Zelenskyy calls for more support from Europe, Ukraine's EU candidacy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy   -  Copyright  AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
By Katy Dartford  & Joshua Askew  with Reuters/AP/AFP

Zelenskyy has urged Europe to support Ukraine's membership candidacy to the bloc at the upcoming summit at the end of June and called for more action to stop the Russian aggression.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the EU heads to give Ukraine candidate status for the bloc's membership at the upcoming summit in late June.

Speaking to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in a video address, Zelenskyy asked the leaders of the 27 member states to show “that its words about the Ukrainian people being part of the European family aren’t a hollow sound.”

Review the day's most important developments in the Ukraine war below.


Friday's key points:

  • Mariupol’s mayor has warned that cholera and other deadly diseases could kill thousands of people in the Russian-occupied city as corpses lie uncollected.

  • President Zelenskyy has pleaded for Ukraine's entry into the European Union, and called for EU leaders not to leave his country in a "grey zone".

  • Ukraine is losing up to 200 troops a day, according to a Zelenskyy aide. This is more than double the previous estimates. 

  • Two Britons and a Moroccan national captured fighting Russian forces in Ukraine were sentenced to death Thursday. Their sentencing has been denounced in Ukraine and the West. They will face a firing squad, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

  • Fierce street fighting is continuing in Sievierodonetsk, with the eastern Ukrainian city being hammered by Russian bombs. Some 10,000 civilians are trapped in the city and cannot be evacuated, says its mayor. 

  • No agreement on exporting much-needed Ukrainian grain has been reached. Both Ukraine and Russia blame one another for the impasse. 

  • Putin has compared himself to Tsar Peter the Great, paralleling their quests to capture land for Russia. 

  • Finland is set to begin fencing off its 1800-kilometre border with Russia, fearing so-called "hybrid" reprisals over its NATO bid.  

  • NATO's deputy chief has said he is "confident" that Sweden and Finland will be able to join the defensive alliance, despite Turkish concerns. 

  • Nearly 5 million Ukrainians have registered as refugees since the Russian invasion, leading the UNHCR to call the Ukraine war "one of the largest human displacement crises in the world." 

That's it for our live blog on Friday night. We will be back with the Ukraine war latest on Saturday morning.


Former McDonald's restaurants in Russia to relaunch under new branding, ownership

Restaurants previously under the McDonald's brand will reopen under new branding and ownership on Sunday, more than three decades after the arrival of the hugely popular Western fast-food chain.

McDonald's iconic "Golden Arches" have been taken down at sites in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they will make way for a new logo comprising two fries and a hamburger patty against a green background.

The reopening will initially cover 15 locations in Moscow and the surrounding region.

The new chain's name remains a closely guarded secret.

The relaunch will begin on Russia Day, a patriotic holiday celebrating the country's independence, at the same flagship location in Moscow's Pushkin Square where McDonald's first opened in Russia in January 1990.

McDonald's last month said it was selling its restaurants in Russia to one of its local licensees, Alexander Govor.

The deal marked one of the most high-profile business departures since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.


Russia central bank official says impact of sanctions impossible to assess

The head of Russia’s central bank says it is impossible to draw conclusions on the impact of Western sanctions at this stage.

“So far, the effects of the sanctions are less acute than we feared. This also shows the ability of companies to adapt,” Elvira Nabiullina, chair of the Central Bank of Russia, said at a briefing on Friday.,

"But it is premature to say that the full effect of the sanctions has manifested itself," she said, also announcing the lowering of interest rates to their prewar levels.

“The situation is uncertain, the situation is developing and the situation of the structural restructuring of our economy, of its capacity to rebuild, is also a process, so it’s premature to draw any conclusions here,” Nabiullina said.

She added that the Kremlin was preparing a possible legal challenge against EU sanctions on Russia’s central securities depository and measures freezing the settlement of rouble transactions by its EU-based counterparts.

She did not provide details, but admitted such a challenge “would not be easy”.


Civilians keep escaping eastern Ukraine as battles for control of Donbas continue

Hundreds of people continue to flee intense fighting in eastern Ukraine as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle for control of key cities and villages in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Dozens of Ukrainians left the city of Pokrovsk on Friday on a special evacuation train heading for Dnipro and other cities further west.

The train carried about 300 people — mostly women, children, and the elderly — who were forced to leave as the fighting neared their homes.

