A man on a bicycle passes in front of a partly destroyed building in Bakhmout, eastern Ukraine, on May 22, 2022 ( AFP / ARIS MESSINIS )
Nearly three months after the start of its offensive, Russia continued its bombing of eastern Ukraine on Sunday, on the eve of a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the world’s political and economic elites gathered in Davos.
At the same time, France estimated that Ukraine’s accession to the European Union would take “probably 15 or 20 years”, ensuring that kyiv could enter, in the meantime, into the European political community proposed by the President. Emanuel Macron.
But the Ukrainian head of state has already rejected this idea and said that there was “no alternative” to the EU candidacy.
After failing to take control of kyiv and its region, Russian troops have been concentrating their efforts since March on eastern Ukraine, already partly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and where fighting is intense.
According to the Ukrainian presidency, Russian bombardments targeted the cities of Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Zaporijjia in the night from Saturday to Sunday.
On Saturday, seven civilians were killed and 10 others injured in shelling in the Donetsk region, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko announced on Telegram. In that of Lugansk, one person was killed and two wounded during the bombardments, said on Telegram its governor Serguiï Gaïdaï.
“The Russians are throwing all their efforts to capture Severodonetsk” where the strikes “have been multiplied several times in recent days”, he assured Saturday evening.
The Ukrainian General Staff noted in its daily morning update on Sunday that the Russian army was continuing “its missile and air strikes throughout the territory”, and had even “increased their intensity by using aviation to destroy critical infrastructure”.
– Speech in Davos –
Russia has claimed to have struck a large stock of weapons supplied by the West to Ukraine, information so far impossible to confirm from an independent source.
The “Barabashovo” clothing market damaged by a bombardment, on May 21, 2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine ( AFP / SERGEY BOBOK )
Another sign that the conflict could be long-lasting, martial law and general mobilization in Ukraine were extended on Sunday by three months, until August 23.
The Ukrainian leader is also preparing his videoconference speech before the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, which begins Monday after two years of interruption due to Covid-19.
Mr. Zelensky will be the first head of state to make a speech on Monday. Many Ukrainian politicians will travel in person. On the other hand, the Russians were excluded.
He should use this new forum to urge the world to provide more aid, both financial and military. The Ukrainian president could also renew kyiv’s request to join the EU, a “priority” according to him.
– “15 or 20 years” –
Bombing of the city of Severodonetsk, May 21, 2022 in eastern Ukraine ( AFP / ARIS MESSINIS )
But Paris repeated on Sunday that such membership was excluded in the short term. “You have to be honest. (…) If we say that Ukraine will join the EU in 6 months, 1 year or 2 years, we are lying. It is not true. It is probably 15 or 20 years is a very long time,” said French Minister Delegate for European Affairs Clément Beaune.
On the other hand, the European political community proposed at the beginning of May by President Macron is “complementary to the EU” and “can offer a political and concrete project to countries which are not in the heart of the EU and which want to come closer from us”, assured the minister.
A prospect coldly welcomed in kyiv and which divides within the Union. The head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kouleba had denounced Thursday a “second-class treatment” from “certain capitals”.
On Saturday, President Zelensky was clear, saying: ‘We don’t need alternatives to Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union (EU), we don’t need such compromises’ with Russia .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda during a joint press conference on May 22, 2022 in kyiv (AFP / Sergei SUPINSKY)
And on Sunday, before the Ukrainian parliament, Polish President Andrzej Duda affirmed that he would not relax his efforts “as long as Ukraine is not a member of the EU”, regretting that “voices have recently been raised in Europe to ask that Ukraine accept certain demands of Putin”.
“If for their own peace, economic interests or political ambitions”, Western countries “sacrifice Ukraine, even one centimeter of its territory or a piece of its sovereignty, it will be a great blow to the Ukrainian people, but also to the entire Western community,” warned Mr. Duda.
“Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future (…) There can be no negotiations or decisions made behind Ukraine’s back. Nothing about you without you. Absolutely! It’s a rule inflexible. You have to adhere to it,” he insisted.
The project for a European political community is to be debated at a European summit at the end of June.
– Apocalyptic landscape in Mariupol –
Far from the diplomatic battles, the martyr city of Mariupol (southeast), recently conquered by the Russian military and their separatist allies, offered an apocalyptic landscape with carcasses of charred buildings in many neighborhoods.
A member of the Russian forces in front of a partly destroyed factory in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine, on May 18, 2022 (AFP/Olga MALTSEVA)
Three months of fighting have driven hundreds of thousands of people to flight and caused an unknown, but undoubtedly enormous, number of deaths in this port city which had more than half a million inhabitants before the battle.
AFP journalists saw the extent of the damage four days ago during a press trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry.
We no longer hear the incessant cannonades of the previous weeks, because on the steel site of Azovstal, the last Ukrainian soldiers surrender. The Russian army, however, did not allow the media to approach the huge steel plant, which has become the symbol of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Pro-Russian authorities have promised to turn Mariupol into a resort town.
A project difficult to imagine in this tangle of sheet metal and debris, bars of buildings ripped open by missiles and shells.