Ukraine latest updates: Russians at Severodonetsk industry zone

Ukraine news from June 20: Russian troops have entered industrial part of Severodonetsk, according to Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai.

A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy fighting in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine [Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP Photo]
  • Discussions between Turkey, Finland and Sweden about the Nordic countries’ NATO membership will continue, and an alliance summit in Madrid next week is not a deadline, Turkey says after talks in Brussels.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claims that Africa is being “held hostage” by Russia’s offensive as fears of a food crisis on the continent grow due to Moscow’s blockade of Black Sea ports.
  • Ukrainian troops have “lost control” over the village of Metolkine, near the embattled city of Severodonetsk, according to the governor of Luhansk.
  • Russia’s defence ministry declares its forces have struck an airfield in Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa region, destroying drones and a drone control station.


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These were the updates on Monday, June 20:

Moscow blasts West’s ‘destructive’ grain stance

Russia has blamed the “destructive” stance of the West for soaring grain prices that have sparked fears of a global food crisis.

“Concerning the possibility of famine, more and more experts are leaning towards a pessimistic scenario … and that is the fault of Western regimes, which act as provokers and destroyers,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.

According to Zakharova, the West has made “systematic mistakes” in its agricultural policy planning and has caused global inflation with its “short-sighted” financial and monetary mechanisms created during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ukraine governor: Russian troops enter Severodonetsk industry zone

Russian troops have entered the industrial part of the heavily besieged city of Severodonetsk, according to Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai.

The Azot chemical plant is the only part of the area not yet taken by Russian troops, Haidai wrote on Telegram. The villages nearby are also under constant fire.

There are about 300 civilians sheltering in the Azot plant, according to Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk, though the situation is constantly changing.

EU chief invites bloc to grant Ukraine, Moldova candidate status

European Council President Charles Michel has said he would invite the European Union to give Ukraine and Moldova candidate status to join the bloc at a summit this week.

“Now is the time to acknowledge that the future of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia lies within the EU. I will invite you to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova,” Michel wrote in an invitation letter to council members.

“We will continue to provide Ukraine with strong humanitarian, military, economic and financial support.”

Kremlin says American basketball player Griner broke law, faces prosecution: RIA

American basketball player Brittney Griner who has been arrested in Russia faces criminal prosecution, Russia’s state RIA news agency has cited the Kremlin’s spokesperson as saying.

“Why should we call her a hostage? She broke the Russian law, now she faces criminal prosecution,” RIA cited Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview with American MSNBC television.

“It’s not about being taken hostage.”

Kremlin says captured Americans in Ukraine should bear responsibility ‘for crimes’: RIA

The Kremlin has said that Americans captured in Ukraine were “mercenaries” engaged in illegal activities and should take responsibility for their “crimes”, RIA news agency has reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was also quoted as saying that the detained men were not covered by the Geneva Conventions as they were not regular troops. They had shot at Russian servicemen and put their lives in danger.

Turkish president, UN chief discuss ways to end crisis

The Turkish president and United Nations secretary-general have spoken over the phone and discussed initiatives aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, Turkey’s Directorate of Communications has said in a statement.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the UN’s Antonio Guterres that Turkey maintains joint efforts to ensure the export of Ukrainian grains via the Black Sea, which would be “effective in terms of averting a global food crisis”.

Erdogan said he continues to urge his counterparts to revive peace negotiations and end the war through diplomacy.​​​​​​​

Seven missing after Black Sea drilling platforms under fire: Russian official

Three people were injured and seven more are missing after Ukraine forces fired on Black Sea drilling platforms off the coast of Crimea, a Russian official has said.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm that there are three injured and seven missing; we guarantee that the search will continue,” Moscow-appointed Crimean governor Sergei Aksionov said on his Telegram account.

Netherlands activates energy crisis plan, removes cap on coal plants

The Netherlands has said it would activate the “early warning” phase of an energy crisis plan and lifted a cap on production by coal-fired power plants as it seeks to reduce reliance on Russian gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

The Ukraine conflict has pushed several European countries to seek alternatives to Russian oil and gas. The Netherlands, which imported as much as 15 percent of its gas from Russia, is already buying LNG and cutting back gas consumption, but still may face a shortage this winter.

