Russia-Ukraine latest updates: ‘Massive’ bombing in Luhansk

Governor says Russian forces were ‘destroying everything’ in Lysychansk city but Ukrainian troops will hold their positions for ‘as long as necessary’.

A Ukrainian serviceman covers the turret of an tank in the eastern Ukrainian region
A Ukrainian serviceman covers the turret of an tank in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 21, 2022 [Anatolii Stepanov / AFP]
    • Ukraine’s battleground eastern Luhansk region was under ‘massive’ Russian bombardment and but insisted Ukrainian troops will hold their positions “as long as necessary”.
    • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Ukraine needs massive financial help to in its reconstruction after Russia’s invasion.
    • Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have captured several settlements near Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, in the eastern Luhansk region.
    • The southern city of Mykolaiv has been hit by seven Russian missiles, according to the region’s governor, Vitaliy Kim.
    • Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Tuesday and Wednesday, killing at least 15 civilians, according to Governor Oleh Synyehubov.
(Al Jazeera)

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These were the updates on Wednesday, June 22:

Russian momentum in Ukraine could slow for lack of resources: UK PM

Britain’s defence intelligence service believes that Russia’s momentum in the war in Ukraine will slow in the next few months as its army exhausts its resources, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a group of European newspapers.

In comments released by Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Johnson said President Putin’s forces were pushing forward in the eastern Donbas region, wreaking destruction but at a heavy cost in soldiers and weapons.

UK supports Lithuanian ban on sanctioned goods travelling to Russia

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said Britain “fully supports” Lithuania’s decision to ban the transit of Russian goods sanctioned by the European Union through its territory.

“We must stay strong in the face of Russian aggression and challenge these unjustified threats,” Truss said on Twitter.

Key Ukrainian city under ‘massive’ Russian bombardment

“Massive” Russian bombardment of Ukraine’s battleground eastern Luhansk region Severodonetsk has been “hell” for soldiers there, Kyiv has said, while insisting that defenders would hold on “as long as necessary”.

“The Russian army is… just destroying everything” in Lysychansk, Governor of Luhansk region Serhiy Haidai, which includes both cities, wrote on Telegram.

“It’s just hell out there,” after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk, across the Donetsk river, he wrote later. “Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary,” he added.

TV centre in Donetsk damaged by shelling: TASS

The Petrovskiy television centre in the Ukrainian separatist-held city of Donetsk has been badly damaged by shelling and broadcasting has been interrupted, the Russian state news agency TASS cited the local Donetsk news agency as saying.

The broadcast tower is still standing but part of its equipment has been damaged, while some equipment has been moved out, according to the Donetsk news agency.

Ordinary Ukrainians resisting Russia’s invasion are my role models: Zelenskyy

Presiden Zelenskyy has said his role models were ordinary Ukrainians who resisted invading Russian forces and he compared Russia to the fictional arch-villain Lord Voldemort in the ‘Harry Potter’ books.

Zelenskyy, dressed in a military uniform, was answering questions via videolink from students at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

Asked by one student who his role models were, Zelenskiy said: “The people of Ukraine… and there are very many of them.”

“An ordinary Ukrainian farmer who could take his tractor and close off a road to Russian tanks, an ordinary woman who would go out and stop armoured vehicles with her bare hands… Those are the people I look up to,” he said via an interpreter.

Russian cyber spying targeting Ukraine allies: Microsoft

State-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft has said in a report.

“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting (of Ukraine’s allies) has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions,

“As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.

What we know about the US citizens captured in Ukraine

The families of Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27 said last week that the pair, both US military veterans and residents of Alabama, had disappeared in Ukraine. Family members said they had last been heard from on June 8 in the Kharkiv region.

Fellow fighters have said that both men were captured during clashes with Russian forces on June 9. If confirmed, they would be the first Americans captured in the conflict. However, Washington and Moscow have offered few specifics in recent days.

Read more here.

Croatia PM hails EU support for Ukraine membership

Croatian Prime Minister Andrey Plenkovic told members of European Parliament that Ukraine is highly likely to be granted candidate status of the European Union during a summit in Brussels.

The EU’s executive arm threw its weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week.

“I am pleased to see that the position of many member states is now being assembled around the wording that will be most likely the historic European Council tomorrow and on Friday, actually grant Ukraine candidate status,” said Plenkovic.

Estonia accuses Russia of ‘escalatory’ actions

Estonia has alleged that Russia was engaging in escalatory actions ahead of next week’s NATO summit, including alleged missile simulations and airspace violations.

