Tue, 28 Jun 2022

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has reached the limits of the key eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk, the regional governor said Wednesday, describing the combat as "very difficult". Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live page is no longer being updated. For the latest updates on the war in Ukraine, click here. To read more of our analysis of the war in Ukraine, click here.

10:49pm: 'Situation in Donbas getting more and more difficult for the civilian population'

"People from other parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are being brought here, mostly buses, to be taken by this free train to western Ukraine," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from the town of Pokrovsk in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region. "Although Pokrovsk is quite far from the frontlines, it was shelled this morning -- six people were wounded -- and now the military here are very anxious about wide shots that could be revealing potential targets for the Russian forces and helping them with their targeting. Generally the situation in Donbas is getting more and more difficult for the civilian population."

9:05pm: World Bank's Malpass says war in Ukraine may trigger global recession

World Bank President David Malpass on Wednesday suggested that Russia's war in Ukraine and its impact on food and energy prices, as well as the availability of fertiliser, could trigger a global recession.

Malpass told an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce that Germany, the world's fourth largest economy, has already seen a substantial economic slowdown due to higher energy prices, and said limited access to fertiliser could worsen conditions elsewhere.

"As we look at the global GDP [...] it's hard right now to see how we avoid a recession," Malpass said.

8:56pm: Zelensky orders end to visa-free travel for Russians

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday ordered an end to visa-free travel for Russian citizens, citing the need to improve border security in the wake of Moscow's invasion.

Russian citizens are currently allowed to visit neighbouring Ukraine without visas. In an order posted on the presidential website, Zelensky said he backed a petition submitted by a citizen asking for this practice to end.

"Against the backdrop of full-scale Russian aggression, the issue raised is important and vital. I support the need to strengthen controls on the entry of Russian citizens," he said.

8:54pm: Talk to Ukraine about ports, not us, Russia says ahead of UN visit to Moscow

A senior UN official is due to visit Moscow in the coming days to discuss reviving fertiliser exports, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Wednesday, stressing that the talks were not linked to a resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments.

Since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24, Ukrainian grain shipments from its Black Sea ports have stalled and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos, while Moscow says the chilling effect of Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the war have disrupted its fertiliser and grain exports.

The conflict is fuelling a global food crisis with prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser soaring. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertiliser exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

6:40pm: Kyiv accuses NATO of 'doing literally nothing' to stop Russia

Ukraine's top diplomat Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday accused NATO of "doing literally nothing" in the face of Russia's invasion, while praising the EU for its "revolutionary" decisions to back Kyiv.

"NATO as an alliance, as an institution, is completely sidelined and doing literally nothing. I'm sorry to say it," Kuleba told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

But he praised Brussels for its "revolutionary, groundbreaking decisions, which even they themselves did not expect to make".

6:40pm: Russia, Iran discuss swapping supplies for oil and gas

Russia and Iran have discussed swapping supplies for oil and gas as well as setting up a logistics hub, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Wednesday, as Moscow is challenging Western sanctions over its military operation in Ukraine.

Russia has been tackling Western sanctions, which curbed its oil exports and production by restricting trade and financing.

The United States banned imports of Russian oil shortly after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine, while the European Union is considering a phased embargo, pushing more Russian oil cargoes towards Asia. Iran's oil industry has struggled for years under US sanctions imposed over Tehran's nuclear work.

6:34pm: Bulgaria to relocate Ukrainian refugees from Black Sea hotels as holiday season approaches

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who found shelter in Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts will have to leave their hotels by June 1 due to cuts in government subsidies and the start of the summer holiday season.

When Ukrainians started fleeing their country after Russia invaded on February 24, Bulgaria - like many other countries in central and eastern Europe - sprang into action to help settle and house them. Bulgaria does not share a border with Ukraine and the refugees had to travel there via Romania.

Out of 97,000 refugees now in the Balkan country, about 60,000, mostly women and children, have been hosted at the resorts, with the Bulgarian state providing a daily subsidy of 40 levs ($22) per person.

5:53pm: Putin hikes Russian pensions, plays down Ukraine impact on economy

President Vladimir Putin ordered 10% rises on Wednesday in pensions and the minimum wage to cushion Russians from inflation, but denied the country's economic problems were all linked to the war in Ukraine.

With annual inflation near 18% last month, the Kremlin leader acknowledged that 2022 would be a "difficult" year for the Russian economy.

"When I say 'difficult', it doesn't mean all these difficulties are connected to the special military operation," Putin told a televised meeting of the State Council in Moscow.

"Because in countries that aren't conducting any operations - say, overseas, in North America, in Europe - inflation is comparable and, if you look at the structure of their economies, even more than ours."