“With these measures, less money will flow to [Russian President] Putin’s war chest,” Dutch Energy Minister Rob Jetten said at a news conference in The Hague to announce the moves.

INTERACTIVE - Russian gas imports into the EU - Europe's reliance on Russian gas

Putin fears “spark of democracy”, Germany’s Scholz says

Russian President Vladimir Putin fears the “spark of democracy” spreading to his country, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, adding that he was trying to divide Europe and return to a world dominated by spheres of influence.

Scholz was responding to a question in an interview with the Munchner Merkur newspaper, published on the government website on Monday, on whether Putin would accept Ukraine moving closer to the European Union.

“The Russian President must accept that there is a community of law-based democracies in his neighbourhood that is growing ever closer together,” he said. “He clearly fears the spark of democracy spreading to his country.”

Denmark declares ‘early warning’ for potential gas supply disruptions

Denmark’s energy agency has said it has activated the first step of a three-stage emergency gas supply plan, which effectively means a tighter monitoring of the market, to prepare for possible disruptions of natural gas from Russia.

NATO chief says Turkey, Finland, Sweden hold ‘constructive’ talks

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Turkey, Finland and Sweden have held “constructive” talks on Ankara’s opposition to the two Nordic countries joining the alliance.

“We will continue our talks on Finland and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership, and I look forward to finding a way forward as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said after officials met at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

INTERACTIVE-NATO-in-Europe-map-June 15 map

Tens of thousands rally in Georgia for EU membership: AFP

Tens of thousands of Georgians have taken to the streets in support of the country’s membership to the European Union, days after the European Commission recommended deferring Tbilisi’s candidacy.

Waving Georgian and EU flags, an estimated 60,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Georgian parliament for the “March for Europe”.

The country’s leading pro-democracy groups said they initiated the rally to “demonstrate the commitment of the Georgian people to its European choice and Western values”.

Turkey says talks on Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids to continue, but summit not a deadline

Discussions between Turkey, Finland and Sweden about the Nordic countries’ NATO membership will continue, and an alliance summit in Madrid next week is not a deadline, Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after talks within NATO on the issue, Kalin said Ankara was expecting Sweden, especially, to take immediate steps regarding actions by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group in its country, and that any progress on the Nordic membership bids “now depends on the direction and speed at which these countries will take steps”.

INTERACTIVE- NATO in Europe with Sweden and Finland

Ukraine’s grain exports to reach two million tonnes in June: Deputy minister

Ukraine’s grain exports will increase to 2 million tonnes in June from 1.7 million tonnes in May and reach the maximum volume that Ukraine can ship by land routes, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskiy has said.

“The dynamics are positive, but 2 million tonnes is the maximum that the existing infrastructure can provide through land routes,” Vysotskiy told Ukrainian national television.

He added that Ukrainian seaports, which have been blocked by Russia since it invaded Ukraine, were capable to exports 5 million tonnes a month.

Biden says not likely to go to Ukraine in upcoming Europe trip

United States President Joe Biden has said he is not likely to visit Ukraine when he travels to Europe later this month for summits with Washington’s allies.

Speaking to reporters, Biden also said he believes it is very likely that Ukraine will become a member of the European Union.

EU leaders later this week are expected to give their blessing to Ukraine becoming an official candidate to join, a decision that will be marked as a triumph in Kyiv as it fights Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian army says Odesa food warehouse destroyed by Russian attack

Ukraine’s military says a food warehouse in Odesa has been destroyed by a Russian missile attack.

The Operational Command “South” said Russian forces fired 14 missiles at southern Ukraine during a three-hour barrage “in impotent anger at the successes of our troops.” It added that no civilians were killed in the attack.

Explosions rocked the southwestern port city after the Russia-installed head of the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, said Ukrainian forces had attacked drilling platforms owned by a Crimean oil and gas company in the Black Sea off Ukraine’s southern coast.

Zelenskyy tells AU Africa is ‘hostage’ of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Africa is being held “hostage” by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has spurred fears of a food crisis on the continent.

Moscow’s offensive has seen it blockade Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, preventing the country’s grain exports from reaching global markets.

“Africa is actually a hostage. It is a hostage of those who unleashed war against our state,” Zelenskyy said during an address to the African Union delivered via video link.

