A conflict without end – Russia and Ukraine continues to affect the world situation

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Between Confidence and Slogans of Perseverance
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj, on his first visit to the east of the country since the war began, announced that he would defend the country «to the last man.» After an interview on Saturday in which he expressed skepticism that he would be able to retake all the territory occupied by Russia, Selenskyj again appeared hawkish. But things are getting tight for Ukraine in the contested areas around the city of Sjewjerodonezk – a withdrawal could also follow.

Russian troops have destroyed all of the “critical infrastructure” and damaged most of the buildings in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

The onslaught continued, with Moscow’s forces advancing in the industrial hub, Ukraine’s military said. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War estimates that Russia controls more than 95 percent of the broader region of Luhansk as Kremlin-backed troops focus on eastern Ukraine three months into their struggling invasion.

Elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region, in the Donetsk oblast, The Washington Post spoke with soldiers who described their situation as dire and demoralizing. “Seventy people from my battalion were injured in the last week,” said a soldier and ambulance driver outside hospital gates who identified himself only as Vlad, 29. “I lost too many friends; it’s hard for me. I don’t know how many. … It’s getting worse every day.”

Here’s what else to know

Eurovision winners auction trophy for nearly $1 million to aid Ukraine

Eurovision winners perform at Ukraine-Poland border0:53The Ukrainian rap and folk band Kalush Orchestra, winners of the Eurovision Song Contest, performed their song “Stefania” on their journey back home on May 16. (Video: Reuters)

The Ukrainian band that won the Eurovision Song Contest this month said Sunday that it has auctioned its trophy for nearly $1 million to help fund Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

Kalush Orchestra triumphed this month at the music competition and TV spectacle, boosted by audience votes amid an outpouring of public support for Ukraine. Eurovision features representatives from dozens of countries vying to earn best-song honors; the contest organizers said more than 160 million people tuned in for this year’s contest, which took place in Italy.

Ukraine’s contestants embraced the show as a platform to plead for international help against Russia’s invasion and said they would auction their trophy — a glass microphone — to support Ukraine’s military. On Sunday, Kalush Orchestra announced on Facebook that WhiteBIT, a cryptocurrency exchange, had placed the winning bid of $900,000.

WhiteBIT and its leaders did not immediately respond to inquiries Sunday evening.

Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security noted the auction’s outcome on its Telegram channel Sunday and said the money would go toward drones for the Ukrainian army.Key update

Updates from key battlefields: Kremlin closing in on Severodonetsk as attacks reduce buildings to rubble

Russian forces are attempting to seize control of Severodonetsk, one of the largest Ukrainian-controlled cities in the eastern region of Luhansk. If Russian troops were to take the city, Moscow would occupy nearly all of Luhansk, which makes up roughly half of the Donbas region.

Severodonetsk: Russian attacks have destroyed all of the “critical infrastructure” in this key battleground city, and a large majority of buildings have been damaged, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday. Russian troops are trying to gain a foothold along the northeastern outskirts and conducting operations toward the city center, Ukraine’s military said.

Donetsk region: More than 100 miners were stuck underground in this hard-hit region because of power outages, an official said Sunday. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the region, wrote on Telegram that two districts — Bakhmut and Kramatorsk — are without electricity amid fierce fighting.

Chernihiv, Sumy regions: Ukraine’s military reported that shelling continued in Chernihiv and Sumy. Russian troops withdrew from both regions nearly two months ago when they abandoned their efforts to seize the capital, Kyiv — but shelling has not ceased. Oleksandr Sereda, deputy commander of Chernihiv’s border guards, recently told The Washington Post that soldiers are preparing for “a possible reinvasion.”

Kharkiv region: Zelensky met Ukrainian troops on the front lines during a visit to the Kharkiv region Sunday. Ukrainian forces have prevented Russian troops from seizing Ukraine’s second-largest city, but about a third of the region is occupied by Russian forces, according to the regional military administrator.

Mykolaiv: Russian forces fired on a residential district in this southern city, according to the mayor. Oleksandr Senkevych said Sunday that the damage was being investigated and that it was unclear whether anyone was injured. Mykolaiv is 35 miles northwest of Kherson, which has been under Russian occupation since early March.

