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Live: Russia gains ground as Ukrainians acknowledge ‘extremely difficult’ fighting


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War in Ukraine

A man stands outside a damaged residential building following recent shelling in the city of Donetsk, Ukraine on June 20, 2022. © Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

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. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times Paris time (GMT+2).

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 Moscow’s 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, a Russian region 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.

01:34

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.

‘Months into this war, Odesa is still a flashpoint city’

02:51

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. 

‘The Russians are saying this threatens their national interest’

03:10

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)

© France Médias Monde graphic studio