Ukraine fears repeat of Mariupol horrors as Donbas offensive intensifies

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP, Reuters
Relatives and friends attend the funeral of Ukrainian serviceman Vitaliy Nejenits in Kharkiv cemetery, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 27, 2022.
Relatives and friends attend the funeral of Ukrainian serviceman Vitaliy Nejenits in Kharkiv cemetery, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 27, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Russia-backed separatists claimed they captured a railway hub city in eastern Ukraine as Moscow's forces pushed to gain more ground Friday by pounding another Ukrainian-held area where authorities say 1,500 people have died since the start of the war.

Elsewhere, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was making slow but "palpable" progress in the Donbas region, despite the cost to the Russian military, while pro-Russia separatists claim to have taken the strategic town of Lyman.

Follow developments on Friday as they unfolded in our blog below:

05.27.2022
07:47

Key updates on Friday

  • Ukraine fears a repeat of the horrors of Mariupol as a Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region makes progress, during intense fighting. 
  • Boris Johnson also says Russia is making 'palpable' progress in eastern Ukraine, despite the cost to the Russian military. The British PM said it was "absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainians militarily." 
  • The Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced on Friday that it was breaking with Russia, declaring its "full independence" from Russian spiritual authorities, an historic move.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Ukraine should remove sea mines from areas near its ports to allow safe shipping. He made the statement in a Friday call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer,
  • Putin also used the same call to dismiss accusations that Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports is preventing agriculture exports and helping drive up global food prices. 
  • Nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees have left the countries bordering Ukraine, where they flocked after the Russian invasion, to move to other non-neighbouring European countries, according to the UNHCR.
05.27.2022
22:50

That's our Ukraine live blog coming to a close for Friday evening. 

We're back on Saturday morning with all the latest developments. 

05.27.2022
22:45

Ukraine fears repeat of Mariupol horrors as Donbas offensive intensifies

Moscow-backed separatists pounded eastern Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region Friday, claiming the capture of a railway hub as concerns grew that besieged cities in the region would undergo the same horrors experienced by the people of Mariupol in the weeks leading up to the port's capture.

Ukrainian officials renewed their appeals for more sophisticated Western-supplied weaponry. Without it, they said, Ukrainian forces wouldn’t be able to stop Russia’s offensive.

The fighting Friday focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas and where Russia-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years. Authorities say 1,500 people in Sievierodonetsk have already died since the war's start scarcely more than three months ago.

“Massive artillery shelling does not stop, day and night,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press. “The city is being systematically destroyed - 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged.”

Striuk described conditions in Sievierodonetsk reminiscent of the battle for Mariupol, located in the Donbas’ other province, Donetsk. Now in ruins, the port city was constantly barraged by Russian forces in a nearly three-month siege that ended last week when Russia claimed its capture. More than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to around 100,000 people. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, Striuk said, huddled in shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine. At least 1,500 people have died because of the war, now in its 93rd day. The figure includes people killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated diseases, a lack of medicine or while trapped under rubble, the mayor said.

An assault was underway Friday in the city’s northeastern quarter, where Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups tried to capture the Mir Hotel and the area around it, Striuk said.

Hints of Russia’s strategy for the Donbas can be found in Mariupol, where Moscow is consolidating its control through measures including state-controlled broadcast programming and overhauled school curricula, according to an analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

(AP)

05.27.2022
22:43
05.27.2022
21:37

ICC prosecutor: Russia should cooperate with court

Russia should cooperate with the International Criminal Court's (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes committed since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, the court's prosecutor told AFP on Friday. 

"The invitation is there. My door is open and I will also continue to knock on the door of the Russian Federation," Karim Khan said in an interview at the court in The Hague. 

"If there are allegations from Russian Federation, if there is information they have, if they are conducting their own investigations or prosecutions or if they have relevant information, share it with us," he added. 

The British lawyer also insisted that those guilty of war crimes could be brought to justice, although he declined to say whether Russian President Vladimir Putin himself could ever be a suspect.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the ICC, but Kyiv has accepted the court's jurisdiction and is working with the prosecutor's office to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on its territory. 

The prosecutor announced an investigation into the situation in Ukraine four days after the Russian invasion, which has since been given the green light by dozens of ICC state parties.

However, Russia says the war crimes allegations are false and Vladimir Putin justified the invasion by saying Ukraine was overseeing a "genocide" in the east of the country. 

"If someone makes these allegations, cooperate, share the information," he said. 

"If information is false, we will also not say publicly," he added. 

(AFP)

05.27.2022
21:07

Boris Johnson: 'Vital to continue military support to Ukraine'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russian forces are making “palpable progress” in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv’s forces need long-range rocket launchers and other military support.

