War in Ukraine, Day 80 | Kyiv fends off offensives in the east and predicts a Russian defeat by the end of the year

(Kyiv, Kramatorsk, Wangels) Ukrainian authorities on Saturday showed their optimism in the war against Russia, announcing they had repelled offensives in the east, while Finland officially informed Vladimir Putin of his intention to join NATO, a “mistake” for the Russian President.

Posted at 8:01 am
Updated at 11:12 a.m

David STOUT, Dmitry ZAKS, Isabelle LE PAGE
Media Agency France

At 80and On the day of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces continued to try to advance into the Donbass, a strategic region in the east that has been partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and which they have made their main target since withdrawing from the Kyiv area in late March .

On Saturday morning, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry recorded around thirty bombings in 24 hours in the Luhansk region, one of the two provinces of Donbass with Donetsk. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, ten Russian attacks in the two regions were repelled within 24 hours.

In particular, for three weeks the Russians have been trying unsuccessfully to cross the Seversky Donets River near the village of Bilogorivka in the Luhansk region.

Several buildings are still burning in the nearly deserted village, the streets are littered with abandoned military hardware and artillery fire echoes nearby, an AFP team noted.

Only three soot-covered corners remain of a school that was bombed a week ago, in an attack Kyiv says is one of the deadliest crimes committed by Russian forces since they began their invasion of Ukraine sixty civilians were killed.

In this region of eastern Ukraine, the Russians are unable to make “substantial conquests” in terms of cities or territories, a US defense official said on condition of anonymity. “Ukrainian artillery is frustrating (their efforts) to gain ground, including crossing the Donets River,” he added.

Further north, in Kharkiv province, Ukrainian authorities claimed to have launched a “counteroffensive” near Izium. The city itself, of strategic importance to Moscow’s offensive in the Donbass, has been under siege since May 1ah April.

“Our armed forces are repelling the enemy, and residents are beginning to return to their homes,” said Oleg Sinegoubov, the region’s governor, urging those who had fled not to return immediately because, according to him, “the enemy dismantled absolutely everything: building yards, Forests, roadsides, even cribs”.


PHOTO YASUYOSHI CHIBA, AGENCE FRANCE PRESS

Destroyed houses in Bilogorivka village, Lugansk region.

“Rotate”?

The situation also seems to have changed around Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city. According to the Ukrainian general staff, Russian troops had to withdraw from several locations north-east of the city.

“The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his daily address on Friday evening. These developments fuel Ukrainian optimism.

The war will experience a “tipping point” in August and Russia will be defeated “before the end of the year,” Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, assured British broadcaster Sky News in an interview broadcast on Friday evening.

But according to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “Ukraine and its Western partners likely have only a small window of opportunity to support a counteroffensive in Russian-held territories.”

Vladimir Putin “probably intends to join southern and eastern Ukraine to the Russian Federation in the coming months,” according to the institute.


Photo MIKHAIL METZEL, Agence France-Presse

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Time also seems to be running out for the last Ukrainian fighters in the Azovstal Steel Works, the last pocket of resistance in the strategic port of Mariupol on the southern tip of the Donbass.

While President Zelensky on Friday spoke of “very difficult negotiations” to achieve the evacuation of 38 seriously injured fighters – out of a total of about 600 wounded – some of their relatives on Saturday called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to intervene with Vladimir Putin.

“We address His Excellency Chinese President Xi Jinping […] to work to save the Mariupol defenders,” launched a fighter’s wife, Natalia Zarytska, in a room where a portrait of the Chinese leader was hung.

Relatives and some Azovstal fighters have been calling for help for days, sometimes to Turkey, to the USA, and now to China.


PHOTO BERNAT ARMANGUE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ukrainian vehicles drive past a destroyed Russian tank on a road north of Kharkiv May 13.

“Direct Conversation”

Outside of Ukraine, the main point of tension with Moscow in recent days has been Finland’s – and probably Sweden’s – pending NATO candidacy.

This was officially announced by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to Vladimir Putin by telephone on Saturday. “The conversation was direct and direct and went smoothly. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Mr Ninistö, a very regular interlocutor with the Russian President in recent years.

Mr Putin told him that Helsinki’s renunciation of its historic military non-alignment – provoked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – “would be a mistake as there is no threat to Finland’s security,” according to the Kremlin.


PHOTO ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO, REUTERS

The Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol is attacked by the Russian army

Moscow threatened “technical-military” retaliatory measures on Thursday, without naming which ones. In the night from Friday to Saturday, electricity exports from Russia to Finland – around 10 percent of the Nordic country’s consumption – were suspended, as the Finnish subsidiary of the Russian group InterRAO had warned, citing unpaid bills.

Most NATO countries have supported Helsinki membership, with the exception of Turkey, which has threatened to block the process. Washington said Friday it was “working to clarify Turkey’s position.”

“Extend sanctions”

In this regard, the diplomatic leaders of the G7 (Germany, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Japan and Great Britain) who met in Wangels in Germany’s far north declared that they would “never” recognize the borders Russia wants to impose on Ukraine. And again called on Belarus, a neighbor of Ukraine and an ally of Moscow, “to stop facilitating Russia’s intervention”.

In their final communiqué, the seven powers pledged to extend “economic sanctions” to “sectors on which Russia is particularly dependent” and urged China not to “undermine” those measures.

The European Union also pledged on Friday to provide half a billion euros in additional aid in support of Ukraine’s struggle, bringing it “to a total of two billion euros”.

The recipe is “clear”, explained EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell from Wangels: We need “more of the same”, i.e. more economic sanctions against Russia, more support for Kyiv, and “continue to work on isolating Russia”.

However, the EU-27 are struggling to agree to phase out their purchases of Russian oil as Hungary deems the waiver received insufficient. An informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers dedicated to Ukraine was scheduled to follow Berlin.

Ukraine favorite of Eurovision

In Kyiv, where daily life is returning to normal, the city council on Saturday renamed an iconic Soviet monument. The ark of friendship between peoples has become the ark of the freedom of the Ukrainian people, announced the mayor of the capital, Vitaly Klitschko.

If many places or monuments of the capital are to be “decommunized” in this way, the mayor stressed that naming the new names would take time and would involve “specialists”, especially historians, “so as not to make hasty decisions”. “.

Also, many Ukrainians were preparing to watch Saturday night’s Eurovision final live, hoping that their favorite song “Stefania” would win in this competition, including Russia and Belarus.

“Winning the Eurovision Song Contest would give us great hopes of winning the war” against Russia, confided Maria Lembak, 40, a Ukrainian fan from Turin, where the final is taking place.

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