Zelensky hopeful Ukraine’s forces making progress as battle for the Donbas rages

WARNING: This story contains graphic images of death.

Latest political developments

  • Pending ratification, the EU plans to give Ukraine almost 500 million euros to buy heavy weapons.

  • A day after Finland signals interest in joining NATO, the Swedish foreign minister said membership would have a stabilizing effect. NATO member Turkey said it does not support the idea. 

  • Pressure is building for Europe to source its gas outside of Russia.

  • Ukraine’s defence minister says the country is entering “a new, long-term phase of the war.”

 Updates from the ground on Day 79 of the war

  • Ukrainian and British officials said Russia suffered heavy losses when Ukrainian forces destroyed a pontoon bridge that enemy troops were using to try to cross a river in the east.

  • Ukrainian officials said their forces have damaged a Russian logistics ship in the Black Sea.

The battle for the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine has turned into a village-by-village, back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side and little ground gained.

In his nightly address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said no one can predict how long the war will last but that his country’s forces have been making progress, including retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

“No one today can predict how long this war will last,” Zelensky said. 

“This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum. This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”

Ukraine has driven Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv in the fastest advance since Kremlin forces pulled away from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and the northeast more than a month ago.

Southeast of Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials said they had stopped Russian forces from crossing the Siverskyi Donets river west of Severodonetsk by destroying a pontoon bridge.

Ukraine’s airborne command, which released photos and video of what it said was the damaged bridge and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby, said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers.”

With Ukraine pleading for more arms to fend off the invasion, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief announced plans to give Kyiv an additional 500 million euros ($672 million Cdn) to buy heavy weapons.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said heavy weapons from the West now making their way to the front lines — including American 155 mm howitzers — will take some time to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favour. 

“We are entering a new, long-term phase of the war,” Reznikov wrote in a Facebook post. “Extremely difficult weeks await us. How many there will be? No one can say for sure.”

Finland and Sweden seek to join NATO

A day after Finland’s leadership signalled support for joining NATO, Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde said membership in the military defence pact would benefit countries around the Baltic Sea.

“Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a conflict-preventing effect in northern Europe,” Linde told reporters.

Finland’s president and prime minister announced on Thursday that the Nordic country should apply right away for NATO membership.

“You [Russia] caused this. Look in the mirror,” said Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

WATCH | Finland to submit application to join NATO: 

Finland to submit application to join NATO

Finland’s leaders have signaled plans to apply to join the NATO alliance as a result of the war in Ukraine. It’s a move that would upend almost 80 years of non-alignment.

Finland’s parliament still has to weigh in, but the announcement means it is all but certain to apply — and gain admission. The process could take months to complete. 

Public opinion in both nations shifted dramatically in favour of NATO membership after the invasion, which stirred fears in countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.

U.S. President Joe Biden held a call on Friday with the leaders of Finland and Sweden and “underscored his support for NATO’s Open Door policy,” the White House said in a statement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the other hand, said Friday that his country is “not favourable” toward Finland and Sweden joining NATO. He explained his opposition by citing the alleged support of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists.

NATO makes all of its decisions by consensus, meaning that each of the 30 member countries has a potential veto over who can join.

Russian soldier charged with killing civilian on a bicycle

Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday, the first war crimes trial since Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour. (Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

The war crimes trial of a captured Russian soldier charged with killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian began Friday in Kyiv.

Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, is accused in the first war crimes trial since the start of the war. 

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office alleges the civilian was gunned down while riding a bicycle in February, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Friday’s hearing in Shyshimarin’s case was brief. A judge asked him whether he understood his rights, and he quietly replied “yes,” and whether he wanted a jury trial, which he declined. The judges and lawyers discussed procedural matters before the judges left the courtroom and then returned to say the case would continue on May 18.

Shyshimarin, who served with a tank unit, is accused of firing through a car window and shooting the man in the head in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka. He faces up to life in prison under Ukrainian law.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said she is readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting. It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects are in Ukrainian hands and how many would be tried in absentia.

School lessons held in a subway station

As the fighting and Russian strikes persisted, teachers were trying to restore some sense of normalcy after the war shuttered Ukraine’s schools and devastated the lives of millions of children.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, they were holding lessons wherever possible — including in a subway station being used as a bomb shelter.

An elderly woman walks inside a subway station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv on Thursday. (Mstyslav Chernov/The Associated Press)

Primary school-aged children joined Leiko around a table for history and art lessons in the subway station, which has become home for many families and where children’s drawings now line the walls.

Ukraine says it took out another ship

Ukrainian officials said their forces took out another Russian ship in the Black Sea.

The Vsevolod Bobrov logistics ship was badly damaged but is not thought to have sunk when it was struck while trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president.

A spokesperson for the Odesa regional military administration said the vessel caught fire after the strike. There was no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.

In April, the Ukrainian military sank the Moskva cruiser, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In March, it destroyed the landing ship Saratov.

WATCH | What happened in the war this week:

What happened in Week 12 of Russia’s attack on Ukraine

Russian and Ukrainian troops fight village by village in the Donbas, with little progress for the Kremlin. The war pushes Finland to seek NATO membership and a Russian soldier is charged with the first war crime since the start of the conflict. Here’s a recap of the invasion of Ukraine from May 7 to 13.

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