Ukraine suffers on battlefield while pleading for U.S. arms

DONETSK OBLAST, Ukraine — The ambulances hurtled into the parking lot one after the other, each carrying wounded troops directly from the nearby front line. One young man stared straight ahead, his face swollen, his neck and back dripping with blood. Others lay silently under foil blankets.

Some stumbled out the back doors and collapsed into wheelchairs as staffers rushed to push them inside. Nearby, bloodied cots sat propped against a tent and other wounded soldiers lingered about, their faces grim, their heads, arms or legs bandaged as the sound of outgoing artillery boomed across the sky.

About 10 wounded soldiers arrived at this hospital in eastern Ukraine in less than an hour Sunday morning — the latest military casualties as Ukrainian forces, outgunned by Russia in the country’s east, continue to lose territory at a critical moment in the war.

Russian ship carried grain to Syria, satellite firm says

Satellite images appear to show a Russian ship picking up grain in Crimea and unloading it in Syria last week, according to the satellite company Maxar Technologies. Ukrainian officials say Moscow is using its war to steal one of their country’s main exports.

Maxar said its pictures probably show the Matros Pozynich, a bulk carrier that sails under the Russian flag, according to global shipping trackers. Images showed the ship docked in Crimea on May 19, Maxar said, and docked again in the Syrian port city of Latakia on Friday.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of trucking stolen grain to the Russian border and to Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said on Telegram this month that cargo ships carrying the grain probably were headed for Syria — a country with ties to the Kremlin — where the food could be “smuggled to other countries in the Middle East.”

Satellite photos also showed the Matros Pozynich docked in Syria on May 11, according to the Associated Press, which said the ship had recently turned off its transponders that provide location data to other vessels.

Some ports have rebuffed Russian ships alleged to carry goods stolen during Russia’s invasion. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, recently thanked Egypt for turning away a vessel.

A company that the AP identified as the Matros Pozynich’s owner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zelensky says he fired security official who ‘only thought of himself’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that he has fired a regional head of his government’s security and intelligence agency and that the official put his personal interests above the defense of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

On Sunday, Zelensky visited the Kharkiv area, where city officials say thousands of residents are returning each day. Local leaders say Russians have occupied nearly a third of the region, but Ukraine maintains control of Kharkiv, a northeastern hub and a major target for Russia that lies close to the border.

Kharkiv residents emerge from underground to find their city in ruins

In a video address Sunday, Zelensky said he met with Kharkiv’s leaders and thanked them. Then, he turned to the regional head of Ukraine’s Security Service.

“I arrived, understood the situation, and fired the head of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kharkiv region,” Zelensky said. “He did not work to secure the city from the first days of the full-scale war and only thought of himself. His motives will be discovered by law enforcement.”

Zelensky did not elaborate on his allegations against Roman Dudin, whom the president appointed in 2020. The Post could not immediately reach Dudin.

The president has announced other dismissals of leaders he deems ineffective or traitorous. In another recorded speech about a month into Russia’s invasion, he described two Security Service officials as “antiheroes” and said they were “no longer generals.”

“Now I do not have time to deal with all the traitors,” Zelensky said, according to an official translation of his speech. “But gradually they will all be punished.”

Russian troops push forward in Severodonetsk

Moscow’s troops were advancing in Severodonetsk on Sunday, trying to gain a foothold along the northeastern outskirts and conducting operations toward the city center, Ukraine’s military said.

Russia “does not stop conducting offensive operations” in the eastern battlefront, Ukraine’s military said in a daily update. Kremlin-backed troops were trying to gain full control over Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and block Ukraine’s maritime communications in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.

Severodonetsk is a key industrial city and one of the last under Ukrainian control in Luhansk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that all of the city’s “critical infrastructure” had been destroyed, along with 90 percent of buildings.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s military reported that shelling continued in Chernihiv and Sumy. Russian troops withdrew from both regions nearly two months ago — but shelling has not ceased. Oleksandr Sereda, deputy commander of Chernihiv’s border guards, recently told The Washington Post that soldiers are preparing for “a possible reinvasion.”

Hundreds march in Warsaw to show support for Ukraine

Marchers carrying Ukrainian flags and a banner that said “They are us” packed Warsaw’s Castle Square on Sunday to show support for Ukrainians, millions of whom Poland has housed during Russia’s months-long invasion.

The demonstrators marched from Poland’s Sejm parliamentary building to Castle Square, Radio Poland reported Sunday.

