‘Into the light’: Ukrainian Zelenskiy turns to EU offer as Russia pound cities

  • EU set to make historic offer of candidate status to Ukraine
  • EU leaders say Ukraine is fighting for European values
  • Russian forces shell Ukraine’s second city after lull
  • Fire breaks out at an oil refinery in Russia
  • Putin marks the day Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941

KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, June 22 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday hailed the European Union’s expected offer of candidate status for his battle-weary country as Russian forces pounded the second largest city ​​of Ukraine, 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.

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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.

“I believe that all 27 countries of the European Union will support our candidate status,” Zelenskiy told students in Toronto via video conference.

“It’s like going into the light from the darkness.”

Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria for EU membership. But EU leaders say Ukrainians are fighting for European values ​​of democracy and the bloc must make a gesture that recognizes their sacrifice.

For now, however, with its forces running out of ammunition as a fierce war of attrition continues in the Donbass, Ukraine has more pressing priorities than trying to meet EU standards on anti-corruption or public administration reform.


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 repelled Moscow forces in a major counteroffensive on last month.

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

“It was shelling by Russian troops. It was probably multiple rocket launchers. And that’s the impact of the missile,” Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters amid the ruins. of cottages struck Tuesday in a rural area on the outskirts of the city.

Medical workers carried the body of an elderly woman from a burned-out garage to a nearby van.

“She was 85. A child of war (World War II). She survived a war, but didn’t survive this one,” her grandson Mykyta said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that Russian forces were striking Kharkiv “with the aim of terrorizing the population”.

“The idea is to create a big problem to distract us and force us to divert troops. I think there will be an escalation,” Arestovych said.

Zelenskiy also warned that fighting could escalate ahead of the EU summit. Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine and Western clubs such as the EU and especially NATO.

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 Sievierodonetsk, among others.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk, 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.

But Oleksandr Ratushniak, a freelance photographer who joined Sievierodonetsk with Ukrainian forces in recent days, filmed reinforcements crossing in an inflatable raft.

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

In southern Ukraine, officials said seven Russian missiles hit the port of Mykolaiv, killing at least one person and sparking several major fires. Global grain trader Viterra said its Mykolaiv terminal was hit and was on fire.


Britain’s defense intelligence service believes Russia’s momentum in the war could slow in the coming months as its military depletes its resources, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a European newspaper group, adding that the Western countries should be ready to support any Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Wednesday was the “Day of Remembrance and Sorrow” in Russia and Ukraine, commemorating the day Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at a memorial flame for the dead.

World War II, which killed 27 million Soviet citizens, plays a prominent role in Russian commentary on the invasion of Ukraine, which Putin calls a “special operation” to root out the “Nazis.” Kyiv and the West call it baseless justification for a war aimed at destroying Ukraine’s identity as a separate nation.

“Future psychiatrists will examine: how after years of building the WWII cult, Russia began to recreate the bloody pages of history and every step of the Nazis,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. .

In his comments to Canadian students, Zelenskiy compared Ukraine to the fictional boy wizard Harry Potter and Russia to Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who is ultimately defeated.

“Harry Potter is better than Voldemort, and we know who Voldemort is in this war, and who Harry Potter is, so we know how the war will end,” smiled Zelenskiy.

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Reporting by Vitalii Hnidyi in Kharkiv, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Reuters bureaus; Written by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Catherine Evans

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