© Reuters. View shows a tram depot destroyed by a Russian missile strike while the Russian attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkov, Ukraine, June 18, 2022. REUTERS / Vitalii Hnidyi
By Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder
Kyiv (Reuters) – The NATO chief said Sunday that the war in Ukraine could last for years and that Ukrainian forces are facing intensified Russian attacks after the EU executive recommended that Kyiv be granted candidate status to join the bloc.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was quoted by the German newspaper Bild am Sontag as saying that the supply of state-of-the-art weapons to Ukrainian troops would increase the chances of liberating the eastern Donbass region from Russian control.
“We must prepare for the fact that this may take years. We must not refuse to support Ukraine,” he said. “Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, made similar comments about the need to prepare for a long war in a Sunday Times article in London.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, he stressed the need to avoid “Ukraine fatigue” and, with Russian forces, to “move forward inch by inch”, allies to show Ukrainians that they are there to support them for a long time.
He said in a statement that this meant “ensuring that Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training faster than the invader”.
“Time is the vital factor,” Johnson said. “It will all depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its ability to attack.
Ukraine received a significant boost on Friday when the European Commission recommended granting it EU candidate status, something European Union countries are expected to approve at this week’s summit.
This will set Ukraine on a course to pursue an aspiration that was considered unattainable before Russia by February. 24 invasion, even if actual membership may take years.
Russian attacks have intensified on Ukraine’s battlefields.
Severodonetsk, a major target in Moscow’s offensive to gain full control of the eastern Luhansk region, was again under heavy artillery and missile fire as Russian forces attacked areas outside the industrial city, the Ukrainian military said.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces acknowledged that its forces had failed militarily in the village of Metolkine, southeast of Severodonetsk.
“As a result of artillery fire and attack, the enemy has had partial success in the village of Metolkine, trying to strengthen itself,” a Facebook post (NASDAQ 🙂 said late Saturday.
Sergei Gaidai, the Ukrainian-appointed governor of Luhansk, mentioned in a separate online publication about “heavy fighting” in Metolkin.
Russia’s TASS news agency, citing a source working for Russian-backed separatists, said many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered to Metolkin.
In the northwest, several Russian rockets hit a gas plant in the Izyum district, and Russian rockets fell on the outskirts of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, hit a municipal building and started a fire in an apartment building, but caused no casualties, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian authorities also reported shelling in places west of Poltava and Dnepropetrovsk, and on Saturday they said three Russian missiles destroyed a fuel storage depot in the city of Novomoskovsk, injuring 11 people, one in critical condition.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that Russian troops on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnopil were repulsed with heavy casualties on Saturday.
Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose challenge inspired Ukrainians and earned him worldwide respect, said in a Telegram post on Saturday that he had visited troops on the southern front line in the Nikolaev region, about 550km (340 miles) south of Kyiv.
“Our brave men and women. Each of them works flawlessly,” he said. “We will definitely endure! We will definitely win!”
The video shows Zelenski handing out medals and posing for a selfie with servicemen in his trademark khaki T-shirt.
Zelensky’s cabinet said he had also visited National Guard positions in the southern part of Odessa, west of Nikolaev. Neither he nor his office told him when the trips took place, but he did not give his usual night address on Saturday.
Zelensky has remained mostly in Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv and two eastern cities near the battlefields.
One of the stated goals of Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he deployed troops in Ukraine, was to halt the expansion of NATO’s military alliance to the east and keep Moscow’s southern neighbor out of Western influence.
But the war, which killed thousands of people, turned cities into ruins and sent millions to flee, had the opposite effect – persuaded Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership – and helped pave the way for Ukraine’s EU bid.