It also referenced Russia’s threat this week against Estonia’s fellow Baltic state Lithuania over its restriction of rail traffic to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave.

“Currently, there is no immediate military threat against Estonia. However, we see that the Russian Federation is escalating its rhetoric and activities ahead of the Madrid Summit,” Estonian defence ministry spokesman Thomas Mell told AFP news agency.

All EU members will back Ukraine’s candidacy: Zelenskky

Ukrainian President Zelenskyyy has said he believes all European Union members would back a proposal to grant Ukraine EU candidate status at a summit later this week.

“I do believe that all 27 European Union countries will support our candidate status,” he added, speaking at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto via video link.

NATO head, Sweden PM discuss Turkey security concerns

Jens Stoltenberg has said discussed Turkey’s security concerns with Sweden’s prime minister, amid the Nordic nation’s application to join NATO.

“(I) spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Sweden’s NATO application and the security concerns raised by our Ally Turkey,” Stoltenberg posted on Twitter.

He stressed that “talks on the way forward will continue in the coming days”.

Putin signs decree on external debt service

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on Wednesday establishing temporary procedures to fulfil foreign debt obligations, the Interfax news agency reported, as investors keep a close eye on a potential default.

The agency said Putin had ordered the government to choose banks within 10 days to handle payments on Eurobonds under a new scheme.

‘Marshall Plan’ needed to rebuild Ukraine: Scholz

Ukraine needs massive financial help to rebuild after the devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, saying the reconstruction would be a “task for generations”.

Citing the US initiative to help western Europe rebuild after World War II, Scholz said he had invited Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to participate in the G7 summit starting this Sunday, to “agree on what such a ‘Marshall Plan for Ukraine’ would look like”.

“And like war-destroyed Europe then, Ukraine needs a Marshall Plan for its reconstruction,” he said, ahead of back-to-back summits gathering EU, G7 and NATO leaders in the coming days.

While the European Union has already mobilised billions for Ukraine, the country will require many more billions in the next year, said Scholz.

The financial needs can only be covered with the participation of international organisations and other large donor countries, he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz [File: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo]

One killed in Mykolaiv: Mayor

A Russian missile attack killed at least one person and damaged buildings including a school in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, the local mayor said.

The attacks caused several fires, damaged a number of residential and business buildings and left smoke hanging over the port city, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said.

“I keep saying it’s still dangerous in the city. Before, people were going out in droves but they go out less now,” he said on national television.

Earlier in the day, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said that seven missiles had hit the city.

Russia may cut off gas entirely, Europe needs to prepare: IEA

Russia may cut off gas to Europe entirely as it seeks to bolster its political leverage amid the Ukraine crisis, the head of the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday, adding that Europe needed to prepare now.

“Considering this recent behaviour, I wouldn’t rule out Russia continuing to find different issues here and there and continuing to find excuses to further reduce gas deliveries to Europe and maybe even cut it off completely,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement sent to Reuters. “This is the reason Europe needs contingency plans”.

Four killed in Russia ammunition depot explosion

Citing emergency services, TASS news agency reported that four people were killed after a shell detonated at an ammunition depot in Russia’s Vladimir region.

Moscow accuses Berlin of ‘Russophobic hysteria’

Russia’s foreign ministry has accused Germany of anti-Russian sentiment in a statement on the anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi troops in 1941.

“Russophobic hysteria is systematically fuelled by almost daily public attacks against our country by members of the German government,” the ministry said, adding that authorities in Berlin undermine the process of “historical reconciliation” between Russians and Germans after World War II.

Russia says it is exchanging official signals with US on American fighters in Ukraine

Russia and the United States were exchanging official signals on the issue of American fighters in Ukraine, RIA news agency reported, quoting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Interfax cited him as saying that Moscow did not see Washington’s readiness to deal with the issue seriously.

Lavrov to take part in G20 ministerial meeting

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to Indonesia to take part in a meeting of the G20 foreign ministers on July 7 and 8.

He will have several bilateral talks on the sidelines of the meeting, which is preparatory to this year’s G20 summit, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing in Moscow.

Specifically, Lavrov will meet with his Chinese, South African, Brazilian, and Mexican counterparts and the leadership of attending international organisations, she said.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following talks with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan, Armenia, June 9, 2022.
Sergey Lavrov will travel to Indonesia to take for the G20 foreign ministers meeting on July 7-8 [File: Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via Reuters]

Kremlin: EU sanctions that prompted Lithuania transit ban ‘unacceptable’

The Kremlin said the EU sanctions that led Lithuania to impose a ban on the transit of some goods from mainland Russia to its exclave of Kaliningrad were “absolutely unacceptable”, and that Moscow was working on retaliatory measures.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had yet to decide when it would impose countermeasures.