He added Kyiv was currently engaged in “complex negotiations” to release its ports from Russia’s blockade.

“But there is no progress yet … That is why the global food crisis will continue as long as this colonial war continues,” Zelenskyy said.

Syrian fighters spotted in Melitopol: Deposed mayor

The deposed mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, has claimed that Syrian fighters have been spotted in the city.

Ivan Fyodorov said in televised remarks that Syrian nationals “dressed in the uniform of the Russian Federation” were seen at a military base where explosions were heard on Sunday evening. He provided no further details or evidence for his claims.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify his claims.

The New York Times reported in late March that a contingent of hundreds of Syrian fighters had arrived in Russia for military training before heading to Ukraine, citing an unnamed Western diplomat and a Damascus-based ally of the Syrian government.

Damascus is a staunch ally of Moscow, which intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad, turning the tide of the conflict in his favour.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Hungary offers possible route for Ukraine grain exports, minister says

Hungary’s foreign minister says his country has offered its territory as a possible route for Ukrainian grain exports due to the disruption of usual routes via the Black Sea caused by Russia’s invasion.

“We have offered to let through Hungary’s territory, moreover, to facilitate the passage of any food shipments destined for various parts of the world from Ukraine, mainly to North Africa or the Middle East,” Peter Szijjarto said.

Szijjarto, who made the proposal at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, did not elaborate on the amount of grain that Ukraine could export via Hungary but added that two logistical hubs on its eastern border could be deployed to ease the glut.

“So in case any type of grain or other produce were to be exported from Ukraine to the Middle East or North Africa through Hungary, that could happen quickly,” he said. “Rail access to ports in Southeastern Europe is fast from Hungary.”

Ukrainian court bans pro-Russian oligarch’s political party

A Ukrainian court has banned the political party of a Ukrainian oligarch who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The justice ministry announced in a Facebook post that the Eighth Administrative Appeals Court had outlawed the Opposition Platform – For Life party, the second-largest in parliament, and nationalised all of its assets and properties.

The party’s main backer is Viktor Medvedchuk, who was arrested in early April after earlier escaping from house arrest. He has been charged with “treason,” selling military secrets to Russia and looting national resources in the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

The justice ministry added that a total of 11 pro-Russian political parties have now been banned “for undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Explosions rock Odesa after alleged attack on Crimean energy company assets

Explosions have rocked Odesa after reported Ukrainian strikes on drilling platforms in the Black Sea owned by a Crimean oil and gas company.

A spokesman for Odesa’s regional administration confirmed to the Reuters news agency there had been blasts in the southwestern city, but gave no further details, including on whether there had been any casualties.

Oleksiy Honcharenko, a legislator from Odesa, meanwhile said the city appeared to have come under attack in what he described as “revenge for our morning shelling of oil rigs near Crimea.”

Earlier on Monday, the head of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula said Ukrainian forces had struck drilling platforms in the Black Sea owned by the Chernomorneftegaz energy company. Kyiv made no immediate comment on the alleged attack.

Odesa map

‘Decisive’ fighting for Severodonetsk ongoing: Ukrainian official

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister says “decisive” battles for Severodonetsk are taking place, with Russia having focused its resources on taking control of the strategically important city.

“Without exaggeration, decisive fights for Severodonetsk are going on, and the enemy’s plans and goals are to reach the borders of the Luhansk region before June 26,” Anna Maliar said in televised remarks.

She added that the Russian army had “thrown all of its force and resources” into the “fight to storm residential areas” around the city.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Lithuania says it is only stopping sanctioned cargo to Kaliningrad

Lithuania’s ban on the transit of goods to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad is only affecting items sanctioned by the EU, the Lithuanian foreign ministry has told the head of Russia’s diplomatic mission in Vilnius.

Lithuania has not imposed “unilateral, individual or additional” restrictions, the ministry said in a statement. Banned goods include coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology.

The only rail route between mainland Russia and the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea runs through Lithuania.

Video footage of captured US citizens appears to reveal whereabouts: Report

Two United States citizens who had been fighting alongside Ukrainian troops appear to have been detained in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), according to a CNN report.

