania’s diplomacy and demanded that Vilnius immediately reverse the “openly hostile” decision, otherwise Russia “reserves the right to take measures to protect its national interests”. Lithuania said it was bound to enforce the ban under EU sanctions.
Explosions could be heard in Odessa, Ukraine’s largest Black Sea port, after air raid sirens went off, city authorities said, without giving immediate details of what had been hit.
The leader of the Russian-installed Crimea, which Russia annexed to Ukraine in 2014, said Kyiv hit drilling rigs in the Black Sea owned by a Crimean oil company.
EU leaders at a summit later this week are expected to give their blessing to Ukraine becoming an official candidate for membership, a move that will be marked as a triumph in Kyiv.
Even if it would take years for Ukraine to enter the EU, for the bloc to penetrate deep into the heart of the former Soviet Union, it would entail one of Europe’s greatest economic and social transformations. since the Cold War. Ukraine applied to join just four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to cross the border in February.
Putin says the “special military operation” aims to disarm a neighbor that Russia sees as a threat and protect Russian speakers there. Kyiv believes Moscow’s real goal is to restore control of Ukraine and erase its national identity.
In the strongest measure ever proposed by Kyiv to impose a cultural break with Moscow, Ukraine’s parliament on Sunday passed bills banning the publication of books or the public playing of music by citizens of post-Soviet Russia.
The measures, which require Zelensky’s signature to become law, “are designed to help Ukrainian authors share quality content with the widest possible audience, which after the Russian invasion does not accept any Russian creative products on the physical level,” Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said. .
Russian forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, but have since launched a new one to capture more territory in the east and consolidate their hold on the south.
The war has entered a phase of brutal attrition in recent weeks, with Russian forces concentrating their overwhelming artillery firepower on a pocket of Ukrainian-held Donbass, which Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists.
Much of the fighting took place along the Silverskyi Donets River. Russian news agency TASS quoted Vitaly Kiselev, assistant interior minister in the self-proclaimed separatist Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic administration, as saying on Monday that Toshkivka had been “released”.
The city is located on the west bank of the river, south of Sievierodonetsk’s twin city, Lysychansk, a key Ukrainian stronghold.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai acknowledged that a Russian attack on Toshkivka “had some success”. Russian forces were trying to break through and gain a foothold there and near the small village of Ustinovka further north along the river, he said. The Russians brought a huge amount of heavy equipment there, including tanks.
He also confirmed Russia’s claim to have captured Metyolkin in the eastern outskirts of Sievierodonetsk. “Unfortunately, we don’t control Metyolkin today,” he said.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksander Stryuk said Russian forces controlled about two-thirds of the city, including most residential areas, and that Moscow continued to throw forces at Ukrainians in an attempt to take complete control.
International concern has centered on the attempt to restore Ukrainian food exports, now blocked by a de facto Russian blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s main sources of grains and edible oils, raising fears of global shortages and hunger.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the grain blockade a “true war crime”. It was “inconceivable…that millions of tons of wheat would remain stuck in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people were suffering from hunger”.
Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions that are curbing its own exports.
The war has also disrupted global energy markets, including Russian oil and gas shipments to Europe, which remains the mainland’s main source of energy and Moscow’s main source of income. Moscow blames EU sanctions for lower gas volumes, saying the sanctions have prevented it from restoring the pipeline’s pumping equipment.
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