A burning refinery near Lyssychansk in eastern Ukraine on May 22, 2022 (AFP/ARIS MESSINIS)
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Sunday gave kyiv fierce support for Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union, directly opposing the skepticism of Paris and Berlin, at a time when Russia threw all its forces into battle Donbass in the east of the country.
The first head of state to address the Ukrainian parliament since the Russian invasion on February 24, the Polish president, whose speech was interrupted by several standing ovations, promised that he would not relax his efforts “until the Ukraine is not a member of the European Union”.
“We must respect” the peoples who “shed their blood” to belong to Europe, he added, supporting his Ukrainian counterpart on the eve of a much-awaited speech by Volodymyr Zelensky to the gathered world political and economic elites in Davos.
“The adoption of a decision on Ukraine’s candidate status for the EU at the Council of Europe on June 24 is of extreme importance, above all psychological and political,” said Mr. Duda, regretting that “voices have been raised recently in Europe asking that Ukraine accept certain demands of Putin”, the master of the Kremlin.
– No to “business as usual” –
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)
“After Boutcha, Borodianka, Mariupol, there can no longer be + business as usual + with Russia”, he launched, referring to two localities near kyiv where hundreds of corpses of civilians were discovered after their occupation by the Russians, and to the great port city of the south-east crushed under the bombardments at the cost of at least 20,000 dead according to Ukraine.
The Polish president was targeting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who proposed in early May to integrate kyiv into a “European political community”, and called for avoiding the “humiliation” of Russia in the exit from this conflict. As well as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who said Thursday his opposition to granting Ukraine a “shortcut” in EU membership.
The French Minister Delegate for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, defended these positions again on Sunday, stressing that Ukraine’s accession to the EU would take “probably 15 or 20 years”. On the other hand, the European political community proposed by Paris “can offer a political and concrete project to countries which (…) want to get closer to us”, assured the minister.
Expressing kyiv’s bitterness with regard to these positions, President Volodymyr Zelensky hammered home on Saturday that there was “no alternative” to his country’s candidacy for the EU, and that a ” compromise” would be a compromise of Europe with Russia.
Its head of diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, had denounced Thursday a “second-class treatment” on the part of “certain capitals” European.
– “Everything is concentrated here” –
Smoke rises from an oil refinery after an attack near the town of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine on May 22, 2022 (AFP/ARIS MESSINIS)
On the ground, three months after the start of its invasion and after failing to take kyiv and Kharkiv in the north, Russia has redeployed its forces, which are concentrating their efforts on eastern Ukraine, already partly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and where fighting and shelling are intense.
“All Russian forces are concentrated in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions” in the Donbass, Sergei Gaïdaï, the governor of the Lugansk region, wrote on Telegram on Sunday.
These include units that withdrew from the Kharkiv region in the north, those besieging Mariupol in the southeast, militias from the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, the dreaded Chechen forces, and troops mobilized in reinforcement from Siberia and the Russian Far East, thousands of kilometers away, he listed.
In terms of armaments too, “everything is concentrated here”, he added, including the famous anti-aircraft and anti-missile complexes S-300 and S-400, equivalent to the American Patriots.
In Severodonetsk, a city in the Lugansk region still under the control of kyiv, “they use scorched earth tactics, they deliberately destroy the city” with aerial bombardments, multiple rocket launchers, mortars or tanks which fire on the buildings, he added.
According to a Ukrainian army press briefing on Facebook, at least seven civilians were killed and eight injured in shelling in the Donetsk region, where 45 localities were affected.
“The balance sheet for the Lugansk region is being clarified”, according to the same source.
The Ukrainian general staff had already noted in its morning update on Sunday that the Russian army was continuing “its missile and air strikes throughout the territory”, and had even “increased the intensity”.
Map of the situation in Ukraine as of May 22 at 7 a.m. GMT (AFP /)
According to the Ukrainian presidency, Russian bombardments had targeted the cities of Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Zaporijjia in the night from Saturday to Sunday.
Unsurprisingly, martial law and general mobilization in Ukraine were extended on Sunday by three months, until August 23.
– Speech in Davos –
The Ukrainian president 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.
The “Barabashovo” clothing market damaged by a bombardment, on May 21, 2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine ( AFP / SERGEY BOBOK )
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.
On the eve of this major meeting, Russia assured on Sunday that it was ready to resume peace talks with Ukraine, assuring that their suspension was due to kyiv.
Bombing of the city of Severodonetsk, May 21, 2022 in eastern Ukraine ( AFP / ARIS MESSINIS )
“We are ready to continue the dialogue,” said Vladimir Medinski, Kremlin adviser in charge of negotiations with kyiv, in an interview with Belarusian television.
Contacts had been made in March in Belarus after Russian forces had failed to quickly take the Ukrainian capital as planned, then had continued in Turkey, without success, before Russia cut it short by launching its new offensive on the Donbass.
– 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.