European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a surprise trip to Kyiv today where she told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the EU’s decision on his nation’s request to join it would come by the end of next week.
Von der Leyen said her discussions with Zelensky today ‘will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week’ on whether to recommend Ukraine as a candidate for membership.
But a decision in favour of Ukraine’s admission would only be a preliminary step in a long process.
All 27 EU governments would have to agree to grant Ukraine candidate status, after which there would be extensive talks on the reforms required before Kyiv could be considered for membership.
It comes as Ukrainian officials warned their armed forces were running dangerously low on ammunition, particularly shells for heavy artillery, in the battles raging in the eastern Donbas region as well as the country’s south.
Governor of Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region Vitaly Kim delivered a sombre warning today, saying Ukrainian artillery pieces on the southern front are down to their last munition reserves.
His comments echoed those made by deputy head of military intelligence Vadym Skibitsy yesterday, who declared Western allies must deliver more munitions and heavy weapons to fight fire with fire on the frontlines.
President of EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) brief the press following their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, 11 June 2022
Von der Leyen (L) said her discussions with Zelensky (R) today ‘will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week’ on whether to recommend Ukraine as a candidate for EU membership
The regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv is pictured after being hit by a Russian missile
Ukrainian officials warned their armed forces were running dangerously low on ammunition, particularly shells for heavy artillery, in the battle raging in the eastern Donbas region.
Local governor of Mykolaiv region Vitaly Kim said Ukrainian forces are running out of shells for their artillery pieces along the eastern and southern frontlines
The gutted remains of cars lie along a road during heavy fighting at the front line in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 8, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier crouches on a position during heavy battles in the front line in Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Von der Leyen reminded Zelensky that, despite Ukraine’s progress on administrative reforms and elsewhere, much still needed to be done before his country could be fully integrated into the EU.
‘You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law but there is still need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption for example,’ she told a joint news conference earlier today.
Zelensky told the same briefing: ‘All of Europe is a target for Russia, and Ukraine is just the first stage in this aggression.
‘This is why a positive EU response to the Ukrainian application for membership can be a positive answer to the question of whether the European project has a future at all.’
Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status at a summit on June 23-24, though with stern conditions attached.
Meanwhile on the frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine, Mykolaiv regional governor Vitaly Kim stressed the urgent need for international military assistance.
‘Russia’s army is more powerful, they have a lot of artillery and ammo. For now, this is a war of artillery… and we are out of ammo,’ he said.
His comments came just one day following those of Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence Vadym Skibitsky, who implored Western allies to send more artillery and long-range missiles to keep Ukraine in the fight.
‘Everything now depends on what [the West] gives us… Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces – we have almost used up all of our ammunition and are now using 155-calibre Nato standard shells,’ he told The Guardian on Friday.
Commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda National Guard Battalion Petro Kusyk also said artillery support would likely prove vital in the battle for industrial city Severodonetsk – the only remaining urban centre in the Luhansk region to be contested by Ukrainian fighters.
He said his men were drawing the Russians into street fighting in Severodonetsk to neutralise their artillery advantage.
‘Yesterday was successful for us – we launched a counteroffensive and in some areas we managed to push them back one or two blocks. In others they pushed us back, but just by a building or two,’ Kusyk said in a televised interview on Friday.
But the commander admitted his forces were suffering from a ‘catastrophic’ lack of counter-battery artillery to fire back at Russia’s guns, and said that getting such weapons would transform the battlefield.
Ukraine is expected to provide a list of weapons and defensive equipment it requires at a meeting with NATO in Brussels on June 15, following US President Joe Biden’s promise of advanced rocket systems and additional munitions last week.
Germany also said it would offer its most advanced air defence systems to help protect Ukrainian skies, while UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace made a personal visit to Kyiv yesterday to speak with Ukrainian officials about their requests for additional weaponry.
A Friday report published by the Institute of War Studies said that effective use of artillery pieces and long-range weapons could prove the path to victory in Ukraine’s east.
‘As Ukrainian forces use the last of their stocks of Soviet-era weapon systems and munitions, they will require consistent Western support to transition to new supply chains of ammunition and key artillery systems,’ the report said.
‘Effective artillery will be increasingly decisive in the largely static fighting in eastern Ukraine.’
Bodies of civilians killed during shelling are pictured at a mass grave in the outskirts of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas on June 9, 2022, as Russian forces have for weeks been concentrating their firepower on Severodonetsk and its sister city of Lysychansk across the river
A Ukrainian soldier stands in a position during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk
Moscow has focused a brutal assault on the key eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk, which Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said earlier today had been ‘ruined’ by Russian forces.
‘This is their tactics. People are not needed, the infrastructure is not needed, houses are not needed, everything should be simply ruined,’ he said in an interview posted on his Telegram channel.
He declined to estimate the number of civilian victims, but said he expected the figure would be ‘enormous and terrible’.
‘Many people were buried in front of their houses’ entrances. A shell from heavy artillery is tearing people up into bits and pieces,’ he said.
He added: ‘They lie like this for a day, three or four. It is impossible to take them out because there is constant shelling.’
Haidai also stated a Russian strike on a chemical plant in Severodonetsk had caused a large fire where hundreds of civilians where sheltering earlier today, but confirmed the fire had been successfully extinguished.
The fight for the key eastern city has become bloodiest battles of the war, with neither side delivering a knock-out blow in weeks of conflict that has pulverised chunks of the city.
Zelensky struck a defiant note today, delivering a brief speech denouncing Russia’s actions in the Donbas and declaring that his armed forces would eventually succeed in their defence of their territory.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians, but both sides say they have inflicted mass casualties on each other’s forces.
Meanwhile reports from around Ukraine – particularly from the decimated southern port city of Mariupol, suggest tens of thousands of civilians have died as a result of fighting and Russian bombardments.