Ukraine pushes Russian forces east

* Ukrainian forces push towards Russian-controlled Izium in the east

* Ukraine in “complex talks” on evacuation of wounded fighters

* Finnish leader tells Putin of his country’s plans to join NATO

* G7 nations pledge more military and economic aid to Ukraine

Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive near the Russian city of Izium in eastern Ukraine, a regional governor said, in what could prove a serious setback to Moscow’s plans to capture the entire Donbass region.

Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on Donbas in a “second phase” of their invasion that was announced on April 19, after they failed to reach the capital kyiv from the north in the first few weeks. from the war.

But Ukraine has been taking back territory in the northeast, driving the Russians away from Kharkiv, its second-largest city.

Keeping pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines will make it more difficult for Moscow to encircle battle-hardened Ukrainian troops on the eastern front in the Donbas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Donbas remained very difficult, adding that Russian forces were still trying to salvage some kind of victory there.

“They are not stopping their efforts,” he said.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the popular Eurovision Song Contest in Italy, a sign of how European public sentiment has swung in favor of kyiv since Russia’s invasion of the country.

Ukraine ranked fourth according to the jury’s vote, but the support of the viewers catapulted the country to first place.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision Song Contest,” Zelenskiy said in an online message.

In another show of international solidarity, Republican US senators paid an unannounced visit to kyiv. The Republican delegation discussed further strengthening of sanctions against Russia, Zelenskiy said.

Western analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin did not anticipate fierce Ukrainian resistance and a forceful global response when he ordered the February 24 invasion.

In addition to losing a large number of military men and equipment, Russia has been affected by economic sanctions. The Group of Seven major Western economies pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and supply more weapons to Ukraine.

DIPLOMATIC SHAKE

The war has prompted Finland to abandon its military neutrality and seek NATO membership. Sweden is expected to do the same.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Putin that his country, which shares a 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, wanted to join NATO to bolster its own security.

Putin told Niinisto that the move would be a mistake, adding that it could damage bilateral relations.

G7 MINISTERS SUPPORT MORE AID

One of the goals of Russia’s action in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic from joining NATO.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke to Putin by phone on Friday, said he did not detect any signs of change in the Russian leader’s thinking on the conflict.

In an interview for news website t-online published on Saturday, Scholz said Western sanctions on Russia would remain in place until it reached an agreement with Ukraine, adding: “Our goal is for this invasion to fail.”

Meeting in Germany, foreign ministers from the G7 group of wealthy nations backed giving Ukraine more aid and weapons, as well as “accelerating our efforts to reduce and end dependence on Russian energy supplies.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western sanctions amounted to an “all-out hybrid war” against Moscow, but Russia would resist the sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.

Meanwhile, complex talks continue to evacuate wounded soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the port of Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

A large convoy of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave.

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