A Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.
Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, had pleaded guilty to killing the 62-year-old man in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28 after being ordered to shoot at him from a car.
Meanwhile, Russian forces are bombarding a key city in eastern Ukraine with artillery and missiles in an attempt to take more of the Donbas region.
Sievierodonetsk is the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province make up the Donbas.
Luhansk’s governor, Serhii Haidai, said on Sunday that the Russians were “simply intentionally trying to destroy the city… engaging in a scorched-earth approach”.
He said the Russians had occupied several towns and cities in Luhansk after indiscriminate, 24-hour shelling, adding Moscow was concentrating forces and weaponry there, bringing in forces from Kharkiv to the northwest, Mariupol to the south, and from inside Russia.
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces had mounted an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of the city.
While Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-kilometre (342-mile) wedge of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Poland’s president travelled to Kyiv on Sunday to support Ukraine’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.
President Andrzej Duda received a standing ovation when he thanked the lawmakers for letting him speak where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats”. Mr Duda said Ukraine need not submit to conditions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Unfortunately, in Europe there have also been disturbing voices in recent times demanding that Ukraine yield to Putin’s demands,” he said.
“I want to say clearly: Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.”
It was Mr Duda’s second visit to Kyiv since April. Poland has become an important ally of Ukraine, welcoming millions of Ukrainian refugees and becoming a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons.
It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight the Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the visit “a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built through blood, through Russian aggression”.
“All this not to lose our state, not to lose our people.”
Mr Duda credited the US and President Joe Biden for unifying the West in supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Moscow.
Poland is ramping up efforts to win over EU members who are more hesitant about accepting Ukraine into the bloc. Mr Zelensky has urged the 27-member EU to expedite his country’s request to join, and it is to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.
France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune on Sunday told Radio J it would be a “long time” before Ukraine gains EU membership, perhaps up to two decades.
“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying.”
On the battlefield, grinding, town-by-town fighting continued as Russian troops try to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the Donbas.
To bolster its defences, Ukraine’s parliament voted on Sunday to extend martial law and mobilise the armed forces for a third time, until August 23.
Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Mr Zelensky said at a news conference on Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.
In a general staff morning report, Russia said it was also preparing to resume its offensive on Slovyansk, a city in Donetsk province that saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops backed away from Kyiv.
The conflict was not confined to Ukraine’s east. Powerful explosions were heard early on Monday, for example, in Korosten, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Kyiv, the town’s deputy mayor said.
It was the third straight day of apparent attacks in the Zhytomyr District, Ukrainian news agencies reported.
In Enerhodar, a Russian-held city 281 kilometres (174 miles) northwest of Mariupol, an explosion on Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported.
Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” wounded 48-year-old Andrei Shevchuk, whose lives near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest.
On Monday, a Ukrainian court was expected to reach a verdict for a Russian soldier who was the first to go on trial for an alleged war crime.
The 21-year-old sergeant, who has admitted to shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in a village in the north-eastern Sumy region on February 28, could get life in prison if convicted.
Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova has said her office was prosecuting war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.
When President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Britain’s parliament in March, he evoked the spirit of Winston Churchill by vowing to fight on the beaches.
Two months on, the Black Sea city of Odesa remains braced for invasion, with air-raid sirens and missile attacks. On the beaches, though, the main risk of battle looks likely to be rows over sun loungers.
Despite the odd thump of naval exchanges, the city’s seaside strip was full of sunbathers at the weekend, as a heatwave brought temperatures of 25C.
Just a few hundred kilometres further to the east, the port of Mariupol lies in ruins, while tank battles rage in Donbas. However, Odesa resembles the bustling French Riviera.
Admittedly, many of the city’s beaches are mined to prevent an amphibious assault, while an 8pm curfew limits the chance for sundowners.
But after two years of Covid and three months of conflict, Odesa’s tourist industry needs business to survive. And for those hitting the beach, a dose of early summer sun feels just right after a winter of war.
“Sometimes you just want to lead a normal life, otherwise you start to go mad under permanent stress,” said Vadim Holubenko, a shipping agent who has been unable to work since February because of Russia’s naval blockade of Odesa’s container port.
Home to a million people, Odesa has long been a tourist draw for Ukrainians. Its attractions include the 19th-century Potemkin Stairs, leading up from the harbour. The city’s art nouveau architecture feels more European than Russian – and just like Cannes, there’s an annual film festival.
The number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has now crossed the staggering milestone of 100 million for the first time on record, propelled by the war in Ukraine and other deadly conflicts.
“One hundred million is a stark figure – sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
“This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”
According to new data from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose towards 90 million by the end of 2021, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In addition, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country this year, and more than 6 million refugee movements from Ukraine have been registered.
At over 1 per cent of the global population, the overall figure is equivalent to the 14th most populous country in the world. It includes refugees and asylum seekers as well as the 53.2 million people displaced inside their borders by conflict, according to a recent report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
“The international response to people fleeing war in Ukraine has been overwhelmingly positive,” Grandi added.
“Compassion is alive and we need a similar mobilization for all crises around the world. But ultimately, humanitarian aid is a palliative, not a cure. To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”
Additional reporting: The Telegraph