Ukraine said Desna came under “massive shelling” on Saturday from neighboring Belarus, which is not officially involved in the conflict.
War in Ukraine: latest updates
Desna under attack from Belarus
20 missiles were fired at the village of Desna in the north of the Chernihiv region, the Northern Military Command of Ukraine said in a statement.
Although infrastructure in Desna was damaged, no casualties have yet been reported.
Belarus has provided logistical support to Moscow since the February 24 invasion, especially in the first few weeks, but is not officially involved in the conflict.
An attempt to “draw” Belarus
Today’s strike [on Desna] is directly related to the Kremlin’s attempts to draw Belarus as an ally into the war,” Ukrainian intelligence said.
The strikes on Desna came ahead of a scheduled meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart and close ally Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday denounced Brussels’ decision to grant Ukraine official EU candidate status as a step towards a geopolitical “containment of Russia.”
The decision “confirms that the geopolitical monopolization of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) space is actively continuing to contain Russia,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Western allies will convene on Sunday for a G7 leaders’ summit in Germany, where President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to speak.
US President Joe Biden will attend the G7 and the NATO military alliance summit in Madrid next week.
In face-to-face talks, the Western allies will evaluate the effectiveness of the sanctions imposed so far against Moscow, consider possible new assistance to Ukraine, and begin to look at longer-term recovery plans.
On Thursday, the European Union made a strong statement of support, granting Ukraine candidate status, although the road to membership is a long one.
Moscow dismissed the EU decision as a step towards a geopolitical “containment of Russia.”
ALSO READ: As Russia Cuts Gas, Coal Returns to Europe
Four months later, the conflict is still centered in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv forces have finally surrendered a key stronghold, the industrial city of Severodonetsk.
Sergei Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, which includes the city, said on Friday that the military had been ordered to retreat.
“It just doesn’t make sense to stay in positions that have been mercilessly shelled for months,” he wrote on Telegram, adding that 90% of the city was damaged.
Severodonetsk was the scene of street fighting for several weeks, when armed Ukrainians stubbornly defended themselves.
Capturing the city and its twin across the river, Lysichansk, would effectively give the Russians control of Luhansk and allow them to push further into the wider Donbass.
But Ukraine’s retreat from Severodonetsk will not change the course of the war, according to Ivan Klish, an international relations researcher at the University of Tartu in Estonia.
“The overall picture – a slow war for fortified positions – has not changed much. We cannot expect a massive Russian breakthrough,” he said. AFP.
Separately, Russia said on Saturday that its forces had killed up to 80 Polish fighters in “precise strikes” on a plant in Konstantinovka in the Donetsk region. The assertion cannot be independently verified.
Lisichansk up to four
Gaidai said the Russians were now advancing towards Lisichansk, which was under increasing bombardment.
The situation for those who remained in the city is bleak.
Lilia Nesterenko, who was cycling to a friend’s house to feed her pets, said there was no gas, water or electricity in her house, forcing her and her mother to cook over a fire.
But the 39-year-old was optimistic about the city’s defense: “I believe in our Ukrainian army, they should (can) cope.”
Andriy Marochko, a spokesman for the Moscow-backed army in Lugansk, said on Friday that all villages in the neighboring districts of Zolote and Gorskoe are now under the control of Russian or pro-Russian forces.
A video on Marochko’s Telegram channel shows a man in military uniform replacing the Ukrainian flag with the Zolote coat of arms with a red flag with a hammer and sickle.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that up to 2,000 people were “completely locked down” near Golden and Girsk, and that about half of Zolote was under Russian control.
Russia has also stepped up its offensive in the northern city of Kharkov in recent days.
An AFP The team on Saturday saw a 10-story administrative building in the city center hit by rockets at night, starting a fire, but no one was injured.
It had already been bombed out, prompting one of the soldiers on the scene to remark, “The Russians are finishing what they started.”
On Friday, the same reporters found a stray dog eating human remains in the town of Chuguev, southeast of Kharkiv, where six people were killed in an attack earlier this week.
In the south of the Kherson region, a Moscow-appointed official was killed by an explosive device planted in his car, according to Russian news agencies.
The deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said that the head of the regional department for family, youth and sports was killed “as a result of a terrorist attack.”
It was the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official in a series of attacks against pro-Kremlin officials in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.
Benoît Fink, Blaise Gauquelin in Kharkiv and Anna Malpas in Donbass © Agence France-Presse