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Ukraine hits Russian targets, France offers help to Odessa

#Ukraine #hits #Russian #targets #France #offers #Odessa

Ukraine tried to push back Russian troops in the east and south on Friday as France offered to secure access to the port of Odessa and ease a global grain crisis.

The United Nations and Western countries, meanwhile, have expressed renewed concern over death sentences imposed by pro-Russian separatists on two Britons and a Moroccan captured fighting for Ukraine.

Kyiv said on Friday it had launched fresh airstrikes on Russian positions in the captured southern Kherson region, one of the first areas captured by Russia after the February 24 invasion.

Fierce fighting continued in the eastern Donbass region, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were “holding out” despite Moscow concentrating its firepower there.

The fiercest fighting remains around the eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk, a battle Zelenskyy said is crucial to the fate of the Donbass region.

Local governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Friday that Russian forces had destroyed a major sports center, adding: “One of the symbols of Severodonetsk was destroyed. The Ice Palace burned down.”

People in the city of Lysyhansk, which sits on a river just across from Severodonetsk, spoke to AFP about the tough choices the war has thrown at them: either stay and brave the shelling, or flee and leave their homes.

Yevhen Zhyryada, 39, said the only way to get water is to go to a water distribution point in the city.

“We have to go there under fire and under fire,” he said. “This is how we survive.”

– “Victory for Ukraine” –

With the world still facing shockwaves from war, an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron said France is ready to help with an operation to provide safe access to Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa.

The port has been effectively blocked by Russia and grain is waiting to be exported amid growing fears of global food shortages, particularly in developing countries.

“We are at the disposal of the parties to carry out an operation that will allow access to the port of Odessa in complete safety, in other words that boats can pass, despite the fact that the sea is mined,” said the adviser. who asked not to be named.

Macron will travel to Ukraine’s neighbors Moldova and Romania next week, but no date has been set for Macron’s visit to Kyiv, the adviser said.

France wants “victory for Ukraine,” the adviser added, after Macron sparked controversy by suggesting Russia should not be humiliated.

Russia’s invasion has European countries on edge, and nine of them on Friday called on NATO to strengthen their eastern flank.

The meeting of leaders from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia took place in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, less than three weeks before a NATO summit in Madrid.

“With increased security risks in Romania and the Black Sea, NATO’s consolidation on its eastern flank becomes… all the more urgent and crucial,” said Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

– “Shocking” death sentences –

Western countries reacted with renewed outrage after separatist authorities in the Donetsk region of Donbass on Thursday ordered the death penalty for Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saadun Brahim.

Germany’s Foreign Office said the “shocking” verdicts showed “once again Russia’s total disregard for international humanitarian law”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said he was “appalled” when London pressed the case with Kyiv. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said it was investigating the matter.

The United Nations warned that unfair trials of prisoners of war were war crimes.

Zelensky praised the British leadership and its support for Kiev’s fight against Russia during an unannounced visit by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

“Words become deeds. This is the difference between Ukraine’s relationship with Britain and other countries,” Zelenskyy said in a video statement. “Arms, finance, sanctions – on these three issues Britain is showing leadership.”

Kyiv has criticized countries like Germany and France for the slow delivery of aid and for giving too much credence to negotiations with Vladimir Putin.

– ‘Take back and strengthen’ –

Russia has repeatedly warned the West not to get involved, with some officials warning of the risk of nuclear war.

Putin, who has said what Russia is calling its special military operation to “denazify” Ukraine, appeared to compare himself to Peter the Great’s war against Sweden in the 18th century in a comment on Thursday.

After visiting an exhibition in Moscow dedicated to the Tsar’s 350th birthday, Putin said: “One gets the impression that he grabbed something while fighting against Sweden. He didn’t take anything, he took it back.”

In an apparent reference to Ukraine, Putin added: “It is also our responsibility to take back and strengthen.”

In the southern Russian city of Volgograd — known in Soviet times as Stalingrad and the site of the bloodiest battle of World War II — many Russians are rallying behind the invasion.

“There was fascism then, now there is neo-fascism,” said local resident Alexander Grachev, 50, referring to Ukrainian authorities.

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