Svitlana Kaplun said her entire family decided to leave when the shelling reached their neighbourhood in the city of Krasnohorivka, about 20 kilometres from the city of Donetsk under the control of pro-Russian separatist forces.

“We live on the frontline now. The kids are worried all the time, they are afraid to sleep at night, so we decided to take them out,” she said.

Most of the evacuees are from areas where Russian forces are concentrating their offensive to capture the whole Donbas and the cities of Sievierodonetsk, Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and Popasna.


Russia quits WTO after April suspension from UN organisation 

Russia made official its withdrawal from the World Tourism Organization on Friday. The country was suspended in April following global outrage over its military offensive against Ukraine.

The government "accepts the proposal of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (...) concerning the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the World Tourism Organization," said a decree signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishutin.

The WTO, a United Nations agency responsible for promoting tourism and based in Madrid since 1976, announced the suspension of Russia on 27 April because of its invasion of Ukraine, which it considered contrary to its values.

Because of the war in Ukraine, Russia has become increasingly isolated on the diplomatic scene. It has been excluded from the United Nations Human Rights Council, where its seat has been suspended.

Western countries have also imposed heavy economic sanctions on Moscow.


Kuleba and Truss strongly condemn foreign fighters' 'sham trial' in Donetsk

The Ukrainian foreign minister says he and Britain's defence secretary have discussed the plight of the three foreign fighters sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists.

Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter that he and Liz Truss “strongly condemned the sham trial against prisoners of war in Russian-occupied Donetsk” during a telephone conversation Friday.

Kuleba says "As combatants, they are protected by international humanitarian law and must be treated accordingly. We keep working together to ensure their release.”

His remarks referenced separatist claims that the two British and one Moroccan man were mercenaries rather than combatants protected by international conventions.

Ukrainian officials, as well as the fighters’ families, have repeatedly stressed that all three were regular members of the Ukrainian army.

Kuleba said Truss and he discussed ways to ratchet up pressure on Moscow and hinted that the UK is planning to impose a fresh round of sanctions on Russia.

“I look forward to the next round of UK sanctions. We both agreed that no one in the world has a right to get weary of this war until Ukraine prevails,” he said.


German chancellor asks Serbia to join sanctions against Russia, Serbian president says

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has strongly urged Serbia to join sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Friday.

Vučić also emphasized the economic ties, especially in the energy field, and the very close traditional relations with Russia.

"We expect these sanctions to be supported by all the candidate countries for accession to the European Union," said Scholz.

"It is important to work for more and more countries to join the sanctions, because they are the instrument, together with arms deliveries, that will help Ukraine to determine its future," he said.

Serbia remains one of a handful of European countries that has not imposed sanctions on Russia.


Russian forces accused of intentionally targetting energy facilities in Mykolayiv

The CEO of a Ukrainian regional power company has accused Russian troops of deliberately destroying energy infrastructure in the southern Mykolayiv region.

“Electricity for the population, industry and agriculture is a basic good, without which normal life is impossible. Therefore, energy facilities become a target for enemy troops,” Vadym Danylkiv, CEO of regional monopoly Nikolaevoblenergo, said in a statement Friday.

Since the start of June, Russian shelling has destroyed 14 overhead power lines and 377 transformer substations, and damaged a key 40 MVA transformer, the company said. Danylkiv said the Mykolayiv region has “an acute need for transformer oil.”

“Just as a result of the latest damage, as a result of the shelling of a powerful transformer, we lost 26 tonnes of oil. Its purchase means (spending) about UAH 2.6 million for such a volume, plus complex logistics,” Danylkiv was cited as saying.


Russian bombardment near Kharkiv injures at least two, search for casualties ongoing

At least two civilians have been hospitalised following Russian shelling on the outskirts of Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to regional emergency services.

Emergency teams on Friday were searching for more casualties in Derhachi, a town 12 kilometres northwest of Kharkiv, which has been targeted in a series of strikes in recent weeks.

Following the shelling, fires broke out in residential buildings, the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service in the Kharkiv region said in a statement.

Kharkiv’s mayor said the city, which was a key military objective in the early stages of Russia’s invasion, continues to suffer regular strikes in a bid by Moscow to prevent the city from returning to normal.

“The intensity of shelling … has become a little less, but bombs and rockets of higher power are being used in the city of Kharkiv. The destruction that we see today is very, very serious,” Ihor Terekhov said in a televised briefing.

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