“The situation in Donbass is very, very difficult,” President Volodimyr Zelensky said in a video address on Friday. “We protect our land and do everything to strengthen” the defense of this region, he assured.

The territorial defense of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist “republic” of Donetsk (east) indicated on Telegram that it had “taken complete control” of the key locality of Lyman, with “the support” of the Russian army.

Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian army immediately commented on this information, which AFP could not verify from an independent source.

But President Zelensky retorted: “If the occupiers think that Lyman and Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian.”

After the unsuccessful offensive on kyiv and Kharkiv (north-east) at the start of the war launched by Russia on February 24, Russian forces are concentrated in eastern Ukraine, with the stated objective of taking control total of the Donbass mining basin, partially controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists supported by Moscow.

A police official from the pro-Russian separatist republic of Lugansk, quoted by the Ria Novosti agency, said on Friday that “the city of Severodonetsk is currently surrounded”, and that Ukrainian troops are trapped there.

False, retorted the governor of Lugansk, Sergei Gaïdaï, even judging erroneous to say that the region will fall under the Russian “entire control of the enemy” in “one, two or three days”.

“Most likely they won’t ‘take it’, but ‘perhaps, to avoid being surrounded there could be a withdrawal order given to our troops,’ he admitted, however.

– Historic Orthodox Schism –

On the religious front, the Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has cut ties with Russian spiritual authorities, who support Russian President Vladimir Putin – a historic move.

At the end of a council, “the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” was pronounced, according to a press release, which specified that the relations of the Ukrainian Church with its Moscow leadership were “complicated or non-existent” since the beginning of the conflict.

This initiative is the second Orthodox schism in Ukraine in a few years. Part of the Ukrainian Church, represented by the kyiv Patriarchate, had already broken with Moscow in 2019 because of the Kremlin’s interference in the country.

Ukraine is central for the Russian Orthodox Church, some of the most important monasteries of which are located in this country.

– “Genocide” in the Donbass –

In his daily video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday evening accused Moscow of “genocide” in the Donbass, where Russian forces are carrying out “deportations” and “mass killings of civilians”.

US President Joe Biden has also used this expression.

For its part, Moscow justified its invasion of Ukraine by a “genocide” that the Ukrainians would carry out against the Russian-speaking population of Donbass.

From The Hague (Netherlands), the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, called on Russia to cooperate in the investigation, which he had opened four days after the Russian invasion, into the crimes of war and alleged crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, but Kyiv has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

The war also continues in the rest of Ukraine.

Russian forces massed 30 T-62 tanks as well as other armored vehicles and Grad missile systems in the Kherson region (south), pounded by Mi-8 helicopters, the Ukrainian army’s Southern Command said on Saturday. on Facebook.

– kyiv calls for US multiple rocket launchers –

In this context, kyiv once again demanded more weapons from Westerners on Friday.

“Some partners avoid giving the necessary weapons for fear of escalation. Escalation, really? Russia is already using the heaviest non-nuclear weapons, burning people alive. Maybe it’s time (…) to give us (multiple rocket launchers) MLRS?” tweeted Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not confirm the existence of such a project, a prospect raised by the American press.

“We remain committed to helping them win on the battlefield,” he said.

– Railway bridge –

While Ukraine, a major agricultural power, can no longer export its cereals due to the blocking of its ports, Vladimir Putin on Friday rejected any Russian responsibility for the world food crisis during a telephone interview with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, according to a statement from the Kremlin.

On Thursday, the Russian president had offered to help “overcome the food crisis” – on the condition that Western sanctions against Moscow were first lifted, which earned him accusations of blackmail.

To help kyiv bypass the Russian blockade, Germany has notably set up a “railway bridge” with Ukraine, reserving trains to transport Ukrainian wheat to Western Europe, according to the next head of forces Americans in Europe, General Chris Cavoli.

In this context, President Zelensky is expected to address Monday by videoconference to EU leaders gathered in Brussels. They are expected to re-address the proposed EU embargo on Russian oil, still blocked by Hungary.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Silouanov said Friday evening in a televised interview that Russia should earn an additional 1,000 billion rubles (13.7 billion euros) this year from its hydrocarbon exports, the prices of which are soaring. A part will be allocated to the continuation of the offensive in Ukraine, according to him.