Ukraine news live – Russian forces mounting assaults to capture Sievierodonetsk

·32-min read

Russian forces seek to surround the embattled city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine and are mounting assaults on the city of Sievierodonetsk to establish full control, the Ukrainian defence ministry’s spokesperson said on Friday.

The eastern city has been the scene of weeks of intense bombardments and street fighting and if lost to Russian forces in a would be a significant setback for Ukraine.

Earlier, governor Serhiy Gaidai said troops in the city had already received the order to move to new positions, but he did not indicate whether they had already done so or where exactly they were going.

“Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense,” Gaidai said on Ukrainian television.

Defence Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk declined to comment on the governor’s remarks and told reporters at a briefing in Kyiv that the information was “closed” to the public.

The battle is key for Russia to establish control over the last remaining Ukrainian-held sliver of Luhansk province, which along with Donetsk makes up the Donbas region, Ukraine‘s industrial heartland.

Meanwhile, at least four people were killed after a Russian military cargo plane crashed in Moscow’s western city Ryazan, reported Interfax news agency.

Key Points

  • Russian forces mounting assaults on the city of Sievierodonetsk

  • Ukrainian soldiers will have to exit Sievierodonetsk, says governor Haidai

  • Three killed as Russian cargo plane crashes in Ryazan

  • EU grants Ukraine candidate status

  • Fighting nears ‘fierce climax’ in Donbas

Russia unable to stop Western weapons flowing into Ukraine, says US defence official

15:11 , Joe Middleton

Russia is trying but has been unable to target Western weapons flowing into Ukraine, including longer-range systems that Kyiv hopes will be decisive on the battlefield, a senior US defence official said on Friday.

The official also appeared to play down the significance of Russian advances in Ukraine and said a Ukrainian pullback from Sievierodonetsk would allow them to take a better defensive position.

“In moving the Ukrainian armed forces from Sievierodonetsk back, what they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian forces mounting assaults on the city of Sievierodonetsk

14:15 , Joe Middleton

Russian forces seek to surround the embattled city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine and are mounting assaults on the city of Sievierodonetsk to establish full control, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s spokesperson said on Friday.

The region’s governor said earlier that Ukrainian troops would “have to be withdrawn” from Sievierodonetsk and that they had been ordered to take up new positions.

Defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk declined to comment on the governor’s remarks and told reporters at a briefing in Kyiv that the information was “closed” to the public.

Russia’s war with Ukraine will drive 50 million into hunger

13:55 , Joe Middleton

Russia’s war against Ukraine, not Western sanctions, will add another 40 or 50 million more people to the ranks of the hungry, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Berlin.

“There is no reason other than Russia’s blockade of Ukraine and Russia’s refusal in many cases to export its own grain for political reasons,” said Blinken at a joint news conference with German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday.

Baerbock said international partners were working together to counter Russia’s “cynical” and potentially destabilizing grains war and the corresponding propaganda.

13:40 , Joe Middleton

Ukraine troops ‘to be withdrawn’ from key city of Sievierodonetsk as street battles rage

13:09 , Joe Middleton

Ukrainian troops will “have to be withdrawn” from the city of Sievierodonetsk which has seen fierce fighting in the past few weeks with Russian forces, the regional governor said on Friday.

The key eastern city has been the location for some of the heaviest fighting of the war and street-by-street battles have raged for a month, with Russia slowly making advances.

“Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense,” governor Serhiy Gaidai said on television.

Ukraine troops ‘to be withdrawn’ from key city as street battles rage

Volodymyr Zelensky makes surprise video appearance at Glastonbury Festival

12:17 , Joe Middleton

World facing food shortage ‘catastrophe’, warns UN chief

11:32 , Joe Middleton

The world is facing “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food, the head of the United Nations warned on Friday.

In his strongest words yet on a growing crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a combination of factors was causing an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

Mr Guterres said the war in Ukraine had added to problems caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality.

World facing food shortage ‘catastrophe’, warns UN chief

Russian-installed Kherson official killed in bomb blast

10:48 , Joe Middleton

A senior official in the Russian-installed administration of Ukraine‘s occupied Kherson region was killed in an apparent assassination on Friday, the deputy head of the administration told Reuters.

Dmitry Savluchenko, head of the families, youth, and sports department of the Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, was killed in a bomb blast.

