© Reuters. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky walk in Mikhailovskaya Square while the Russian attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 17, 2022. Press service of the Ukrainian President / Distribution to REUTERS
By Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder
Kyiv (Reuters) – With a new blessing for its ambitions for the European Union and a promise of continued strong support from Britain, Ukraine continued to fight on Saturday, with Kyiv troops opposing Russia’s assault on a major eastern city and communities hit by -heavy shelling.
At a summit next week, EU leaders are expected to grant Ukraine candidate status following a recommendation by the bloc’s executive on Friday, which will put Kyiv on a course of pursuit that is considered unattainable before the invasion, even if the actual membership can take years.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Friday and offered training to Ukrainian forces, stressed on Saturday the need to continue to support the country and avoid “Ukraine fatigue” after nearly four months of war.
On the battlefield, the industrial city of Severodonetsk, a major target in Moscow’s offensive to gain full control of the eastern Luhansk region, remains under heavy Russian artillery and missile fire, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday.
“To improve their tactical situation, enemy units attempted to carry out assault operations outside the city, but were unsuccessful,” the General Staff said in a daily update.
Local authorities reported shelling at night in many places in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Kharkiv and in the west in Poltava and Dnepropetrovsk. The rockets hit the central town of Krivoy Rog on Saturday, killing at least two people, local authorities said in a telegram application.
Russian rockets also hit a suburb of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, early Saturday, destroying a municipal building and setting fire to an apartment building but without casualties, a district governor said.
Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.
Moscow denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and free it from dangerous nationalists who threaten the Russian-speaking population.
Kyiv and its allies reject this as an unfounded pretext for war.
“The Russians are moving an inch forward, and it is vital for us to show what we know to be true, namely that Ukraine can and will win,” Johnson told reporters on his arrival in Britain from Kyiv. “When Ukraine gets tired, it is very important to show that we are with them for a long time,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed a similar tone in an article published in Foreign Policy magazine on Friday, calling on the West to continue to help Ukraine with both heavy weapons and continued pressure on Moscow with sanctions.
“The West cannot afford to be tired of sanctions, despite the wider economic costs,” he wrote.
One of President Vladimir Putin’s goals when he ordered thousands of troops in Ukraine in February. 24 had to halt NATO’s military alliance to the east and keep its southern neighbor out of the West’s sphere of influence.
But the war, which killed thousands of people, turned cities into ruins and sent millions to flee, has the opposite effect.
This convinced neutral Finland and Sweden to seek to join NATO and helped pave the way for Ukraine’s EU bid.
“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday as she announced her decision to recommend Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova as candidates for EU membership.
“We want them to live with us the European dream,” she said, wearing a yellow blazer over a blue blouse in Ukrainian.