Sievierodonetsk ceasefire broken, French journalist killed

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Ukrainian servicemen walk past a building heavily damaged in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut in 28 May 2022

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AP Photo/Francisco Seco

A French journalist has been killed near Severodonetsk in Ukraine after the vehicle he was in came under fire, according to a statement posted on Monday by Luhansk’s regional governor Serhiy Haidai.

Fighting has intensified in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, with Russian and Ukrainian troops trading blows in fierce close-quarter combat. Ukrainian officials claim that Russian artillery barrages have destroyed critical infrastructure and damaged 90% of the buildings in the city.

Follow the Monday developments as they unfolded in our live blog below.

08:52

Monday’s key updates:

    EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels on Monday was overshadowed by a lack of progress on new sanctions.

    Danes are set to vote Wednesday on abandoning their country’s opt-out from EU defence and security policy, another sign of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed military policymaking in the West. 

    Russian forces have stormed the strategic city of Sievierodonetsk after unsuccessfully trying to encircle it, with fierce close-quarter combat taking place.A French journalist was killed near Sievierodonetsk after the vehicle he was in came under fire. The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office has opened up an official investigation into his death.Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined officials in Kharkiv on Sunday for his first visit to the eastern frontline since Russia’s assault on the country began.The “liberation” of the Donbas is an unconditional priority for Moscow, says Russian foreign minister.

22:59

That’s our Ukraine live blog coming to a close for Monday evening. 

We’re back on Tuesday morning with all the latest developments. 

21:49

French anti-terrorism prosecutor opens war crimes investigation into death of journalist 

The French National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) announced on Monday that it was opening a war crimes investigation into the death of Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff, a BFMTV journalist who was killed in eastern Ukraine while accompanying civilians on a humanitarian bus near Sievierodonetsk.

The investigation entrusted to the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes (OCLCH) also concerns “the injuries suffered by his colleague Maxime Brandstaetter”, who was present with him during the report, the office stated.

At least five other investigations for acts committed against French nationals in Ukraine have been opened by the PNAT since the beginning of the war.  

21:26

Belarusian army to hold military exercises ‘near Ukrainian border’ in June 

Belarusian Ministry of Defence said it has ordered its troops stationed in the Gomel region to hold exercises on 22 June in order to test their “military readiness”, ministry official Andrey Krivonosov said on Monday.

According to the pro-government outlet BelTA, the purpose of the drills is to “increase the level of combat and mobilisation readiness (…) improve military knowledge and practical skills” of its conscripts.

“Fire training drills are planned at shooting ranges” and other facilities, Krivonosov said.

Although Belarus has served as a staging area for Russia’s February invasion, the country led by President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Vladimir Putin, has not had its troops actively participate in the war.

19:28

Putin using food security as ‘blackmail’ to ease sanctions, Zelenskyy told French FM

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked France not to succumb to Russian “blackmail” over food supplies at a meeting with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

Zelenskyy’s office says in its summary of the Monday talks that Russia is using food security issues in an attempt to have international sanctions eased. Ukraine has accused Russia of looting grain and farm equipment from regions its troops hold in Ukraine and of obstructing Ukraine’s exports of grain.

Zelenskyy’s office says he and Colonna discussed sanctions, weapons supplies and Ukrainian aspirations to join the European Union.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says it’s important Colonna also visited Bucha, the sight of Russian atrocities.

Moscow has pressed the West to lift sanctions against it over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship grain while under attack. Britain has accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom,” insisting there would be no sanctions relief.

Ukraine says it’s grateful to France for supporting strong sanctions.

18:14

Russia could work with Turkey to open up Black Sea

Russia is ready to work with Turkey on the free movement of goods in the Black Sea, including grain from Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin told his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

In a telephone conversation, Putin “stressed that the Russian side is ready to facilitate the unimpeded maritime transit of goods in coordination with Turkish partners. This also applies to the export of grain from Ukrainian ports,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Maritime traffic in the Black Sea has been disrupted since the start of the Russian invasion at the end of February.

