Ukraine live: Fighting intensifies in Sievierodonetsk, with fierce close-quarter combat

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, centre, inspects damaged buildings as he visits war-hit Kharkiv region. Sunday, May 29, 2022.

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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.

Meanwhile, 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 latest developments on Monday in our live blog below.

08:52

    EU leaders will meet later today, 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 policy making 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.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 Donbas is an unconditional priority for Moscow, says Russian foreign minister.

11:31

Russia hits shipbuilding factory in southern Ukraine

The Russian military says it has struck a shipbuilding factory in Ukraine’s south.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Monday that a Russian artillery strike on the shipyard in the port of Mykolaiv destroyed Ukrainian armoured vehicles parked on its territory.

Konashenkov said that Russian artillery hit 593 areas of concentration of Ukrainian troops and equipment and 55 artillery batteries over the last 24 hours.

He added that the Russian air force hit three command posts and 67 troop locations.

(AP)

11:07

Eurovision trophy sells for €836,000, with money going to Ukraine’s military 

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, which won the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this month, has raised $900,000 (€836,000) for their country’s military by selling off the trophy they were awarded in Turin, Italy.

The group rode a wave of public support to claim an emotional victory with its song ‘Stefania’, which fuses rap with traditional Ukrainian folk music.

The trophy, a large crystal microphone with the Eurovision logo on it, ended up being bought by Whitebit, a company that specialises in trading Bitcoins, during a Facebook live auction.

“You guys are amazing!” the band wrote after the auction had concluded. 

The group said on Instagram that the money will be donated to the Prytula Foundation, which assists the Ukrainian army, with the funds set to be used to purchase a PD-2 unmanned aerial system, including three drones and a ground control station.

10:41

German parties agree on big increase in defence spending

Germany’s governing parties and the main opposition party have reached a deal to move ahead with a big increase in defence spending that Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced three months ago.

Scholz told German lawmakers three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started that the country would commit €100 billion to a special fund for its military and raise its defence spending above 2% of GDP — a measure on which it had long lagged.

Scholz wanted to anchor the special fund in the constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, meaning that the chancellor needed support from the centre-right opposition Union bloc.

Talks on the issue became mired in details, but the two sides reached an agreement Sunday night that clears the way to bring the fund to parliament.

Among other things, funding for cyber-defence and support for partner countries will come from Germany’s regular budget, not the special fund.

(AP)

10:21

Russian-controlled region of Kherson begins exporting grain to Russia

The Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Kherson has begun exporting grain that was harvested last year to Russia, the TASS news agency cited a senior local official as saying on Monday.

“We have space to store (the new crop) although we have a lot of grain here. People are now partially taking it out, having agreed with those who buy it from the Russian side,” said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Military-Civilian Administration.

Stremousov was also cited as saying the administration was working on the supplies of sunflower seeds to local and Russian processing plants.

Ukraine has previously accused Russia of stealing its grain from the territories Moscow has occupied since launching what it calls a special military operation in February.

(Reuters)

09:26

09:13

Russian forces advance towards centre of Severodonetsk

Russian forces have advanced towards the centre of Severodonetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that has been shelled for weeks and where street fighting is now taking place, the governor of the region announced on Monday.

“The Russians are advancing towards the middle of Severodonetsk. The fighting is continuing, the situation is very difficult,” Sergei Gaidai, head of the Lugansk region, said on Telegram.

According to Gaidai, two people were injured on Monday when their car was hit, but are now safe. Three doctors are missing, he added.

“Severodonetsk’s critical infrastructure is destroyed, 60% of the housing stock cannot be restored,” he continued.

Gaidai added that the road linking Severodonetsk to its twin town of Lyssychansk, and then onto Bakhmout further south, was too “dangerous” to allow the evacuation of civilians and the transport of humanitarian aid.

Severodonetsk and Lysychank are located more than 80 kilometres east of Kramatorsk, which has become the administrative centre of Ukraine’s Donbas since Moscow-backed separatists seized much of the area in 2014.

(AFP)

08:28

Danes to vote on abandoning opt-out from EU defence and security policy

Voters in Denmark will decide on Wednesday whether to abandon their country’s opt-out from the EU’s defence and security policy, in the latest potentially huge policy change in northern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, writes the Financial Times. 

Denmark has a history of voting against the EU in referendums, but the country’s centre-left government is optimistic that now is the time to end the country’s status as the only EU member state not to take part in the bloc’s defence co-operation. 

“NATO will still be the main tool for our defence and security, and the EU is an addition to that,” Mogens Jensen, defence spokesman for the ruling Social Democrats, told the FT. “If we are outside the EU co-operation, we cannot be part of that discussion.” 

The referendum comes just weeks after Sweden and Finland submitted their formal applications to join NATO, and is a further sign of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased military ties in the West. 

08:14

EU leaders meet today, overshadowed by lack of progress on new sanctions

European Union leaders will meet on Monday to declare continued support for Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s assault, but the talks will be overshadowed by their failure to agree on a new sanctions package against Moscow.

Over two days, leaders of the 27-nation bloc are to discuss how best to aid Ukraine four months into Russia’s invasion and how to deal with the conflict’s impacts: high energy prices, an impending food shortage and the EU’s defence needs.

But draft conclusions of the meeting, seen by Reuters, showed that while the EU will be generous with verbal support for the government in Kyiv, there will be little in terms of new decisions on any of the main topics.

“After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we saw what can happen when Europe stands united. With a view to the summit tomorrow, let’s hope it continues like this. But it is already starting to crumble and crumble again,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Sunday.

Despite efforts since the start of May, EU governments cannot agree on the sixth package of sanctions against Moscow because one of the elements – an embargo on buying Russian oil – is not acceptable to Hungary and a big problem for Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Other elements, such as disconnecting Russia’s biggest Sberbank from the SWIFT messaging system, banning Russian broadcasters from the EU and adding more people to a list whose assets are frozen and who cannot enter the EU, are all being held up by the lack of agreement on the oil ban.

(Reuters)

07:58

Russia suffering major losses among mid and junior officers, says British MoD

Russia has likely suffered devastating losses among its mid and junior ranking officers in the conflict in Ukraine, according to the latest defence intelligence update published by the British Ministry of Defence. 

The MoD said that brigade and battalion commanders are likely deploying forwards into harm’s way, because they are held to an uncompromising level of responsibility for their units’ performance.

At the same time, junior officers have had to lead the lowest level tactical actions, with the Russian army lacking the cadre of highly trained and empowered non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who fulfil that role in Western forces.

“The loss of large proportions of the younger generation of professional officers will likely exacerbate its ongoing problems in modernising its approach to command and control,” the ministry said.

“More immediately, battalion tactical groups (BTGs) which are being reconstituted in Ukraine from survivors of multiple units are likely to be less effective due to a lack of junior leaders.”

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