KYIV, Ukraine – The governor of the Luhansk region is denying Russian claims that their forces have surrounded the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk but said Ukrainian soldiers may have to retreat. Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram Friday that the Russians have seized a hotel and bus station.
“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days, as analysts predict. We will have enough forces and means to defend ourselves,” Haidai wrote.
He added that it’s possible that “not to be surrounded, we will have to leave.”
A critical supply and evacuation path, the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, is constantly under fire, but supplies and people are still passing on it, Haidai said.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— ‘Relentless’: Russia squeezes Ukrainian strongholds in east
KYIV, Ukraine — The leaders of the Orthodox churches in Ukraine that were affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church have adopted measures declaring the church’s full independence and criticizing the Russian church’s leader for his support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Orthodoxy, the largest religious denomination in Ukraine, is divided between churches that had been loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate and those under a separate ecclesiastical body.
The council of the Moscow-connected body, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, on Friday said it “condemns the war as a violation of God’s commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ … and expresses disagreement with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia regarding the war in Ukraine.”
It also adopted charter changes “indicating the full autonomy and independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox church.”
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi spoke by phone Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnkyy, assuring him of “the support of the Italian government in coordination with the European Union.″
Draghi’s office said the leaders also discussed the prospects for opening Ukrainian ports to allow grain exports ” to help combat the food crisis that is threatening the world’s poorest countries.”
Draghi spoke Thursday with President Vladimir Putin in a bid to reach an agreement to open the ports, and Zelenskyy expressed his appreciation for Italy’s commitment to work on a possible solution. Draghi noted after speaking to Putin that many millions of tons of grain risk rotting in Ukrainian ports if there is no agreement to allow their passage.
The Kremlin-backed leader of Russia’s southern province of Chechnya has posted a video in which he warns that Poland could be next after Ukraine.
Ramzan Kadyrov, who is famous for his bluster, said in the video he posted to his official Telegram page that Ukraine was “a done deal” and that “if an order is given after Ukraine, we’ll show you (Poland) what you’re made of in six seconds.”
Poland, which borders Ukraine, has provided its neighbor with weapons and other aid since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has also welcomed in millions of Ukrainian refugees.
Kadyrov later urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “finally come to his senses and accept the conditions offered by our president (Vladimir Putin).”
Kadyrov has repeatedly used social media to boast about Chechen fighters’ alleged performance against Ukrainian troops and to make other unconfirmed statements about the war in Ukraine.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Ukraine should remove sea mines from areas near its ports to allow safe shipping.
Putin made the statement in Friday’s call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, according to the Kremlin readout of the conversation. It said that Putin and Nehammer “had a detailed exchange of views on issues regarding food security” with Putin rejecting Western claims that Russia’s action that exacerbated a global food crisis.
The Kremlin noted that “Putin emphasized that attempts to blame Russia for difficulties regarding shipments of agricultural products to global markets are unfounded.” It added that the Russian leader “gave a detailed explanation of the real roots behind those problems that emerged, in particular, because of the U.S. and the EU sanctions against Russia.”
The U.S. and other Western allies have rejected the Russian demand for the sanctions to be lifted and accused Moscow of blocking grain supplies from Ukraine to global markets — accusations the Kremlin has denied.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russian forces are making “palpable progress” in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv’s forces need long-range rocket launchers and other military support.
Britain’s defense ministry said Friday that Moscow’s troops have recently captured several villages as they attempt to surround Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region, but do not yet have full control of the region.
Johnson told news agency Bloomberg that Russian President Vladimir Putin “at great cost to himself and Russian military is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas, he’s continuing to make gradual, slow but I’m afraid palpable progress.”
He said that “therefore it is absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainians militarily.”
Johnson said long-range multiple-launch rocket systems, or MLRSs, “would enable them to defend themselves against this very brutal Russian artillery.”
Britain possesses some of the systems, but Johnson did not say whether the U.K. would send any to Ukraine.
PRAGUE — The U.K.’s top diplomat says countries supporting Ukraine have to be “ready for the long haul” and there should be no talk of “appeasing” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said after meeting her Czech counterpart in Prague Friday that “we need to make sure that Ukraine wins and that Russia withdraws and that we never see this type of Russian aggression again.”
She said that “there should be no talk of cease-fires, or appeasing Putin.”
Truss says that Ukraine needs to receive more heavy weapons and gradually get upgraded to get “NATO-standard equipment.” She said that “at the moment, they’re using a lot of ex-Soviet equipment. We need to make sure they’re able to defend themselves into the future.”
BUDAPEST, Hungary — A U.S. lawmaker is urging the Biden administration to consider imposing sanctions on some Hungarian companies in an effort to pressure Budapest to agree to a European Union embargo on Russian oil.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urged him to “consider all tools including sanctions” to ensure that Hungary — a member of the EU and NATO — gets on board with the proposal.
The EU has for weeks has sought to forge a consensus on a new sanctions package that would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has held up negotiations and threatened a veto of the plan, arguing it would devastate Hungary’s economy and lead to energy insecurity.
In his letter to Blinken, Krishnamoorthi wrote that the EU’s proposed embargo would “significantly increase financial pressure on Russia’s economy and Putin’s war machine.”
