Day 86 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Zelensky compares Situation in Donbas with "Real Hell", 1,700 Azovstal Troops Surrendered
More than 1,700 Azovstal troops have surrendered, Europe has dashed Kyiv's hopes of quick EU membership, and the Pentagon predicts a long war.
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Zelensky compares the situation in Donbas with "real hell"
“The Ukrainian industrial region of Donbas, where the current Russian offensives are concentrated, has been completely destroyed”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Since withdrawing from the Ukrainian capital, Russia has used massive artillery and tanks to try to conquer additional territory in the Donbas. It consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Moscow claims on behalf of pro-Russian separatists.
"The occupiers are trying to put even more pressure. The situation there is hell and it is no exaggeration," Zelensky said in a daily statement to Ukrainians and the world.
He says strikes around Odessa and in cities in central Ukraine are daily, and Donbas is completely destroyed. The president mentioned the "brutal and absolutely senseless bombing of Sievierodonetsk, which killed 12 people and injured dozens," as well as the "terrible blow to Desna" in the Chernihiv region.
"All this does not and cannot have a military explanation for Russia. It is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. As many houses, social facilities and businesses as possible are being destroyed," Zelensky said in a statement.
British intelligence, in its daily summary of the war, predicts that Russia will step up its offensive once it has established final control of Mariupol.
Russian soldier asks for forgiveness
The Russian soldier, who is at the center of the first war crimes trial in the conflict, apologized to the widow of the Ukrainian citizen he killed.
Vadim Shishimarin, 21, admitted to shooting 62-year-old Alexander Shelipov near the northern village of Chupahivka on February 28th to stop him from reporting a car theft.
"I know you will not be able to forgive me, but I still ask your forgiveness," he said on the second day of the trial in Kyiv.
Ukrainian prosecutors have demanded that he be sentenced to life in prison.
1,730 fighters from Mariupol surrendered
Russia says the number of Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has risen to 1,730.
Over the past 24 hours, another 771 people have left the large steel plant, which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Ukraine has persuaded people to surrender to save their lives after spending weeks in an underground complex with acute shortages of food, water and medicine.
US Congress approves $40 billion aid package for Ukraine
The US Congress has approved a new 40 billion aid package for Ukraine, the latest tranche of US aid to Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invasion.
The aid package was approved unanimously by the Senate after it was passed by the House of Representatives last week.
“No shortcuts” to the EU
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there could be no "shortcut" to Ukraine's membership in the European Union. Scholz is the second EU leader to dash Kyiv's hopes for accelerated membership in a matter of weeks.
Scholz said making an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the countries of the Western Balkans, which also want to join.
"The accession process is not a matter of a few months," he warned.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemns what he calls a "second-class attitude" towards his country.
Turkey is "determined" to block NATO membership applications
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is "determined" to block Sweden's and Finland's NATO bids, calling Stockholm a "safe haven" for terrorism.
On Wednesday, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership, renouncing decades of non-military membership, fearing they could be the target of Russian aggression in the future.
US President Joe Biden met with Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington to tell them that their countries "meet all NATO requirements".
Addressing Turkey, Niinistö said Finland was "open to discussing any concerns you may have about our membership, in an open and constructive manner".
12 killed in Sievierodonetsk
The governor of the eastern Luhansk region said at least 12 people had been killed and 40 injured in the Russian shelling of the city of Sievierodonetsk.
In recent days, Sievierodonetsk has been the subject of prolonged bombardment as Russian forces try to take over the easternmost city, which is still in Ukrainian hands.
Six civilians have also died in Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts, regional governors said.
US and Russian generals speak
Senior US General Mark Milley spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, their first conversation since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the Pentagon said.
Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, "discussed several security issues," according to a spokesman for the United States.
The Pentagon: "War might drag on"
A senior Pentagon official said the war in Ukraine could last a long time, although Kyiv forces regained the Kharkiv region and used significant supplies of American artillery.
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned analysts that Russia's forces were fully deployed and could reach a point in a few weeks that they would no longer be able to advance.
"It's hard to say how the situation will develop over time," he said.
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