Russia’s TASS news agency said there were two burnt-out cars in a courtyard of Kherson, the regional capital where the blast took place, and that the windows of one four-storey house had been shattered.

Kherson sits just northwest of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula and was occupied during the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February. A large part of the local population has left.

In the first weeks of the occupation there were regular civilian protests in the region, which were put down.

Since then, there have been unverified reports of increasing partisan activity against the Russian-backed authorities.

Reuters

Huge 500kg unexploded bomb removed from Kharkiv after it landed on apartment building

10:16 , Joe Middleton

A 500kg unexploded bomb has been removed from the top of an apartment building in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The huge munition was removed by a 10-man specialist crew on Thursday using a forklift and crane to dislodge it from the nine-storey building.

The bomb was deactivated in March but Ukrainian authorities had been unable to remove it until now due to the Russian airstrikes hitting Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Huge 500kg unexploded bomb removed from Kharkiv after it landed on apartment building

Moscow blames US for Lithuania goods ban

09:20 , Joe Middleton

Moscow’s foreign ministry on Friday blamed the United States for a Lithuanian ban on sanctioned goods crossing from the Russian mainland to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The foreign ministry also said in a statement that it was “impossible” to hold expert level consultations with Washington on a number of bilateral issues that had been due to take place in the near future.

It did not specify which issues it was referring to, or when talks were supposed to take place.

Ukrainian refugee says she felt a 'sense of safety' when she arrived in Wales

08:58 , Joe Middleton

ICYMI: Liz Truss accuses Vladimir Putin of ‘weaponising hunger’ over grain crisis

08:08 , Joe Middleton

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of “weaponising hunger” and using food security as a “callous tool of war” by blocking millions of tonnes of grain leaving Ukrainian ports.

Ashley Cowburn reports.

Liz Truss accuses Vladimir Putin of ‘weaponising hunger’ over Ukraine grain crisis

Ukraine’s EU candidacy will strengthen Europe, says Zelensky

07:45 , Joe Middleton

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine‘s formal candidature to join the European Union was a big step towards strengthening Europe.

Zelenskiy told EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday that their decision to accept Kyiv’s candidacy was among the most important for Ukraine since it broke from the Soviet Union 31 years ago.

“But this decision is not just being made for the benefit of Ukraine. It is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could have been made right now, in our time, and when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity,” he said.

European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted after the decision: “A historic moment”, adding “Our future is together.”

The approval of Kyiv’s EU candidacy will anger Russia, which has been concerned with Ukraine‘s closer ties with the West.

Russian plane crash: ‘Four dead’ as military flight headed to Ukraine border ‘suffers engine failure’

07:19 , Joe Middleton

Four people were killed on early Friday after a Russian military cargo plane crashed in Moscow’s western city Ryazan.

The plane — II-76 military cargo aircraft — crashed and caught fire while trying to make a landing the Russian city.

Five people were hospitalised with injuries, state news agency RIA said.

The Interfax news agency separately quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying the plane had suffered an engine malfunction while on a training flight. The ministry gave no details of crew deaths.

Thomas Kingsley reports.

‘Four dead’ as military flight headed to Ukraine border ‘suffers engine failure’

Ukrainian soldiers will have to exit Sievierodonetsk, says governor Haidai

06:39 , Arpan Rai

The Ukrainian soldiers embedded in the key Donbas city Sievierodonetsk will “have to be withdrawn” from the battle-marred region, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Friday.

He added: “Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense.”

Ukraine defeats Russian attack on Lysychansk but loses key village, says governor

06:33 , Arpan Rai

Ukrainian fighters have countered and repelled an attack by Russian soldiers in Donbas’s Lysychansk which was the last city in Sievierodonetsk under Kyiv’s control, the regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Friday.

However, Russia has managed to wrest control of a key village named Mykolaivka which is near a critical highyway to Lysychansk.

The Ukrainian city in Sievierodonetsk has been the scene of heavy fighting in the last month, as Russia shifted its focus to capturing the separatist territories in the country’s east.

Mr Haidai said that the battle has continued to rage in the twin city of Sievierodonetsk.

PM warns against forcing Ukraine into accepting ‘bad peace deal’

05:51 , Arpan Rai

Boris Johnson has said that pressurising Ukraine into accepting a “bad peace” deal would be a “disaster” as he warned Nato allies on the ongoing siege in Europe.