Russian forces were believed to have captured 27-year-old Andy Huynh, who had previously served in the US Marines, and Alexander Drueke, 39, formerly of the US Army.

They had gone missing in Kharkiv on June 9.

On Monday, CNN reported that in an interview with the pair, aired by a pro-Russian Serbian nationalist YouTube channel over the weekend, an individual behind the camera can be heard saying “here in Donetsk” while asking a question.

Three other foreigner fighters – two Britons and a Moroccan man – were recently sentenced to death by a court run by Russia-backed separatists in the DPR.

A Russian solider and military truck are seen in occupied Mariupol
The Russian military has said it considers foreigners fighting with Ukraine to be mercenaries and claims they are not protected as combatants under the Geneva Conventions [File: AP]

Berlin to host food security conference

Germany will host a meeting on the mounting food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those attending, a government spokesman has said.

The gathering on Friday under the title “Uniting for Global Food Security” will address looming shortages caused by the conflict, the spokesman told a press conference in Berlin.

“The government is particularly committed in its presidency of the G7 [Group of Seven bloc of nations] to finding joint answers to the looming global hunger crisis triggered by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

Russians ‘treating the dead as garbage’ in Mariupol: Ukrainian official

Russian forces have started to use tractors to exhume and transport the bodies of civilians killed by shelling in Ukraine’s occupied, southeastern port city of Mariupol, a local official has alleged.

“The bodies are dug up, loaded onto tractors and taken to the morgue,” Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, who is based outside of the city, said in a Telegram post.

He claimed that some of the bodies are then buried in mass graves.

“Treating the dead as garbage has become normal,” Andryushchenko said. Al Jazeera could not independently verify his claims.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Russia says its forces struck Odesa airfield

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have struck an airfield in Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa region, destroying two Bayraktar drones and a drone control station.

Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said a high-precision Oniks missile was used to target the Artsyz airfield. Ukraine’s military had earlier said its air defence system deterred two attempted attacks on the Odesa region, destroying incoming missiles.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims made by either side.

Ukrainian forces have lost control of village near Severodonetsk: Governor

Ukrainian troops have “lost control” over the village of Metolkine, near the embattled city of Severodonetsk, Luhansk’s governor says.

“There’s fighting raging in many towns around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Unfortunately, now we don’t control Metolkine near the region’s center,” Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post.

Haidai added that Russian forces had intensified their shelling of the industrial zone in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have taken shelter.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Russia demands Lithuania immediately lift Kaliningrad transit ban

Russia has demanded that Lithuania immediately lift a ban on the transit of some goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The Russian foreign ministry told the Lithuanian envoy in Moscow that if cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of Russia through Lithuania was not restored, Moscow would respond to protect its interests.

Lithuanian authorities banned the transit of goods that are sanctioned by the EU across its territory.

Ukrainian troops break ‘first line of defence’ in Kherson: Local official

Ukrainian troops have “broken” Russian forces’ “first line of defence” in the largely-occupied southern region of Kherson, according to a local official.

Serhiy Hlan, an aide to the governor of Kherson, said in televised remarks that Ukrainian forces were advancing in the delta of the Dnieper River and had destroyed Russian military stores in the town of Nova Kakhovka.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

Kherson – a key gateway to Crimea – was seized by Russian troops early in Moscow’s invasion.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces hit Crimea oil drilling platforms, pro-Russian regional head says

Ukrainian forces have struck drilling platforms in the Black Sea owned by a Crimean oil and gas company, the head of the Russian-annexed region has said.

Three people were wounded and a search was under way for seven workers from the Chernomorneftegaz energy company, Sergei Aksyonov said in a post on Telegram.

He gave no details of what weapons were used in the alleged attack. There was no immediate response to the claims from Kyiv, and Al Jazeera could not independently verify Aksyonov’s report.

Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and has backed separatist rebels who shortly afterwards seized swaths of territory in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Ukrainian shelling wounds one in western Russia: Governor

The governor of Russia’s western region of Bryansk says that Ukrainian shelling has wounded one civilian in a border town.

Alexander Bogomaz said in a Telegram post that the individual, an electrician, was wounded amid strikes in Suzemka. The shelling also damaged a house and destroyed a power transmission facility, he claimed.

