On the diplomatic level, after promising kyiv the day before a response “by the end of next week” to Ukraine’s request to start a process of joining the European Union, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, recognized that “the challenge [would be] to come out of the European Council [scheduled for June 23 and 24] with a united position [at the height of a historic issue”.

At the military level, the Russian Ministry of Defense said it had destroyed in Tchortkiv, 140 km from the border with Romania, “a large warehouse of anti-tank missile systems, portable air defense systems and shells supplied to the regime of kyiv by the United States and European countries”.

The Russian army did not specify when the strike took place, which it said was carried out using cruise missiles fired from the sea, but according to local Ukrainian authorities, this small town in the west of the country, an area largely spared by the war, was hit on Saturday evening by “four missiles” which injured at least 22 people, including civilians, and partially destroyed a military site.

In the east, on the front line where the Russian offensive has been intensifying for several days, the Ukrainian presidency reported in the morning of “constant assaults and artillery bombardments on Severodonetsk and the surrounding villages”.

The capture of the city would open up the road to another major city, Kramatorsk, in Moscow, a stage to conquer the entire Donbass basin, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

– Chemical plant –

“The situation in Sevorodonetsk is extremely difficult,” Serguii Gaïdaï, the Ukrainian governor of the region, acknowledged on Telegram messaging.

The attackers want to “completely seal the city” and prevent any passage of men and ammunition, he added, saying he fears that the enemy will launch “all its reserves to take the city” within 48 hours.

On Saturday, Mr. Gaïdaï had acknowledged that the Russians “probably” controlled 70% of the city, while Leonid Passetchnik, leader of the pro-Russian separatist region of Lugansk, admitted to stumbling over control of “the industrial zone”.

“It’s a chemical industry site,” Passetchnik stressed, “our main goal is to clear the area [of Ukrainian fighters] without causing an environmental catastrophe.”

Saturday evening, Mr. Gaïdaï had affirmed that a fire was in progress on the site of the chemical factory Azot, target of the Russian army. Sunday noon, however, we did not know what the situation was on the spot.

Further south, in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian presidency said that “the Russians [were intensifying] their efforts to destroy essential infrastructure”.

At the other end of the front line, in Mikolaiv, a major port on the Dnieper estuary in the south, the Russian advance was halted on the outskirts of the city, according to a team of AFP journalists on square.

In a residential area emptied of its inhabitants, artillery fire echoed Saturday, a few kilometers away. The poorest did not leave. Debris and branches still litter the ground, many windows are broken, a crater caused by a shell is not filled.

Tetyana Tsaryk, 62, feeds abandoned dogs. “I’m the only one doing it now,” she said. “Before, they were fed by the maintenance workers but they no longer come since there have been deaths. The gardens are no longer maintained.”

According to Moscow, the Russian army also shot down three Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets between Saturday morning and Sunday morning, two in aerial combat, and the third by anti-aircraft fire.

Returning from kyiv, where she met President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Chmygal on Saturday, Ms. von der Leyen returned to kyiv’s application for EU membership.

“I hope that in 20 years, when we look back, we can say that we did the right thing,” she told reporters in Warsaw.

– ‘Merit-based path’ –

“Ukraine has done great things over the past ten years and there is still a lot to do. Our opinion will reflect this carefully,” she said of the recommendation on Ukraine’s candidacy that the Commission is preparing to formulate for the next European Council.

“The path to the European Union is well known”, she added, “it is based on merit”.

Ukraine is demanding a “legal commitment” allowing it to obtain official EU candidate status as quickly as possible, but the Twenty-Seven are very divided on the question.

For Ukraine, the status of candidate would be “a starting point”, with the key to a long process of negotiations and reforms, recognized Mr. Zelensky.

Still, he said in a video message Saturday night, “we’re going to work even harder at all levels to get the right decision. It’s very important to us.”

In Russia, after the departure of McDonald’s precipitated by the invasion of Ukraine, the first “Russian McDonalds” opened their doors on Sunday with the slogan “The name changes, the love remains”.

“Vkousno i totchka” (Delicious. Point) is the new name of the sign, unveiled Sunday in Moscow in front of a hundred Russian and foreign journalists. The new logo represents two stylized orange fries and a red dot on a green background.