KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian army says Kyiv’s forces continue to frustrate Russian attempts to take the fiercely contested eastern city of Sievierodonetsk.
“The occupiers, with the help of motorized rifle units and artillery, conducted assault operations in the city of Sievierodonetsk. They were not successful; the fighting continues,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a regular operational update Thursday evening.
It added that Ukrainian forces had successfully repelled a Russian attack on the village of Toshkivka, on the northwestern outskirts of Sievierodonetsk.
The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region, where Sievierodonetsk is located, said Thursday that “fierce battles” continue to engulf the city.
In a Telegram post, Serhii Haidai said Russian forces continue to shell the neighboring city of Lysychansk using large-caliber weapons which “pierce even concrete.”
“It is extremely dangerous for civilians to remain, even in shelters,” Haidai said.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— War rap: In Ukraine, an angry voice for a furious generation
— Smashed buildings in Mariupol produce ‘caravan of death’
— Russia, Turkey back plan to export grains; Ukraine doubtful
— UN report: Ukraine war is increasing suffering of millions
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — The death sentences handed by a pro-Russian separatist court to British and Moroccan nationals fighting for Ukraine should be considered null and void, a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday.
“The so-called ‘trial’ of the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the occupied Ukrainian territories is of no significance,” Oleh Nikolenko told the Interfax Ukraine agency.
“Such show trials put the interests of propaganda above the law and morality; they undermine the mechanisms for the return of prisoners of war. The Ukrainian government will continue to make every effort to release all the defenders of Ukraine,” Nikolenko added.
He stressed that all foreign citizens fighting as part of Ukraine’s armed forces should be considered Ukrainian military personnel, and protected as prisoners of war.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree Thursday imposing personal sanctions on Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin and all sitting ministers.
The sanctions, approved by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, target all members of Russia’s government and security council, as well as the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. They ban entry to Ukraine, revoke visas and permits, and block financial assets.
The decree came into force on Thursday, according to a copy published on the website of the Ukrainian presidency. Zelenskyy also signed a directive sanctioning 236 Russian universities and their leaders.
Russia’s education minister said in response that Moscow will not be deterred.
“Today’s decision by the Kyiv regime speaks to its inadequacy and inability to control the situation. It’s a gesture of desperation, which cannot prevent the integration of Donbas and the liberated territories into a single educational space with Russia,” Sergey Kravtsov told the Interfax agency.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says foreign companies that have left Russia will regret their decision.
“In today’s conditions, when someone jumped off somewhere, left, chose to stop some activity here, they will regret it,” he declared at a meeting with young entrepreneurs in Moscow.
“They will regret it, not because we threaten anyone,” Putin continued. “They will regret it because Russia is a country with great potential, really.”
Putin also appeared to claim that the exodus of foreign firms from Russia was evidence of U.S. domination over other Western states and economies.
“Many regret that they have to leave. This is all a manifestation of the internal state of these countries that cannot make sovereign decisions,” he added.
He then reiterated that Russia is “a sovereign country that should be looking to the future.”
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin spoke of Russia’s need to “take back (territory) and defend itself” Thursday in a speech in which he compared himself to Peter the Great.
Speaking at a meeting with young entrepreneurs in Moscow, Putin drew parallels between the conquering monarch’s founding of St. Petersburg and his government’s annexation of territory.
“When he founded the new capital, no European country recognized it as Russia. Everybody recognized it as Sweden,” Putin said. “And Slavic people had always lived there along with Finno-Ugric people, and the territory was under the control of the Russian state.”
“What was he doing? Taking back and reinforcing. That’s what he did. And it looks like it fell on us to take back and reinforce as well,” he said.
Putin also appeared to leave the door open for further territorial expansion, while asserting Russia’s sovereignty.
“There is no state in between. A country is either sovereign or a colony,” he said.
“It’s impossible — do you understand — impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we do not intend to build that fence,” Putin added.
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian troops are trying to resume their offensive on Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region in order to capture it completely, a top Ukrainian military official said Thursday.
Oleksei Gromov, deputy chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff, said Russian forces are likely to strike out from the southern Kherson region, which is majority-controlled by Moscow, towards neighboring Zaporizhzhia.
“The enemy has focused on holding the lines, but at the same time does not cease (its) attempts to resume the offensive in these areas, probably in order to reach the administrative borders of the Zaporizhzhia region,” Gromov said in a briefing hosted by Ukraine’s state Ukrinform agency.
The southern part of Zaporizhzhia, including two major cities and a key nuclear plant, was overrun by Moscow’s troops in the early weeks of the war, and remains in Russian hands. Kyiv continues to hold the north of the region, including the capital city of Zaporizhzhia, which was previously a staging post for evacuees from the ruined port of Mariupol.
Gromov did not rule out a Russian assault on the southern Mykolayiv region, which likewise borders Kherson, and the key cultural hub of Odesa, further west along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. He did not provide further information regarding any such planned attacks.
WASHINGTON — A resolution urging NATO to quickly admit Finland and Sweden won easy passage in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, in a signal of bipartisan support from lawmakers.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee approved the measure supporting the expansion and urging other NATO states to swiftly admit the two Nordic states by voice vote, with no voiced objections.
Thursday’s vote had been seen as a test of Republican lawmakers’ stand on the expansion, which President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland and Sweden to end longstanding policies of military non-alignment and apply to join the 30-member U.S. and European defensive alliance. Biden encouraged the two countries’ application and welcomed their leaders to the White House in May to celebrate it.
Unexpected opposition from NATO member Turkey has clouded what had been expected to be quick ascension to the bloc by the two countries. Turkey says it objects to the two countries’ stances regarding the Middle East’s Kurdish minority.