Russia, Turkey agree to more consultations on grain exports from Ukraine

Russia’s defence ministry says Russian and Turkish delegations have agreed to continue consultations on safe vessel departures and grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its grain shipments have stalled and tonnes of grain has been trapped in silos since Russia sent troops into the country. Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage.

INTERACTIVE- Russian and Ukrainian wheat export

Seven missiles hit Mykolaiv: Governor

Seven Russian missiles have hit Mykolaiv, Governor Vitaliy Kim said. He did not provide further details on casualties or damages.

Moscow: Response to Lithuania’s transit ban won’t be only diplomatic

Moscow’s response to Lithuania’s ban on the transit of goods sanctioned by the EU to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad will be practical, not just diplomatic, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

“One of the main questions has been about whether the response would be exclusively diplomatic. The answer: No,” Maria Zakharova said at her weekly briefing. “The response will not be diplomatic but practical.”

Zakharova would not elaborate on the nature of the practical measures Russia planned to take against Lithuania.

Freight train wagons from Russian enclave Kaliningrad are seen at the border railway station in Kybartai,
[Freight train wagons from Russian enclave Kaliningrad are seen at the border railway station in Kybartai, Lithuania [Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Fire at Russian oil plant erupts after Ukrainian drone flight: TASS

A fire broke out at Russia’s Novoshakhtinsk refinery in the Rostov region after two Ukrainian drones were spotted over the plant, TASS cited an unidentified source in the local authority as saying.

“One of them made an impact, crashing into a heat transfer unit, after which the blaze started. The second one flew away,” the source told TASS.

The local emergency service said the blaze has been put out, Interfax news agency reported.

Russian OSCE’s members denied British visas to attend next session

Members of the Russian delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were denied British visas to attend the next session, Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of Russian upper house’s international affairs committee.

Russian troops won’t push through the Luhansk region any time soon: Governor

Luhansk’s governor says Russian forces will not get through the region any time soon.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Anna Malyar said on Monday that Russia had plans for its troops to reach the administrative borders of the Luhansk region by June 26.

Luhansk is like “bone in the throat” for Russia’s troops, Governor Serhiy Haidai said on television, adding that it would be impossible for them to reach the region’s administrative borders in four days.

Drone footage shows an artillery strike amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine in this screengrab taken from a video
Drone footage shows an artillery strike amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine in this screengrab taken from a video released on June 19, 2022, and obtained by Reuters]

Ukraine journalist, soldier ‘coldly executed’: Press group

A Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier accompanying him when they were killed in the first weeks of Russia’s invasion appear to have been “coldly executed”, Reporters Without Borders said, after an investigation into their deaths.

The press freedom group said it went back to the spot where the bodies of Maks Levin and serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov were found April 1 in woods north of the capital, Kyiv. It counted 14 bullet holes in the burned hulk of their car still at the scene.

The group said disused Russian positions, one of them still booby-trapped, were found close by. Also found were the remains of food rations, cigarette packets and other litter seemingly left by Russian soldiers. A jerrycan for petrol was also found close to where Chernyshov’s burned body had been recovered, it said.

A Ukrainian team with metal detectors uncovered a bullet buried in the soil where Levin’s body had lain, it said. The group said that finding suggests “he was probably killed with one, perhaps two bullets fired at close range when he was already on the ground”.

Russia preparing to deploy large number of reserves to the Donbas: UK

Russia is highly likely preparing to deploy a large number of reserves to the front lines of the Donbas, the UK’s defence ministry has said, as heavy shelling continues in the east, around the Severodonetsk area.

Although Moscow hasn’t released its military casualty numbers, the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) publishes such figures for the DPR forces, the UK said.

“As of 16 June, the DPR acknowledged 2128 military personnel killed in action, and 8897 wounded, since the start of 2022,” which is equivalent to around 55 per cent of its original force, the ministry said, adding this highlighted the extraordinary attrition numbers of Russia’s forces.

“It is highly likely that DPR forces are equipped with outdated weapons and equipment. On both sides, the ability to generate and deploy reserve units to the front is likely becoming increasingly critical to the outcome of the war,” the ministry said.

Russia’s envoy to US says his office wasn’t contacted about captured Americans

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, says his office hasn’t received any requests from Washington about the two Americans captured in Ukraine, Moscow’s state TASS news agency reports.

