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Russia presses Donbas offensive

Russia pressed its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Sunday as Poland’s president traveled to Kyiv to support the country’s Western aspirations and became the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.

Ukrainian lawmakers stood to applaud Polish President Andrzej Duda, who thanked them for the honor of speaking in a place where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats.”

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Duda’s visit, his second to Ukraine’s capital since April, came as Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in battles scattered along a 551-kilometer (342-mile) wedge of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

After declaring its full control of a sprawling seaside steel plant that was the last defense holdout in the port city of Mariupol, the Russian military launched artillery and missile attacks in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, seeking to expand the territory Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014.

In a Saturday night video address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the Donbas as “really hard,” but he said his country’s ability to withstand nearly three months of full-scale war against Russia “is good news.”

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“Every day that our defenders take away from these offensive plans of Russia, disrupting them, is a concrete contribution to the approach of the main day. The desired day that we are all looking forward to and fighting for: Victory Day,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy stressed that the 27-member European Union should consider Ukraine’s desire to join the bloc as soon as possible within the context of Russia´s invasion.

“I want to emphasize that our European integration path is not just about politics,” Zelenskyy said. “It´s about quality of life. And about the fact that Ukrainians perceive the values of life in the same way as the vast majority of Europeans.”

Ukraine’s potential EU candidacy is set to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June. The government in Warsaw is ramping up efforts to persuade other EU members that are more hesitant about accepting the war-ravaged country as a member.

Poland has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees and become a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons going into Ukraine. It is also a transit point into Ukraine for some foreign fighters, including from Belarus, who have volunteered to fight against the Russian forces.

“Despite the great destruction, despite the terrible crime and great suffering that the Ukrainian people suffered every day, the Russian invaders did not break you. They failed at it. And I believe deeply that they will never succeed,” he told the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine´s legislature. “I want to say it with all my might: The free world has the face of Ukraine today.”

Russia appeared to have made slow grinding moves forward in the Donbas in recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province makes up the Donbas.

Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai said the only functioning hospital in the city has just three doctors and enough supplies for 10 days.

On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense said Russia´s only operational company of BMP-T Terminator tank support vehicles, which are designed to protect main battle tanks, “has likely been deployed to the Sievierodonetsk axis of the Donbas offensive.”

It said, however, with a maximum of 10 of the vehicles deployed, “they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign.”

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