The European Commission will provide a clear signal next week on Ukraine’s EU candidate status bid, its chief Ursula von der Leyen has said, as fighting rages in the east and south of the country.
Making a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday, Ms von der Leyen said talks she held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week” – the first time the bloc has publicly given a sense of timing.
Here’s what happened overnight.
1. EU chief von der Leyen visits Kyiv
Volodymyr Zelensky has pressed for rapid admission into the EU to reduce Ukraine’s geopolitical vulnerability, which was brutally exposed by Russia’s invasion.
European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen – appearing alongside the Ukrainian President during her second visit to Kyiv since the war began – made no promises, noting further reforms were needed.
Mr Zelensky warned it was a “decisive time” for his country and the EU.
“Russia wants to ruin European unity, wants to leave Europe divided and wants to leave it weak. The entirety of Europe is a target for Russia. Ukraine is only the first stage in this aggression,” he said.
Officials and leaders in the bloc caution that, even with candidacy status, EU membership could take years or even decades.
Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status at a summit on June 23-24, but with strict conditions.
2. MoD: Both sides likely suffering high numbers of casualties
In a video address late on Saturday, Volodomyr Zelensky said that while “fierce street fights continue in Severodonetsk” Ukraine’s military was gradually liberating territory further west in the Kherson region and had had some successes in Zaporizhzhia too.
Mr Zelensky earlier insisted his country would prevail in its almost four-month-long war with Russia, which has become focused on a grinding artillery slugging match over Severodonetsk.
The regional governor, Serhiy Gadai, said a claim about the blockade of the Azot plant in Luhansk province “is a lie”: “Our forces are holding an industrial zone of Severodonetsk and are destroying the Russian army in the town.”
He said earlier that Russian shelling of the plant had ignited a big fire after a leak of tonnes of oil.
The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said in a Facebook post that Ukrainian forces pushed back a Russian attack on three small towns to the northwest of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, while fighting was continuing in a fourth settlement in the area, as well as to the east of the city.
“Intense street-to-street fighting is ongoing and both sides are likely suffering high numbers of casualties,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Twitter.
The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said it had learnt about the deaths of 24 more children in Mariupol, the southeastern port that was besieged for weeks before Russian forces captured it in mid-May.
3. Zelensky: Severe food crisis and famine will lead to political chaos
Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore on Saturday to highlight the dangers of a food crisis posed by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
He warned of “an acute and severe food crisis and famine”, adding that the “shortage of foodstuffs will inexorably lead to political chaos” – all of it “the direct consequence of the acts of the Russian state”.
Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday cited reports of Russians loading trucks with Ukrainian wheat and taking it to Russian-controlled areas.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced 30 per cent of the global wheat supply, but grain is stuck in Ukraine’s ports and Western sanctions have disrupted exports from Russia.
Mr Zelensky urged international pressure to end the blockade, speaking to summit delegates including Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe, who on Sunday reiterated Beijing’s position on the crisis.
“On the Ukrainian crisis, China has never provided any material support to Russia,” he said, adding they supported peace negotiations and hoped “Nato will have talks with Russia”.
Ukraine’s Western allies have warned China, which has yet to condemn Russia’s invasion, against offering any form of support for Moscow.
4. Moscow’s invasion ‘preview of a possible world of chaos’
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi before the G7 summit at the end of June, a German newspaper has reported.
Meanwhile, as Russia seeks to consolidate its hold over territory seized in the 108-day war, the US Defence Secretary said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all”.
“It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours,” Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Asia.
“And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
5. Russian tactics: ‘Everything should be simply ruined’
Two civilian deaths and 11 injuries were reported on Saturday in locations across Donetsk, the regional governor said.
“All major cities in the free territory” of Donetsk “have been without electricity” since Saturday evening, according to the area’s military administration.
Moscow has particularly focused on the key industrial city of Severodonetsk, in Lugansk, which Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Saturday was ruined by Russian forces.
“This is their tactics – people are not needed, the infrastructure is not needed, houses are not needed, everything should be simply ruined,” he said in an interview posted on Telegram.
Mr Gaiday said later on television that Ukrainian fighters in Severodonetsk were winning street battles, but that Russian artillery would then destroy the buildings those fighters were using for cover – “storey by storey”.
He said the number of civilian victims would be “enormous and terrible”.