LONDON — The British government says it is “deeply concerned” that two U.K. nationals captured while fighting with the Ukrainian military have been sentenced to death.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies said Thursday that under the Geneva Conventions prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and “shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes.”
He said: “We will continue to work with Ukrainian authorities to secure the release of any British nationals who were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces and are being held as prisoners of war.”
British Foreign Secretary Luz Truss tweeted: “I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.”
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found Aslin, Pinner, as well as Saaudun Brahim of Morocco, guilty of taking action toward a violent overthrow of power, an offense punishable by death in the internationally unrecognized rebel-held territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday that the three will face a firing squad. They have a month to appeal.
A court in separatist-controlled territory of eastern Ukraine sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan man to death for fighting on Ukraine’s side in the war with Russia.
The three men fought alongside Ukrainian troops and surrendered to Russian forces weeks ago.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found them guilty of taking action toward a violent overthrow of power, an offense punishable by death in the internationally unrecognized rebel-held territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The three were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday that the three — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim — are set to face a firing squad. They have a month to appeal.
PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegro’s prime minister says he has spoken on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and expressed readiness to visit Kyiv.
Dritan Abazovic also told Zelenskyy on Thursday that he will suggest to other leaders of countries in the Western Balkans that they should all travel to Ukraine together to show support.
Small Montenegro in 2017 defied Russia’s strong opposition to join NATO, and is viewed as the next in line for EU membership.
The country, along with North Macedonia and Bulgaria, prevented the visit of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to neighboring Serbia earlier this week by refusing to grant permit for his plane to fly through their airspace.
Abazovic hopes that Ukraine, too, will soon become a formal EU candidate, said a statement from his office. Abazovic offered Montenegro’s help on Ukraine’s accession path.
The statement also says that Zelenskyy invited Abazovic to visit Kyiv as soon as possible.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s top military official says the situation on the frontline is “very difficult” and calls for “very quick” weapon supplies.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post Thursday that every day up to 100 Ukrainian troops are killed and up to 500 end up wounded.
He said Kyiv needs heavy weapons, as well as aircraft and air defense systems quickly.
“We proved that we don’t fear the Kremlin, unlike many others. But we as a country can’t afford to bleed, losing our best sons and daughters,” Reznikov wrote.
He said that Russia “continues to press by sheer mass,” suffering “huge casualties” as well.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said earlier that every day 60-100 Ukrainian servicemen die on the frontline and some 500 sustain wounds.
BRUSSELS — Senior members of the European Union’s parliament are urging EU leaders to make Ukraine and neighboring Moldova official candidates for joining the 27-nation bloc.
Political group leaders in the European Parliament said Thursday that the EU “must be a reliable partner and a credible geopolitical actor that lives up to its principles and values by showing solidarity with those who stand up for the same ideals.”
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, is drafting an opinion on the membership requests of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. In recent years, the commission repeatedly expressed concern about corruption in Ukraine and the need for deep political and economic reforms.
The official opinion will be weighed by EU leaders at a June 23-24 summit in Brussels. Several leaders are wary of opening the door to Ukraine, although acquiring full membership would take the country many years.
The parliamentary group leaders say that giving Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status would mark “the start to a merit-based process” for joining. They also urged EU leaders “to work towards granting the same status to Georgia.”
MOSCOW — Russia’s defense ministry says it used air-launched missiles to destroy a Ukrainian military base where foreign fighters allegedly were being trained.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Thursday that the training center was in the Zhytomyr region of central Ukraine, about 125 kilometers (75 miles) west of Kyiv.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine to the Russian claims. Russia refers to foreign fighters who joined Ukrainian troops in the war as ‘mercenaries.’
Konashenkov said Russian missiles also destroyed an ammunition depot and an anti-aircraft system elsewhere in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — The governor of eastern Ukraine's Luhansk province says Russian forces are employing “scorched-earth tactics” against the city of Sievierodonetsk, hitting it with rockets, artillery and mortars.
Serhiy Haidai also told The Associated Press on Thursday that neighboring Lysychansk is enduring “day and night shelling." Russians are trying to storm the key road connecting Lysychansk and the city of Bakhmut but have failed to gain control of it, he said.
Haidai says Ukraine still “remains able to deliver humanitarian supplies to the region by a relatively safe route.”
Ukraine's east has been the main focus of Russia's attacks for more than two months.
Haidai said there were two attacks on a chemical plant and “fierce battles" continue in Sievierodonetsk.
“Street battles are taking place with varied success in city blocks,” the governor said. "The army of Ukraine is fighting for every street and house.”
PARIS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia’s invasion of his country is a threat to the environment and could lead to dangerous pollution in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
Zelenskyy made the comments at a ministerial meeting of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. He used the platform to impress on ministers the need to wean states off Russian natural gas in favor of green energy.
The Black Sea and the Sea of Azov border both Ukraine and Russia. The Black Sea also borders Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania and Turkey.
BERLIN — Poland’s president has sharply criticized phone calls the leaders of France and Germany had with Vladimir Putin, saying the conversations serve only to legitimize the Russian leader.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have spoken to Putin several times since Russia invaded Ukraine, both separately and together, in attempts to nudge him toward ending the war.
Polish President Andrzej Duda was quoted Thursday as telling Germany’s Bild newspaper that he’s “astonished” by the calls.
Duda argued they achieve nothing and “only bring about a legitimization of a person who is responsible for the crimes the Russian army is committing in Ukraine.”
Bild quoted Duda as adding: “Did anyone talk like this with Adolf Hitler during World War II? Did anyone say that Adolf Hitler must save face? … I have not heard such voices.”
The Associated Press