“Now is not the time to settle and encourage the Ukrainians to settle for a bad peace, for a peace by which they are invited to give up chunks of their territory in return for a ceasefire,” Mr Johnson said on Thursday.

He added: “But I think they are going to win. I know they are going to win. It is their country. They are fighting for it desperately hard,” he told reporters travelling with him in Kigali.”

The British PM said that there is “no question there is a lot of Ukraine fatigue now in the world”. He is at a summit of Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda ahead of talks with G7 and Nato allies in Europe.

Read the full story here:

PM warns against forcing Ukraine into accepting ‘bad peace deal’

Three killed as Russian cargo plane crashes in Ryazan

05:16 , Arpan Rai

At least three people were killed on early Friday after a Russian military cargo plane crashed in Moscow’s western city Ryazan.

The plane — II-76 military cargo aircraft — crashed and caught fire while trying to make a landing the Russian city.

Of the total nine onboard, three have been confirmed dead, reported Russian Interfax news agency.

Russian defence ministry said that the cargo aircraft had suffered an engine malfunction while on a training flight.

Ukraine’s EU candidate status sends ‘message of solidarity’, says Michael Martin

05:01 , Arpan Rai

Ireland’s premier Taoiseach Michael Martin said that Europe is sending out a message of solidarity by announcing the status of EU candidate for Ukraine.

“Today the European Union is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family,” Mr Martin said.

The Irish premier was talking in Brussels ahead of the European Council meeting in which Ukraine, along with Moldova, qualified for the candidate status for future EU membership.

“It’s historic in the sense of the enlargement of the European Union and I’m particularly pleased as a long-standing advocate for Ukraine’s application to candidate status to become a member of the European Union,” he said.

He added: “It’s very significant for Ukraine, very significant for Moldova and, indeed, Georgia, in terms of European perspective.”

Taoiseach: Granting EU candidate status to Ukraine sends message of solidarity

Russia trying to get control of key highway as battle rages on in east

04:34 , Arpan Rai

Officials from the Ukrainian military said that the Russian forces are trying to wrestle for control of a key highway in the war-struck country’s east as they are eyeing snapping the supply lines of artillery.

The Russians are trying to overtake the hills overlooking the highway linking Lysychansk with Bakhmut, to the southwest, the military officials said.

It is a critical route of supply line to the Ukrainian forces on the eastern frontline.

The Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway was not used because of heavy Russian shelling, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said.

He added that the Ukrainian forces are receiving supplies via an alternative route.

ICYMI: EU grants Ukraine candidate status

02:51 , Katy Clifton

European leaders last night formally accepted Ukraine as a candidate to join the EU, a bold geopolitical move triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine but a reminder that the 27-nation bloc will need a major overhaul as it looks to enlarge again.

Although it could take Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova more than a decade to qualify for membership, the decision at a two-day EU summit is a symbolic step that signals the bloc's intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.

"A historic moment," European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted. "Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," he said, adding: "Our future is together."

Read more below:

Ukraine granted EU candidate status in ‘historic moment’

Russia ‘weaponising hunger’

01:30 , Katy Clifton

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has accused Russia of “weaponising hunger” and using food security as a “callous tool of war” with its blockade of Ukrainian grain.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara yesterday, Ms Truss warned the crisis is “urgent” and must be solved in the next month to avoid “devastating consequences”.

Western officials later said they believe the month deadline is set against a harvest that’s arriving, rather than fixing global food security issues as a whole.

Asked if this target was realistic, they said there is a “delicate and difficult negotiation to be had”, but that an agreement to get the grain moving could feasibly be reached within that time.

They explained there would then be a “lag”, saying: “Will maritime ships start delivering in that timeframe? Yet to be seen.”

Fighting nears ‘fierce climax’ in Donbas

Friday 24 June 2022 00:30 , Katy Clifton

Ukrainian troops may need to pull back from the key frontline city of Lysychansk to avoid being encircled after Russian forces captured two villages to its south, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said yesterday.

The retreat of Ukrainian troops from Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, the last two Ukrainian-held cities in Luhansk, would bring Moscow closer to one of its key war aims of capturing all of that region.

Divided by a river, the cities have become a key battleground in Russia’s assault on the industrial heartland of Donbas and the fighting is nearing a “fierce climax,” a top official said on Wednesday.

