Ukraine’s Zelenskiy looks to EU offer as Russia pounds cities


  • EU set to make historic offer of candidate status to Ukraine
  • Russian forces pound Ukraine’s second city after lull
  • Fire breaks out at oil refinery inside Russia
  • Putin marks day in 1941 when Hitler invaded Soviet Union

KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, June 22 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday hailed the European Union’s expected offer of candidate status for his battle-weary nation as Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s second-biggest city Kharkiv and the eastern Donbas region.

European leaders will formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Though mainly symbolic, the move will help lift national morale at a very difficult time in a four-month conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and flattened towns and cities.

The war has 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 reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.

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The EU will temporarily shift back to coal to cope with dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing longer term climate goals, an EU official said on Wednesday, as a tight gas market and soaring prices set off a race for alternative fuels.

Zelenskiy said he believed all 27 EU countries will support Ukraine’s candidate status.

“We deserve it,” Zelenskiy told crowds in Amsterdam via video-link.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the EU. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that recognises Ukraine’s sacrifice.

With its forces running low on ammunition as a fierce war of attrition grinds on in the Donbas, Ukraine has more urgent priorities in the near term.

‘NO LETUP’ IN SHELLING CIVILIANS

The Russian strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday on Kharkiv, near the Russian border, were the worst for weeks in an area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Moscow’s forces back last month.

Kyiv characterized the strikes, which reportedly killed at least 20 people, as a bid to force Ukraine to pull resources from the main battlefields in the Donbas to protect civilians.

Oleh Synehubov, governor of Kharkiv region, said Russians continued shelling residential districts of Kharkiv and towns within Kharkiv region.

“There is no letup in the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “This is evidence that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure.”

On the outskirts of Kharkiv, medical workers carried the body of an elderly woman from a burnt-out garage to a nearby van.

“She was 85 years old. A child of the war (World War Two). She survived one war, but didn’t make it through this one,” said her grandson Mykyta.

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