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Ukraine war: Five things you need to know about the conflict on Thursday

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By Euronews  with AP, Reuters
A Ukrainian soldier flashes the victory sign atop a tank in Donetsk region, 20 June 2022
A Ukrainian soldier flashes the victory sign atop a tank in Donetsk region, 20 June 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

1. EU countries endorse Ukraine as bloc membership candidate

EU leaders have decided to grant Ukraine candidate status on Thursday afternoon -- a move that was widely expected as the bloc continues its support of the country at war.

While mostly symbolic, the status represents a stunning geopolitical victory for the war-torn country, who until earlier this year was never considered a serious contender to enter the 27-strong bloc. It is also seen as a rebuttal to Russia's coercive attempt to reinstate its lost sphere of influence.

"Agreement! EUCO has just decided EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova," said European Council President Charles Michel on Twitter. "A historic moment."

"Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU."

Moldova -- which was also granted candidate status -- has filed its EU membership application earlier this year, fearing that the Russian invasion of Ukraine might trigger a domestic conflict with the Moscow-backed separatist region of Transnistria.

Prior to the Council summit, the European Commission issued a recommendation to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, while the European Parliament voted in support of their bids.

2. Russian forces advance on eastern front line

The Russian military extended its grip Thursday on territory in eastern Ukraine, capturing two villages and vying for control of a key highway as it seeks to cut supply lines and encircle frontline Ukrainian forces, British and Ukrainian military officials said.

Ukrainian forces withdrew from some areas near the city of Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded as Russians sent in reinforcements and concentrated their firepower in the area, Britain’s Defence Ministry said. The city is located in Luhansk province, a major battlefield in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces took control of the villages of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka and were trying to capture Syrotyne, a settlement outside the province's urban administrative centre, Sievierodonetsk.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were “burning everything out” in their offensive to encircle Ukraine's fighters, and had an edge in heavy artillery and troop numbers.

He said shelling had intensified at the Azot chemical plant, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control where some 500 civilians are holed up.

Lysychansk, located on a steep river bank facing Sievierodonetsk, also faces a relentless Russian artillery barrage. At least one civilian died and three others were wounded in 24 hours, the governor said.

The British Defence Ministry said Russian forces had likely advanced more than 5 kilometres toward the southern approaches of Lysychansk since Sunday, and are trying to cut Ukrainian supply lines.

3. Two Britons and Morrocan sentenced to death in DPR preparing appeal

Two Britons and a Moroccan who were captured while fighting for Ukraine and sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Kremlin-backed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) are preparing to appeal, Russia's TASS news agency cited one of their lawyers as saying on Thursday.

The court in DPR, which is armed and supported by Russia, found the three men -- Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun -- guilty of "mercenary activities and terrorism".

The men's families deny that the trio were mercenaries, stating that they are all residents of Ukraine -- with Aislin and Pinner both moving to Ukraine in 2018 -- and have served with the Ukrainian army before the 24 February invasion.

"My colleagues and I are currently preparing the full text of an appeal against the sentence in the interests of our defendants," TASS quoted Pinner's lawyer, Yulia Tserkovnikova, as saying.

"Undoubtedly, if the appeal is dismissed and the sentence comes into force, a request for clemency will be filed as this is an inherent right of the defendants, under the legislation of the Donetsk People's Republic," she added.

On Thursday, Aislin's family told UK-based media he was informed by DPR officials that his death sentence will be carried out, with time for appeal seemingly running out. 

4. Zelenskyy urges Israel to send arms and join sanctions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that Russia destroyed more than 2,000 schools and other educational institutions during the war.

In a video address to students and faculty at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Zelenskyy said that in areas where Russian troops made quick advances, “forces were shooting people on the streets, they are torturing people, they are raping minors — boys and girls.”

Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for the support of the Israeli people: "I am grateful for all the Ukrainian flags that appeared on your streets. We see it all, and we appreciate it all," he said.

But he also voiced disappointment that Israel hadn't joined Western-led sanctions against Russia or provided Ukraine with military aid to give its forces a boost in the war.

"We would like, we understand that it is not easy for you, but we would very much like to write in the tables, in that column next to your state's name, about the help for our army that we could receive," he said.

"As for sanctions, when the states of the world impose sanctions against Russia, it is not about money, it is not about business - it is about values, it is about general security." 

"It is about the fact that everyone who wants to destroy another nation should be responsible," Zelenskyy said.

Israel relies on good ties with Russia for security coordination in Syria, where Russia has troops and where Israel carries out frequent strikes against enemy targets. It has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

5. China's Xi criticises sanctions 'abuse', Putin scolds the West

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday criticised "the abuse" of international sanctions, while Russian President Vladimir Putin scolded the West for fomenting global crisis, with both leaders calling for greater BRICS cooperation.

Xi called on Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to take up the responsibility conferred by their economic clout, and said they should stand up for a truly multinational international system based on the United Nations.

Putin called for stronger BRICS cooperation and took a swipe at the West which he accused of fomenting a crisis.

"Only on the basis of honest and mutually beneficial cooperation can we look for ways out of the crisis situation that has developed in the global economy due to the ill-considered and selfish actions of individual states," Putin said.

He accused the West of "using financial mechanisms" to "shunt their own mistakes in macroeconomic policy on to the whole world."

The United States and European powers blame Putin's decision to invade Ukraine as the reason relations with the West have sunk to the lowest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis -- including the severest sanctions in modern history.