Sat, 25 Jun 2022

Hundreds of Ukrainians gathered at the golden-domed St Michael's monastery in central Kyiv on Saturday for the funeral of Roman Ratushny, a 24-year-old activist famous for his role in Ukraine's 2014 Maidan protests, who was killed during fighting with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Read FRANCE 24's liveblog below to see how the day's events unfolded. All times Paris time [GMT+2].

6:06pm: Russia sending large number of reserve troops to Severodonetsk, governor says

Russia is sending a large number of reserve troops to Severodonetsk from other battle zones to try to gain full control of the frontline eastern city, the governor of Ukraine's Luhansk region said on Saturday.

"Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, they will throw in all the reserves they have ... because there are so many of them there already, they're at critical mass," Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on national television.

He said Russian forces already controlled most but not all of Severodonetsk.

3:15pm: Lithuania says sanctions on goods to Kaliningrad take effect from Saturday

Lithuanian authorities said a ban on the transit through their territory to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad of goods that are subject to EU sanctions will take effect from Saturday.

News of the ban came on Friday, through a video posted by the region's governor Anton Alikhanov.

The EU sanctions list notably includes coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology, and Alikhanov said the ban would cover around 50% of the items that Kaliningrad imports.

2:36pm: Ukrainians bid farewell to activist killed in war

"The funeral has been held this morning here in Kyiv of a young man named Roman Ratushny, who was killed just aged 24 years old in fighting in the east of Ukraine" on June 9, FRANCE 24's Catherine Norris-Trent reported.

"Ukrainian officials have said that anywhere between 100 and 200 soldiers are being killed a day at the moment - but Roman Ratushny's death has been particularly poignant for a lot of people here in Ukraine because he was one of the figureheads of pro-democracy protests, the Euro-Maidan movement back in 2014, as a teenager, and recently he volunteered to go and fight [...] in eastern Ukraine."

2:25pm: Russia putting world in danger of famine, warns EU

Russia is putting the world at risk of famine through its blockade of Ukraine's shipments of grains and restrictions on its own exports, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Saturday.

The threat to food security and a "battle of narrative" with Russia on Western-imposed sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine will dominate European Union foreign ministers' talks in Luxembourg on Monday.

"We are ready to work with the UN and our partners to prevent any unwanted impact on global food security," Borrell wrote in an article published on his official blog. "Russia's conscious political choice is to 'weaponise'" grain exports and "use them as a tool for blackmail against anyone that opposes its aggression" in Ukraine, Borrell continued.

1:36pm: Ukraine president visits soldiers on southern front line

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited soldiers on the southern front line during a working trip to the Mykolaiv region, he said on Saturday.

In his trademark khaki t-shirt, the president handed out medals and posed for selfies with the servicemen in what appeared to be an underground shelter, according to a video posted to his official Telegram account. "Our brave men. Each one of them is working flat out," he said. "We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win!"

Russian forces reached the outskirts of the regional capital Mykolaiv in early March but were then driven back to the eastern and southern edges of the region, where fighting continues.

12:00pm: Hundreds of Ukrainians gather in Kyiv to mourn activist killed in battle

Hundreds of Ukrainians gathered at a central Kyiv monastery on Saturday for the funeral of a 24-year-old activist killed during fighting with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

Roman Ratushny, a well-known figure in Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolution, was killed on June 9 near Izium in the eastern Kharkiv region.

Mourners attended his funeral at the golden-domed Saint Michael's monastery. A gathering is also scheduled on the city's main Maidan square, the centre of the 2014 revolution that overthrew a pro-Moscow government.

Ratushny was one of the first students to protest at the Maidan in the winter of 2013-2014. He then became a well known anti-corruption activist.

Ratushny joined the Ukrainian army, like many other civilians, at the start of the Russian invasion on February 24. The announcement of his death this week sparked many comments on social media in and outside Ukraine.

"I did not know him personally but I felt (his death) as a loss," said student Alina Horhol, who attended the ceremony, AFP reported.

"He became a person who influenced my world view and who I am today."

11:15am: Luhansk governor says 'fierce' battles taking place in villages near Severodonetsk

The governor of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said Saturday that "fierce battles" with Russia raged in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk, which Moscow's forces have been trying to seize control of for weeks.

"Now the most fierce battles are near Severodonetsk. They (Russia) do not control the city entirely," Gaidai said on Telegram.

"In nearby villages there are very difficult fights - in Toshkivska, Zolote," he said.

Gaidai also said that Lysychansk, a Ukrainian-controlled city across a river from Severodonetsk, is being "heavily shelled".

"They cannot approach it and that's why they are simply shooting at the city with air strikes," he said. "It is very dangerous in the city."

Gaidai said there was "more destruction" at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering.

He said on Friday that 568 people, including 38 children, were hiding in the factory and that only a "complete ceasefire" would ensure their evacuation.

9:19am: Ukrainian medic who had recorded video footage of Mariupol freed by Russian forces, AP reports

A celebrated Ukrainian medic whose video footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol by an AP team was freed by Russian forces on Friday, three months after she was taken captive on the streets of the city.

Yuliia Paievska, known in Ukraine as Taira, had used a body camera to record her team's efforts over two weeks to save the wounded, including both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

She transferred the clips to an AP team in Mariupol, one of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on March 15. Paievska and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16, the same day a Russian airstrike hit a theatre in the city centre, killing around 600 people according to an Associated Press investigation.

"It was such a great sense of relief. Those sound like such ordinary words, and I don't even know what to say," her husband, Vadim Puzanov, told AP late Friday. Puzanov said he spoke by phone with Paievska, who was en route to a Kyiv hospital, and feared for her health.

7:11am: Russian state TV airs videos of two US military veterans who had been in Ukraine

A Russian state TV channel aired videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, stating they had been captured by Russian forces.

United States President Joe Biden had said earlier Friday he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans whose relatives lost contact with the pair.

The missing Americans - including a third identified as a former US Marines captain - are believed to be part of an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops.

On Friday evening, Russian journalist Roman Kosarev -- who works with state TV RT channel -- posted a video on messaging platform Telegram of Drueke speaking facing the camera.

A US State Department spokesperson on Saturday confirmed American authorities had seen the photos and videos of the two US citizens "reportedly captured by Russia's military forces in Ukraine".

"We are closely monitoring the situation and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time," the spokesperson told AFP.

7:03am: Zelensky, top diplomat Kuleba praise European Commission's decision to recommend EU 'candidate status' for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday praised a decision by the European Commission to give its backing for Kyiv to be granted EU 'candidacy status', nearly four months into Russia's invasion of the country.

"It's the first step on the EU membership path that'll certainly bring our victory closer," Zelensky wrote on social media, adding that he was "grateful" to Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and "each EC member for a historic decision".

Formal "candidate" status for Ukraine could open up a years-long path towards joining the bloc, with the decision likely to be formalised at an EU leaders' summit on June 23-24.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the EC's backing as "European history in the making" in a post on social media and called for Ukraine to be granted full candidacy status.

"This will be a vivid proof of European leadership and a huge boost for Ukraine's further transformations," he said.

Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, hailed on social media what he described as a "truly historic day for Ukraine and Europe".

He said many Ukrainians "have already paid the ultimate price" for the European Commission's backing for Kyiv's EU candidacy status.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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