Demonstrators in favor of Ukraine’s accession to EU candidate status gathered in Brussels on June 23, 2022 (AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD)
The European Union, meeting at a summit in Brussels, endorsed Ukraine’s candidacy on Thursday, a highly symbolic step nearly four months after the invasion launched by the Russian army, which continues to progress in the east of this country with destructive bombardments.
The day “today marks a crucial step on your way to the EU”, “we have a future together” declared the President of the European Council Charles Michel on Twitter, congratulating the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The latter, in his speech by videoconference to the representatives of the Twenty-Seven, welcomed a political “victory”, which his people had been waiting for, according to him, since the independence of the Soviet republic from Ukraine in 1991.
“The Ukrainian and European flags will fly together when we rebuild our country together after this war,” he insisted Thursday evening in his daily video address to his compatriots.
But if Volodymyr Zelensky still predicted a victory “for sure” against the Russian army, Serguiï Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, dropped the word “retreat” concerning Severodonetsk, a key city in Donbass.
“Under the fire of incessant shelling, we have suffered too much damage and a retreat may be necessary,” warned this official, whose daily updates on the situation in the Donbass are a reference.
“There are 568 civilians in shelters in Azot”, the industrial zone of Severodonetsk, the only sector of the city still remaining in the hands of Ukrainian troops, said Mr. Gaïdaï.
– “Futile” resistance –
Bombed by the Russians for weeks, Severodonetsk is a crucial step in their plan to conquer all of this industrial basin in eastern Ukraine already partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
A civilian on the phone near the village of Svyato-Pokrovske in the Donetsk region on June 23, 2022 (AFP/Anatolii Stepanov)
Ukrainian resistance in Lyssytchansk and Severodonetsk is “futile”, a representative of the pro-Russian separatists had swept away earlier on Thursday.
“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the entire territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” Lt. Col. Andrei Marochko told AFP by video call.
A sign of Ukraine’s difficulties in the theater of operations, the governor of the Donetsk region, further south, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told AFP on Thursday that “no city” in the area under his administration has was “safe” for its inhabitants, the fighting being too violent.
Anti-aircraft alerts sounded overnight from Thursday to Friday in several major Ukrainian cities, from Donetsk to Odessa.
A Ukrainian army tank passes near a refinery not far from Lysychansk on June 23, 2022 (AFP / Anatolii Stepanov)
The granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova is a “very strong signal vis-à-vis Russia”, said French President Emmanuel Macron, seeing it as “a political gesture” of “a strong and united Europe”. “We have advanced by leaps and bounds”, and “we owe all of this to the Ukrainian people who are fighting to defend our values, their sovereignty, their territorial integrity”.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken advantage of a virtual summit of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) organized on the same day as that of Brussels, to denounce the “selfish actions” of Western countries and calling for Brics leadership to “create a truly multipolar system,” a leitmotif of Kremlin rhetoric.
Blocked for years in the antechamber of the EU, the Western Balkan countries already candidates for membership have for their part not hidden their bitterness in the face of the length of the procedures.
Ukrainian soldiers on an armored personnel carrier on June 23, 2022 on a road in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine (AFP/Anatolii Stepanov)
“It’s a good thing to give the status” of candidate to kyiv, said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama before a meeting in Brussels with European leaders. But he advised Ukrainians to “have no illusions” about joining soon afterwards.
Several representatives of the member states warned that the Ukrainians should “have no illusions” about joining quickly. Mr. Macron had thus estimated in May that an accession of kyiv would take “decades”.
– Weapons, G7 and NATO –
On the ground, undermined by the firepower of the Russian artillery and aviation, the Ukrainian forces are now basing their hopes on the arrival of heavy weapons relentlessly demanded from the Western allies, such as rocket launchers. multiple American Himars.
File on the Himars rocket launcher ( AFP / )
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov announced on Thursday, photo in support, the arrival of the first copies of these powerful and precise armaments, a few hours before the White House announced a new component of military aid in kyiv, in the amount of 450 million dollars.
“The summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. And the last for some of them,” he threatened, without specifying how many of these mobile batteries with a range of 80 km had been delivered at this stage by Americans.
Thursday’s European summit in Brussels must be followed these days by the G7 and NATO summits. The question of financial and military aid to kyiv should be at the heart of the discussions.
A woman walks near a crater in the town of Siversk, Donetsk region, on June 23, 2022 (AFP/Anatolii Stepanov)
The Russian army also continues to bombard the region of Mykolaiv (south), where it announced Thursday that it had notably destroyed 49 fuel reserves and three armored repair centers.
The ports of Mykolaiv and Odessa have been blocked since the beginning of the conflict, which has paralyzed the maritime transport of agricultural raw materials, the main export route for Ukraine until then.
However, a prolonged blockage could have serious consequences on food in many countries that depend on the Ukrainian grain storehouse and Russian fertilizers.
In Ukraine, this reminds the oldest of the famine of the 1930s orchestrated by Stalin to break the desire for independence of the Ukrainians, the “Holodomor”, a Ukrainian term which designates “the extermination by hunger” of the peasants in 1932 and 1933 by the Soviet regime and which caused several million deaths according to the estimates of historians.
Maria Goncharova in her garden in the Kharkiv region, June 22, 2022 (AFP / SERGEY BOBOK)
“I think hunger will come back,” Maria Goncharova, a survivor of the 1930s famine, told AFP in her village of Cheremushna, in the Kharkiv region (east).
“A lot of countries are helping us. They deliver to us, we distribute things to people. But God knows for how long?”, Launches the old lady.