Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a rare trip outside Kyiv to visit the war-damaged city of Mykolaiv in the south while the worst of the fighting continued in the eastern Donbas region.
Heavy battles are raging in villages near the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, according to Ukrainian authorities. Russian troops have been trying to take control of Sievierodonetsk for weeks.
“Now the most fierce battles are near Sievierodonetsk. They (Russia) do not control the city entirely,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the eastern Luhansk region, said on Telegram. “In nearby villages there are very difficult fights — in Toshkivska, Zolote. They are trying to break through but failing. Our defenders are fighting Russians in all directions.”
Haidai also reported that Russian troops are heavily shelling Lysychansk, a city across a river from Sievierodonetsk, that is still controlled by the Ukrainians.
Russia’s defense ministry said Saturday that Russian forces have destroyed oil refining and fuel storage facilities in the areas of Lysychansk and Kremenchuk, located in central Ukraine. Russia said the facilities were intended to supply equipment to the Ukrainian military in the Donbas region.
Front line visit
Zelenskyy’s visit to Mykolaiv was the Ukrainian leader’s first to the southern city since Russia invaded Ukraine almost four months ago.
The president’s office published video Saturday of Zelenskyy surveying a badly damaged high-rise residential building and holding meetings with local officials. He also visited soldiers on the southern front line.
The president’s office did not say when the visit took place.
Ukraine appears to be on a path to membership in the European Union.
The head of the EU said Friday that Ukraine should be formally considered for candidate status.
Zelenskyy applauded the decision in a tweet Friday. “It’s the 1st step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our Victory closer,” he tweeted.
The recommendation is the first step in the long process of becoming a member of the 27-nation bloc. EU leaders will meet later this month to consider the commission’s recommendation. The commission also recommended candidacy for Moldova, though not for Georgia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is not opposed to Ukraine joining the EU because, unlike NATO, the EU is not a military alliance.
“We have nothing against it. It’s their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not. … It’s their business, the business of the Ukrainian people,” Putin said.
Ukraine applied to join the EU just days after Russian troops invaded the country.
Americans missing in Ukraine
Russian state television showed video Friday of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting in Ukraine. The video seems to confirm that U.S. military veterans Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, are Russian captives.
The two men volunteered to go to Ukraine to fight the Russians.
Drueke spoke to the camera from what appeared to be an office and sent a message to his mother.
“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be back home as soon as I can be,” he said. “So, love Diesel for me. Love you.”
Diesel is Drueke’s dog.
His aunt, Dianna Shaw, said Drueke used a key word and gesture in the video that he and his mother set up when he was serving in Iraq so she would know that he was OK.