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Zelenskiy defiant as Russia intensifies attacks in east, seizes territory

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5/5

© Reuters. A man stands outside a damaged residential building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

2/5

By Natalia Zinets and Oleksandr Kozhukhar

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine acknowledged difficulties in fighting in its east as Russian forces captured territory and intensified pressure on two cities ahead of an EU summit this week expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

The governor of the Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said the situation was “extremely difficult” along the front line as of Monday evening and the Russian army had gathered sufficient reserves to begin a large-scale offensive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had predicted Russia would step up attacks ahead of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. In an address to the nation on Monday evening, he was defiant, while also referring to “difficult” fighting in Luhansk for Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk.

“We are defending Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there,” he said. “But we have our strong guys and girls there.”

Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian forces controlled most of Sievierodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been sheltering for weeks. The road connecting Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire, he said.

“Lysychansk has been suffering from massive Russian shelling all day. It is impossible to establish the number of casualties,” Gaidai said.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said its forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

Approval by EU leaders for Ukraine to become an official candidate to join the bloc would be a triumph for Kyiv.

It applied for membership just four days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. It would take years to attain, but for the EU to reach deep into the heart of the former Soviet Union would bring about one of Europe’s biggest economic and social transformations since the Cold War.

ATTRITIONAL PHASE

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to degrade its military capabilities and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists.

It has introduced a law making the spread of “knowingly fake” information or reporting that could discredit the Russian military an offence.

Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and editor of an independent Russian newspaper, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war. His paper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings over its coverage of the war.

The war has entered a brutal attritional phase in recent weeks, with Russian forces concentrating on Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donbas, which Russia claims on behalf of separatists.

Ukrainian officials reported three civilian deaths in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region on Monday and another three in shelling in the Kharkiv region.

In Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port, which is blockaded by the Russian navy, a Russian missile destroyed a food warehouse on Monday, Ukraine’s military said.

The United States and its European allies have provided weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine but avoided direct involvement in the conflict. Some American citizens, however, have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

CAPTURED AMERICANS

On Monday, the Kremlin said two Americans detained in Ukraine were mercenaries not covered by the Geneva convention who should face responsibility for their actions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comments were the first formal acknowledgment that the two, identified in U.S. reports as Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were being held.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said they had been in touch with Russian authorities regarding any U.S. citizens who may have been captured.

“We call on the Russian government – as well as its proxies – to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of any individual, including those captured fighting in Ukraine.”

This month, a separatist court sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan to death after they were caught fighting for Ukraine.

Peskov also said U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, held in Russia for more than two months, was being prosecuted for drug offenses and was not a hostage.

At least two Americans have been killed in the war.

International concern has focused on trying to restore Ukrainian exports of food, now shut by a de facto Russian blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s main sources of grain and food oils, leading to fears of global shortages.

Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions curbing its exports.

The war has also disrupted energy markets, including Russian shipments of oil and gas to Europe, still the continent’s main source of energy and Russia’s primary income source. Russia says EU sanctions prevented it from restoring pipeline equipment.

Russia threatened to retaliate against EU member Lithuania for banning transport of coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology to Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea surrounded by EU territory.

Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s top diplomat and demanded it reverse the “openly hostile” move or Russia “reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.” Lithuania said EU sanctions obliged it to enforce the ban.

World

U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.

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By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.

Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.

The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.

U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

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Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall

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6/6

© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

2/6

By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.

Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.

Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.

“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”

Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.

“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.

At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.

“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.

BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK

Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.

Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.

Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.

“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.

Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.

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Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.

The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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