Ukraine’s request to obtain the status of candidate for the European Union will soon be answered, promised on Saturday the President of the European Commission who was visiting kyiv. “Today’s discussions will allow us to finalize our assessment by the end of next week,” said Ursula von der Leyen, after a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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. “We want to support Ukraine on its European journey, assured von der Leyen. We want to look to the future. You have done a lot, but there is still a lot to do, to fight against corruption for example”.

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

On the ground, the fighting in eastern Ukraine is intensifying, while the Russian army is still pounding the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The area around Chortkiv in western Ukraine was also shelled in the evening, regional governor Volodymyr Trouch said.

As a sign of Moscow’s determination to get its hands on what the Kremlin considers Russian land, the first Russian passports have been handed over to 23 residents of Kherson, a large city in southern Ukraine, occupied and administratively managed by authorities prorussians, according to the official Russian agency TASS.

A hospital is also under construction by the Russian army in Lugansk (east). “Russia still has sufficient potential to wage a long war against our country,” said the Military Intelligence Department (GUR) within the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday accused Russia of wanting to “devastate every city in Donbass, every one, without exaggeration”. The battle for the key city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysytchansk looks increasingly violent.

“In order to discourage our troops, the enemy is pounding our positions and trying to win the battle with artillery fire,” the Ukrainian operational command of the southern region said overnight from Saturday to Sunday. He said that the Ukrainian Air Force had destroyed ammunition depots and equipment in three airstrikes in the past 24 hours, without indicating the location.

“Fierce street battles are continuing in Severodonetsk,” President Zelensky said on Saturday evening, while pointing out the recapture by Ukrainian forces of localities in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.

The Ukrainian general staff clarified on Sunday that the Russians were carrying out “unsuccessful” assaults against Severodonetsk, stressing that the Ukrainian soldiers had also pushed back the army from Moscow near Vrubivka, Mykolaevka or Vasyivka.

Taking Severodonetsk would open up the Kremlin’s route to another major city, Kramatorsk, a stage to conquer the entire Donbass basin, a predominantly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

According to a member of the military administration of Donetsk, “all the major towns in the free territory” of this region “have been deprived of electricity” since early Saturday evening. He cites Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Konstantinovka, Druzhkivka and Bakhmut.

On television, the governor of the Lugansk region Sergiï Gaïdaï described a “difficult” situation in Popasna, Severodonetsk and near the Siversky Donets river, the level of which has dropped so much that he fears new Russian attempts to cross it to establish a new bridgehead near Bilogorivka. “In Tochkivka, very strong fighting is going on,” he also said.

In Severodonetsk, the Ukrainian defense is entrenched on the site of an Azot chemical plant. “Permanent fighting continues,” said Mr. Gaïdaï. “The enclosure of the Azot factory is bombarded in a powerful way for hours, using large caliber weapons”, he detailed, evoking “street fights with firearms” but also the “floor by floor” destruction by Russian artillery of buildings used as shelters by the Ukrainian forces.

“Severodonetsk is not 100% liberated…In any case…Severodonetsk…Lyssychansk will be ours,” said Leonid Passechnik, leader of the separatist region of Lugansk. In Lyssytchansk, the inhabitants have the choice between fleeing and losing their homes, or remaining exposed to the bombardments.

For several days, fighting has also been intense in the Mykolaiv region, neighboring the port city of Odessa (south). The Russian advance was halted on the outskirts of the city, however. The operational command specified that the Russian forces had fired missiles on the suburbs of this city, a “continuous fire which puts under psychological pressure the civilian population”.

The Ukrainians are constantly asking their Western allies for new, more powerful weapons and ammunition. The delivery of multiple rocket launcher systems, including Himars with a range of about 80 km, slightly greater than Russian systems, was announced by Washington and London.

France has said it is ready to help lift the blockade of the port of Odessa, in order to get grain out of Ukraine, the blockage of which is causing a world food crisis. The announcement was made by an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, who received Senegalese President Macky Sall, also President of the African Union, on Friday.

The latter had called on Thursday for the demining of the port of Odessa and indicated that he had received assurances from President Vladimir Putin that the Russians would not take advantage of it to attack, as the Ukrainians fear. According to the operational command, the Russians have expanded their fleet in the Black Sea by mobilizing “two large landing ships”.

The Russian invasion launched on February 24 paralyzed grain exports from Ukraine – a major player in this sector – and caused a spike in grain and fertilizer prices, threatening a food crisis in many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. orientals. A crisis that will hang over the first ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, the first in more than four years, which begins on Sunday.

Speaking via video to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia-Pacific security forum, Volodymyr Zelensky again called on the international community to press for Russia to end the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, otherwise, he said, “food shortages will inexorably lead to political chaos, which risks bringing about the overthrow of many governments”.

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, speaking at this forum, said on Sunday that Beijing “supports the peace talks” between the two belligerents and assured that his country had “never provided material support to Russia” in this conflict.