The general staff of Ukraine‘s armed forces on Thursday confirmed the loss of Rai-Oleksandrivka and Loskutivka, around 5 km (3 miles) from Lysychansk, and said that Russian troops were trying to surround Ukrainian forces there.

Ukraine files European court case against Russia

Thursday 23 June 2022 23:30 , Katy Clifton

Ukraine, in a symbolic move, today said it had formally filed a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to end “the mass and gross human rights violations” by Moscow’s forces during the war.

The bid has no chance of substantive success, given that on 7 June the Russian parliament approved two bills ending the court’s jurisdiction in Russia.

A Ukrainian justice ministry statement said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Court will be invited to find that Russia has been guilty of the most flagrant, serious and sustained violations of the Convention ever placed before the Court, and to award just satisfaction on an equally unprecedented scale,” it said.

‘I don’t think that we should underestimate them'

Thursday 23 June 2022 22:30 , Katy Clifton

The West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, Estonia’s leader has said, adding that as the war enters its fifth month, Moscow’s forces are in it for the long haul.Prime minister Kaja Kallas said in an interview with the Associated Press that Europe should ensure that those committing war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian president Vladimir Putin escaped punishment for annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine‘s Donbas region that killed over 14,000 people even before this year’s war began.“I’ve heard talks that, you know, there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they haven’t,” she said of the Russian military, which failed to take Kyiv in the early stages of the war and is now concentrating its firepower in the east.“They have plenty of troops still who can come (to fight) — They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don’t think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up,” Ms Kallas said, despite the low morale and corruption troubling Moscow’s forces.

‘Ukraine’s future is within the EU'

Thursday 23 June 2022 21:30 , Katy Clifton

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has tweeted his gratitude at the country being granted EU candidate status and declared: “Ukraine‘s future is within the EU.”“It’s a victory. We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he added on Instagram, referring to the duration of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”

Watch: Ukrainian refugee says she felt a ‘sense of safety’ when she arrived in Wales

Thursday 23 June 2022 20:33 , Andy Gregory

Retired school teacher Marta Burak, 64, has described feeling a “sense of safety” when she arrived in Wales from Ukraine.

She is currently living in a specialist camp run by youth group Urdd Gobaith Cymru, as part of the Welsh Government’s “super sponsor scheme”, which provides support for refugees upon their arrival in the country.

Ukraine granted EU candidate status in ‘historic moment’

Thursday 23 June 2022 20:00 , Eleanor Sly

European leaders have formally accepted Ukraine and Moldova as candidates to join the EU, in a “historic moment” which will also serve as a blow to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Although it could take the two countries more than a decade to qualify for membership, the decision at a two-day EU summit is symbolic step which signals the bloc’s intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.

“A historic moment,” European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted. “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” he said, adding: “Our future is together.”

Read more here:

Ukraine granted EU candidate status in ‘historic moment’

Over 40 organisations call on Biden to do more to free Brittney Griner from detention in Russia

Thursday 23 June 2022 19:51 , Andy Gregory

Dozens of organisations have signed a letter calling on President Joe Biden to make a deal to free Brittney Griner, the basketball star who has been detained in Russia for more than three months, Abe Asher reports.

Ms Griner, whose resume includes two Olympic gold medals, an NCAA championship with Baylor University, and a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February just prior to the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on accusations that she was transporting hashish oil in her luggage. The US State Department has classified her as “wrongfully detained”.

In the letter, also addressed to vice president Kamala Harris, Ms Griner’s allies wrote that the star “continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family” and called on the administration to increase its urgency regarding the matter and “make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”

Signatories to the letter included the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and a range other human rights, LGBTQ+, and sporting organisations.

40-plus organisations call on Biden to step up efforts to free Brittney Griner

US to provide $450m security package for Ukraine, officials say

Thursday 23 June 2022 19:14 , Andy Gregory

The United States is expected to provide an additional $450m in security assistance to Ukraine, two US officials have told Reuters.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said an announcement was expected later today and the latest package is expected to include four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) – weapons which Ukraine celebrated receiving from the US earlier today.

The official added that details on the package could change at the last minute, Reuters reported.

The latest package comes after Joe Biden’s administration last week announced a fresh infusion of $1bn in weapons for Ukraine, including anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets, howitzers and ammunition.

