KYIV – Ukraine rejects a ceasefire or a regional concession in Moscow as Russia escalates its offensive in the eastern Donbass region and stops sending gas to Finland in the latest response to Western sanctions and its deepening international isolation.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has told lawmakers in Kiev that the international community must demand Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, and that an inch of sacrifice would be a “huge blow” to the entire West.
“Concerns have been raised that Ukraine (President Vladimir Putin’s) demands should be met,” Duda said, referring to the first foreign leader to address Ukrainian lawmakers in person since Russia’s February 24 invasion.
“Only Ukraine has the right to decide its future.” Shortly after he finished his speech, an air raid siren was sounded in central Kiev, a reminder that the nation remained at war even though the front lines had moved several hundred kilometers south and east.
Russia is launching a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass, after weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol.
Russian-backed separatists controlled parts of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk provinces before the invasion, but Moscow wants to occupy the rest of the region’s Ukraine-controlled territory.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its forces had fired airstrikes and artillery at Ukrainian command centers, army and ammunition depots in the Donbass and Mykolive regions in the south.
Ukraine’s General Staff has reported Russia’s heavy shelling of the twin cities of Sivirodonetsk and Lysichansk in the Luhansk region.
The township, isolated by the Sivarsky Donets River, forms the eastern part of the Ukrainian-occupied pocket that Russia has been trying to occupy since mid-April after failing to occupy Kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.
Reuters could not independently verify the report of that battlefield.
Ukraine’s chief negotiator, speaking to Reuters on Saturday, rejected a ceasefire that would allow Russian forces to remain in the occupied territories or take part in any agreement with Moscow. Mikhailo Podoliak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said the waiver would be a “reverse fire” because Russia would hit harder after the ceasefire.
“The war will not stop. It will be a break for some time, “Podoliak said in an interview with the tightly guarded president’s office.” They will launch a new attack, even more bloody and larger. “
There have been recent calls for an immediate ceasefire from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The end of the war in Mariupol, Russia’s largest city, gave Putin a rare victory after nearly three months of continuous fighting.
The last Ukrainian troops to hold back the vast Azovstal steelwork in Mariupol have surrendered, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday. Although Ukraine has not confirmed that all its forces have left, the commander of the Azov Regiment, a unit of the factory, said in a video that the Ukrainian military command had instructed Mariupol’s forces to stand up to save their lives.
Mariupol’s full control gives Russia command of a land route connecting the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow occupied in 2014, the mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian separatists.
Russia’s state gas company Gazprom said on Saturday it had cut off gas exports to Finland, rejecting Moscow’s demand for rubles for Russian gas after Western nations imposed sanctions.
Finland says it was ready for the cut-off of Russian flows. It applied jointly with its Nordic neighbor Sweden on Wednesday to join the NATO military alliance, although it is facing resistance from NATO member Turkey.
Most European supply agreements are marked in euros or dollars. Last month, Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland after rejecting new terms.
Western nations have also increased their arms supplies to Ukraine. On Saturday, Kyiv received another huge boost when US President Joe Biden signed a bill to provide nearly $ 40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid.
Moscow says Western sanctions, including arms supplies to Kiev, amount to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies.
Putin called the attack a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of extremist anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed it as a baseless pretext for war, which has killed thousands of Ukrainians, displaced millions and destroyed cities.
(Written by Natalia Genetas, Max Hunder, Tom Balmforth of Kiev, David Lodgengren in Ottawa, Lydia Kelly in Melbourne, and Richard Pulin in Reuters Bureau