The military governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region says fighting along the entire frontline is “extremely difficult” as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia is “very nervous” about the forthcoming decision by the European Council to grant Ukraine candidate status for EU grant membership.
Zelenskyi has predicted Moscow will escalate attacks ahead of the EU summit later this week, and he was defiant again in his evening address to the nation on June 20.
“We are going step by step through a crucial week, doing everything every day so that nobody doubts that Ukraine deserves EU candidate status,” he said. “We prove every day that we are already part of a united Europe.”
Ukraine applied for EU membership days after the Russian invasion began on February 24, followed by offers from nearby Moldova and Georgia amid the regional threat posed by Russia’s unprovoked attack.
The heads of state and government of all 27 EU countries will consider the three proposals at a summit on June 23-24.
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goals when he sent Russian troops to Ukraine in February was to prevent Ukraine’s integration into institutions like the EU.
Putin now says he has “nothing against” Ukraine’s EU membership, although a Kremlin spokesman said Moscow is closely monitoring the bid in part because of recent defense cooperation between EU members.
Zelenskyy said Russia was “very nervous about our activities” and on June 20 again shelled the major cities of Kharkiv and Odessa and also continued its offensive in the Donbass region.
“This is an evil that can only be appeased on the battlefield,” said Zelenskyy said. “The occupiers are getting answers about their actions against us.”
Ukrainian forces are defending Lysychansk and Syeverodonetsk, where the most difficult fighting is taking place, he said Serhiy Haydaywhose Luhansk region has been the scene of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks.
Hayday said on national television that Russian troops control most of Syevyerodonetsk but not the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been taking refuge for weeks. He said the road connecting Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk with the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire.
“Lysychansk suffered from massive Russian shelling all day. It is still impossible to determine the number of casualties,” he said, adding that the shelling was perhaps the heaviest the city has ever seen.
Despite this, the Russians have yet to complete an encirclement of Ukrainian forces, which inflicted them “significant casualties,” he said.
Kremlin-backed separatists in Luhansk claimed to have seized Toshkivka, a town south of Syevyerodonetsk on the predominantly Ukrainian-held west bank of the Seversky Donets River.
Hayday previously acknowledged that a Russian attack on Toshkivka “had had some success” and said Russian forces were also seeking a foothold near Ustinovka, a village further north on the river. He confirmed Russia’s claim to have captured Metyolkine.
Airstrikes in the region around the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa on June 20 caused casualties and damaged infrastructure, the head of the regional military administration said.
A series of Russian missile attacks were started in the region overnight and during the day, Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram.
A spokesman for the Odessa Regional Military Administration said earlier that the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces did so shot down Russian missiles.
A Russian missile attack destroyed a food storage facility in Ukraine’s Black Sea port after a Russian official said three people were injured and seven others missing after Ukrainian forces fired on Black Sea oil platforms off the coast of Crimea.
“We guarantee that the search will continue,” Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea, told Telegram. He also said that 94 people had been evacuated from oil rigs in the Black Sea after the strike.
Early on June 20, the Ukrainian General Staff said The Russian side had deployed an S-300V4 anti-aircraft missile division in its western Bryansk region near the Ukrainian border.
The Bryansk governor said the border village of Suzemka was shelled from northern Ukraine, wounding one person and damaging a power plant.
The Kremlin said two Americans arrested in Ukraine earlier this month while fighting with Ukrainian forces are mercenaries not covered by the Geneva Conventions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comments were the first formal confirmation that the two men, identified in US reports as Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were being held. He said they should take responsibility for their “crimes”.
Western governments have said the men were fighting with Ukrainian forces when they were captured and should therefore be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
Earlier this month, two Britons and a Moroccan man were sentenced to death by a separatist court after they were caught fighting for Ukraine.