He added the strikes in Bryansk, which borders Ukraine, began early on Monday before being “quickly subdued”.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

How did the Russia-Ukraine war trigger a global food crisis?

Russia’s war in Ukraine is preventing grain from leaving the “breadbasket of the world” and making food more expensive across the globe, threatening to worsen shortages, hunger, and political instability in developing countries.

The conflict has halted the export of some 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain to the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia.

Meanwhile, weeks of negotiations on establishing safe corridors to get foodstuff out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have made little progress, with urgency rising as the summer harvest season arrives.

Read more here.


Russia should not negotiate with US on nuclear issues yet: Medvedev

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Moscow should not negotiate with Washington on nuclear disarmament until the US “crawls” back to talks.

“We don’t have any relations with the United States now,” Medvedev said in a Telegram post.

“They are at zero on the Kelvin scale… There is no need to negotiate with them [on nuclear disarmament] yet … Let them run or crawl back themselves and ask for it.”

Relations between Russia and the US were already at one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Separatists claim control of village south of Severodonetsk

Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine say they have taken control of a village near the main southern road to Severodonetsk.

Vitaly Kiselev, an assistant to the self-styled interior minister of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying the village of Toshkivka, about 25km (15 miles) south of Sievierodonetsk, had been seized.

Luhansk’s governor had previously told Ukrainian television that pro-Russian forces were trying to break through the lines of Toshkivka.

Germany says working with Poland, Romania on freeing stuck grain

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock says Berlin supports Poland and Romania in adapting their railways to enable the export of millions of tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine due to a Russian sea blockade.

“The railway tracks need to be modernised, we need the right cargo wagons – the German government is working on this with many other actors,” Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting with her EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“It is clear that, in the end, we will certainly not be able to get out all grain but if we even just manage to free part of it, on various routes, then this will help as we are facing this global challenge.”

EU’s Borrell says Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports is a ‘war crime’

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says Russia’s blockade of the export of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain is a “war crime”.

“We call on Russia to unblock the [Ukrainian] ports…It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger,” he told reporters as he arrived at the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

“This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer,” Borrell added.

Fighting raging ‘around the clock’ in Severodonetsk: Governor

Ukraine’s forces in the eastern city of Severodonetsk are holding their positions even as fighting rages “almost around the clock”, Luhansk’s governor has said.

“The enemy regularly uses prohibited ammunition,” Haidai wrote on Telegram, adding that Russian troops now controlled “most residential areas”.

He also cited Mayor Alexander Stryuk as saying that Russian forces were deporting the city’s residents and placing heavy weaponry in areas emptied of people.

Ukraine says 323 children killed amid war

The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general says 323 children have been killed amid the war and another 586 have been wounded.

An eight-year-old girl was wounded as a result of shelling in the village of Zheleznoye in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Sunday, the office said.

It added that two other children – aged 13 and 14 – were wounded by shrapnel in the northeastern Kharkiv region on the same day.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures.

Ukraine not suitable for EU: Russian official

Ukraine is not a suitable candidate for EU membership, the speaker of Russia’s parliament has said.

“Total corruption, rampant crime, oligarchic power and a ruined economy are the characteristics of modern Ukraine. Europe understands this very well … but the desire to weaken Russia prevails,” Viacheslav Volodin wrote on Telegram.

Volodin said the EU is ready to give Ukraine candidate status because Washington and Brussels want “to keep hostilities going”.

“The result for Ukraine will be sad. The decision-making centre will be officially transferred to Brussels. It will finally lose its independence,” he added.

Russia’s air forces performing poorly in Ukraine: UK

Russia’s air forces are underperforming in Ukraine and Moscow’s campaign is relying more than planned on exhausted ground troops and advanced cruise missiles, which it is running low on, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry says.

The inadequacy of Russia’s air forces is one of the most important factors limiting its success in Ukraine, the ministry said in an intelligence briefing on Twitter, adding that the forces were being “risk-averse .. rarely penetrating deep behind Ukrainian lines.”

“While Russia has an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets, the air force has also almost certainly failed to develop the institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia’s aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign,” it said.

Shelling wounds three children in Kharkiv: Police

Russian shelling injured three children in the Kharkiv region on Sunday, the head of the regional police force has said.

