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War for eastern Ukraine reaches 'fearful climax' as European Union is set to approve Ukraine candidacy

Nabih Bulos and Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LVIV, Ukraine — Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers appeared to be all but encircled as Russian troops advanced Thursday around two strategically important cities in eastern Ukraine in what a senior Ukrainian official called a “fearful climax” of the battle for the Donbas, signaling that the fall of a significant part of the region was imminent.

The comment, from Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych, highlighted the stark contrast between the battlefield and growing international diplomacy in support of Ukraine as the war approaches its fourth month.

Millions of people are displaced, cities are in ruin and aid-raid sirens have become a terrifying part of everyday life across wide swaths of the nation even as Western support for it grows. Meeting Thursday in Brussels, European Union representatives were expected to grant Ukraine status as EU candidate. The idea that once faced significant hurdles in the bloc has gained greater appeal amid the protracted war and economic sanctions against Russia.

The decision would not guarantee admission to the EU. It would also not come with additional security for Ukraine. In a process that could ultimately take at least decade, Ukraine would need to pass economic and political requirements and gain unanimous approval from the EU’s 27 members.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has called the EU meeting a “crucial moment” for the nation, said in an overnight address that the war was reaching a tipping point and repeated pleas for more help from Western powers.

“We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly,” Zelenskyy said early Thursday as he asked for bigger and faster armaments.


The U.S. and other Western countries have increased shipments of heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Still, Zelenskyy and Kyiv’s military officials say Moscow’s military superiority is hard to match in what has become a sustained artillery battle in the east. Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzianyk estimated this week that Russian fire often outnumbers Ukrainian fire six-to-one.

“There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged. They want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step,” Zelenskyy said in his overnight video address. The president said “Russian troops aim to turn any city into Mariupol,” the major port city that Moscow overtook last month.

The Russian advance around the sister cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk underscored the do-or-die strategy the Ukrainians have adopted for their defense.

Ukrainians have slowed Moscow’s push and Russians have incurred loses as they gain ground in the Donbas. But the cost has been devastating and often left Ukrainian defenders with no path of escape.


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