5:23pm: Russia passport plan 'flagrant violation' of Ukrainian sovereignty, Kyiv says

Moscow's plan to make it easier for Ukrainians living in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine to receive Russian citizenship violates international law, Kyiv said Wednesday, accusing the Kremlin of "criminal" behaviour.

"The illegal issuing of passports... is a flagrant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as norms and principles of international humanitarian law," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.

President Vladimir Putin earlier Wednesday signed a decree simplifying the procedure to get a Russian passport for residents of the southern Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

4:19pm: Putin visits soldiers wounded in Ukraine for first time

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday met soldiers wounded in Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine, Russian television showed, in the first such visit since he sent troops into the pro-Western country.

Wearing a white medical coat, Putin chatted to a soldier in hospital pyjamas about his baby son, saying: "He will be proud of his dad." The Kremlin said the president visited a military hospital in Moscow.

4:11pm: Nike will not renew licensing agreements in Russia

Nike will not renew licensing agreements in Russia, the company said Wednesday, joining a growing list of Western companies pulling back from the country following the Ukraine invasion of Ukraine.

The move affects licensed retailers as Nike shuttered company-owned stores two months ago soon after Moscow sent troops into the neighboring country.

"Due to operational challenges in Russia, Nike has made the decision not to renew or enter into any new business commitments, including with our franchisee Up&Run," the company said. "Our business remains on pause and we are providing pay continuity to our employees."

4:09pm: French retailer Auchan does not plan to change its Russia strategy despite criticism

French retailer Auchan does not plan to change its strategy in Russia or the structure of its local operations, the Russian branch of the privately owned company told Reuters in emailed comments on Wednesday.

Auchan, which has about 30,000 staff, 231 stores and an online business in Russia, is a rare example of a Western company continuing to operate in the country after Moscow sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

In late March, Auchan said it planned to maintain its presence in Russia, prompting Ukraine to call for a boycott of the chain as global names from McDonald's to Renault to Nike leave the country.

4:09pm: Mariupol official says first cargo ship to depart port in coming days

A Russian-backed official in the occupied Ukrainian port of Mariupol said on Wednesday that the first ship to leave since pro-Russian forces completed their capture of the city would leave in the next few days, the TASS news agency reported.

The official said the ship would take around 3,000 tonnes of metals to Rostov-on-Don in Russia, TASS said.

Earlier, Russia's defence ministry said that Mariupol's port, a shallow-water harbour on the Azov Sea, was "operating normally".

4:08pm: Ukraine accuses Moscow of 'blackmail' over food security

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday described as "blackmail" a Russian proposal to lift sanctions over its Ukraine invasion to avoid a global food crisis.

"This is clear blackmail. You could not find a better example of blackmail in international relations," Kuleba said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

4:07pm: Ukraine says Russia must withdraw to pre-war positions for talks

Ukraine's president said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its pre-war positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon as it focuses its fire on key regions in the east three months into the war.

Speaking by video link at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear it too is ready to "shift from the bloody war to diplomacy."

"It's possible if Russia shows at least something. When I say at least something, I mean pulling back troops to where they were before Feb. 24," the day Russia's invasion began, he said. "I believe it would be a correct step for Russia to make."

3:31pm: Zelensky calls for Western unity as Russia advances

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted the West for lacking unity on Wednesday, as the Russian invasion entered its fourth month and Moscow's troops advanced in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting reached the edge of the industrial city of Severodonetsk, which is under fierce bombardment by Russian forces who are trying to encircle it in one of their key goals in Ukraine's Donbas region.

An unrepentant Moscow told the West to lift sanctions to stave off a global food crisis sparked by the war between two countries that together produce nearly a third of the world's wheat.

Zelensky renewed calls for heavy weapons from foreign partners, saying the billions of dollars' worth already put up were not enough to help Ukraine's outgunned forces.

3:21pm: Fighting reaches 'outskirts' of key east Ukraine city Severodonetsk

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has reached the limits of the key eastern city Ukraine of Severodonetsk, the regional governor said Wednesday, describing the combat as "very difficult".

"Russian troops have advanced far enough that they can already fire mortars" on the city, Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday said in a statement on social media, adding that, "yesterday there was already fighting on the outskirts of the city."

2:53pm: EU seeks power to strip sanctioned Russians of assets

The EU on Wednesday proposed new rules that would make it harder for Russian oligarchs to evade sanctions, and open the way to confiscating their yachts and villas to help rebuild Ukraine.

"While the Russian aggression on Ukraine is ongoing, it is paramount that EU restrictive measures are fully implemented and the violation of those measures must not be allowed to pay off," the European Commission said in a statement.

"Today's proposals aim to ensure that the assets of individuals and entities that violate the restrictive measures can be effectively confiscated in the future."