Attacks occurred in the city of Kharkiv itself, as well as the towns of Chuhuiv and Lyubotyn, and the villages of Baranivka, Ivanivka and Korobochkino, Volodymyr Timoshko wrote on Facebook.

“In the village of Ivanivka … three children were wounded,” Timoshko said. “Due to the increase in the intensity of city shelling … the Kharkiv metro has been allocated to citizens where they can wait out the danger.”

Von der Leyen ‘confident’ about Ukraine’s EU candidacy

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is confident Ukraine will be granted official candidate status ahead of a key EU summit in Brussels later this month.

“I firmly believe that we will get a positive decision,” von der Leyen told German public broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “Of course, this is also a historic decision that the European Council now has to make, but the preparations are good,” she said.

Von der Leyen’s comments come after the EU Commission on Friday came out in favour of formally designating Ukraine and Moldova as candidates to join the EU. The 27 member states will discuss the Commission’s recommendation at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Two killed in Donetsk region, governor says, shelling damages market

A residential area was damaged and smoke filled a local market after heavy shelling in the Kuibyshevskyi district of the Ukrainian town of Donetsk on Sunday – now held by Russian-backed separatists.

“You couldn’t say where they were shelling or what they were shelling, it was coming and coming down on us non-stop,” said Olga Karagodina, a local shop owner.

Elsewhere in the Donetsk region – in the villages of Maksymilianivka and Zaitsevo – the regional governor said Russian attacks killed two civilians on Sunday and wounded another 12.

A woman walks past destroyed structures in Donetsk, Ukraine.
A woman walks past destroyed structures at a local market following recent shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, June 19 [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Hollywood star Ben Stiller visits Lviv: Report

Hollywood actor Ben Stiller was spotted in the centre of Lviv in western Ukraine on Saturday, the Reuters news agency reports.

Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), had gone to the Poland-Ukraine border to meet refugees fleeing Ukraine “to share their stories and amplify calls for solidarity,” the agency said on Twitter. He was later seen in Lviv.

The actor also announced on Twitter that he had “arrived in Poland, ahead of World Refugee Day, to meet people whose lives have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.”

UK must have military capable of winning ‘wars on land’: Military chief

Russia’s offensive has highlighted that the UK must have a military capable of fighting and winning “land wars”, the new head of the British army has been quoted as saying.

British media outlets reported that Patrick Sanders, who took command as Chief of the General Staff this month, had told troops in an internal message that Moscow’s invasion underlined their “core purpose … to protect the UK by being ready to fight and win wars on land”.

He added the offensive “reinforces the requirement to deter Russian aggression with the threat of force”.

“The world has changed since the 24th February and there is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle,” Sanders was quoted as saying, citing the date on which Moscow launched its invasion.

Russian forces shell Ukraine’s border region Sumy: Governor

Russian forces shelled a town in Ukraine’s border region Sumy several times on Sunday, damaging at least 10 buildings, the regional governor has said.

“They fired mortars at residential areas of the town of Seredyna Buda. At least 10 private houses of civilians and outbuildings were damaged. One house was destroyed by fire,” Dmytro Zhyvytskyi said on Telegram.

Later in the day, Zhyvytskyi said preliminary data suggested there had been no casualties but that this was still being clarified.

Fire burns in a building at a location given as Seredyna-Buda, Sumy region in Ukraine.
Fire burns in a building after shelling at a location given as Seredyna-Buda, Sumy, Ukraine, in this screen grab from a handout video released on June 19 [State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via Reuters]

Russia assures Hungary of continued gas shipments

Russia has promised to continue gas shipments to Hungary and that state energy giant Gazprom would fulfil its contractual obligations, Budapest’s foreign minister said in an interview on public radio.

Peter Szijjarto said on Sunday that Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak had both assured him of this in a phone call, but did not say when the call was.

Under a deal with Gazprom signed last year, Hungary receives 3.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year via Bulgaria and Serbia under its long-term deal with Russia, and a further billion cubic metres via Austria.

In response to Western sanctions on Moscow, Gazprom cut supplies to Denmark’s Orsted and to Shell Energy for its contract to supply gas to Germany. It also cut supplies to Dutch gas trader GasTerra along with Bulgaria, Poland and Finland for refusing to pay for Russian gas in roubles.