The export of Ukrainian grain, in particular, has been severely hampered, and this has contributed to increased global food insecurity, as Kyiv is a major agricultural exporter.

Ukraine and Western countries accuse Moscow of blocking Ukrainian Black Sea ports, a charge Russian officials deny. Last month, Ukraine began exporting grain from neighbouring Romania instead.

Ukrainian forces have also mined the waters near their ports to counter any attempt to approach them by sea. Some sea mines have drifted into Turkish waters.

Russia has repeatedly said in recent days that it could help overcome concerns about a food crisis in exchange for the lifting of sanctions triggered by its offensive in Ukraine.

During his call with Erdogan, Putin reaffirmed that Russia could “export large quantities of fertiliser and agricultural products if anti-Russian sanctions were cancelled”, according to the Kremlin.

Turkey, which shares the Black Sea with Russia, has tried to maintain good relations with Moscow, while selling military drones to Ukraine.

(AFP)

17:47

Gazprom to cut supplies to Dutch GasTerra company

Russian gas company Gazprom will suspend supplies to partly state-owned Dutch energy supplier GasTerra from Tuesday because it refused to pay in roubles, the Dutch firm announced on Monday.

 
“Gazprom has announced that it will discontinue supplies as of May 31, 2022,” GasTerra said in a statement, while stressing that it had “anticipated this by buying elsewhere”.

In a statement, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Change said “This decision has no consequences for the physical delivery of gas to Dutch households.”

(Euronews / AFP) 

17:30

17:01

Biden rules out sending long-range rockets to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden said Monday he would not deliver long-range rocket launcher systems to Ukraine that could reach Russia, despite Kyiv’s repeated requests for such weapons.

“We are not going to send Ukraine rocket systems that can strike inside Russia,” Joe Biden told reporters Monday morning.

US media had claimed in recent days that Washington was preparing to deliver long-range multiple rocket launcher systems to Kyiv, after Congress approved an additional $40 billion (€37 billion) in aid to Ukraine.

But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby had not confirmed the shipment of the M270 long-range rocket launcher systems  – modern, highly mobile vehicles with a 300km range. 

A second type of system had been mentioned: the Himars with a range of 70 to 150km – far superior to the M777 howitzer batteries, which are currently delivered to Kyiv and have an effective range of only 40km.

Ukrainian forces are currently struggling in Donbas region, where the Russian offensive has intensified around key towns. Russian forces have advanced towards the centre of Severodonetsk, which has been under fire for weeks.

Against this backdrop, Ukrainian officials have called for more weapons from the West: “Some partners are avoiding giving the necessary weapons for fear of escalation. Escalation, really? Russia is already using the heaviest non-nuclear weapons, burning people alive. Maybe it’s time (…) to give us [multiple rocket launchers],” tweeted Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency.

(AFP)

16:47

Emmanuel Macron confirms death of French journalist in Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron has confirmed the death of a French journalist in Ukraine.

Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, a journalist with BFMTV channel, was accompanying civilians on a bus as they fled from fighting near the eastern city of Severodonetsk. 

Macron said he was there “to show the reality of the war,” adding that he was “fatally wounded” in a bomb blast. 

“I share the grief of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff’s family, friends and colleagues, to whom I send my condolences. I would like to reiterate France’s unconditional support for those who carry out the difficult task of providing information in theatres of operation,” the president wrote on Twitter. 

Local journalists have reported that Leclerc-Imhoff was killed when he was hit by shell fragments from a bomb blast.

Meanwhile France’s new foreign minister Catherine Colonna “demanded” a “transparent investigation” into the death of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff. Colonna is visiting Ukraine today, and described his death as “deeply shocking.” 

In a press release the minister called for “a transparent investigation as soon as possible to shed full light on the circumstances of this tragedy”.

(Euronews / AFP) 

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