2:44pm: Britain calls on Russia to let Ukraine export its grain

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Wednesday called on Russia to let Ukraine export its grain to help countries where grain scarcity could trigger hunger.

Russia must "do the right thing", Wallace told reporters in Madrid where he met with his counterpart Margarita Robles.

He rejected the idea to lift sanctions against Russia in return for grain release and welcomed the suggestion to make Black Sea nations, such as Turkey, to escort the Ukraine grain shipments.

2:20pm: Ukraine says it is fighting to keep control of key supply route in Donbas

Ukraine is battling to remain in control of a key highway to the front-line city of Sievierodonetsk, the country's defence ministry said on Wednesday.

Defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said in a briefing that alternative routes existed to supply Ukrainian units in Sievierodonetsk, which is enveloped on three sided by Russian forces.

Motuzyanyk said that Russia's aim was to fully surround Ukrainian units in the city, as well as in nearby Lysychansk.

2:11pm: Norway's oil giant Equinor completes exit from Russia joint ventures

Norway's Equinor said on Wednesday it has exited its Russian joint ventures due to the war in Ukraine, in line with plans first presented on February 27.

"The exit from all joint ventures has been completed in accordance with Norwegian and EU sanctions legislation related to Russia," the oil company said in a statement.

2:07pm: Moscow says it is preparing measures against English-language media in Russia

Moscow is working on measures against English-language media in response to "unfriendly actions" by foreign governments towards Russian media, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.

Zakharova said Russia was preparing measures against "Anglo-Saxon media", using a term Russian officials often use to refer to the English-speaking world.

2:02pm: Putin fast-tracks Russian citizenship for residents of southern Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree simplifying a procedure to obtain a Russian passport for residents of the southern Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The southern region of Kherson is under the full control of Russian troops, while the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia is partially controlled by Moscow.

Moscow and pro-Moscow officials have said both regions could become part of Russia.

1:10pm: Russian lawmakers vote to remove upper age limit for military service

Russia's State Duma approved a law on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the country's military. Currently, only Russians aged between 18 and 40 and foreigners aged 18 to 30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian army.

11:15am: Russia says ready to provide corridor for food-carrying ships leaving Ukraine

Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.

Ukraine's Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil. Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up "safe corridors" for grain exports from Ukraine's ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.

10:40am: West lacking 'unity' over Ukraine war: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that the West remained divided over the extent of its support for Ukraine in its defence against Russia's months-long invasion. "Unity is about weapons. My question is, is there this unity in practice? I can't see it. Our huge advantage over Russia would be when we are truly united," Zelensky said during a panel discussion on Ukraine at the World Economic Forum.

Washington and European countries have poured billions of dollars' worth of arms into Ukraine to help the country's outgunned forces beat back the better-armed Russian invaders. Kyiv has called for greater support, membership to the US-led NATO military alliance, and for a no-fly zone to be imposed over the country.

Zelensky said Ukraine was grateful for support from US President Joe Biden but said resolve was lagging closer to home. "We are on the European continent and we need the support of a united Europe," he added. Zelensky specifically named neighbouring Hungary, which has voiced opposition to a European Union-wide embargo on Russian oil, another key Ukrainian demand.

9:10am: Russia attempting to trap Ukrainian forces in Donbas

Russia is attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas' two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Sievierodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.

8:59am: UK government authorises sale of Chelsea football club post-Abramovich

The UK government said Wednesday it had given the green light to Todd Boehly's proposed takeover of Chelsea football club from the sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries said she had issued a licence permitting the deal late on Tuesday, shortly after it won approval from the Premier League.

"We are satisfied the proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or other sanctioned individuals," Dorries tweeted. "Given the sanctions we placed on those linked to (Vladimir) Putin and the bloody invasion of Ukraine, the long-term future of the club can only be secured under a new owner," she said.

A consortium led by Boehly, a co-owner of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, had already agreed a record Pound 4.25 billion ($5.3 billion) deal to buy the Premier League club from Abramovich on May 7.

8:47am: Zelensky says will only talk directly to Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that he was only willing to talk directly to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and not via intermediators. He added that if the Russian president "understands reality" there was the possibility of finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict.

Zelensky, speaking to an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, also said that Ukraine would fight until it recovered all of its territory. The Ukrainian president said that Moscow should withdraw its troops back to the lines in place before Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24.

5:55am: Zelensky renews calls for weapons from foreign partners

As the war entered its fourth month on Wednesday, Russian forces were relentlessly bombarding the industrial city of Severodonetsk while attempting its encirclement, a key goal of recent fighting in the Donbas region.

Zelensky mourned the thousands of Ukrainian men and women who have perished since the start of the Russian invasion while renewing calls for heavy weapons from foreign partners, saying arms for Kyiv were "the best investment in stability in the world".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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