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Small victories buoy Ukraine; The West says the Russians are losing momentum News

Kyiv, Ukraine – Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military is facing a looming war, the prospect of a larger NATO, and the enemy is encouraged on Sunday by victories on and off the battlefield.

Top NATO diplomats met in Berlin with the head of the alliance, who said so war “It’s not going as planned by Moscow.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, adding that the alliance should continue to provide military support to Kiev. He spoke via video link to a meeting when he was being cured of a COVID-19 infection.

On the diplomatic front, both Finland and Sweden have taken steps to bring them closer to NATO membership, despite Russia’s objections.

If the two unincorporated northern countries become part of the alliance, it will be an insult to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War a threat to Russia. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.

While Moscow has lost its position on the diplomatic front, Russian forces have also failed to gain territorial advantages in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine said it was holding back Russian troops in the east, and Western military officials said the campaign, which Moscow launched there after its troops failed to capture the capital Kyiv, had slowed.

Meanwhile, Ukraine celebrated a moral and forgiving victory in Eurovision. The Kalush Orchestra’s folk rap ensemble won the brilliant European competition with the song “Stephanie”, which became the anthem of Ukrainians during the war.

President Vladimir Zelensky has promised that his nation will claim the customs honoring the winner of the next annual competition.

“Step by step we are forcing the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian land,” Zelensky said.

The band’s frontman Oleg Psyuk said at a press conference on Sunday that the musicians are “ready to fight” when they return home. The Ukrainian government has banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, but six members of the group, who are exclusively male, have been given special permission to travel to Italy to represent Ukraine in the competition.

They will return to a country that is still struggling to survive.

Russian and Ukrainian militants are fighting a fierce battle for the eastern industrial territory of Ukraine – Donbass. Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped military fought there with Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.

Even with its failures, Russia continues to inflict death and destruction throughout Ukraine. Last weekend, its forces hit a chemical plant and 11 high-rise buildings in Severodonetsk in the Donbass, said the governor of the region. Governor Sergei Gaidai said that two people were killed in the shelling, and warned residents to remain in underground shelters.

Russian missiles destroyed “military infrastructure” in the Yavoriv district in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland, said the governor of Lviv region. Lviv is the main gateway to Western-supplied weapons that Ukraine acquired during the war.

The Ukrainian military said it was holding back a renewed offensive by Russian troops in the Donetsk region of Donbass. Russian troops also tried to advance near the eastern city of Izyum, but Ukrainian forces stopped them, said the governor of the Kharkiv region of Ukraine Oleg Sinegubov.

And Ukraine blew up two railway bridges that were seized by Russian forces in the eastern region of Luhansk, Ukraine’s special operations command said on Sunday. It posted a video of the bridge explosion on Facebook. The command also said it had destroyed Russian communications lines in the area to prevent Russia from deploying additional troops to attack the cities of Lisichansk and Severodonetsk.

An independent verification of Ukraine’s claims failed, but Western officials also painted a bleak picture for Russia.

The UK Ministry of Defense in its daily intelligence update stated that the Russian army had lost up to one third of the combat power it had handed over to Ukraine in late February and had failed to gain any substantial territory.

“In the current context, Russia is unlikely to accelerate sharply in the next 30 days,” the ministry said in a statement on Twitter.

Estimates of Russia’s military activity emerged after Russian troops retreated from the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which was a key military target at the start of the war and was bombed for weeks.

The region’s governor said there had been no shelling in the city for several days, although Russia continued to strike in the Kharkiv region.

One Ukrainian battalion, which fought in the region, reached the border with Russia on Sunday and shot a winning video of Zelensky.

In a video posted on Facebook by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, a dozen fighters stood around a blue-yellow pillar, the colors of Ukraine.

One explained that the part went to the dividing line with the Russian Federation, the occupying country. Mr. President, we have arrived. We are here. “

Other fighters put up victory signs and raised their fists.

Despite the threat of missile strikes, many people were returning home to Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said on Sunday. Refugees returned not only out of optimism that the war could be reduced.

“Living somewhere just like that, not working, paying for housing, eating … they are forced to return for financial reasons,” she said in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

In the south of Donbass, the port of Mariupol in the Sea of ​​Azov is now largely under Russian control, with the exception of several hundred Ukrainian servicemen who refused to surrender and remain hidden at the Azovstal metallurgical plant.

Many of their wives called on the world community to secure the release of “the entire garrison” during the online conference. The women said the troops were severely short of food, water and medicine; untreated injuries sometimes led to sepsis.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said that the regional prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal case over the alleged use of incendiary bombs by Moscow at metallurgical plants. International law allows certain use of incendiary munitions, but prohibits their use for direct targeting of enemy personnel or civilians.

A spokesman for Turkish President Ibrahim Kalin said the country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on ships from Azovstal, according to the official state television company TRT.

The invasion of Ukraine is forcing other countries along the Russian flank concerned that they may be next, including Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia and the Gulf of Finland. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in a telephone conversation on Saturday that joining NATO would be a “mistake”.

In Sweden, after the ruling Social Democratic Party on Sunday backed plans to join NATO, the plan was to be discussed today in parliament, after which the Cabinet announced it.

However, NATO is acting by consensus, and potential Nordic applications have been called into question by Turkey’s concerns. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the NATO meeting he discussed Turkey’s concerns, especially Sweden’s and Finland’s alleged support for Kurdish rebel groups and their restrictions on arms sales to Turkey.

But during a Sunday visit to Sweden, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Finland and Sweden would become “important additions” to NATO and that the United States should ratify its membership soon. McConnell is leading a delegation of Republican senators in the region. On Saturday, they visited Kyiv in support.

McQueen reported from Lviv. Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Bekataros in Odessa and other AP staff members around the world contributed to this report.

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