As Russia strikes Kharkiv, Ukrainian Zelensky turns to EU

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The Russian strikes on Kharkiv, near the Russian border, were the worst in weeks.

Kyiv/Kharkiv:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the European Union’s long-awaited offer of candidate status for his battle-weary nation on Wednesday as Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and the eastern region of Donbass.

EU leaders will officially put Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Although mostly symbolic, the decision will help boost national morale at a very difficult time in a four-month conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed towns and villages.

The war also had a massive impact on the global economy and European security arrangements, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian energy and encouraging Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.

The EU will temporarily revert to coal to cope with dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing longer-term climate goals, an EU official said on Wednesday, amid a tight gas market and surging prices trigger a race for alternative fuels.

Zelensky said he spoke to 11 European Union leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make further calls on Thursday. He said earlier that he believed all 27 EU countries would support Ukraine’s candidate status.

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“We deserve it,” Zelensky told the crowd in Amsterdam via video link.

Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria for EU membership. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that recognizes Ukraine’s sacrifice.

With its forces running out of ammunition as a fierce attrition war continues in the Donbass, Ukraine has more pressing short-term priorities.

“No respite” in the bombing of civilians

Tuesday and Wednesday’s Russian strikes on Kharkiv, near the Russian border, were the worst in weeks in an area where life has returned to normal since Ukraine pushed back forces from Moscow last month.

Kyiv characterized the strikes, which are believed to have killed at least 20 people, as an attempt to force Ukraine to withdraw resources from key battlefields in Donbass to protect civilians.

Oleh Synehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said the Russians continued to shell residential areas of Kharkiv and towns in the Kharkiv region.

“There is no respite from the bombardment of civilians by the Russian occupiers,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “This is proof that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that Russian forces were striking Kharkiv to terrorize the population and force Ukraine to divert its troops.

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Zelensky warned that fighting could escalate ahead of the EU summit. Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet state, and Western clubs like the EU and the NATO military alliance.

“There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbass,” he said in a video address released early Thursday, adding that Russia wanted to “destroy all of Donbass step by step.”

In an indication that Ukraine’s military situation in the Donbass was becoming more difficult, the Tass news agency reported that Russian forces were about to capture the village of Vovchoyarivka, about 12 km southwest of Lysychansk.

Tass cited sources close to troops fighting for the self-proclaimed breakaway Russian-speaking Lugansk region. The village lies near a main highway leading from Lysychansk to the town of Bakhmut to the southwest.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the information.

In an evening military update, the Ukrainian General Staff listed continued heavy Russian shelling of Kharkiv and other nearby towns and villages and airstrikes on the devastated city of Severodonetsk, among others.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in an online post late Wednesday that Russian forces were continuing to build up reserves in Severodonetsk with the aim of surrounding Ukrainian troops.

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He dismissed Russian claims that his army already controls the city. “The battles continue,” he told Ukrainian television. “Russian forces do not have full control.”

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk, the scene of the heaviest recent fighting, are trapped. He ordered them last week to surrender or die after the last bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River was destroyed.

In an indication that Ukraine’s military situation in the Donbass was becoming more difficult, Tass – citing Russian-speaking separatists fighting for Moscow – said Russian forces were close to capturing Vovchoyarivka, a village about 12 km (7 miles) southwest of Lysychansk. .

The village is near a main highway leading to Lysychansk, a sister city across the river from Severodonetsk.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the information.

In Russia, a fire engulfed an oil refinery just 8 km (5 miles) from the border with pro-Russian separatist-controlled Donbass territory, after what the refinery described as a cross-border attack on Wednesday by two drones .

There was no immediate Ukrainian comment on the strike, which suspended production at the Novoshakhtinsk refinery.

Ukraine generally does not comment on reports of attacks on Russian infrastructure near the border, which it has called “karma” for Russian attacks on Ukraine.

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