Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the front lines on Sunday in the hotly contested Donbass, taking a closer look at his military operation and awarding medals for his heroic efforts to thwart the fierce Russian invasion.
“I want to thank you for your great work, for your service, for protecting us all, our state,” Zelensky said at one of the gatherings. “I am grateful to everyone. I would like to wish you and your families good health. Take care of yourself.”
The group also honored the memory of defenders who fell with a moment of silence. The visit came as the situation in Donbass deteriorated. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Heidi said Monday that heavy fighting continues in the vital city of Severodonetsk, a focal point of Russia’s latest offensive.
“Our defenders succeeded in launching a counterattack and liberating nearly half of the city, but the situation is now worse again. Our men are defending positions in the industrial area on the outskirts of the city,” said Heidi.
Russian forces have blown up bridges and bombarded apartments in neighboring Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk, the last two major cities of Luhansk Province still under Ukraine control. If captured, Russian leader Vladimir Putin will assume control of the disputed region.
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The latest developments:
NATO began nearly two weeks of US-led naval exercises in the Baltic Sea on Sunday with the participation of more than 7,000 sailors, pilots and marines from 16 countries – including two aspiring to join the military alliance, Finland and Sweden.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin begins Tuesday a multi-stop international trip that will conclude with a meeting of NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels. Topics include Ukraine and NATO requests in Sweden and Finland.
Graduating students sway in front of the ruins of their high school in Kharkiv, reviving a tradition put on hold by the war. In Ukrainian schools, graduates traditionally dance a waltz in front of the whole school while students hear the bell ring for the “last” time, Pravda Ukraine report.
Olina Musulova, a geography teacher whose daughter also graduated this year, said that the last waltz was at least an opportunity to somehow re-create the atmosphere of the “last bell” for students.
“We imagined a different ‘final bell’ for our kids, but it is what it is, and we want to have a celebration for the kids,” she said.
The school was the site of fierce fighting in February between Russian forces and the Ukrainian army. Pravda reported that at one point 30 Russian soldiers occupied the school until they were expelled by Ukrainian forces.
Russia: We will take more from Ukraine if the West provides long-range missiles
Russia is focusing its military power on Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, but says it will go deeper into the country if the West supplies Ukraine with long-range weapons. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said in an online press conference, Monday, that Russia will go further into Ukraine so that the missiles do not reach its cities. Ukraine sought a long-range missile because Russia had badly damaged many cities by firing long-range missiles from a distance that Ukrainian weapons could not reach.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has already commented on the situation that will emerge with the arrival of new weapons,” Lavrov said. “I can only add that the greater the range of weapons you will supply, the further away from our territory we will be.”
Mikhailo Podolak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on Sunday rejected French President Emmanuel Macron’s warning against humiliating Russia despite its “historic” mistake in invading Ukraine. “We must not insult Russia so that, on the day when the fighting stops, we can build a slope out through diplomatic means,” Macron was quoted as saying by French media. “I am convinced that France’s role is to be a mediating power.”
On Sunday on Twitter, Podolak said: “While someone asks not to be humiliated, the Kremlin resorts to new malicious attacks. Today’s missile strikes on Kyiv have only one goal – to kill as many as possible.”
He then called for more weapons to fight Russia, as well as additional sanctions.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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