Britain’s defense ministry said Friday that Moscow’s troops have recently captured several villages as they attempt to surround Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region, but do not yet have full control of the region.

Johnson told Bloomberg news agency that Russian President Vladimir Putin “at great cost to himself and Russian military is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas, he’s continuing to make gradual, slow but I’m afraid palpable progress.”

He said that “therefore it is absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainians militarily.”

Johnson said long-range multiple-launch rocket systems, or MLRSs, “would enable them to defend themselves against this very brutal Russian artillery.”

Britain possesses some of the systems, but Johnson did not say whether the U.K. would send any to Ukraine.

(AFP)

05.27.2022
20:38

Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks ties with Russia

The Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced on Friday that it was breaking with Russia after the latter invaded Ukraine, declaring its "full independence" from Russian spiritual authorities, an historic move.

"We do not agree with the Moscow Patriarch Kirill (...) regarding the war in Ukraine," the Ukrainian church said in a statement at the end of a council devoted to Russian "aggression" against its country, during which it declared "the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has until now been subordinate to Russian Patriarch Kirill, who has made clear his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's offensive against Ukraine.

In a statement the council condemned the war, calling it a violation of God's commandment "You shall not kill", and expressed its condolences to all those who are suffering due to the conflict. 

According to the Church of Ukraine, its relations with its Moscow leadership have been "complicated or non-existent" since martial law was declared in Ukraine.

The move is the second Orthodox schism in Ukraine in recent years. Part of the Ukrainian Church had already broken with Moscow in 2019 because of the Kremlin's role in the country.

Vladimir Putin's invasion and Kirill's support for the war had put the Ukrainian Church still attached to Moscow in an increasingly untenable situation.

Hundreds of its priests had recently signed an open letter calling for Kirill to be tried by a religious court because of his positions on the conflict.

Ukraine is central to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has some of its most important monasteries in the country.

(AFP)

05.27.2022
19:52

Chechen leader: Poland is next after Ukraine

The Kremlin-backed leader of Russia’s southern province of Chechnya has posted a video in which he warns that Poland could be next after Ukraine.

Ramzan Kadyrov, who is famous for his bluster, said in the video he posted to his official Telegram page that Ukraine was “a done deal” and that “if an order is given after Ukraine, we’ll show you (Poland) what you’re made of in six seconds.”

Poland, which borders Ukraine, has provided its neighbor with weapons and other aid since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has also welcomed in millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Kadyrov later urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “finally come to his senses and accept the conditions offered by our president (Vladimir Putin)."

Kadyrov has repeatedly used social media to boast about Chechen fighters’ alleged performance against Ukrainian troops and to make other unconfirmed statements about the war in Ukraine.

(AP)

05.27.2022
19:05
05.27.2022
18:36

Russian forces press Ukrainians in the east

Russia-backed separatists claimed they captured a railway hub city in eastern Ukraine as Moscow's forces pushed to gain more ground Friday by pounding another Ukrainian-held area where authorities say 1,500 people have died since the start of the war.

With Russia's offensive in Ukraine's industrial Donbas region showing incremental progress, Ukrainian officials characterized the battle there in grave terms and renewed their appeals for more sophisticated Western-supplied weaponry. Without that, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned, Ukrainian forces won't be able to stop Russia's advance on the east.

Some European leaders sought dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin toward ending a war in its 93rd day that has ravaged both Europe and Russia's economies. While Britain's foreign minister worked to rally the West's continued support for Ukraine. 

“There should be no talk of ceasefires, or appeasing Putin. We need to make sure that Ukraine wins. And that Russia withdraws and that we never see this type of Russian aggression again,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

But in Ukraine's east, Russia has the upper hand. The fighting Friday focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk. They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas and where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled some territory for eight years.

“There are battles on the outskirts of the city. Massive artillery shelling does not stop, day and night," Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press. “The city is being systematically destroyed - 90% of the buildings in the city are damaged."

An assault was underway in the city’s northeastern quarter, where Russian reconnaissance and sabotage groups tried to capture the Mir Hotel and the area around it Friday, Striuk said.

At least 1,500 people have died in Sievierodonetsk because of the war since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, he said. 

The figure includes people killed by shelling or in fires caused by Russian missile strikes, as well as those who died from shrapnel wounds, untreated diseases, a lack of medicine or while trapped under rubble, according to the mayor.

About 12,000 to 13,000 people remain in the city – down from a pre-war population of about 100,000, he said. Those remaining are huddled in shelters, and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the Donbas region's other province, the Russia-backed rebels said Friday they took control of Lyman, a large railway hub north of two more key cities that remain under Ukrainian control.

(AP)