Putin critic Alexei Navalny held in new prison with culture of ‘beatings and torture’

Thursday 23 June 2022 18:42 , Andy Gregory

Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption activist, has tweeted an update on his time behind bars after being moved to a new prison, my colleague Lamiat Sabin reports.

The critic of Vladimir Putin was sentenced to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt of court charges in March, in a case that Amnesty International described as a “sham”.

That was on top of a two-and-a-half-year sentence for allegedly violating the conditions of his parole while outside Russia. Mr Navalny was arrested in January 2021 after returning from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning he blamed on Russian authorities.

After his latest appeal was rejected, the 46-year-old was transferred earlier this month to the maximum-security IK-6 prison in the Vladimir region village of Melekhovo, about 155 miles east of Moscow.

On Tuesday, Mr Navalny tweeted that he had already received a reprimand after just a week at what he described as “my new cozy high-security prison”. The punishment was for a “made-up report” from his last prison saying that he had “violated the dress code” by visiting the “washroom wearing a T-shirt instead of a prison jumpsuit”.

The new maximum-security prison had a culture of “reports, reprimands, and rewards” as well as “beatings and torture,” he also said.

Putin critic Alexei Navalny held in new prison with culture of ‘beatings and torture’

UK defence and foreign secretaries in Turkey to talk war and weapons ahead of Nato summit

Thursday 23 June 2022 18:19 , Andy Gregory

Weapons and war were the top agenda items in a pair of high-power diplomatic meetings between the UK and Turkey today, our international correspondent Borzou Daragahi reports.

The visits by the UK’s foreign and defence secretaries to Ankara followed news of the possible collapse of a major fighter jet deal between Ankara and Washington and came amid a crisis in Nato over efforts to include Nordic countries into the alliance.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace met in the Turkish capital with his counterpart Hulusi Akar. Nato allies, ahead of a summit in Madrid next Wednesday, are seeking to convince Turkey to remove its opposition to allowing Sweden and Finland to join the alliance.

They hope to present a united front against Russia as it pursues its four-month war of imperial conquest in Ukraine.

UK defence and foreign secretaries in Turkey ahead of Nato summit

Analysis | How the Kaliningrad stalemate could get serious for Russia and the west

Thursday 23 June 2022 17:49 , Andy Gregory

In this analysis piece, our associate editor Sean O’Grady argues that the standoff over Kaliningrad “is a severe test of Russian nerve”. He writes:

“If Vladimir Putin wanted to invade Ukraine to make Russia great again, then being bullied by tiny Lithuania, once a small republic of the USSR and with a population of 2.8 million, has made the Russian president instead look rather foolish.

“It is unthinkable that Lithuania would be able to impose such sanctions on its powerful neighbour were it not for its membership of the EU and Nato. It is also unthinkable that Lithuania would have been so bold without the acquiescence of Nato, which means the United States nodded it through. It feels as if a superpower clash is coming closer.”

You can read his thinking in full by registering or with Independent Premium:

How the Kaliningrad stalemate could get serious for Russia and the west

Canada will provide £157m to address global food crisis, Trudeau says

Thursday 23 June 2022 17:28 , Andy Gregory

Canada will provide C$250m (£157m) to the United Nations to address the food crisis exacerbated by supply chain constraints and high inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Justin Trudeau has said.

“We provided half a billion dollars at the beginning of the year, and this is an additional C$250 million to address this serious crisis,” the prime minister told reporters at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda.

Norway to step up gas deliveries to EU as bloc warns of potential for further supply cuts

Thursday 23 June 2022 17:10 , Andy Gregory

Norway has agreed to cooperate with the European Union to provide the union with more gas, as the bloc warned it was preparing for further supply cuts

“The two agreed to step up work with the aim to increase Norwegian gas deliveries both in the short and longer term,” Norway’s oil and energy ministry said in a statement.

EU countries have so far been able to compensate for reduced gas supply from Russia, but are increasing preparation in case of further supply cuts, the European Commission said earlier today.

“According to our exchange with the national authorities, the gas security of supply in Germany – and in the EU – is currently guaranteed. Lower inflows of gas from Russia can so far be compensated,” a Commission spokesperson said.

On Monday, the EU’s energy chief and EU ministers will discuss possible measures to reduce gas demand, and are increasing preparations for if the situation worsens, the spokesperson said.

