The Russian invasion launched on February 24 paralyzed cereal exports from Ukraine – a major player in this sector – and caused a surge in prices, threatening a food crisis in many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. The French president is due to travel to Romania and Moldova on Tuesday and Wednesday, pending a visit to Ukraine, the date of which has not yet been set, according to the Elysee.

For his part, the American president affirmed, Friday, that his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky “did not want to hear” the American warnings before the invasion of his country by Russia. “A lot of people thought I was exaggerating ‘by talking about a Russian attack on Ukraine before it started,'” Joe Biden said. “But I knew we had information to that effect. (Russian President Vladimir Putin) was going to cross the border. There was no doubt and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it,” he added to reporters.

France is ready to help lift the blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odessa, in order to get cereals out of Ukraine, the blockage of which is causing a world food crisis. “We are at the disposal of the parties so that, basically, an operation is put in place which would allow access to the port of Odessa in complete safety, that is to say to be able to allow boats to pass despite the fact that the sea is mined,” said an adviser to President Emmanuel Macron.

These statements come as Emmanuel Macron received Senegalese President Macky Sall, also President of the African Union, on Friday. The latter had called the day before 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.

“Navigation is blocked in the Black Sea and enemy ships are holding almost the entire Ukrainian territory under the threat of missile strikes,” said the Ukrainian operational command of the southern region, on the night of Friday to Saturday. He also noted that, “unable to advance on land, the enemy is testing the strength of our positions (on the front lines) with bombardments from the air with helicopters.”

On the ground, Ukrainian forces said on Friday that they had bombed Russian positions in the Kherson region (south), almost all of which has been occupied since the first days of the invasion. kyiv fears a rapid annexation by Moscow. For several days, the Ukrainians have reported fighting in this region. The Ukrainian operational command said that a reconnaissance group infiltrated in this occupied territory had defeated Russian troops, “seizing their weapons and means of communication”.

The local authorities put in place by Moscow are loudly calling for annexation. A Russian negotiator mentioned, on June 1, the forthcoming organization – perhaps in July – of a referendum in the occupied territories on this question. A project described as “illegal” by kyiv and which recalls the referendum organized by Russia in Crimea in 2014.

The fighting is also intense in the region of Mykolaiv, close to Odessa. “The Russians are targeting us with heavy artillery, whether in town or in the villages,” Vitali Kim, governor of this region, told AFP, while welcoming that the attackers have retreated in recent days. “They won’t come back, we won’t let them come back,” he said.

In the Donbass, the battle for the key city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysytchansk continues. She is more and more deadly. In his usual daily evening message, Volodymyr Zelensky reported “very heavy fighting […]. Russia wants to devastate every city in Donbass, every one, without exaggeration. Like Mariupol”, he noted.

“The Ukrainian military is doing everything to stop the attacks of the occupiers, as much as possible with as many heavy weapons and modern artillery” as Ukraine has, he said. But the fighting continues in Severodonetsk and the shelling is constant, said Friday Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the region.

The chief of staff of the Ukrainian armies specified, Saturday morning, that the Russians advanced in the direction of Novotoshkivske-Orikhove and had a “partial success” near the village of Orikhovo. “The enemy continues to carry out assaults in the city of Severodonetsk,” he continued, adding that fourteen attacks had been repelled in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 24 hours.

Taking Severodonetsk would open up Moscow’s route to another major city, Kramatorsk, an important step in conquering the entire Donbass basin, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine, partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

According to the general staff, the Russian army is preparing to attack Slavyansk and Siversk, regrouping its troops and moving ammunition and fuel in this perspective. And the risk of Ukrainian strikes from Belarus “continues”, he noted. The battle is particularly deadly, with “up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers” killed and 500 wounded every day, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov said Thursday. The Russians say nothing about their losses.

The head of the Ukrainian presidential administration Andriï Yermak announced, this Saturday, “the death during the war” of a military journalist, officer Oleksiy Chubashev. He gave no details on the circumstances of the death of the man who was responsible for a recruitment program and Ukrainian military television.

Ukraine could, however, take back Severodonetsk “in two, three days”, as soon as it has “long-range” Western artillery, Mr. Gaïdaï assured Thursday. The Ukrainians keep asking their Western allies for new, more powerful weapons.

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.

In this context, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace made an unannounced two-day visit to Kyiv. President Zelensky thanked him for London’s leading role in Western support for Ukraine. “The British are showing real leadership in defense matters,” insisted the Ukrainian president.

Ben Wallace’s visit comes the day after the announcement by the authorities of the pro-Russian separatist “republic” of Donetsk of the death sentence for mercenary action of two Britons and a Moroccan who fought on the Ukrainian side.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “appalled” by the sentence, Downing Street said on Friday, saying he was working with kyiv on their release. “Clearly they were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces and are prisoners of war” and not mercenaries, a spokesman said.

On the 107th day of the war, the Heads of State of nine Central and Eastern European countries (Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia) also met in Bucharest to ask a reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank, less than three weeks before an Alliance summit in Madrid.

“Faced with increased security risks in Romania and the Black Sea, consolidating NATO on its eastern flank (…) becomes all the more urgent and crucial”, declared the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, opening the meeting co-chaired by his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda.