By DAVID KEYTON and EFREM LUKATSKY – Associated Press
LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine (AP) — The European Union’s executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on the path to membership on Friday, a symbolic boost for the beleaguered country, but one that hasn’t slowed progress. Russian assault to the east that takes civilian lives and flattens cities.
The possibility of joining a union created to safeguard peace on the continent and which presents itself as a model of the rule of law and prosperity responds to a wish of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the many citizens of Western appearance who are resisting the Russian invasion.
Ukraine’s latest embrace by its European allies also marks another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago hoping to bring his former Soviet neighbor back into the sphere of influence of the Russia. Putin was due to address Russia’s flagship economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, but his speech had to be delayed as the forum’s website was the victim of a cyberattack.
The European Commission’s recommendation that Ukraine become a candidate for membership will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc at a summit next week in Brussels. The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine’s candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided on how quickly and whether to fully open arms to new members.
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Western support for Ukraine – both political and military – has been key to its surprising success against larger and better-equipped Russian forces. Zelenskyy also called for more immediate support in the form of more and better weapons to reverse the tide in the eastern Donbass region.
Russia continued its offensive there on Friday, leaving desperate residents struggling to make sense of what the future holds.
“We are old people, we have no place to go. Where am I going?” asked Vira Miedientseva, one of the elderly grappling with the aftermath of an attack on Thursday in Lysychansk, which sits just across from Sievierodonetsk, a key center of battles in recent weeks that the Russians have almost captured.
— Ukraine’s navy said on Friday it destroyed a Russian ship carrying air defense systems to a strategic island in the Black Sea. In a statement on social media, the navy said the Vasily Bekh was used to ferry munitions, weapons and personnel to Snake Island, which is vital to protecting sea lanes out of the key port of Odessa.
Snake Island, located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast, featured memorably at the start of the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian orders to surrender, using language colorful that later became a rallying cry. There was no immediate reaction from the Russian authorities regarding the Ukrainian claim.
— The war’s disruption of Ukraine’s grain and other crop exports that feed the world has captured global attention and driven up bread prices around the world. But the production of other, more niche foodstuffs has also been impacted, particularly for a Ukrainian snail farmer.
— The Eurovision Song Contest organizer said on Friday it would start talks with the BBC about the possibility of hosting next year’s event in the UK after concluding it could not hold in Ukraine. Last month Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the 2022 competition, invigorating Ukrainian spirits. The event is traditionally organized by the winner of the previous year.
After a series of setbacks early in the war, including the failure to capture the Ukrainian capital, Russian forces focused on Donbass, launching a brutal offensive. In recent weeks, they have settled in Sievierodonetsk and surrounding villages – the last pocket of the Lugansk region not yet claimed by Russia or its allies.
“The Russians are firing on the city,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said. “It is becoming more and more difficult for us to fight in Sievierodonetsk, because the Russians outnumber us in artillery and manpower, and it is very difficult for us to resist this deluge of fire.”
The constant shelling prevented 568 people, including 38 children, who were sheltering in the city’s Azot chemical plant from escaping, he said.
Russian forces destroyed all three bridges leading out of town, but Haidai said it still had not been completely blocked.
The Moscow envoy for the Russian-backed separatists who control much of the territory around Sievierodonetsk said an evacuation of the Azot plant could take place, under certain conditions.
Writing on social media on Friday, Rodion Miroshnik of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said Russian troops and separatists are “ready to consider options to open a humanitarian corridor for the exit of civilians, but subject to strict compliance with the cease fire. ”
Earlier this week, Miroshnik accused Kyiv troops of trying to disrupt the evacuation of civilians from Azot, a claim vigorously denied by Ukrainian officials.
Keyton reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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