Ukraine holds preliminary hearing in first rape trial of Russian soldier

Thursday 23 June 2022 16:49 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine has held a preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman, in what could be the first of dozens of such cases.

The suspect, 32-year-old Mikhail Romanov, who is believed to be in Russia, will be tried in absentia. He is accused of raping a 33-year-old woman after he and another Russian soldier allegedly shot her husband at point blank range in the village of Bohdanivka, northeast of Kyiv.

The two soldiers then left and later returned twice more to rape her, the court files said. The identity of the second soldier had not been established.

A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters that up to 50 such crimes were being investigated, but that the number of instances of sexual violence by Russian soldiers since the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion was likely to be substantially higher.

Death sentence for two Britons in Donbas a ‘sham judgement’, Downing Street says

Thursday 23 June 2022 16:28 , PA

The sentencing to death of two Britons for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine is a “sham judgment” with “absolutely no legitimacy”, No 10 has said, as the men plan to appeal against the verdict (see post at 1:52pm).

Asked about the situation, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Well we’ve consistently condemned the sentencing of the two individuals that you have spoken about. It’s a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.

“We’ve set out that these men are soldiers with the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore they’re prisoners of war and should be afforded the protections that that allows.

“The foreign secretary, as we’ve said before, continues to discuss this with her Ukrainian counterpart. But again, our firm belief is these gentlemen were fighting as part of the Ukrainian armed forces, and they should be provided with the legal protections that that provides.”

Asked if there was any update on any kind of agreement to bring the men home, possibly via a prisoner swap, the spokesman said: “That would be a question for the Ukrainian government. As I say, they were fighting ... as part of the Ukrainian armed forces and we continue to work closely with them. But again, we continue to call the judgment out for what it is, which is a sham.”

Both men have lived in Ukraine since before the invasion.

Boris Johnson says UK ‘certainly’ talking to Ukraine about demining Odesa

Thursday 23 June 2022 16:13 , Andy Gregory

Boris Johnson has indicated that the UK is willing to assist Ukraine with demining operations near the Black Sea port of Odesa and is considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tonnes of grain held up by Russia’s blockade.

Turkey is trying to broker talks between the United Nations, Ukraine and Russia to create a possible safe sea corridor in the Black Sea, but Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted first to facilitate its grain and fertiliser exports.

“There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks and other European friends and allies to see what we can do,” Mr Johnson told Reuters while visiting Rwanda.

London’s insurance market has placed the entire region on its high risk list meaning soaring costs for shipments, and Mr Johnson said his government was considering all options when asked whether the government could provide sovereign guarantees for shipping insurance.

“What the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea,” he said.

Asked if Britain was ready to help Ukraine demine the area, Johnson said: “Yes, I don’t want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help themselves protect that we are certainly talking to them at a technical level to help demine Odesa.”

Nike announces plan to pull out of Russia

Thursday 23 June 2022 15:30 , Andy Gregory

Nike has revealed it will fully pull out of Russia three months after halting its business in the country due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US sportswear giant said it will scale down its operations in Russia over the “coming months”, having announced a temporary suspension on 3 March.

“Nike, Inc has made the decision to leave the Russian marketplace,” the firm said. “Our priority is to ensure we are fully supporting our employees while we responsibly scale down our operations over the coming months.”

Following the likes of Google, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, the move is largely symbolic given that Nike has previously said it gets less than 1 per cent of its revenue from Ukraine and Russia combined.

Kaliningrad minister says rail freight hit by Lithuania ban can be diverted onto ships

Thursday 23 June 2022 15:09 , Andy Gregory

Goods banned from transit across Lithuania from Russia to Kaliningrad because of EU sanctions can be “quickly rerouted onto ships”, a minister in the Russian exclave has claimed.

The Russian state-owned Tass news agency quoted Kaliningrad region minister of infrastructure development Yevgeniya Kukushkina as saying that around 30 per cent of Kaliningrad’s freight imports were affected, saying: “This volume can be quickly redirected onto ships.”

Lithuania banned the transit of steel and other ferrous metals to neighbouring Kaliningrad across its territory from Russia on 18 June, after EU sanctions against Moscow came into effect.

Moscow called the move a “blockade” of its exclave, which has traditionally depended on transport links to and from Russia which cross Lithuania, and threatened to retaliate with “appropriate measures” that would have “serious negative influence on the population of Lithuania”.