Antonov’s comments came after US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Washington had been in touch with Russian authorities about the two US citizens, who were reportedly being held in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

“The embassy did not contact us. I do not confirm the receipt of any such contact from the Americans,” Antonov said, according to TASS.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had earlier said that death sentences for the two men could not be ruled out.

Indonesia president to push for peace with Ukraine, Russia visits: Minister

Indonesian President Joko Widodo will visit both Ukraine and Russia next week to meet his counterparts and push for a peaceful resolution to the continuing conflict, his foreign minister has said.

Retno Marsudi confirmed during a news conference the intention of Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is known, to visit Kyiv in addition to Moscow, which had been reported in Indonesian and Russian state media.

Retno did not elaborate on what Jokowi, as president of the G20 this year, would discuss with the two leaders.

Swimmer Mykhailo Romanchuk wins bronze in world championships

Elite Ukrainian swimmer Mykhailo Romanchuk won the bronze in the men’s 800-metre freestyle race at the swimming world championships on Tuesday in Budapest, Hungary.

He said his medal proved “that Ukrainians will fight to the end, it doesn’t matter what the situation”.

Romanchuk, whose father is fighting in the fierce battles in the east of Ukraine, said it was hard for him to focus on swimming.

“Especially in the beginning when I moved to Germany to join the group. It was hard because mentally you are in the war and you are sleeping just three or four hours because you are always reading the news,” Romanchuk said. “It was so hard in the beginning, but then you understand that all you can do is to swim, to train, to represent your country.”

Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine, Bobby Finke of the United States, Florian Wellbrock of Germany pose with their medals after the Men 800m Freestyle final.
Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine, Bobby Finke of the United States and Florian Wellbrock of Germany (from left to right) pose with their medals after the men’s 800m freestyle final at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary [Petr David Josek/AP]

Luxembourg’s PM visits Kyiv

The prime minister of Luxembourg visited Kyiv on Tuesday and toured the nearby towns of Bucha and Borodyanka, telling Ukraine: “Luxembourg stands by your side.”

“No words to describe the unimaginable human tragedy of Bucha. You can count on Luxembourg to support the investigations of national and international actors into these war crimes, and to ensure that those responsible for these atrocities are identified, prosecuted and punished,” Xavier Bettel said on Twitter.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bettel was a “great friend of our state” and that Luxembourg’s assistance to Ukraine made up 15 percent of its defence budget.

“Both the greatness and the nobility of the state are immediately felt,” Zelenskyy said of Bettel’s visit and Luxembourg’s support. “I am grateful to him for his sincere understanding of our people and for Luxembourg’s readiness to take part in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.”

Russia on Wednesday to mark anniversary of Germany’s WW2 invasion of USSR

Russia on Wednesday marks the anniversary of the day Nazi Germany’s forces invaded the Soviet Union in World War Two, with President Vladimir Putin due to lay flowers to honour the dead.

Germany’s surprise attack, under Operation Barbarossa, was launched on June 22, 1941. The “Day of Remembrance and Sorrow”  is also commemorated in Ukraine and Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union, as the attacks targeted the cities of Kyiv, Moscow and Brest (formerly Brest Fortress). But it is unclear whether Ukraine will commemorate this day as it has in the past.

To mark the anniversary, the Russian defence ministry released documents dating back to the start of the war purporting to show Germany intended to claim the Soviet army was bombing churches and cemeteries to justify its invasion.

“Just as nowadays, in 1941, the Nazis prepared provocations in advance to discredit our state,” Russia’s defence ministry said.

Former US commander predicts Ukraine to deliver ‘knockout blow’ to Russia

A former commander of US ground forces in Europe has described the battles in Ukraine’s east and southeast as a “heavyweight boxing match” in which “there has not yet been a knockout blow”.

Severodonetsk, Popasna, Dibrivne (near Izyum), Rubizhne and Zaporizhia “have all seen this punch-counterpunch action,” retired Lieutenant General, Mark Hertling, wrote on Twitter.

“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In 2 months of fighting, there has not yet been a knockout blow. It will come, as RU forces become more depleted,” he said.

Moscow legislator facing 10 years for opposing Russia’s Ukraine actions

A court in the Russian capital has extended the arrest of a municipal legislator charged with discrediting the country’s military after his criticism of Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court ordered Alexei Gorinov to be kept in custody pending his trial. Gorinov, a municipal council member of Moscow’s Krasnoselsky District, has remained in jail since he was arrested in April after speaking out against Russia’s invasion during the council’s session in March.

Addressing the court on Tuesday, Gorinov rejected the charges and insisted that he was merely expressing his political views, noting that “what I said was my personal opinion and belief”.

