Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Sunday that Russia would likely intensify its “hostile activity” this week as Kiev awaits a landmark European Union decision on its membership application.
Nearly three months after Russia launched a bloody invasion of his country, Zelensky said there were “few decisions as fateful for Ukraine” as the ones it expects from the EU this week, adding in his evening speech that “only a positive decision in the interests of all of Europe.”
“Clearly, we expect Russia to intensify hostile activity this week … We are preparing. We are ready,” he continued.
Ukraine said it had also repulsed fresh attacks by Russian troops on the eastern front, rocked by weeks of fierce fighting as Moscow attempts to capture the industrial Donbas region.
Earlier, Zelensky vowed that his troops would not give up the south of the country after he visited the front line there.
But Zelensky’s resistance came when NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that the war could go on for “years” and urged Western countries to be ready to provide long-term military, political and economic aid.
“We must not weaken our support for Ukraine, even if the costs are high – not only in terms of military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices,” Stoltenberg told the German daily Bild.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a similar warning, saying that failure to provide sustained support to Kiev would risk “the biggest victory for aggression” since World War II.
Ukraine has repeatedly urged Western countries to increase their arms supplies since the February 24 invasion, despite warnings from nuclear-armed Russia that this could spark a bigger conflict.
– Residents gather –
Zelensky spoke on Sunday after making a rare trip outside Kiev the day before to the inveterate Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, where he visited troops near and in the neighboring region of Odessa for the first time since the invasion.
“We will not give the south away to anyone, we will give back everything that is ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” he said in a video posted to Telegram as he made his way to Kiev.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Sunday it has been conducting missile strikes in the past 24 hours, with one attack by Kalibr missiles at a top-level Ukrainian military rally near the town of Dnipro that saw “more than 50 generals and officers” killed.
It also said it targeted a building containing Western-supplied weapons in Mykolaiv, destroying “ten 155mm howitzers and about 20 armored vehicles supplied by the West to the Kiev regime in the past ten days”.
There was no independent verification of the claims.
Mykolaiv is a prime target for Russia as it is en route to the strategic port of Odessa.
With Russia maintaining a blockade of Odessa that has locked up grain supplies and threatens a global food crisis, residents have turned their attention to rallying efforts from the home front.
“Every day, including weekends, I come to make camouflage nets for the army,” said Natalia Pinchenkova, 49, behind a large Union flag, as a thank you to Britain for its support of Ukraine.
– ‘To hold’ –
The war in Ukraine is fueling not only a global food crisis, but also an energy crisis.
Struck by punitive sanctions, Moscow has stepped up pressure on European economies by sharply cutting gas supplies, which in turn pushed energy prices up.
Germany announced emergency measures on Sunday, including increased use of coal to ensure it can meet its energy needs after a decline in Russian gas supplies.
Austria also turned to coal, with the government announcing on Sunday that it will reopen a shut down coal-fired power station to combat the shortages – although the process could take months.
Italian company Eni, meanwhile, joined a massive Qatari project to expand production of the world’s largest natural gas field, days after Russia cut supplies to Italy.
The worst fighting continues in the eastern industrial Donbas region, with fighting raging for weeks in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk under relentless Russian fire.
Ukrainian forces said on Sunday they had reversed Russian attacks on villages near Severodonetsk.
“Our units repulsed the attack in the Toshkivka area,” the Ukrainian army said on Facebook, adding that Russian troops also “rushed” toward the village of Orikhove.
Zelensky said the fighting there was “heavy”, but he remained firmly optimistic.
“Our army is holding out,” he said.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)