Sat, 20 Aug 2022

Ukrainian troops defending the battleground eastern city of Severodonetsk have been ordered to retreat after weeks of fierce fighting with Russian forces, the governor of Luhansk province said Friday. Read about the day's events as they unfolded on our liveblog. All times Paris time (GMT+2).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

9:25pm: 'Ten years' to build infrastructure around Black Sea port blockade, Ukraine says

It would take Ukraine a decade to build infrastructure to replace its Black Sea ports, whose blockade by Russia is preventing grain exports around the world, Ukraine's deputy agriculture minister said Friday.

Millions of tonnes of wheat and other grain have been stuck in Ukrainian ports since Russia invaded in February, sparking global concern about hunger and food prices.

"For alternative routes, it would take 10 years of investment to try to build the necessary infrastructure to replace this Black Sea port infrastructure, which we spent about 20 years building, starting in 2000," Taras Vysotskiy said in an interview with AFP.

"These alternative routes are important" but can only carry around a third of Ukraine's exports, he said.

Ukraine's Western allies are looking for ways to unblock the ports, particularly Odessa, the main point of departure for the country's agricultural produce.

7:00pm: Ukraine requires 'fire parity' with Russia to defend Luhansk region, top general says

Ukraine's top general told his US counterpart during a phone call on Friday that Ukraine needed "fire parity" with Russia in order to "stabilize" the difficult situation in the country's eastern Luhansk region, according to his summary of the call.

"We discussed the operational situation and the delivery flow of international technical assistance," Ukraine's General Valeriy Zaluzhniy wrote on the Telegram app after a phone call with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Ukraine has said Russia's artillery advantage on the Donbas frontlines is taking a significant toll on Ukrainian troops, and has called on its Western partners to supply more weapons to minimize the deficit.

5:15pm: Putin accuses the West of preventing export of Russian grain

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday Moscow's military action in Ukraine was not responsible for the global food crisis, instead blaming the West for preventing the export of Russian grain.

"The food market is unbalanced in the most serious way," Putin said, addressing a "BRICS Plus" virtual summit that brought together the leaders of 17 countries, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Putin accused Western countries, in particular the United States, of "destabilising global agricultural production" with restrictions on the delivery of fertiliser from Russia and Belarus, and by "making it difficult" for Moscow to export grain.

"Rising prices on agricultural staples, such as grain, have hit the hardest developing countries, developing markets where bread and flour are a necessary means of survival for the majority of the population," Putin said.

He also slammed the "hysteria" surrounding grain that has been trapped in Ukrainian ports since the start of Russia's military actions, saying that it "does not solve any problems on the global grain market".

Putin said Russia is a "responsible actor on the global food market" and is ready to "honestly fulfil all its contractual obligations".

Washington and Brussels have hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions after Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.

4:56pm: Zelensky addresses Glastonbury festival, urges crowd to 'spread truth' about war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged music fans at the Glastonbury Festival on Friday to "spread the truth about Russia's war " on his country.

Zelensky spoke to the crowd in a video message played at the British music extravaganza before a set by The Libertines.

The Ukrainian leader said the festival, returning for the first time since 2019, showed that "the pandemic has put on hold lives of the millions of people around the world, but has not broken."

"We in Ukraine would also like to live the life as we used to and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer, but we cannot do that because the most terrible has happened - Russia has stolen our peace," he said.

"That is why I turn to you for support, Glastonbury, the greatest concentration of freedom these days, and I ask you to share this feeling with everyone whose freedom is under attack."

The speech drew a wave of loud cheers and applause from thousands of people gathered at Worthy Farm in southwest England.

2:40pm: UN chief warns of 'catastrophe' from global food crisis

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the world faces "catastrophe" because of a growing food crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.

"There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022," he said in a video message to G7 officials gathered in Berlin. "And 2023 could be even worse."

Guterres noted that the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and inequality to produce an "unprecedented global hunger crisis" already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

UN negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertiliser to world markets without restrictions, he added.

Meanwhile G7 foreign ministers released a statement blaming Russia for exacerbating food insecurity with its blockades and bombing attacks on key infrastructure in Ukraine.

The ministers called on Moscow "to cease its attacks and threatening actions and un-block the Ukrainian Black Sea ports for food exports".

1:25pm: Ukraine's EU candidacy 'no risk' to Russia, says Moscow

The Kremlin has belittled the EU's decision to grant official candidate status to Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova, describing the move as a "domestic" matter for Europe.

