- Zelenskiy urges West to speed up heavy weapons deliveries
- EU leaders to launch Ukraine membership process
- Battle for Donbas twin cities reaches critical stage
KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine is set to be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday, a move that boosts the country’s morale as Russian assaults wear down the defenders of two cities in the eastern Donbas region.
Although the approval of the Kyiv government’s application by EU leaders meeting in Brussels is just the start of what will be a years-long process, it marks a huge geopolitical shift and will anger Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine.
The expected green light “is a signal to Moscow that Ukraine, and also other countries from the former Soviet Union, cannot belong to the Russian spheres of influence,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, told Reuters.
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Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what Russia considers its sphere of influence.
The conflict, which the West sees as an unjustified war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities as well as having ramifications across much of the world as food and energy exports have been curtailed.
Russia has focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the conflict was thwarted by Ukrainian resistance.
The war of attrition in the Donbas – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which sit on opposite sides of the Siverskyi Donets River in Luhansk province.
The battle there is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy.
Russian forces were trying to encircle Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, senior Ukrainian defence official Oleksiy Gromov said in a briefing on Thursday.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said separately that all Lysychansk was within reach of Russian fire and the Ukrainian troops there might retreat to new positions to avoid being trapped.
Ukrainian forces were defending Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Gaidai said, but Russian troops had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.
Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk while Ukraine and Russia dispute who controls the bombed-out city.
Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded. But Gaidai said on Wednesday the Russians did not yet have full control of Sievierodonetsk.
TASS news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city to the town of Sieviersk was taken.