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Ukraine war: five things you need to know about the conflict from Thursday

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP, Reuters
Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, 28 June 2022
Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, 28 June 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

1. 'Kaboom': Ukraine regains control of Snake Island

Russia's announced Thursday its forces had withdrawn from Snake Island, a strategic position in the Black Sea it previously captured. However, Ukraine's military said it drove Russians off the islet after a successful strike.

"KABOOM!", tweeted Andriy Yermak, head of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's office. "No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job."

A spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, Igor Konashenkov, publicised the pull-out early Thursday morning, saying it was a "sign of goodwill" that would help the export of grain from Ukraine via the Black Sea.

The recapturing of Snake Island drew praise from western leaders, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the announcement showed it was "impossible" to subjugate Ukraine. 

"If you wanted proof of the incredible ability of the Ukrainians to fight back to overcome adversity and push back the Russians, look at what happened today on Serpents' Island, where once again Russia has had to give ground," he said. 

The tiny Snake Island, located in the northwest of the Black Sea, drew international attention when on the first day of the Russian offensive a small Ukrainian garrison tried to hold out against the Russian flagship Moskva. 

The island was soon captured but came under repeated Ukrainian attacks. The Moskva has since been sunk by Ukraine in an apparent torpedo strike.

2. Moscow begins sending Ukrainian grain to 'friendly states'

A first ship carrying grain left Ukraine escorted by the Russian navy on Thursday. 

Loaded with thousands of tonnes of wheat, the ship left the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk, occupied by Russia, according to local Moscow-backed authorities. 

"7,000 tonnes of grain are leaving for friendly countries," the head of the pro-Russian administration in the region, Evgeny Balitsky, said on Telegram.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of stealing its grain and other crops from areas captured by the Russian army in southern Ukraine and selling it illegally internationally. 

Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- a major world breadbasket -- has created a global food crisis, as it has been unable to export its crops from ports under Moscow's control. 

Prices have increased in the west, while many in developing countries are at the risk of starvation. 

3. 16 million Ukrainians need humanitarian aid, says UN

Some 16 million Ukrainians require humanitarian aid and more than six million are internally displaced, according to the United Nations. 

"Water, food and health services" are needed by nearly half of Ukraine's pre-war population, Ukraine's UN humanitarian coordinator Osnat Lubrani said at a Thursday press conference. 

While some five million have managed to return home, Lubrani said "more than six million people are still internally displaced," adding that "many know they may be forced to flee again." 

Lubrani detailed how the war, which recently entered its fifth month, is having a huge toll on civilian populations. 

"What we do know is that the number we have of nearly 5,000 civilians killed and over 5,000 injured is only a fraction of the chilling reality," she said.

"I can't speak to specific numbers of damaged hospitals, schools and homes, but we know they number in the thousands. We just can't verify the exact numbers yet," she added. 

4. Russia issues ultimatum over Bulgaria's decision to expel Kremlin's diplomats

Bulgaria's outgoing prime minister on Thursday called on Russia to withdraw a diplomatic ultimatum sent after Sofia expelled 70 Russian diplomatic staff which included a threat to close Russia's embassy in the Balkan nation.

Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member, said on Tuesday it was expelling 70 Russian diplomatic staff over espionage concerns and had set a cap on the size of Moscow's representation as tensions between the two once-close countries fractured over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian embassy on Thursday told Sofia to reverse the expulsion decision by midday on Friday. If it did not, the embassy said it would ask Moscow to consider ending Russia's physical diplomatic presence in Bulgaria altogether.

Petkov in a statement urged Russia to keep diplomatic channels between Moscow and Sofia open despite the expulsions which he said would still leave Russia with 43 diplomatic staff versus only 12 for Bulgaria in Moscow.

"We believe in the need for dialogue, for which diplomatic channels are key," Petkov said.

"For this reason, we ask the Embassy of the Russian Federation to withdraw the note submitted today. For the sake of the past and for the sake of the future, we must be able to take steps forward with mutual respect," he said. 

5. Sanctions could be cause for war, says Russian official

A senior Russian official warned on Thursday that Moscow could interpret Western sanctions as a cause for war.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president and the country's Security Council's deputy chair, denounced the Western restrictions as “boorish and cynical," noting that they border on “economic war”.

“Under certain circumstances, such hostile measures could be perceived as an act of international aggression, or even as a casus belli,” Medvedev said in a speech delivered to a legal forum. 

Casus belli is a Latin term for a cause, or pretext, for declaring war, which can be interpreted as creating a right to individual and collective defence.

He emphasised that the Western sanctions over Russia’s military action in Ukraine “have a clear goal — to inflict as much pain as possible to as many citizens of our country as they can [...] to ordinary citizens, not the country’s leadership or business elites.”

“The main aim is to punish the Russian people by trying to reduce economic activity and to provoke hyperinflation,” he added, in a rare admission that western sanctions were harming Russia. 

Since the start of the Russian invasion, western countries have slapped sanctions on Russia's economy and political elite. Their intention is to deny Russia funds for its war effort and prevent further attacks.