If Orban continues to stall EU negotations, he wrote, “the Biden Administration should consider implementing sanctions against companies in Hungary that continue to do business with Russian oil exporters.”
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister says Sweden and Finland must now take “concrete steps” to alleviate his country’s security concerns to overcome Ankara’s objections to their NATO membership bid.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that delegations from the two Nordic countries have returned home with Turkey’s demands after a visit this week and Ankara is awaiting their answers.
The countries’ membership bids require support from all NATO countries, but Turkey is objecting to them. It has cited alleged support for Kurdish militants that Turkey considers terrorists and restrictions on weapons sales to Turkey.
Cavusoglu said that “an approach of ‘we’ll convince Turkey in time anyway, we are friends and allies’ would not be correct.” He insisted that “these countries need to take concrete steps.”
He added that “we understand Finland and Sweden’s security concerns but … everyone also needs to understand Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi has discussed the emerging food crisis in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Draghi’s office said that the call Thursday “focused on the situation in Ukraine and … efforts to find a shared solution to the ongoing food crisis and its serious repercussions on the world’s poorest countries.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.
Russia also is a significant grain exporter. Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions against Russia, seeking to shift the blame for the food crisis.
BERLIN — Germany’s development minister has traveled to Ukraine to pledge further civilian support and discuss the country’s rebuilding.
Svenja Schulze is the second German minister to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion started. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited on May 10 and reopened the country’s embassy in Kyiv.
Schulze’s ministry said she planned to meet Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other senior officials in Kyiv on Friday.
It said the talks will address immediate aid to address the problems Ukraine faces now and “strategic questions” related to rebuilding the country.
Schulze said in a statement that “we must already lay now the foundations for internationally coordinated support for the rebuilding of a free and democratic Ukraine” and Germany will contribute.
MOSCOW — Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine claim to have taken control of Lyman, a town in the Donetsk region. There has been no confirmation yet from Ukrainian officials.
The military of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic said on Telegram that rebel forces, supported by the Russian troops, as of Friday “have liberated and taken full control of 220 settlements, including Lyman.”
Lyman, which had a pre-war population of over 20,000, is a large railway hub in the Donetsk region, north of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, cities that remain under Ukrainian control.
MOSCOW — Russia’s Foreign Ministry has announced that it is expelling five Croatian diplomats in response to “unfriendly steps” taken by Zagreb to reduce the size of Russia’s diplomatic mission there.
The ministry said in an statement that it summoned Croatian ambassador Tomislav Car on Friday. It said it “expressed a strong protest in connection with the groundless attempts of the Croatian authorities to blame Russia for war crimes in Ukraine and the provision of military assistance by the Croatian side to the neo-Nazi Kyiv regime.”
Last month, Croatia expelled 18 Russian diplomats.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s foreign minister is pleading with Western nations to provide Kyiv with heavy weapons to enable it to push Russian forces back.
Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday night tweeted a video of himself answering questions submitted on Twitter and said: “We need heavy weapons. The only position where Russia is better than us it’s the amount of heavy weapons they have. Without artillery, without multiple launch rocket systems we won’t be able to push them back.”
Kuleba said that the situation in the east of the country, where the Russian forces are on the offensive, “is as dire as people say.”
He added: “I would even say it’s even worse than people say. We need weapons. If you really care for Ukraine, weapons, weapons and weapons again,” the minister stressed.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian regional governor says that four people have been killed in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk over the past 24 hours by Russian shelling. One more person was killed by a Russian shell in the village of Komushuvakha.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, wrote in a Telegram post Friday that “the residents of Sievierodonetsk have forgotten when was the last time there was silence in the city for at least half an hour.” He said that “the Russians are pounding residential neighborhoods relentlessly.”
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Thursday that 60% of the city’s residential buildings have been destroyed, and about 85-90% have been damaged and require major repairs.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The United States has won the latest round of a legal battle to seize a $325-million Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji, with the case now appearing headed for the Pacific nation’s top court.
The case has highlighted the thorny legal ground the U.S. finds itself on as it tries to seize assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. Those intentions are welcomed by many governments and citizens who oppose the war in Ukraine, but some actions are raising questions about how far U.S. jurisdiction extends.
Fiji’s Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed an appeal by Feizal Haniff, who represents the company that legally owns the superyacht Amadea. Haniff had argued the U.S. had no jurisdiction under Fiji’s mutual assistance laws to seize the vessel, at least until a court sorted out who really owned the Amadea.
Haniff said he now plans to take the case to Fiji’s Supreme Court and will apply for a court order to stop U.S. agents sailing the Amadea from Fiji before the appeal is heard.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. general nominated to take over European Command has told senators that Sweden and Finland’s push to join NATO won’t require adding more U.S. ground forces into either country. But Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli said Thursday that military exercises and occasional American troop rotations will probably increase.
Cavoli, who currently serves as head of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said the increased military focus will probably continue to be on eastern Europe — where nations are more worried about potential Russian aggression and any spillover of the war on Ukraine.
Cavoli told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing that “The center of gravity of NATO forces has shifted eastward.” He said that “depending on the outcome of the conflict, we may have to continue that for some time.”
Cavoli was asked about the U.S. troop presence in Europe, which has grown from fewer than 80,000 to about 102,000 since the buildup to Russia’s invasion. He said the increase had no ties to the more recent move by Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.