Russia regrouping forces for renewed Kharkiv offensive: Zelenskyy

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Severodonetsk and Lysychansk are experiencing the “most difficult” fighting.
  • Luhansk’s governor reveals Russian forces have entered the industrial part of Severodonetsk, where about 500 civilians may be sheltering in the Azot chemical plant.
  • Zelenskyy claims Russia is planning a renewed attack on Kharkiv, after Moscow withdrew its forces from the city and region in mid-May.
  • A referendum on the occupied Kherson region joining Russia will be held this autumn, Moscow-backed self-proclaimed authorities say.
  • Actor Ben Stiller has visited Kyiv and met with Zelenskyy, telling him: “You’re my hero.”
  • Moscow is holding more than 1,500 Ukrainian civilians in Russian prisons, according to Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.

Here are all the latest updates:

Ukraine has thwarted Russia’s efforts to control the north-western Black Sea: UK

Ukraine’s coastal defences have largely neutralised Russia’s ability to establish control in the north-western Black Sea, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

Ukraine’s forces reportedly destroyed a Russian naval tug delivering weapons and personnel to Snake Island with Western Harpoon anti-ship missiles last week, the first successful use of the weapons, the ministry said.

“The destruction of the Russian vessel on a resupply mission demonstrates the difficulty Russia faces when attempting to support their forces occupying Snake Island,” it said.

Ukraine’s ability to defend its coast “has undermined the viability of Russia’s original operational design for the invasion, which involved holding the Odesa region at risk from the sea,” the ministry added.

Lysychansk shelled non-stop on Monday: Governor

Russian forces relentlessly shelled the eastern town of Lysychansk throughout the day on Monday, but the night, relative to two “heavy” nights that came before, was reasonably quiet, Luhansk’s governor has said.

“From what I understand they simply exhausted themselves and have stopped to regroup,” Serhiy Haidai said on television. He said there was no information yet about casualties as there had been no break in the shelling to be able to go and see the situation.

In the city of Severodonetsk, across the river, Haidai said “fierce fighting” was continuing in the industrial zone. All critical infrastructure has been destroyed, and there is no centralised water, electricity or gas, he said.

He said 538 civilians remained in the few bomb shelters of the Azot chemical plant – mostly employees of the factory – including 38 children. They all refused to evacuate, he said.

Russian forces plan renewed attack on Kharkiv: Zelenskyy

The Russian army is preparing for a renewed attack on the region and city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“Now the Russian army is trying to gather forces to attack Kharkiv again. We de-occupied this region. And they want to do it again, and we see it,” Zelenskyy said in a virtual speech at the opening of the ISPI Global Policy Forum in Italy.

He was speaking on World Refugee Day about the conditions Russian forces created which he said displaced approximately 12 million Ukrainians, of which nearly 5 million had to flee the country. Russia withdrew from Kharkiv in mid-May after weeks of heavy bombardment.

“Mykolaiv is constantly being bombed, with almost half a million inhabitants. They want to capture and completely destroy Sloviansk – there were 100,000 inhabitants before the war,” Zelenskyy added after listing other destroyed cities such as Mariupol and Severodonetsk.

More than 1,500 Ukrainian civilians held in Russian prisons: Kyiv

Moscow is holding more than 1,500 Ukrainian civilians in Russian prisons, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said, according to Ukrinform.

“They are in Rostov, Kursk, they are in jail, they are being held as prisoners of war, although they should not be,” Iryna Vereshchuk told journalists.

Imprisoned civilians included volunteers, activists, journalists, priests, deputies of local councils and heads of local government agencies, she said.

US citizen killed in combat in Ukraine: State Department

A US citizen was killed in combat in Ukraine last month, according to an obituary and the State Department, after he joined thousands of foreign fighters who have volunteered to help Ukraine fend off Russian forces.

Stephen Zabielski, 52, was killed in fighting on May 15, according to an obituary published in The Recorder, an upstate New York newspaper, earlier this month. Media reports of his death circulated on Monday.

In a statement, a State Department spokesperson confirmed Zabielski’s death in Ukraine and said the agency has been in touch with his family and provided “all possible consular assistance”.

The spokesperson’s statement repeated earlier warnings that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine because of the conflict and the potential for the Russian government to single them out. It added that any citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately.

Kherson referendum to join Russia to be held this autumn: Russian-backed fighters

A referendum on Ukraine’s occupied region of Kherson becoming a part of Russia will be held this autumn, the Moscow-backed self-proclaimed authorities of the region have said, according to Russia’s RIA state news agency.

“We are preparing for the referendum … After the referendum, we will become a fully-fledged subject of the Russian Federation,” RIA quoted Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the self-proclaimed military-civilian administration of the region, as having said.

“Before too long we will be able to feel ourselves as fully-fledged citizens of the great country of Russia,” Stremousov added.

He did not give further details on the timing. Autumn in Russia runs from September to November.

Coming week decisive for Russia’s Severodonetsk offensive: ISW

The coming week is to be decisive for Russian efforts to take the eastern city of Severodonetsk, the Institute for the Study of War has cited Ukrainian officials as saying.

Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar has said that Russian leadership set a June 26 deadline for its forces to reach the Luhansk region’s administrative border, “which will likely result in intensified efforts to take full control of Severodonetsk and move westward towards the border,” the ISW said.

The institute also said that the Luhansk governor’s reports that Russians controlled all of Severodonetsk aside from the industrial zone were “the first explicit Ukrainian confirmation that Russian forces control all of Severodonetsk with the exception of the Azot plant”.

“Russian forces will likely continue efforts to clear the Azot plant and complete encirclement operations south of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk by driving up the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway,” the ISW said.

Civil society group criticises conflict diamond watchdog over Russia stalemate

A civil society group has sharply criticised the Kimberley Process (KP), a coalition created to prevent the use of gems to fund conflict, for resisting efforts to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as this week’s international conflict diamond meeting began in Botswana.

In the run-up to the meeting, Ukraine, the European Union, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and civil society groups were pushing to place Russia on the agenda, as well as to broaden the KP’s definition of conflict diamonds to include state actors using the stones to fund acts of aggression. Russia’s partly state-owned company Alrosa is the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds.

Russia, backed by Belarus, Mali, Central African Republic and Kyrgyzstan, objected to the proposals, dashing any hopes of action by the KP, which makes decisions by consensus.

“The fact that the KP is unable to even discuss whether it should continue certifying Russian diamonds as conflict-free, reaffirms what we have been denouncing for years: That the world’s conflict diamond scheme is no longer fit for purpose,” the coordinator of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, Michel Yoboué, said in a speech at the gathering.

Russian Nobel Peace laureate sells medal for $104m to aid Ukraine children

The Russian cowinner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, journalist Dmitry Muratov, has sold his prize medal for $103.5m at an auction to raise money for displaced children affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The full purchase price of Muratov’s medal will benefit UNICEF’s humanitarian response for Ukraine’s displaced children, Heritage Auctions, which conducted the auction, said in a statement.

Muratov, editor of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and fiercely critical of the Kremlin, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.

Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last remaining independent news outlets, said at the end of March that it would suspend operations until the end of the war in Ukraine after it received a second warning from the state censor for allegedly violating the country’s “foreign agent” law.

Dmitry Muratov holds a copy of his newspaper the Novaya Gazeta after his 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal sold for 103.5 million dollars.
Dmitry Muratov holds a copy of his newspaper the Novaya Gazeta after his 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal sold for $103.5m in New York City, New York, US, June 20, 2022 [David ‘Dee’ Delgado/Reuters]

Ben Stiller visits Kyiv, meets Zelenskyy

Actor Ben Stiller visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday, telling him: “You’re my hero.”

“What you’ve done and the way that you’ve rallied the country and for the world, it’s really inspiring,” Stiller told Zelenskyy.

Stiller’s visit included a stop in Irpin, the scene of heavy fighting early in the Russian invasion.

“It’s one thing to see this destruction on TV or on social networks. Another thing is to see it all with your own eyes. That’s a lot more shocking,” Stiller said according to a statement from Zelenskyy’s office.

Moscow to summon EU ambassador over Kaliningrad transit ban: Governor

Russia’s foreign ministry will on Tuesday summon the European Union’s ambassador to Moscow over Lithuania’s ban on the transit of goods under EU sanctions through Kaliningrad, the governor of Kaliningrad said on Monday.

“This is, of course, a situation, that can be resolved by diplomatic means,” Anton Alikhanov told Russian television.

“As far as I know, tomorrow Marcus Ederer, the European Union ambassador to Russia, will be summoned to the foreign ministry … and he will be told of the appropriate conditions involved here.”

Vilnius banned the transit of goods under EU sanctions through Lithuanian territory to and from the Russian exclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, citing EU sanction rules.

‘Most difficult’ fighting in Severodonetsk, Lysychansk: Zelenskyy

Two key cities in eastern Ukraine are witnessing the “most difficult” fighting, Zelenskyy has said, as Russian forces intensified pressure in the area and captured territory along a front-line river.

“We are defending Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there,” Zelenskyy said during an evening address, after predicting Moscow would escalate attacks ahead of an EU summit expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

Moscow’s separatist proxies claimed to have captured Toshkivka, a town on the mostly Ukrainian-held western bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, south of Severodonetsk, which has become the main battlefield city in recent weeks.

Zelenskyy also said shelling in Kharkiv and Odesa continued, and described Russia’s offensive in Donbas, where forces have been concentrating their overwhelming artillery firepower, as “brutal”.

Ukraine governor: Russian troops enter Severodonetsk industry zone

Russian troops have entered the industrial part of the heavily besieged city of Severodonetsk, according to Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai.

“It’s just hell there. Everything is engulfed in fire, the shelling doesn’t stop even for an hour,” Haidai said on Telegram.

The Azot chemical plant is the only part of the area not yet taken by Russian troops, Haidai said. The villages nearby are also under constant fire. About 300 civilians are sheltering in the Azot plant, according to Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk, though the situation is constantly changing.

Haidai also said the road connecting Severodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire.

Read all updates for June 20 here.

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