Ukrainian forces were battling a fierce Russian attack in the country’s east on Sunday after a Eurovision victory gave the country a much-needed morale boost.
President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Saturday that the war in his country risks causing global food shortages, adding that the situation in Ukraine’s Donbas is “very difficult.”
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, has increasingly turned its attention to the east of the country since late March after failing to take the capital, kyiv.
Western analysts believe that President Vladimir Putin has his sights set on annexing southern and eastern Ukraine in the coming months, but his troops appear to be meeting stiff resistance.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly shifting the balance of power in Europe, with Finland and Sweden poised to shed decades of military nonalignment to join NATO as a defense against feared further aggression from Moscow.
Helsinki is set to formally announce its candidacy for membership on Sunday.
But as a conflict that has displaced millions creeps into its third month, Ukrainians were offered a much-needed boost of optimism when a rap lullaby that blends folk and modern hip-hop beats won the contest. of Eurovision songs.
“Stefania,” which bested a series of over-the-top acts at the quirky annual music event, was written by frontman Oleh Psiuk as a tribute to his pre-war mother, but its nostalgic lyrics have taken on inordinate meaning due to the conflict.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azоvstal right now,” Psiuk said in English from the stage, referring to the port city’s underground steelworks where Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded by Russian forces.
There was also optimism from kyiv’s military intelligence chief, who told UK Sky News on Saturday that the war could reach a “breaking point” in August and end with the defeat of Russia before the end of the year.
Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov told the news outlet that he was “optimistic” about the current trajectory of the conflict.
On the ground, the governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian attempts to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk.
“There is heavy fighting on the border with the Donetsk region,” Gaidai said, reporting significant Russian losses of equipment and personnel.
“Of interceptions [of phone calls]we understand that a whole [Russian] battalion has refused to attack because they see what is happening.
Aerial footage showed dozens of destroyed armored vehicles on the riverbank and smashed pontoon bridges.
UK military intelligence also said Russian forces had suffered heavy losses when trying to cross the river.
The highly risky move reflected “the pressure Russian commanders are under to advance their operations in eastern Ukraine,” it added.
But Moscow’s forces “did not make significant gains despite concentrating forces in this area,” he said.
In Washington, a senior US defense official said most of the activity was now in the Donbas area.
Meanwhile, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synegubov said in a Telegram video that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking in the direction of the northeastern city of Izium.
And the Ukrainian General Staff said the troops had succeeded in expelling Russian troops from Kharkiv, a priority target for Moscow.
“The main efforts of the enemy are focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its units from the city of Kharkiv,” a spokesman said.
On Friday, Zelensky said his troops would fight to retake all occupied and besieged territory, including in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.
There, the last defenders of the city are hidden in a labyrinth of underground tunnels and bunkers in the large Azovstal steelworks under heavy bombardment.
The United Nations and the Red Cross helped evacuate women, children and the elderly from the plant where they were sheltering earlier this month.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, said on Telegram that a “huge convoy” of 500 to 1,000 cars had arrived in the city of Zaporizhia.
“Finally, we are waiting for our relatives from Mariupol at home,” he said.
About to join NATO are Sweden and Finland, whose grid operator said Russia cut off electricity supplies overnight.
Finnish officials said power supplied by Sweden had made up for the losses.
Ahead of talks with NATO members in Berlin, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said he was “sure that in the end we will find a solution and Finland [and] Sweden will become a member of NATO.”
Earlier, in a Helsinki-initiated phone call, President Sauli Niinisto had a “direct and direct” conversation with Putin.
“Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Niinisto’s office said.
Putin, however, told him that Finland joining NATO would be a “mistake”, insisting that Russia “did not pose a threat to Finland’s security”, the Kremlin said.
Ukraine’s Zelensky also met with a delegation of top US lawmakers on Saturday, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirming Washington’s support for the country.
“Ukrainians are fighting bravely against a deranged invader and have already succeeded beyond the skeptics’ wildest dreams,” McConnell said in a statement.
“They are willing and determined to keep fighting for victory.”
The war is also having a profound ripple effect on the global economy, with wheat prices soaring in the wake of the invasion.
“Now supporting Ukraine, and especially with weapons, means working to prevent world famine,” Zelensky said in his speech.
“The sooner we liberate our land and ensure Ukraine’s security, the sooner the normal state of the food market can be restored,” he said.
Before the invasion, Ukraine exported 4.5 million tons of agricultural products per month through its ports: 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, supplies can only travel through congested land routes that are far less efficient.
India had previously said it was ready to help fill some of the supply shortages caused by the war.
But on Saturday, the country banned wheat exports without government approval, drawing sharp criticism from G7 farm ministers meeting in Germany, who said such measures would “worse the crisis”.
The G7 ministers urged countries not to take restrictive measures that could increase tension in the markets for agricultural products.
They “spoke out against export stops and also called for markets to remain open,” said German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir, whose nation holds the group’s rotating presidency.