Ukrainian Zelensky strikes a defiant tone as Russia withdraws from Kharkiv

Latest political developments

  • Swedish officials are expected to announce on Sunday their decision whether or not to apply to join NATO.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promises that the beleaguered city of Mariupol will one day host Eurovision after the country’s victory.

War Day 81 Terrain Updates

  • Russian missile hits ‘military infrastructure’ in western city of Lviv, governor says.

  • Russia continues to suffer “persistently high levels of attrition”, According to the UK Ministry of Defense.

  • Authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured Ukrainian soldiers from the Mariupol steelworks, according to Deputy PM.​​​

Fresh off his country’s Eurovision win, defiant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed early on Sunday to one day hold the song contest in the beleaguered city of Mariupol, which is almost entirely in Russian hands, except for a loyal group of a few hundred Ukrainian fighters who continue to hold their ground in a steel mill.

The Kalush Orchestra of Ukraine won the popular competition with its song Stephaniewhich became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war, and its victory boosted morale.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelensky said on Facebook. “Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision!”

The group made an impassioned plea during the show to help fighters still at the Azovstal steelworks in the port city, and Zelensky said “one day” the contest would be held “in a Ukrainian Mariupol”.

Ukrainian servicemen celebrate after the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest 2022, at their position in the Kyiv region on Sunday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

President’s optimistic words come as Russian troops pull out of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, after bombarding it for weeks, and forces in Moscow continue to fight a fierce battle for the industrial heartland from the east of the country, the Donbass.

Russia has now likely lost a third of the ground combat forces it committed in February and continues to experience “persistently high levels of attrition” while achieving no substantial territorial gains over the past month, it said. the UK Ministry of Defense in its daily intelligence update. Sunday.

“The Russian offensive on Donbass has lost momentum and is lagging far behind,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces were suffering from “low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”

“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to significantly accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces servicemen fire an anti-tank grenade launcher on Saturday as they take part in a training exercise in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Military installations affected in Lviv, governor says

In the western city of Lviv, a Russian missile hit “military infrastructure” early on Sunday morning, but there was no immediate information about the dead or injured, the regional governor of Lviv, Maksym Kozytskyy, on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia is targeting railway installations and other critical infrastructure in and around Lviv, which is near the Polish border and has been a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Western officials said that despite the attacks, there had been no noticeable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.

With Russian forces now withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military said Moscow was now focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, weapons artillery and airstrikes in the eastern region of Donetsk with the aim of exhausting the Ukrainian forces and destroying the fortifications.

Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped strip of territory in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which make up the Donbass region, the border area where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

A couple pull their luggage out of their destroyed house in the village of Vilkhivka, near Kharkiv, on Saturday. Dozens of houses in Vilkhivka, a village of about 2,000 people, were ravaged by shells, explosions or fires. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

A shell crater is pictured in a damaged residential area of ​​Irpin on the outskirts of kyiv on Saturday. (Marius Bosch/Reuters)

Fighting continues in the Eastern region

In the southern Donbass, the port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov is now largely under Russian control, except for the few hundred soldiers who remain in the steel plant.

A convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of town could have reached the Ukrainian town of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers from the steelworks. .

After failing to capture kyiv after the February 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his attention east to the Donbass, aiming to encircle the most experienced and best-equipped Ukrainian troops, and seize territory still under the control of Ukraine.

Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol sit inside a car as they arrive at a registration and humanitarian aid center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on Saturday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

Russia captured some villages and towns in Donbass, including Rubizhne, which had a population of around 55,000 before the war.

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had also advanced in the east, retaking six towns or villages over the past day. In his Saturday evening speech, he said that “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops “are still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious”.

“Step by step,” Zelensky said, “we are forcing the occupiers out of Ukrainian land.”

Kharkiv, which sits near the Russian border and just 80 kilometers southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has suffered weeks of heavy shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key military objective early in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Regional Governor Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no bombing attacks on Kharkiv over the past day.

He added that Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a town 125 kilometers south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least early April.

WATCH | Ukraine claims victory in the battle for its second largest city:

Ukrainian officials claim victory in Kharkiv

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces are now withdrawing from the country’s second-largest city and concentrating on the eastern region of Donetsk.

Sweden’s decision on NATO is imminent

Putin justified the war in Ukraine by saying it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

But the invasion is raising fears in other countries on Russia’s flank that they could be next, and last week Finland’s president and prime minister said they were in favor of joining. NATO. Swedish officials are expected to announce a decision on Sunday on whether they will apply to join the Western military alliance.

In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there was no security threat to Finland and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Russian relations.” Finnish”.

WATCH | Finland will submit its application for NATO membership:

Finland to apply to join NATO

Finnish leaders have announced their intention to apply to join the NATO alliance following the war in Ukraine. It’s a move that would upend nearly 80 years of non-alignment.

Potential offers from the Nordic nations were thrown into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable view”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish Foreign Minister, this weekend in Germany.