More than 3.5 million refugees have entered Poland since the Kremlin’s invasion began Feb. 24, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday. The Polish government has given Ukrainian refugees rights that are akin to citizenship, but Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski warned in March that his city could be overburdened by the influx.

In an April interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski called on Western nations to give money to Polish aid groups because “most of the refugees intend to stay here.”Key update

E.U. countries again fail to clinch deal on Russian oil ban

The E.U. has again failed to reach an agreement on a plan to phase out Russian oil, leaving a narrow window to strike a deal ahead of a special European Council summit in Brussels on Monday night and underscoring the challenge of building consensus when it comes to energy sanctions.

A European Commission plan to wean off Russian oil has been held up for about a month, primarily over objections from Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has insisted on more time and money to upgrade his landlocked country’s oil infrastructure.

Because there is sympathy for Hungary and other countries that remain reliant on imports from Russia, the holdouts have been offered extensions and exemptions — all to no avail.

The latest proposal, for instance, would ban seaborne deliveries within months, but exempt pipeline deliveries for now, keeping oil flowing from Russia to several E.U. countries, including Hungary. But that was not enough to get Orban onboard, according to E.U. officials and diplomats.

Some E.U. diplomats say Orban’s opposition goes beyond the oil issue, suggesting the Hungarian leader — who is a regular E.U. spoiler — is using the situation to punish officials for withholding economic recovery money over rule-of-law violations.

E.U. ambassadors will discuss the issue Monday morning. If they fail to reach a consensus, E.U. leaders will pick up the conversation at the summit dinner Monday night.Key update

All critical infrastructure in Severodonetsk destroyed, Zelensky says

All of the “critical infrastructure” in Severodonetsk has been destroyed, Zelensky said in video posted on Telegram on Sunday, adding that about 90 percent of buildings have been damaged.

While Ukrainian officials have insisted in recent days that Russia has not succeeded in capturing all of Severodonetsk, Zelensky described it as the “principal task” of the occupying forces.

“They don’t care how many lives it will take to try to raise their flag,” he said.

The eastern city is one of the last big cities under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region, and its capture would be a marked symbolic victory for Russian forces.

Duration of war partly depends on support from West, Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he believes that the duration of Russia’s invasion will depend on numerous factors, including ongoing support for Ukraine from the West.

The conditions, he said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday, include the “desire of the united West to stay united in supporting Ukraine with weapons, with finance, to boost our resilience.”

Another factor is “political will not to be afraid, but to fight against” Russia, he said.

“It also hinges on the desire of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president conceded that Russia is “prevailing” in terms of weaponry.

“They outnumber us. They outgun us,” he said. “And what we need is weapons, of course. We need to be much more powerful. We should have much greater firepower than the Russians.”

Ukraine’s “advantage” over Russian forces, he said, “would be when we are truly united, when every country is dead sure what side it is on.”

115 miners stuck underground in hard-hit Donetsk region, official says

In the hard-hit Donetsk region, 115 miners are stuck underground because of power outages, a provincial leader said Sunday.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the region, wrote on Telegram that two districts — Bakhmut and Kramatorsk — are without electricity “as a result of hostilities.”

Authorities were working to help miners at two sites in Toretsk, a city slightly south of those districts: 112 at the Tsentralnaya mine and three at a nearby facility. The governor said authorities were “taking the necessary steps to bring the miners to the surface.”

The BBC reported recently that only two mines are still working in Toretsk and that workers expressed concern about operating without proper safety measures. Even before the war, many of the region’s once-prolific coal mines had been abandoned or were in poor condition because of neglect and conflict with pro-Russian militias.

“People go down the mine knowing they may not come back up,” Anatoly Sholokhov, 69, deputy head of Toretsk’s mining association, told the BBC. “And when you do come back up, anything can happen — the town is constantly being bombed.”

Turkish president remains skeptical on Nordic countries’ NATO bid

Turkey remains to be persuaded that it should back NATO membership bids from Sweden and Finland, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says.

Talks with the two countries last week in Ankara “were not at the desired level,” he told reporters. It is unclear when further meetings might take place. NATO will hold a summit in Madrid at the end of June, and Turkey has said there is “no time pressure” to include NATO’s secretary general in discussions of the issue ahead of that meeting.

