Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has predicted Russia will intensify its attacks this week, warning European partners that they too should be prepared for an increase in hostilities as Kyiv awaits a decision on its bid to join the EU.
The caution follows a European Commission recommendation to grant Kyiv candidate status to join – a diplomatic blow to Moscow.
“Tomorrow a historic week begins,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Sunday night, adding: “There have been few such fateful decisions for Ukraine.
“And in such a week, we should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready. We warn partners.”
European leaders are due to meet this week to give their final decision regarding Ukraine’s fast-tracked membership application.
Although Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has said Moscow has “nothing against” the move, a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia was closely following Kyiv’s bid, especially in light of increased defence cooperation among member countries.
An EU decision in favour of Kyiv’s ultimate membership would put Ukraine on track to realise an aspiration that would have been out of reach for the former Soviet republic before the Russian invasion.
“Whole generations fought for a chance to escape from the prison of the Soviet Union and, like a free bird, to fly to European civilisation,” the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, said in a statement on Sunday.
On the battlefield, Russian forces are continuing in their attempt to take complete control of the eastern Donbas region, while Ukraine maintains it has repulsed fresh attacks.
Heavy fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk, where local officials concede Russia now controls most of the city.
Russia said on Sunday that it had seized Metyolkine, a village on the outskirts, and the Russian state news agency Tass reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there. Ukraine’s military said Russia had “partial success” in the area.
The Luhansk governor, Serhiy Gaidai, told Ukrainian TV that a Russian attack on Toshkivka, 35km (20 miles) south of Sievierodonetsk, also “had a degree of success”.
On the diplomatic front, EU foreign ministers will discuss ways to free millions of tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine due to Russia’s Black Sea port blockade at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its grain shipments have stalled and more than 20m tonnes have been trapped in silos since Russia invaded and blocked the ports.
It is hoped a deal can be struck with support from the United Nations to resume Ukraine’s sea exports in return for facilitating Russian food and fertiliser exports. However, it remains unclear if the EU would get involved in militarily securing such a deal.
An EU official said: “Whether there will be a need in the future for escorting these commercial ships, that’s a question mark and I don’t think we are there yet.”