Germany warns of possible gas rations as Russia reduces supplies

Thursday 23 June 2022 14:51 , Andy Gregory

Germany’s economy minister has warned the country may have to introduce gas rationing because of the risk of dwindling deliveries from Russia, our international editor David Harding reports.

Robert Habeck said the situation in Germany was “serious” and that Europe’s biggest economy faces a “crisis” over storing enough gas for the winter.

“The reduction in gas supplies is an economic attack on us by Putin. We will defend ourselves against this. But our country is going to have to go down a stony path now,” Mr Habeck said.

Asked about the threat of rationing, he said there would “hopefully never” be a need for such a move, but crucially added: “Of course, I can’t rule it out.”

Russia last week reduced gas flows not only to Germany but also Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia just as European Union countries are scrambling to refill storage of the fuel used to generate electricity, power industry and heat homes in the winter.

Germany warns of possible gas rations as Russia reduces supplies

Ukrainian minister welcomes US delivery of long-range weapon systems

Thursday 23 June 2022 14:32 , Andy Gregory

Ukraine’s defence minister has welcomed the arrival of US supplies of powerful long-range weapon systems which Kyiv hopes can help turn the tide of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Ukraine says it needs the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to better match the range of Russian rocket systems which it says are being extensively used to pummel the Donbas region.

Washington has said it has received assurances from Kyiv that those longer-range weapons would not be used to attack Russian territory, fearing an escalation of the conflict. Moscow has warned it will strike targets in Ukraine which they “have not yet been hitting” if the West supplies longer-range missiles to Ukraine for use in high-precision mobile rocket systems.

Ukrainian forces may need to retreat to avoid encirclement, governor says

Thursday 23 June 2022 14:10 , Andy Gregory

Ukrainian troops may need to retreat from the frontline city of Lysychansk to avoid encirclement after Russian forces captured two settlements to its south, Luhansk’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai has warned.

The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces earlier confirmed the loss of Rai-Oleksandrivka and Loskutivka, which lie around 3 miles from Lysychansk, and said Russian troops were trying to surround Ukrainian forces there.

Governor Gaidai suggested that Ukrainian troops might have to draw back, saying on national TV: “In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions.

“All of Lysychansk is within reach of their fire. It is very dangerous in the city.”

He said Lysychansk could still be reached by road, allowing civilian evacuations to continue – contrasting with claims carried by Russia's Tass news agency from Russian-backed separatists who said the city was surrounded and cut off from supplies.

Britons sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists to appeal against verdict

Thursday 23 June 2022 13:52 , Andy Gregory

Two Britons and a Moroccan are preparing to appeal against the death sentences they received earlier this month from pro-Russian separatists, one of their lawyers has said.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, from the UK, and Brahim Saadoun, from Morocco, were captured while fighting for Ukraine and were convicted by a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) for alleged “mercenary activities”. They insist they were regular soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army.

The verdict was condemned internationally, with British politicians calling the result of a “show trial”, and Yulia Tserkovnikova, Mr Pinner’s lawyer, has confirmed that she will now be challenging the decision.

“My colleagues and I are currently preparing the full text of an appeal against the sentence in the interests of our defendants,” she said, according to the Russian state Tass news agency.

“Undoubtedly, if the appeal is dismissed and the sentence comes into force, a request for clemency will be filed as this is an inherent right of the defendants, under the legislation of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” she added.

My colleague Rory Sullivan has the full report here:

Britons sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists to appeal

European Parliament reacts to Ukraine candidacy vote

Thursday 23 June 2022 13:35 , Andy Gregory

Here is the response from the European Parliament after its approval of a resolution stating that Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova should be granted official EU candidacy status.

The final decision on the countries’ candidacy will be made by the leaders on the EU Council.

My colleague Rory Sullivan has more on the vote here:

European Parliament approves EU candidacy status for Ukraine and Moldova

Russians trying to encircle troops defending Lysychansk

Thursday 23 June 2022 13:20 , Andy Gregory

Russian forces are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops defending the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, a senior Ukrainian defence official has told reporters.

“The enemy has not stopped trying ... to create conditions for the encirclement of units of our forces in the Lysychansk area,” said Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the main operational department of Ukraine’s General Staff.

Earlier, one of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisers warned the battle for the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk was “entering a sort of fearsome climax”.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting