KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia continued its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as Poland’s president traveled to Kyiv to support the country’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the beginning of the war.
The lawmakers gave President Andrzej Duda a standing ovation, who thanked them for the honor of speaking out where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats”. Duda said that to end the conflict, Ukraine does not need to submit to the conditions imposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Unfortunately, in Europe there have been disturbing voices lately demanding that Ukraine give in to Putin’s demands,” he said. “I want to say clearly: only Ukraine has the right to decide its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.
Duda’s visit, his second to Kyiv since April, came as Russian and Ukrainian forces fought along a 551-kilometre (342-mile) corner of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
After declaring full control of a sprawling seaside steelworks that was the last defensive bastion of the port city of Mariupol, Russia launched artillery and missile attacks to expand the territory that separatists backed by Moscow have been holding since 2014 in the region known as Donbass.
To strengthen its defenses, the Ukrainian parliament voted on Sunday to extend martial law and mobilize the armed forces for the third time, until August 23.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stressed that the EU27 should speed up his country’s application to join the bloc. Ukraine’s potential candidacy is expected to be discussed at a summit in Brussels at the end of June.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told Radio J on Sunday that it would be a “long time” before Ukraine became a member of the EU, possibly up to two decades.
“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine will join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you are lying.”
But Poland is stepping up its efforts to convince EU members who are more hesitant to accept Ukraine into the bloc. Zelensky said Duda’s visit represented a “historic union” between Ukraine, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Poland, which ended communist rule two years earlier.
“It is truly a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built by blood, by Russian aggression,” Zelensky said. “All this so as not to lose our state, so as not to lose our people.”
Poland has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees and has become a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons into Ukraine. It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight Russian forces.
Duda credited the United States and President Joe Biden with unifying the West by backing Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Moscow.
“kyiv is the place from which it is clear that we need more America in Europe, both in the military field and in this economic dimension,” said Duda, a right-wing populist leader who has clearly preferred former President Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 election.
On the battlefield, Russia appears to have been advancing slowly and brutally into the Donbass in recent days. It intensified its efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in the province of Luhansk, which together with the province of Donetsk constitutes the Donbass. Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that Russian forces launched an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk came under heavy shelling and Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said the Russians were “just intentionally trying to destroy the city… engaging in a scorched earth approach”.
Haidai said Moscow was concentrating forces and weapons there in an attempt to take control of Luhansk, bringing in forces from Kharkiv in the northwest, from Mariupol in the south and from inside Russia.
The city’s only operating hospital has only three doctors and supplies for 10 days, he said.
Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelensky told a news conference on Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently every day, in the is.
In a morning report from the General Staff, Russia said it was also preparing to resume its offensive on Sloviansk, a town in Donetsk province that saw heavy fighting last month after troops withdrew. Moscow troops from kyiv.
In Enerhodar, a Russian-held town 281 kilometers (174 miles) northwest of Mariupol, an explosion on Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” injured Andrei Shevchuk, 48, who lives near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.
As Russia claims to have taken nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the Mariupol steelworks prisoner, concerns are growing over their fate and that of the remaining residents of the city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 feared dead .
Relatives of the fighters pleaded for them to be granted rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine “will fight for the return” of each of them.
Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, vowed that the Ukrainian fighters at the factory would be brought to justice.
The complete seizure of the Azovstal steel plant, a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity, gave Putin a much-desired victory in the war he started nearly three months ago on February 24. The Ukrainian army had told the fighters that their mission was over and they could come outside. He described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko has warned the city is facing a health and sanitation “catastrophe” due to mass burials in shallow graves and the breakdown of sewage systems. It is estimated that 100,000 of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before the war remain.
Ukrainian authorities alleged Russian atrocities there, including the bombing of a maternity ward and a theater where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian court was due to deliver a verdict on Monday for a Russian soldier who was the first to stand trial for an alleged war crime. The 21-year-old sergeant, who admitted shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in a village in the northeast region of Sumy on February 28, could face life in prison if convicted.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office was pursuing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting.
In other developments, the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, gave a rare interview to the national television channel ICTV alongside her husband and said that she had hardly seen him since the start of the war.
“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is separated now,” she said, adding that she spoke to him mainly by phone.
“Unfortunately, we can’t sit together, have dinner with the whole family, talk about everything,” she said.
Zelensky called the interview itself a “date on the air” and the couple, who have two children, joked in front of reporters.
“We are joking, but we are really waiting, like everyone else, to be reunited, like all the families in Ukraine who are separated now, waiting for their relatives and friends who want to be together again,” he said.