It’s a tense week for Ukraine as it awaits to see whether it will be granted the status of a candidate country for the European Union.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that he expects Russia to intensify its attacks on his country while it awaits the EU’s decision. Russia’s ground and tactical air operations continued to focus on the Donbas in eastern Ukraine over the weekend and more villages around the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk were pummeled by Russian artillery on Monday.
Elsewhere, there are growing concerns over the fate of two U.S. military veterans captured in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman said Moscow wouldn’t guarantee that they won’t face the death penalty.
“It depends on the investigation,” Dmitry Peskov told NBC News senior international correspondent Keir Simmons when he was asked whether Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh would “face the same fate” as two British citizens and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death in a pro-Russian separatist “court” (widely seen as a kangaroo court) in eastern Ukraine this month.
Mykolaiv in the south and Kharkiv in the east under attack, officials say
The major cities of Mykolaiv, a port in the south, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine in the north-east, have both come under heavy attack, according to officials from the respective regions.
The head of the Mykolaiv Regional Council, Hanna Zamazeeva, said on her Telegram account Tuesday that Russian forces continued to fire at Mykolaiv and struck targets across the city, leaving 15 people wounded.
Meanwhile, Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said on his Telegram account that Russian forces had fired at various parts of the city, damaging and destroying various public and commercial buildings.
Synehubov said three people had been killed and seven injured over the past 24 hours.
Mykolaiv and Kharkiv are key targets for Russian forces as controlling these cities would enable Russian forces to occupy a larger area in the east and south of the country.
— Holly Ellyatt
‘Calm before the storm’ as Russian forces regroup in eastern Ukraine: Governor
The governor of the Luhansk region where the most intense fighting is taking place between Ukrainian and Russian troops has said that he is witnessing the “calm before the storm” after a relatively quiet night on the front line.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk province where fierce fighting is taking place in and around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, said in his Facebook update Tuesday that Russian forces had stopped to regroup.
He said that “a difficult time has passed in Luhansk region, after a whole day of advances in all directions” by Russian forces.
Haidai said that Russian forces had been set the deadline of June 26 to take the Luhansk region, though he did not give the source for that information. “Five days from now it will not happen,” he said, adding that Ukrainian forces in the region were still waiting for long-range artillery.
Ukraine has been desperate for more long-range weapons to help it turn the tide in the battle in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has been seeing slow but steady progress in terms of territorial gains.
— Holly Ellyatt
Russia says it can’t guarantee captured American fighters won’t face the death penalty
Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman told NBC News on Monday that Moscow wouldn’t guarantee that two American veterans who were fighting in captured in Ukraine won’t face the death penalty.
“It depends on the investigation,” Dmitry Peskov told NBC News when asked whether Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh would “face the same fate” as two British citizens and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death in a pro-Russian separatist “court” — widely seen as a kangaroo court — in eastern Ukraine this month.
Peskov said Drueke and Huynh were “involved in illegal activities” in Ukraine and said “those guys on the battlefield were firing at our military guys. They were endangering their lives,” NBC reported him as saying.
“There will be a court, and there will be a court decision,” Peskov said, adding: “They should be punished.”
— Holly Ellyatt
‘You’re my hero’: Ben Stiller meets President Zelenskyy
Hollywood actor Ben Stiller met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday, calling the wartime leader “my hero.”
Stiller is a Goodwill Ambassador with the U.N. Refugee Agency, and has been in Ukraine for several days as part of his role, meeting Ukrainian refugees.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Stiller said as he was introduced to Zelenskyy, adding “you’re my hero. You’re amazing.”
Stiller also praised the president on his former acting career, saying “you quit a great acting career for this.” “Not so great as yours,” Zelenskyy replied.
Stiller added that the president’s wartime leadership was “inspiring” for the rest of the world.
— Holly Ellyatt
Mariupol residents ‘on bring of survival’
Residents of the southern port city of Mariupol, which was seized by Russian forces in May, are on the verge of survival due to a lack of drinking water, according to the city’s regional military administration.
Citing information from Mariupol’s Mayor Vadim Boychenko, the administration said “more than 100,000 people who still remain in the city do not have access to drinking water.”
“Currently, the occupiers provide it once a week. Residents stand in line for 4-8 hours. They are on the verge of death. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. Therefore, we must do everything possible to open a green corridor and save people,” the mayor said.
He added that Russians and “collaborators” had also restricted residents’ access to food. “At the same time, the city is left without gas, light and drainage system.”
CNBC was unable to verify the information from the administration and Boychenko.
— Holly Ellyatt
Battles move to villages around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk
Battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces are taking place in “multiple villages” around the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, with Ukraine’s forces losing control of one settlement, according to the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, Serhiy Haidai.
In his latest update on Twitter, the official said Ukraine’s army has lost control of the village of Metiolkine just outside the regional center.
“Battles are underway in multiple villages around Siverodonetsk and Lysychansk. Unfortunately, we currently have no control over Metiolkine near the regional center,” he said, adding that Russian forces had “intensified artillery and air fire.”
Russian and Ukrainian forces have been engaged in intense fighting and street battles over recent weeks, with the conflict homing in on Severodonetsk, the last Ukrainian-held city in the Luhansk province, and its “twin” city across the Siverskyi Donets river, Lysychansk.
Haidai noted that Ukrainian fighters are successful in close-quarter warfare, but enemy artillery predominates in the area. He added that Russia is “pummeling” Lysychansk but said a “quiet” civilian evacuation is being carried out using armored vehicles.
“Lost settlement does NOT mean ‘lost war.’ Luhansk region will be defended to the last, we will restrain the horde as much as necessary,” Haidai said.
He added that “the Russians are hitting hard the Severodonetsk industrial zone and the city outskirts. The same is true in the Toshkivka and Ustynivka districts,” where the “orcs” seek to gain a breakthrough. “For this purpose, they have gathered a large amount of equipment there,” he said.
Ukrainian officials frequently liken Russian fighters to the fictional, monstrous “orcs” in J. R. R. Tolkien’s series “The Lord of the Rings.”
— Holly Ellyatt