Latest political developments
Finland’s president has confirmed his country will apply to join NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vows embattled city of Mariupol will one day host Eurovision, following country’s win.
With Russian losing momentum,”Ukraine can win this war,” NATO deputy leader says.
Updates from the ground on Day 81 of the war
Russian missile hits “military infrastructure facilities” in the western city of Lviv, governor says.
Russia continues to suffer “consistently high levels of attrition,” British Defence Ministry says.
- Authorities negotiating evacuation of 60 severely wounded Ukrainian troops at Mariupol steel mill, says deputy PM.
Finland’s president and government announced Sunday that the Nordic country intends apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.
The Finnish parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days, but it is considered a formality.
A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at the some point next week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified the war in Ukraine by claiming it was a response to NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe.
But the invasion has other countries along Russia’s flank worried they could be next. Officials in Sweden were also expected to announce a decision Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.
Russia, which shares a long land border with Finland, has said it would be a mistake for Helsinki to join the transatlantic alliance and that it would harm bilateral ties.
In a phone call Niinisto made to Putin on Saturday, the two leaders talked about the possibility of Finland joining NATO and the Russian leader said the “end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland’s security,” the Kremlin said.
Ukraine, meanwhile, celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest held in Italy. The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy, televised contest Saturday with the song Stefania, which has become a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory.
President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed early Sunday that his nation would claim the customary honour of hosting the next annual competition and proposed that one day it should be held in the embattled port city of Mariupol, which is almost entirely in Russian hands aside from a stalwart group of a few hundred Ukrainian fighters who continue to hold out in a steel factory.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelensky said on Facebook. “Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision!”
The band made an impassioned plea during the show to help the fighters still in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
The president’s optimistic words come as Russian troops are retreating from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, after bombarding it for weeks, and Moscow’s forces continue to be engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas.
Russia has now likely lost one-third of the ground combat forces it committed in February and continues to suffer “consistently high levels of attrition” while failing to achieve any substantial territorial gains over the past month, Britain’s Defence Ministry said in its daily intelligence update Sunday.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said in Berlin, where foreign ministers from the alliance were meeting Sunday.
“We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”
WATCH | Ukraine claims victory in battle for its second-largest city:
Ukrainian officials claim victory in Kharkiv
The Ukrainian military says the Russian forces are now withdrawing from the country’s second largest city and focusing on the eastern Donetsk region.
Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces are suffering “continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
Military facilities hit in Lviv, governor says
In the western city of Lviv, a Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” early Sunday morning, but there was no immediate information on dead or injured, said Lviv Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has been targeting rail facilities and other critical infrastructure in and around Lviv, which is near the Polish border and has been a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.
Western officials have said despite the attacks there has been no appreciable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.
With Russian forces now pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s military has said Moscow is now focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern region of Donetsk in an attempt to deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.
Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped swath of territory in the Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the Donbas region, the border area where Ukraine has battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Fighting grinds on in eastern region
In the southern Donbas, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol is now largely in Russian control, except for the few hundred troops left in the steel factory.
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of the city was reportedly able to reach the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops at the steelworks.
After failing to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, aiming to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped troops, and to seize territory still under Ukraine’s control.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move around in the east, hindering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it appears to be a back-and-forth slog without major breakthroughs on either side.
Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, which had a prewar population of around 55,000.
Zelensky said Ukraine’s forces have also made progress in the east, retaking six towns or villages in the past day. In his nightly address Saturday, he said “the situation in Donbas remains very difficult” and Russian troops were “still trying to come out at least somewhat victorious.”
“Step by step,” Zelensky said, “we are forcing the occupants to leave the Ukrainian land.”
Kharkiv, which is near the Russian border and only 80 kilometres southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key military objective earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.
Regional Gov. Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.
He added that Ukraine launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometres south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least the beginning of April.