The European Union's executive recommended on June 17 that Ukraine and Moldova become candidates for membership, a milestone in their potential path from ex-Soviet republics to developed economies in the world's largest trading bloc. If the European Commission's decision is ratified as expected next week at a summit, it will be a morale boost for Kyiv and further Western snub for Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Twitter the bravery of Ukrainians had brought an opportunity for Europe to “create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia”. As diplomacy advanced with Brussels, intense fighting continued in the eastern region of Donbas, where Russia seeks to solidify and extend recent gains, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to the capital, Kyiv.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin railed at the West, the United States in particular, in a grievance-filled speech in St Petersburg, but sought to play down the EU issue. "We have nothing against it," he said. "It is not a military bloc. It's the right of any country to join economic union."
Zelensky pays first visit to south Ukraine's war-damaged Mykolaiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the war-damaged southern city of Mykolaiv on June 18 for the first time since the Russian invasion in a rare trip outside Kyiv.
Mr. Zelensky's office published a video of him looking at a badly damaged high-rise residential building in the city and holding a meeting with local officials. His visit comes a day after a Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 in the city. Mykolaiv has been targeted by Russian forces since the start of their invasion on February 24. In the video, Mr. Zelensky was shown damage to a residential building by local Governor Vitaliy Kim. The tall building had a gaping hole, with the inside of apartments visible.
Russia frees captive medic who filmed Mariupol’s horror
A celebrated Ukrainian medic whose footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol was freed by Russian forces on Friday, three months after she was taken captive on the streets of the city.
Yuliia Paievska is known in Ukraine as Taira, a nickname she chose in the World of Warcraft video game. Using a body camera, she recorded 256 gigabytes of her team’s efforts over two weeks to save the wounded, including both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.
She transferred the clips to an Associated Press team, the last international journalists in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, one of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on March 15. Taira and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16, the same day a Russian airstrike hit a theater in the city center, killing around 600 people, according to an Associated Press investigation.
“It was such a great sense of relief. Those sound like such ordinary words, and I don’t even know what to say,” her husband, Vadim Puzanov, told The Associated Press late Friday, breathing deeply to contain his emotion. Puzanov said he spoke by phone with Taira, who was en route to a Kyiv hospital, and feared for her health.
Initially the family had kept quiet, hoping negotiations would take their course. But The Associated Press spoke with him before releasing the smuggled videos, which ultimately had millions of viewers around the world, including on some of the biggest networks in Europe and the United States. Puzanov expressed gratitude for the coverage, which showed Taira was trying to save Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Taira’s release in a national address.
“I’m grateful to everyone who worked for this result. Taira is already home. We will keep working to free everyone,” he said. - AP
Shelling traps 77 miners in Donetsk region: Reports
Shelling has trapped 77 miners in a coal mine in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine after power to the mine was cut off, Russia’s state RIA news agency reported on June 18.
“As a result of shelling by (Ukrainian forces), power to the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk was cut off, 77 miners remain underground,” RIA said, citing the Russian-backed separatist region’s territorial defence. - Reuters
Russian forces renew bid to advance south of Ukraine’s Izium, Britain says
Russia has probably renewed its efforts to advance south of Ukraine’s eastern city of Izium in the last 48 hours, Britain’s defence ministry said on June 18.
Its goal is to penetrate deeper into the Donetsk region and envelope the pocket around the embattled city of Severodonetsk from the north, it said on Twitter.
If trapped Ukrainian civilians do not take up an offer of leaving via a corridor, Russia is likely to claim justification in making less of a distinction between them and any Ukrainian military targets in the area, the ministry added. - Reuters
Zelensky hails EU backing as intense shelling hits Donbas
President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed Brussels’ support for Ukraine’s European Union bid as a historic achievement, as his country’s eastern Donas region faced intense Russian shelling. Brussels spearheaded a powerful show of European solidarity on Friday by backing Kyiv’s bid for EU candidate status, an endorsement that could add Ukraine to the list of countries vying for membership as early as next week.
The European Commission is set to meet at their Brussels summit on Thursday with all 27 leaders already backing Kyiv’s candidacy and the heads of the bloc’s biggest members — France, Germany and Italy — giving full-throated support to the idea. - AFP
Russian state TV airs videos of two missing Americans in Ukraine
A Russian state TV channel aired videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, stating they had been captured by Russian forces.
United States President Joe Biden had said earlier Friday he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both U.S. military veterans whose relatives lost contact with the pair.
The missing Americans — including a third identified as a former U.S. Marines captain — are believed to be part of an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops. - AFP
Deadly air strike hits Ukraine frontline city as it readies for street battle
Ashes littered a square in the war-ravaged east Ukrainian city of Lysychansk on June 17 as smoke rose from a cultural centre following a Russian air strike that killed four people sheltering there. The embattled city is preparing for a possible street battle, with Russian troops fighting Ukrainian soldiers in the city of Severodonetsk, just across the river.
The bombing on Thursday sparked a fire that raged through the blue and white-painted Stalin-era Diamant Palace of Culture overnight and was still burning on Friday. The building contained a library and post office as well as a stage for arts events. After the war began, it became used a bomb shelter by locals and a makeshift refuge for those who lost their homes. - AFP
German leader says it’s necessary to keep talking to Putin
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday that it’s “absolutely necessary” for some leaders to talk directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid efforts to end the war in Ukraine, and he and France’s president will continue to do so.
Mr. Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have held several telephone conversations with Mr. Putin, separately and together, since Russia’s invasion began. Those contacts have drawn some criticism — including from Poland’s president, who said recently that they achieve nothing and serve only to legitimise the Russian leader.
“It is absolutely necessary to speak to Mr. Putin, and I will continue to do so — as the French president will also,” Mr. Scholz told German news agency dpa in an English-language video interview a day after he, Mr. Macron and the leaders of Italy and Romania held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. - AP
Putin says has ‘nothing against’ Ukraine joining EU
Russia has “nothing against” Ukraine’s possible membership of the European Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday after the European Commission recommended granting Kyiv candidate status of the 27-member bloc.
“We have nothing against it. It’s their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not... It’s their business, the business of the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Putin told Russia’s annual economic showcase, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. - AFP
EU Commission backs candidate status for Ukraine
The executive arm of the European Union recommended Friday that Ukraine be granted candidate status to one day join the 27-nation bloc.
The European Commission recommendation is the first step on the long road toward membership and comes a day after four European Union leaders vowed to back Kyiv’s candidacy. The recommendation will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. Launching accession talks requires unanimous approval from all member countries.