NATO warns of Ukraine’s long war as Russian attacks follow EU support for Kiev

  • NATO’s Stoltenberg says the war could go on for years
  • Allies must show they will support Ukraine in the long term – Johnson
  • Ukraine recognizes setback in a village near Sievierodonetsk
  • “It’s all ours and we’ll get it back.” – Zelensky
  • Two Azovstal defense chiefs moved to Russia for investigation – TASS

Kyiv (Reuters) – The head of NATO said on Sunday the war in Ukraine could drag on for years, as Russia stepped up attacks after the European Union recommended that Kyiv become a candidate to join the bloc.

And the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported that Jens Stoltenberg said that supplying Ukrainian forces with the latest weapons would enhance the chance of liberating the eastern Donbass region from Russian control. Read more

“We must prepare for the fact that it may take years. We must not fail to support Ukraine,” Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the Military Alliance, was quoted as saying.

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“Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, also spoke of the need to prepare for a long war.

This means ensuring that “Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training more quickly than an invader,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece for the Sunday Times in London.

“Time is the vital factor,” he wrote. “Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can enhance its ability to defend its territory faster than Russia’s ability to renew its ability to attack.”

Ukraine received a big boost on Friday when the European Commission recommended its status as a candidate, a decision EU countries are expected to endorse at this week’s summit. Read more

This would put Ukraine on course to realize an ambition that was seen as unattainable before the Russian invasion on February 24, even if membership took years.

intense attacks

Russian attacks escalated on the battlefields of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military said the industrial city of Severodonetsk, which was a key target in Moscow’s offensive to take full control of Luhansk – one of the two provinces that make up Donbass – faced heavy artillery and rocket fire again.

“The situation in Severodonetsk is very difficult,” said Serhiy Gaidai, Ukraine’s appointed governor of Luhansk, adding that Russian forces, using aerial reconnaissance drones, are rapidly adjusting strikes in response to defensive changes.

“The areas near the bridges were once again heavily bombed,” Gedayi said in an online post on Sunday, adding that the Azot chemical plant where hundreds of people were sheltering was hit twice.

“Fighting continues for complete control of the city,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in an update on Sunday.

Analysts at the Washington Institute for the Study of War, a think-tank, wrote that “Russian forces will likely be able to capture Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in such a small area.”

Gedayi said that the bodies of two civilians were found in the twin city of Lesishansk in Severodonetsk across the river, adding that “the destruction of housing in the city is increasing like an avalanche.”

The Ukrainian army admitted that “the enemy achieved partial success in the village of Mitulkin”, southeast of Severodonetsk.

Several Ukrainian fighters have surrendered in Mitulkin, the official Russian news agency TASS said, citing a source working with Russia-backed separatists.

Ukrainian authorities said that Russian missiles hit a gas station in the Izyum region to the northwest, and Russian missiles also hit a suburb of Kharkiv, the second largest city, the city hall, and caused a fire, but there were no casualties.

They reported westward bombing in Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk, saying on Saturday that three Russian missiles destroyed a fuel storage depot in the town of Novomoskovsk, injuring 11 people. Read more

Pavlo Kirilenko, the governor of Donetsk, the other province in Donbass, said a civilian was killed and 11 wounded in Saturday’s shelling.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that the Russian forces, which were on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnobyl, were hit, causing a large number of casualties on Saturday.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

TASS said that two senior commanders of the fighters who defended the Azovstal steel plant in the southeastern port of Mariupol were taken to Russia for interrogation. Read more

Zelensky’s defense

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose defiance has inspired his people and won him global respect, said he visited soldiers on the southern front line in the Mykolaiv region, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) south of Kyiv.

“I spoke to our defenders – the Army, the Police and the National Guard,” he said in a video on Sunday’s Telegram message app, apparently recorded on a moving train.

“Their mood is reassuring,” Zelensky said. “They all have no doubts about our victory.” We will not give the south to anyone, and everything that belongs to us will be taken back.”

Another video showed Zelensky, in his signature khaki shirt, handing out medals and taking selfies with soldiers. Read more

Zelensky has resided mostly in Kyiv since the Russian invasion, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv and two eastern cities near the battlefield. Read more

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals in directing troops into Ukraine was to halt the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance and keep Moscow’s southern neighbor out of the West’s sphere of influence.

But the war, which killed thousands, reduced cities to rubble and sent millions to flee, had the opposite effect – persuading Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership – and helped pave the way for Ukraine to join the European Union.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by David Bronstrom and Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Grant McCall and William Mallard

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