"These are domestic European affairs. It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of these countries with us," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Speaking of Moscow's relations with the European Union, he said that it would be "very difficult to spoil them further".

Also on Friday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine and Moldova joining the 27-nation bloc presented "no risks" for Russia, because the EU is not a military alliance. However, he accused the EU and NATO of wanting to wage war on Russia, comparing them to the Axis powers in World War II.

"Hitler under his banner had brought together a large part of European countries to wage war against the Soviet Union," Lavrov said during a working visit to Azerbaijan. "Today the EU and NATO are bringing together such a contemporary coalition to fight and, to a large extent, wage war against Russia."

11:45am: Ukraine loses key district south of Lysychansk

A district south of the battleground city of Lysychansk was "fully occupied" by Russian forces as of Friday morning, a local Ukrainian official said on television.

"Unfortunately, as of today ... the entire Hirske district is occupied," Hirske's municipal head Oleksiy Babchenko said on a television broadcast. "There are some insignificant, local battles going on at the outskirts, but the enemy has entered."

The loss of Hirske and several other settlements around it leaves Lysychansk, the last major Ukrainian-controlled city in Luhansk, in danger of being enveloped from three sides by advancing Russian forces.

Russia's defence ministry said on Friday it had encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops, including 80 foreign fighters, at Hirske. Reuters could not independently verify the claim.

11:35am: Moscow-installed official killed in Ukraine's Kherson

A Russian-appointed official in Ukraine's southern Kherson region was killed in an explosion, local authorities have said, the latest in a string of attacks on pro-Kremlin officials in Ukrainian regions under Russian control.

This is the first confirmed death of a pro-Russian official in an attack.

"Today, my friend, head of the department of family, youth and sports of the Kherson region, Dmitry Savluchenko, passed away," the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said on Telegram.

He added that Savluchenko died "as a result of a terrorist act in the city of Kherson".

The Interfax news agency had earlier reported that the Moscow-installed official died in an explosion after a bomb was planted in his car.

9:55am: The civilians who refuse to flee Ukraine's Lysychansk

Volunteers are scrambling to evacuate civilians from the Lysychansk area as Russian troops close in on the key battleground city in the eastern Donbas. But some local residents refuse to evacuate, siding with Russia in the war. Click on the player below to watch the report.

8:05am: Ukrainian forces ordered to retreat from Severodonetsk, governor says

Ukrainian forces have been ordered to retreat from Severodonetsk, the governor of Luhansk region has said, after weeks of fierce fighting against the Russians in the battleground eastern city.

"Ukrainian armed forces will have to retreat from Severodonetsk. They have received an order to do so," Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the region that includes the city, said on Telegram.

"Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn't make sense," Gaidai said, adding that the city had been "nearly turned to rubble" by continual bombardment.

"All critical infrastructure has been destroyed. Ninety percent of the city is damaged, 80 percent (of) houses will have to be demolished," he said.

6:24am: Western leaders look to G7 summit to renew resolve on Ukraine

World leaders including US President Joe Biden will seek to close ranks at back-to-back summits from Sunday on offering emphatic support to help Ukraine repel Russian invaders as the relentless war puts international unity to the test.

In the face-to-face talks, the allies will take stock of the effectiveness of sanctions imposed so far against President Vladimir Putin's Russia, consider possible new military and financial aid for Ukraine, and begin turning their eye to longer-term reconstruction plans.

But they will also be struggling to maintain a united front as the fallout from the war - from soaring inflation to looming food shortages to fears over energy supplies - tugs at their resolve.

Read more analysis on the war in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that allies would need stamina in shoring up Ukraine ahead of the G7 summit of most industrialised nations that will be hosted from Sunday at the Bavarian mountain resort of Elmau Castle.

"The truth is, we are still far from negotiations between Ukraine and Russia" because Putin "still believes in the possibility of a dictated peace", Scholz said on Wednesday.

"It is therefore all the more important that we stay firmly on course - with our sanctions, with internationally coordinated arms deliveries, with our financial support for Ukraine."

5:15am: Ukraine's EU candidacy will strengthen Europe, Zelensky says

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine's formal candidature to join the European Union was a big step towards strengthening Europe at a time when Russia was testing its freedom and unity.

Zelensky told EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday that their decision to accept Kyiv's candidacy was among the most important for Ukraine since it broke from the Soviet Union 31 years ago.

"But this decision is not just being made for the benefit of Ukraine. It is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could have been made right now, in our time, and when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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