Top EU human rights official on a fact-finding mission in Ukraine

A top EU human rights official says war crimes committed in Ukraine will be thoroughly investigated.

“When we talk about war crimes … we are also talking about those who are in the chain of command, if necessary right to the very top,” Eamon Gilmore, EU special human rights representative, said after walking around ruined neighbourhoods in Irpin, a town near Kyiv that saw heavy fighting early in the invasion.

Gilmore’s tour was designed to highlight what Ukraine and its backers say were large-scale atrocities committed by Russian troops, and what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as “unimaginable cruelty” and “senseless violence”.

Japan PM eyes meeting with S Korea, Australia, NZ to counter China: Reports

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering a summit with the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea on the sidelines of a June NATO meeting in a show of solidarity against a more assertive China, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper has reported.

Leaders of the four Asia-Pacific nations have been invited to the NATO meeting in Madrid, where members are aiming to deliver a message of international solidarity on the Ukraine crisis.

Surrendered Ukrainian fighters testifying against colleagues: Russian-backed fighters

Ukrainian fighters who surrendered in the settlement of Metolkine near Severodonetsk are testifying against colleagues holed up in the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, Russia’s state news agency Tass has reported.

Fighters from the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) on Sunday said soldiers from Ukraine’s Aidar Battalion surrendered to them on June 18, as Russia captured Metolkine, according to Russian news agencies.

They did not say how many soldiers had surrendered but claimed the unit’s commander was among them. Tass on Monday quoted a source saying Russian-backed separatists are using information from the captured Aidar Battalion in negotiations with Ukrainian soldiers still at Azot.

Hundreds of civilians and some Ukrainian forces have been sheltering inside the Severodonetsk plant, which the Luhansk governor says is being pounded daily by Russian forces.

Gennady Burbulis, top Yeltsin aide, dies at 76

Gennady Burbulis, a top aide to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin who helped prepare and sign the 1991 pact that led to the formal breakup of the Soviet Union, has died. He was 76.

Burbulis was instrumental in steering the new, post-Soviet Russian state as secretary of state and first deputy chairman of the government from 1991 to 1992.

With Yeltsin, he was a signatory for Russia to the December 8, 1991, agreement with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus to disband the Soviet Union.

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and former Belarusian President Stanislav Shushkevich – both key players in the agreement – died in May.

Gennady Burbulis in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 16, 2021
Gennady Burbulis in Moscow, Russia, August 16, 2021 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]

Ukraine investigating Russian soldiers for sexual violence

Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general says Kyiv has launched 19 criminal proceedings against Russian soldiers for the rape of at least 14 women in the temporarily occupied territories.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, said the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified cases of sexual violence against both women and men in Ukraine.

“Due to active hostilities, mass internal displacement, the stigma associated with sexual violence and the breakdown of the referral pathways, survivors are often unable or unwilling to report to law enforcement authorities or service providers,” Lubrani said.


EU seeks to release Ukrainian grain stuck due to Russia’s sea blockade

EU foreign ministers will discuss ways to free millions of tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine due to Russia’s Black Sea port blockade at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

The EU supports UN efforts towards a deal where Ukraine’s sea exports resume in return for facilitating Russian food and fertiliser exports, but that would need Moscow’s green light.

Turkey has good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow and says it is ready to take up a role within an “observation mechanism” based in Istanbul. It is unclear if the EU would get involved in militarily securing such a deal.

Russia advances in battle for key eastern Ukraine city

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have seized a village near Ukraine’s industrial city of Severodonetsk, a prime target in Moscow’s campaign to control the country’s east.

The ministry said that it had taken control of Metyolkine, a settlement of fewer than 800 people before the war began. Russian state news agency TASS reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there.

Ukraine’s military said Russia had “partial success” in the area, which is about 6km (4 miles) southeast of Severodonetsk.

Read more here.

Zelenskyy expects Russia to intensify attacks on Ukraine

Zelenskyy has said that he expects Russia to intensify attacks on Ukraine as Kyiv waits for the EU’s decision to grant it the status of a candidate state.

“Obviously, we should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. Purposefully – demonstratively. This week exactly,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready.”

Read all updates for June 19 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies