KIEV, July 8 (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted a video on a Black Sea island Saturday marking the 500th day of the war that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resilience in the face of Russian aggression.
Zelensky, speaking from Snake Island, paid tribute to Ukrainian soldiers who fought for the island and all other defenders of the country, saying taking back control of the island “is a powerful proof that Ukraine will retake every piece of its territory.” .
“From here, from this place of victory, I want to thank every one of our soldiers for these 500 days,” Zelensky said. “Thank you to everyone who fought for Ukraine!”
It is unclear when the video was shot. Zelensky returned from Türkiye on Saturday.
He announced that he would be flown home with five defense commanders from the Yazov Star steel plant, which had endured a grueling months-long siege early in the war.
When Russian troops took control of the port city of Mariupol, the sprawling steel mill was the last bastion of resistance. Its defenders are famous among Ukrainians for holding out in harsh conditions in factory tunnels and corridors.
More than 2,000 defenders of Azovstar left the steelworks in mid-May 2022 and were captured by Russia. The five leaders, some of whom were members of the Azov National Guard, which Russia denounces as neo-Nazis, were freed in a prisoner exchange in September and taken to Turkey.
Under the swap agreement, the leaders of the two countries will remain in Turkey under the protection of the Turkish president until the end of the war. There was no immediate official explanation from Ankara or Kiev for why they were allowed to return to Ukraine.
“The return of the Azov leader from Turkey to Ukraine is nothing more than a direct violation of the terms of the existing agreement. And, in this case, both the Ukrainian side and the Turkish side violated these terms,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Kremlin said. Peskov.
Russian forces took control of Snake Island on February 24, 2022, the day Moscow launched its invasion, apparently hoping to use the island as a staging ground for an attack on Ukraine’s largest port and its naval headquarters, Odessa.
The island is of legendary importance to the Ukrainian resistance, and the local Ukrainian army reportedly received a request from a Russian warship to either surrender or be bombed. The answer is said to be: “Go (expletive) yourself.”
The Ukrainian defenders of the island were captured but later released as part of a prisoner exchange. After capturing the island, Ukrainian forces bombarded the small Russian garrison there, forcing the Russians to retreat on June 30, 2022. The Russian retreat reduces the threat of a Russian naval attack on Odessa and paves the way for a deal to resume Ukrainian grain exports.
“Let all our heroes of all ages for the freedom that Ukraine wants and must win now be a tribute to all those who gave their lives for Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “We will win!”
Intense fighting continued to rage in the east and south of the country on Saturday, with Ukrainian troops battling Russia’s multilayered defenses in the initial stages of a counteroffensive.
Eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded when Russian rockets hit the town of Lyman early Saturday, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, released photos of some of the dead, including bodies lying under bicycles and fragments of bodies on the pavement next to a damaged vehicle, saying, “Russian terrorists continue to attack civilians in the region”. Donetsk. “
Lyman is a few kilometers (miles) from the front line, where Russian troops have recently intensified fighting in the Kremina Forest.
The Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence update that the eastern town of Bakhmut, which was occupied by Russia in May, saw the heaviest fighting on the front last week.
Ukrainian forces have made steady advances north and south of Bakhmut, the report said, noting that “Russian defenders are likely to be hamstrung by low morale, dispersed troops, and limited ability to detect and engage Ukrainian artillery.”
During the fighting, Russia and Ukraine accused each other of planning to sabotage Russia-controlled Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, fueling fears of a radiation disaster. Ukraine’s military intelligence agency claimed on Saturday that Russian forces had planted more landmines around the plant, but the claim could not be independently confirmed.
The head of the U.N. nuclear agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told The Associated Press on Friday that IAEA experts had recently entered more areas of the site, including cooling ponds and fuel storage areas, and had not found There are mines. . Grossi said he was still pushing to get to the top of the reactor where Ukrainian officials accused Russia of planting explosives.
On Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited a shooting range where volunteers were training, two weeks after an aborted mutiny by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin whose Wagnerian troops sent Moscow marched, trying to overthrow Shoigu.
Prigorzhin agreed to end the mutiny, the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s more than two decades in power, in exchange for an amnesty for himself and his troops and permission to relocate to Belarus . On Saturday, a Russian communications app channel published comments by one of Wagner’s commanders, Anton Yelizarov, who said the mercenaries had left but would eventually deploy to Belarus.
With fierce fighting raging on the Ukrainian front, NATO leaders will hold a two-day summit in Vilnius next week to offer more help modernizing Ukraine’s armed forces, establish a new forum for high-level consultations and reiterate that they will one day join them alliance.
Ahead of the NATO summit, the United States announced it would supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, a move President Joe Biden called a “difficult decision”. Two-thirds of NATO members have banned the munitions, which have caused many civilian casualties, but the United States sees their delivery as a way to help bolster the Ukrainian offensive and break through Russia’s front lines.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov welcomed the U.S. move, saying the delivery of cluster munitions would help the country de-occupy the territory while saving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.
Reznikov vowed that Ukraine would only use the munitions to de-occupy its territory and would not fire them at Russian territory. He also noted that the Ukrainian military would not use cluster munitions in urban areas to avoid harming civilians. (Associated Press)
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