Finland and Sweden abandoned decades-long military neutrality and applied to join NATO earlier this month, citing security concerns as Russia continues its war in Ukraine. But any decision on admitting new members requires unanimity from NATO’s 30 nations, and Turkey has raised concerns about the presence in Sweden and Finland of activists from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other groups living in the neighboring Nordic countries.

“We cannot repeat the mistakes made in the past on [admitting] countries that embrace and feed such terrorists into NATO, which is a security organization,” Erdogan said in remarks made public Sunday. Turkey, the United States and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist group.

Last week, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that “we understand that Turkey has some of their own security concerns vis-a-vis terrorism and so forth.”

“We think that we have good answers for those because we are also part of the fight against the terrorism. So, we think that this issue can be settled,” Haavisto said.

Sweden has denied giving “financial assistance or military support” to Kurdish militants.

Erdogan added that he would have separate telephone conversations Monday with the Ukrainian and Russian presidents. “We will continue to encourage the parties to operate channels of dialogue and diplomacy,” he said.

Duda: Poland boosts defenses so Russia ‘will be afraid to attack us’

Polish President Andrzej Duda says Poles are fearful of Russia but that his nation is boosting its security so that, in a short time, “they will be afraid to attack us.”

Speaking Sunday with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Duda said his nation’s long and often violent history with Russia means that many Poles are naturally worried. Poland shares a land border with Ukraine, and several Russian missile attacks have hit within miles of the country.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that Polish society is afraid of Russia,” he said.

Duda said Poland is ramping up its defenses, with plans to raise the amount spent on the military and increase the size of its armed forces. Poland’s aspiration, he said, is to not need to rely on the United States to help protect its land under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

“I believe when we are stronger, they will be afraid to attack us,” he said in the Sunday broadcast.

Zelensky says he ‘can’t see’ Russians’ willingness to negotiate

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested in a television interview broadcast Sunday that he does not believe Russian officials are serious about negotiations to end the war.

“I can’t see their willingness, nor can I see any practicality in what we are talking about,” Zelensky said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

In earlier stages, he said through an interpreter, he believed that dialogue would yield an outcome, but “it all has stalled.”

When asked whether he believed it was possible to negotiate with Vladimir Putin, Zelensky said the Russian president “does not fully understand what’s going on.”

“I think the president of the Russian Federation should be actually shoved into the reality of today — not being in this bubble, this alternative reality of his that he has been building for quite a long time,” Zelensky said.

If Putin is “prepared to leave his bubble of this alternative reality into the real world and talk to us,” the Ukrainian leader said, and if Putin can understand the human toll of the war, “perhaps then will he understand we should start talking and should put [an] end to this war that he launched.”

Russia’s military professionalism is ‘eroding,’ U.S. think tank says

Professionalism in the Russian army is “eroding,” which may be highly detrimental to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chances of winning the war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in an assessment Saturday.

The institute, a Washington-based think tank, said that “waning professionalism” among Russian commanders was “generating serious vulnerabilities that Kyiv will likely attempt to exploit.”

Citing the Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate, the organization said Russian soldiers were reportedly being instructed by commanders not to evacuate injured comrades or assist other military units.

“Such behavior can have serious impacts on morale and the willingness of soldiers to fight and risk getting injured beyond their own defensive lines,” the ISW said. Low morale among Russian troops would surely help Ukraine “launch significant counteroffensives with good prospects for success,” it added.

Serbia agrees to new 3-year gas contract with Russia

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has agreed a new three-year contract with Russia’s Gazprom to supply natural gas after a phone call with President Vladimir Putin. Vucic said the two sides agreed that the gas price would be linked to the price of oil, which will offer Serbia discounted rates for the supply. Serbia’s existing 10-year contract for Russian gas expires at the end of May.

Vucic also discussed the expansion of storage space in Serbia for its imports of Russian gas. “Putin said to call him if I feel there is anything more to be discussed,” Vucic said, according to Reuters. Serbia last week signed an agreement with neighboring Hungary for additional gas storage space, if required.

While most European countries are trying to reduce or eliminate their imports of Russian gas and oil, Serbia — a traditional Russian ally — remains entirely dependent on Russia for gas supplies and has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow.