He may face a fine or a prison term of up to 10 years if convicted.

Alexei Gorinov holds a sign saying "I am against the war" while standing in a courtroom enclosure.
Alexei Gorinov holds a sign saying “I am against the war” as he stands in a cage during a hearing in the courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 21, 2022 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]

Italy’s FM quits party he says undermines Ukraine support

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has said he was leaving the 5-Star Movement to form a new parliamentary group backing the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Di Maio’s move comes after he accused 5-Star leader and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of undermining government efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Rome’s standing within the European Union.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today me and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the 5-Star Movement,” Di Maio, himself a former 5-Star leader, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Russia only exists by attacking others: Kyiv adviser

Russia is expansionist and exists only by attacking other states, Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has said.

“It attacks in various ways, using its energy resources, its military, migration, using food as a weapon. Ukraine can never sign a deal with Russia in this context,” Podolyak told Al Jazeera in an interview.

After being asked about ceding land to Russia to prevent further death and destruction, Podolyak said: “any surrender of Ukrainian territory would mean the war would continue with greater intensity and even greater scale”.

“We want to finish this war the right way and that means liberating our territories in full and reestablishing our sovereignty within internationally recognised borders.”

Russian forces seize front-line Donbas village: Ukrainian official

Russian forces have pushed deeper into the Donbas region, with Ukrainian officials announcing the fall of a front-line village near the strategically important cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Roman Vlasenko, head of the Severodonetsk district military administration, said on Tuesday that the settlement of Toshkivka is now “controlled entirely by the Russians”.

Toshkivka had a pre-war population of about 5,000 people and is approximately 25km (16 miles) south of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region.

Read more here.

Fire tears through gasworks in Kharkiv region after missile raid

A large fire remained uncontrolled at a gas processing factory on Tuesday in the Izyum district in eastern Ukraine, after it was hit by several Russian missile attacks last week.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov confirmed on Saturday that Russian attacks had targeted the facility.

On the Telegram messaging app, he said that some other buildings had also been damaged.

On Tuesday, the fire was still blazing and a large plume of smoke could be seen from a distance.

A fire from a gas processing plant continues to burn behind a field of wheat after the plant was hit by shelling a few days prior in Andriivka in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine June 21, 2022
A fire from a gas processing plant continues to burn behind a field of wheat after the plant was hit by shelling a few days prior in Andriivka in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine June 21, 2022 [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Ukraine’s defenders hold positions at Azot plant: Governor

Russia laid down a curtain of fire in Luhansk Tuesday, where pockets of resistance are denying Moscow full military control of the region.

“Today everything that can burn is on fire,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, told The Associated Press news agency.

In the city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian defenders held on to the Azot chemical plant in the industrial outskirts. He said Russian forces were turning the area “into ruins”.

“It is a sheer catastrophe,” Haidai told the AP in written comments about the plant. “Our positions are being fired at from howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, large-caliber artillery, missile strikes.”

Haidai said on television that 568 civilians were sheltering at the plant, including 38 children. Moscow controls approximately 95 percent of the Luhansk region.

Ukrainian service members inside a damaged building in the industrial area of the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022
Ukrainian service members watch while a tank (not pictured) fires towards Russian troops in the industrial area of the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, June 20, 2022 [Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters]

Luhansk ‘toughest area right now’: Zelenskyy

The Luhansk region, where fighting is raging in the key city of Severodonetsk and surrounding areas, is “the toughest area right now”, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“With the help of tactical moves, the Ukrainian army is strengthening its defence in the Luhansk region, which is really the toughest area right now,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address, adding Russians were also putting “serious pressure” on Donetsk.

“In the Kharkiv region there is brutal and cynical Russian artillery shelling. It will not give anything to the occupiers, but the Russian army is deaf to any rationality. It simply destroys, simply kills – in this way it shows its command that it is not standing still,” Zelenskyy added.

At least 15 killed in Kharkiv region: Governor

At least 15 civilians were killed in the Kharkiv region by Russian shelling on Tuesday, the regional governor has said.

Five people were killed in the city of Kharkiv itself and 11 wounded, Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram, adding that among the dead was an eight-year-old girl.

Another six people died in Chuhuiv some 40km (25 miles) southeast of Kharkiv and three had died in Zolochiv, 40km (25 miles) to the northwest of the city, he said.

Russian forces were trying to approach Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which experienced intense shelling earlier in the war, and turn it into a “frontline city,” a Ukrainian interior ministry official said earlier this month.  Local police accused Russia of using Uragan multiple rocket launchers.

Read all updates on June 21 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies