Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine as Zelensky says world must not look away

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country’s forces were “doing everything” to halt the Russian offensive, with fierce fighting in the east and south.

Kyiv said on Friday it launched new airstrikes in the captured southern region of Kherson, one of the first areas to be taken by Russia after the February 24 invasion.

But Zelensky said on Friday “very tough battles” were underway, including in the eastern Donbass region where Moscow has concentrated its firepower, particularly around the eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk.

“Ukrainian troops are doing everything to stop the occupiers’ offensive,” Zelensky said in a speech.

“As far as heavy weapons, modern artillery – everything we have asked and continue to ask of our partners – allows them.”

In the Mykolaiv region, near the southern front line, the regional governor stressed the urgent need for international military assistance.

“The Russian army is more powerful, it has a lot of artillery and ammunition. At the moment it is an artillery war […] and we’re out of ammunition,” Vitaliy Kim said.

“Help from Europe and America is very, very important because we just need ammunition to defend our country.”

Zelensky said in his speech that Ukraine must “not allow the world to divert its attention from what is happening on the battlefield.”

In the town of Lysychansk, located just across a river from Severodonetsk, residents told AFP their stark choice: stay and brave the shelling, or flee and abandon their homes.

Yevhen Zhyryada, 39, said the only way to access water was to go to a water distribution site in the city.

“We have to go there under shelling and under fire,” he said.

“That’s how we survive.”

“Victory for Ukraine”

The shockwaves of the conflict have reverberated around the world, with growing fears of a global food crisis – Ukraine is an agricultural powerhouse and a major grain exporter.

An adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron has said France is ready to participate in an operation to allow safe access to Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa.

It was subject to a de facto blockade by Russia, with grain awaiting shipment.

France wants ‘a victory for Ukraine’, the adviser added after Macron recently sparked controversy by suggesting Russia should not be humiliated.

Moscow dumped its troops across the border into Ukraine on February 24 after weeks of warnings from the United States and its allies that Russia was planning an invasion.

US President Joe Biden said Friday that Zelensky ignored those warnings.

“There was no doubt and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it, nor did a lot of people,” Biden said at a fundraiser. “I understand why they didn’t want to hear it.”

The war has devastated Ukrainian cities and displaced millions while putting European nations on edge.

Nine of them – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – on Friday urged NATO to strengthen its eastern flank.

‘Shocking’ death sentences

Western countries reacted this week with renewed outrage after pro-Kremlin separatist authorities in the Donetsk region of the Donbass sentenced Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Saadun Brahim of Morocco to death.

The German Foreign Ministry said the “shocking” phrases show “once again Russia’s utter disregard for international humanitarian law.”

The United Nations has warned that unfair trials of POWs constitute war crimes.

Zelensky separately praised British leadership and its support for Kyiv’s fight against Russia during an unannounced visit by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

“Weapons, finances, sanctions – on these three issues, Britain is showing leadership,” Zelensky said in a video statement.

Kyiv has criticized countries – including Germany and France – for the slow delivery of aid and for giving too much credence to negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Not “artificially created”

Russia has repeatedly warned the West against getting involved in the conflict, with some officials warning of the risk of nuclear war.

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday it was watching Ukraine closely to monitor “threats of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons.”

Putin said that Russia calls his special military operation is meant to “denazify” Ukraine, suggesting he’s just taking back territory.

But speaking to British university students via video link, Zelensky said on Friday that Russia’s claim that Ukraine was “artificially created” was as absurd as saying that Ukrainians were “not humans but a variety of plants or a species of animals”.

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