Volodymyr Zelensky, who had remained barricaded in kyiv for weeks at the start of the conflict when the capital was threatened by the Russian army, went according to the presidency to the troops in the regions of Mykolaiv and Odessa, in the coastal strip of country coveted by Moscow on the shores of the Black Sea.
He thanked the soldiers, who are containing the thrust of Russian troops, supported in the east from annexed Crimea, for their “heroic service”.
“It is important that you are alive. As long as you are alive, there is a strong Ukrainian wall protecting our country,” he told them.
A video, released by the presidency, showed him in Mykolaiv with the local governor, Vitaliy Kim, in front of the gaping facade of the headquarters of the regional administration, hit by a Russian strike in March which left 37 dead.
This port and industrial city of almost half a million inhabitants before the war is still under Ukrainian control, but it is close to the Kherson region, almost entirely occupied by the Russians. A Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 on Friday.
It remains a target of Moscow because it is on the road to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, 130 km to the south-west near Moldova, also still under Ukrainian control and at the center of discussions on the blocked export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain.
Russia explains that the waters are mined, and controls this area of the Black Sea despite the firing of Ukrainian missiles against its ships.
– “Black Sea, war zone” –
Westerners accuse the Russian power of threatening the world with famine and of exploiting cereals as they do with hydrocarbons.
“Russia has turned the Black Sea into a war zone, blocking grain and fertilizer shipments from Ukraine” while applying “quotas” to its own exports, European diplomacy chief Josep Borrell denounced on Saturday. , accusing Moscow of “blackmail”.
“It is imperative to allow the resumption of Ukrainian exports by boat”, to avoid a “world food disaster”, he added.
Further north, fierce fighting is raging near Severodonetsk, in the Donbass region, partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and including Russia, after failing to take kyiv in the first weeks of its offensive launched on February 24, has set itself the goal of taking full control.
“An expression says: you have to prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself”, said Saturday in an interview with AFP Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, which is home to the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in particular. .
“Of course we have to prepare,” added the man who repeatedly warned that the Russians would end up surrounding Lyssytchansk by cutting off its main supply routes.
“The situation is difficult, in the city (of Lysytchansk) and in the whole region”, he underlined, because the Russians “are bombarding our positions 24 hours a day”.
Residents of Lysytchansk were preparing to be evacuated: “We are abandoning everything and leaving. No one can survive such a strike,” said resident Alla Bor, a history teacher.
Earlier in the day, Serguiï Gaïdaï had announced “more destruction” still at the besieged Azot chemical factory in Severodonetsk, where more than 500 civilians, including 38 children, are hiding.
– 5 dead in Donetsk –
Pro-Russian authorities in Donetsk, capital of the self-proclaimed “republic” of the same name in the part of Donbass that has escaped kyiv’s control since 2014, for their part claimed that Ukrainian bombardments on the city had left five dead and 12 injured among the civilian population.
“Massive enemy bombardments are targeting the capital of the Republic,” the separatist military forces said in a statement, saying that more than 200 155-caliber artillery shells – that of NATO – had fallen on several districts of Donetsk.
It is finally in the north, from Belarus from where the Russian forces had attacked on February 24 in the direction of kyiv, that the Ukrainians again fear an offensive. On Wednesday, Volodymyr Zelensky ordered to check the defense lines in this area, according to Oleksiï Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
The Ukrainian army, which this week obtained the promise of new heavy Western weapons – including Caesar cannons promised Thursday by French President Emmanuel Macron – is counting on these weapons to push back the Russians.
In an interview published this week by the National Defense Magazine, an American specialized publication, General Volodymyr Karpenko, chief of logistics of the Ukrainian army, admitted that Ukraine had lost since February 24 “about 50% of its armaments.
On Saturday, the day after a surprise visit to kyiv, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Ukraine’s allies to support it firmly and for a long time if they do not want to see “aggression” triumph in Europe.
Countries that support Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion must ensure that kyiv has “the strategic stamina to survive and ultimately prevail,” he wrote in an op-ed published by the Sunday Times, stressing that ” time is a crucial factor today.
– No negotiations before August –
Only after repelling Russian forces will Ukraine be ready to engage in new negotiations with Moscow, David Arakhamia, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, told the Ukrainian branch of the American radio Voice of America. .
“A minimal agreement (for negotiations, editor’s note) would be if we pushed them back or if they left voluntarily to the positions they occupied before February 24” and the start of the offensive, he said. -he says.
In kyiv, hundreds of people attended on Saturday the funeral of Roman Ratouchny, 24, killed in action in the East and who was a figure of the pro-European Maidan movement, which had led to the fall of the pro-Russian president. Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, after he had renounced, under pressure from Moscow, the signing of an association agreement with the EU.