Vucic was easily reelected for a second term in April, after which Putin congratulated him and spoke of the “strengthening of the strategic partnership … between our countries.” Meanwhile, Serbia is pursuing a bid to join the European Union.Key update

Zelensky meets troops on visit to Kharkiv

President Volodymyr Zelensky met Ukrainian troops on the front lines during a visit to the Kharkiv region on Sunday. He was briefed on the operational situation and presented state awards to service members, according to his office.

“I want to thank each of you for your service. You are risking your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine’s independence. Take care!” the president said.

According to the regional military administrator, Oleh Synyehubov, 31 percent of the Kharkiv region is occupied by Russian forces.

In the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv city, about 30 percent of the total housing stock has been destroyed in Russian attacks, Synyehubov said. Zelensky visited ruined residential buildings in the Saltivka district of the city.

As life inside bombed-out Kharkiv gradually returns to normal, fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the city’s northeast is static, with neither side launching major attacks, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. Ukraine so far has stopped Russian troops from seizing the city.

Selenskyj’s office published a video on the messenger service Telegram on Sunday showing him wearing a bulletproof vest in Kharkiv and its surroundings. The head of state announced that «in Kharkiv and all other cities and villages over which evil fell» the destroyed houses would be rebuilt.

«In this war, the occupiers are trying to squeeze out at least something as a result,» Selenskyj said. «But they should have understood long ago that we will defend our country to the last man. They don’t have a chance. We will fight and we will win in any case.» Selenskyj’s statements can be interpreted as confidence – but also as a slogan of perseverance in the face of the difficult military situation in the Donbas.

Praise for soldiers
The video footage that was distributed showed Selenskyj awarding soldiers, inspecting the destroyed infrastructure in Kharkiv, but also inspecting burned-out military vehicles left behind by the Russian army. Selenskyj thanked the soldiers for their service. «I am boundlessly proud of our defenders. Every day they fight for Ukraine’s freedom at the risk of their lives,» the president said.

The previous day, in a video for Dutch television, he had opined, «I don’t think we can regain all our territory by military means.» Such an approach would kill hundreds of thousands of people.

New weapons hinted at
On Sunday, Selenskyj was more optimistic again, saying Ukraine is approaching the point where it is superior to Russia technologically and in terms of attack capabilities. «Of course, a lot depends on our partners and their readiness to provide Ukraine with everything needed to protect freedom,» he said in a video message. «I expect good news on this in the coming week.» Selenskyj did not provide details. The situation in the Donbas is complicated, he continued. The defenders held positions in several places, including in Zyverodonetsk and Lysychansk.

The Russian army is eager to capture Zyverodonetsk, Selenskyy said. «And they don’t care how many lives they have to pay for the attempt.» The attackers wanted to raise their flag on the administration building of Zyverodonetsk, which stands on the Boulevard of Friendship of Peoples, Selenskyy said. «How bitter that name sounds now.» Ukraine is doing everything it can to contain the offensive, he said. «There has not been a single day when we have not made an effort to find more weapons, more modern weapons, to protect our country, our people,» the president said.

Fighting also in the city center
The enemy «is trying to gain a foothold on the northeastern outskirts of the city of Zyverodonetsk and is conducting offensive operations toward the city center,» the Ukrainian General Staff said in its situation report Sunday evening. It said the ground offensive was being supported by artillery and air power.

According to Selenskyj, the Russian shelling destroyed the entire critical infrastructure of the city. That included more than two-thirds of residential buildings, he said in a televised address. The capture of Zyverodonetsk is currently the main objective of Russian troops, he said. It is the last point still under control of the Ukrainian military in the Luhansk region.
In addition to the city itself, active battles are also being waged around the nearby towns of Bachmut and Kurakhove, the General Staff said. «The enemy’s main goal is to surround our troops in the Lysychansk and Syeverodonetsk regions and block the main logistical routes,» the situation report said in this regard. In addition, the Russian troops continued to prepare the crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River. Accordingly, troops in the region were being ammunitioned and refueled. Further west toward Slovyansk, Russian assault attempts have been repelled, according to Ukrainian reports.

Strategic withdrawal conceivable
The Kiev-appointed governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gajdaj, had not ruled out on Saturday that the Ukrainian army might withdraw from some areas to avoid being encircled. To prevent that, «there could even be an order to our troops to withdraw,» Gajdaj stated on Telegram. International military experts had also discussed this option in recent days. With a reorganization of forces and possibly new weapons, Ukraine could well retaliate successfully at a later date, they had said.