Zelensky says Ukraine will not settle for stalemate with Russia

Fierce street fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk • Eastern front under constant shelling • Mass evacuation efforts

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky visits an area damaged by Russian military strikes, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 29, 2022. (photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky visits an area damaged by Russian military strikes, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 29, 2022.
(photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that Kyiv would not settle for a battlefield stalemate with Russia and that it aimed to regain control of all its territory occupied by Moscow.

"We have already lost too many people to simply cede our territory," he said by video link at an event hosted by FT Live, in which he added that a stalemate was "not an option" for Kyiv.

"We have to achieve a full de-occupation of our entire territory," Zelensky said.

Kyiv has previously said that Russian forces now occupy about 20% of Ukrainian territory, including swathes of its east and south.

"We are not going to humiliate anyone, we are going to respond in kind," Zelensky said, when asked about French President Emmanuel Macron's call not to "humiliate" Russia in order to keep the door open to a diplomatic solution,

 French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2019 (credit: VIA REUTERS) French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2019 (credit: VIA REUTERS)

The situation in Sievierodonetsk

Ukrainian defenders are doing everything possible to hold their position in the frontline eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where the situation has remained very difficult, mayor Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian television on Tuesday.

He said Russia was sending more troops, aiming to capture the whole city.

"Our armed forces have strengthened their positions and are holding the line," he said.

After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city center. Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.

"Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, describing today's battle

Earlier, he told reporters at a briefing the Ukrainians were outnumbered but still had "every chance" of fighting back.

Before Ukraine's counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine's garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.

But following the counter-offensive, Zelensky made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops' redoubt.

Ukraine's defense ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.

 Ukrainian service members fire a shell from a M777 Howitzer near a frontline, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk Region, Ukraine June 6, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER) Ukrainian service members fire a shell from a M777 Howitzer near a frontline, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk Region, Ukraine June 6, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

Ukraine's defense ministry said on Monday that Russian forces were also advancing towards Sloviansk, which lies about 85 km (53 miles) to the west of Sievierodonetsk.

"The front line is under constant shelling," Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television.

"The enemy is also shelling near Lyman with the aim of wrecking our defensive positions and advancing on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. There is also shelling of Svyatohirsk with the same aim."

Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under day and night attack, including Sloviansk which has about 24,000 residents still there.

"People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,"

  Pavlo Kyrylenko

Further distance between Russia and Europe

The Russian State Duma on Tuesday passed a pair of bills ending the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisdiction in Russia, after Russia announced plans to exit the court amid the conflict in Ukraine.

The Russian parliament approved two bills, one removing the country from the court’s jurisdiction and a second setting March 16 as the cut-off point, with rulings against Russia made after that date not to be implemented.

Appeals to the ECHR had become a last resort for plaintiffs in several high-profile cases that had been rejected by Russian courts. In 2017, the court ordered Moscow to pay compensation to survivors of the 2004 Beslan school siege, who alleged failings on the part of the security services.

On March 15, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to expel Russia from the organization, of which the ECHR is part, in response to Russia’s deployment of troops to Ukraine in February.

Russia has said that it independently decided to leave the Council of Europe, with former President Dmitry Medvedev saying that Russia’s exit from the organization represented an opportunity to restore the death penalty, which the Council of Europe’s rules prohibits.

Fighting on the ground

Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia's main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.

In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Monday and that Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions - east, north and south - to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or encircle the Ukrainians.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

Ukraine's defense ministry said on Monday that Russian forces were also advancing towards Sloviansk, which lies about 85 km (53 miles) to the west of Sievierodonetsk, the largest remaining Ukrainian-held city in Luhansk. 

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports. Russia denies targeting civilians in the conflict.

Russia says it is on a mission to "liberate" the Donbas - partly held by separatist proxies of Moscow since 2014 - after Ukrainian forces pushed its troops back from the capital Kyiv and Ukraine's second city Kharkiv in the war's early stages.

Diplomacy and weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for more weapons to arrive faster, saying things could become very difficult for Ukraine if Russian forces broke through front lines in Donbas, the eastern region where Sievierodonetsk is the main city not in Russian hands.

They outnumber us, they are more powerful," Zelensky told reporters at a briefing on Monday. But Ukraine's forces have "every chance" of fighting back, he added.

In a move coordinated with the United States, Britain said it would supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can strike targets up to 80 km. away, providing the more precise, long-range firepower needed to reach Russian artillery batteries, a key component of Moscow's battle plans.

Zelensky said Kyiv was gradually receiving "specific anti-ship systems," and that these would be the best way to end a Russian blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports preventing grain exports.

President Vladimir Putin earlier said Russia would strike new targets in Ukraine if the West supplied the country with longer-range missiles. His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said it would also respond by pushing back Ukrainian forces further from Russia's border. 

The United States, which reopened its embassy in Kyiv in May after an almost three-month closure, said its embassy posture in the Ukrainian capital remains unchanged.