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Ukraine’s Zelensky has challenged as Russia withdraws from Kharkiv

Kyiv – Shortly after his country’s victory in Eurovision, disobedient Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised early Sunday to host a song contest in Mariupol, which is almost entirely in Russian hands, in addition to a strong group of several hundred Ukrainian fighters who continue to survive. steel factory.

The Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra won the popular competition with its song “Stephanie”, which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war, and its victory was a boost to morale.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelenski said on Facebook. “Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!

The group made a passionate request during the show to help the fighters, who are still at the Azovstal steel plant in the port city, and Zelenski said the “one day” competition would take place “in Mariupol, Ukraine.”

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The president’s optimistic words come as Russian troops withdraw from Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city after bombing it for weeks, and Moscow’s forces continue to fight a tough battle for the country’s eastern industrial center, Donbass.

Russia has now probably lost a third of its ground forces in February and continues to suffer from “persistently high levels of exhaustion” while failing to make significant territorial gains in the past month, the British Defense Ministry said. its daily intelligence update. Sunday.

“Russia’s offensive in Donbass has lost momentum and lagged significantly behind schedule,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces were suffering from “continuing low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to drastically accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.

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In the western city of Lviv, a Russian missile struck “military infrastructure” early Sunday morning, but there is no immediate information on the dead or wounded, Lviv Regional Governor Maxim Kozitsky told the Telegram news app.

Russia is targeting railways and other critical infrastructure in and around Lviv, which is close to the Polish border and a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Western officials said that despite the attacks, there was no significant impact on Ukraine’s ability to supply its forces.

As Russian forces withdraw from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military says Moscow is now focusing on guarding supply routes while mortar, artillery and air strikes in the eastern Donetsk region in a bid to deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.

Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped territory in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbass region, the border area where Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

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In the southern Donbass, the port of the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov, Mariupol, is now largely under Russian control, with the exception of several hundred soldiers left at the steel plant.

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians from the city reportedly reached the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporozhye on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers at the steel plant.

After failing to take Kyiv after the February 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus east to Donbass, seeking to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped troops and seize territory that is still under the control of Ukraine.

Air strikes and artillery shelling make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems to be a step back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

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Russia has taken over some villages and towns in the Donbas, including Rubezhnoye, where the pre-war population numbered about 55,000.

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces have also made progress in the east, capturing six towns or villages in the last day. In a speech on Saturday, he said “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops are “still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious”.

“Step by step,” Zelensky said, “we are forcing the occupiers to leave Ukrainian soil.”

Kharkov, which is close to the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has suffered weeks of intense shelling. To a large extent, the Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million was a key military target earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to take over and retain large cities.

Regional Governor Oleg Sinegubov said through the Telegram news app that there had been no shelling of Kharkiv in the past day.

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He added that Ukraine has launched a counter-offensive near Izyum, a city 125km (78 miles) south of Kharkiv, which has been held by Russia since at least early April.

Putin justified the war in Ukraine by saying it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

But the invasion has worried other countries on Russia’s flank that they may be next, and last week the Finnish president and prime minister said he supported the search for NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to decide on Sunday whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

In a phone call Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there were no threats to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

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The potential candidacies of the Scandinavian countries were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not in a good opinion”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was scheduled to meet with NATO colleagues, including Turkey’s foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

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Jesica Fish in Bakhmut, Juras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Bekatoros in Odessa, Jill Lawless in London and other AP officials around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Ukraine’s Zelensky has challenged as Russia withdraws from Kharkiv

Source link Ukraine’s Zelensky has challenged as Russia withdraws from Kharkiv

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