Ukraine will fight off Russia’s invasion, its president has said, while the Kremlin pledged to persist until “all our goals have been achieved” as Moscow’s war entered its 100th day with Russian troops pounding the Donbas region.
“Victory shall be ours,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video featuring the same key ministers and advisers who appeared with him in a defiant broadcast on 24 February, the day his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, launched his unprovoked assault.
“Our team is much bigger,” Zelenskiy declared on Friday. “The armed forces of Ukraine are here. Most importantly, our people, the people of our country, are here. We have been defending Ukraine for 100 days already … Glory to Ukraine.”
In Moscow, the Kremlin’s official spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that “certain results have been achieved” by Russia’s “military operation”, pointing to what he called the “liberation” of some areas from the “pro-Nazi armed forces of Ukraine”.
Tens of thousands have been killed, millions sent fleeing and whole towns reduced to rubble since the start of the invasion, with Russia’s forces – repelled from around the capital, Kyiv, by fierce Ukrainian resistance – now focused on capturing the east.
Moscow has seized about a fifth of Ukrainian territory, tripling the land under its occupation since 2014 when it seized Crimea and parts of Donbas, where some of the fiercest fighting is centred on the industrial city of Sieverodonetsk.
“This war has and will have no winner,” said Amin Awad, the UN’s assistant secretary-general and crisis coordinator for Ukraine. “Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects.”
Zelenskiy’s office said fierce fighting continued in the city centre on Friday, with the invading forces “shelling civilian infrastructure and Ukrainian military”. The Luhansk regional governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops were “levelling everything”.
Accusing Moscow’s forces of destroying hospitals, schools and roads, he said the resistance was confined now to about a fifth of the city, with Ukrainian troops still holding a sprawling steel and chemical works in an industrial zone, Gaidai said.
The situation in Lysychansk, Severodonetsk’s twin city across the river Donets, also looked bad, with about 60% of infrastructure and housing destroyed and internet, mobile phone and gas services all out of operation, Oleksandr Zaika, head of the city’s military-civil administration, said.
Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleskiy Reznikov, said Ukrainian forces had some success in Sievierodonetsk overnight, adding that artillery crews were already training on new Himars and MLRS rocket systems pledged earlier this week by the US and Britain.
Washington had said this week it expected around three weeks of training would be needed before Ukraine can begin using the rockets, which could target Russian rear supply lines and help negate Russia’s artillery fire-power advantage at the front.
Russia’s recent massive assault in the east has been one of the deadliest phases of the war for both sides, with Moscow making slow but steady progress, squeezing the defenders inside a pocket in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up Donbas.
Amid rising fears of a global food crisis, the head of the African Union, Senegalese president, Macky Sall, met Putin in the Black Sea port of Sochi to raise concerns about the war’s consequences for the continent.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a big fertiliser exporter, and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil. Ukrainian exports have been halted by a Russian blockade of the country’s ports, while western sanctions have cut off access to Russian output.
Sall asked Putin to “be aware that our countries, even if they are far from the theatre, are victims on an economic level” of the conflict. “That is really creating serious threats to the food security of the continent,” Sall said.
Putin did not mention grain supplies to reporters but said Russia was “always on Africa’s side” and was now keen to improve cooperation. “We place great importance on our relations with African counties,” he said.
Turkey said it expected progress on a plan to unlock grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports when Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, visits the country next week. Both Moscow and Kyiv want a solution to the crisis, a Turkish official said.
Though hurdles remain – such as payment mechanisms for the agricultural products, and mines floating in the Black Sea – the official said Moscow could “take further positive steps” after it said on Thursday it was open to the plan.
Turkey has already said it is ready to take on a role within an “observation mechanism” if a deal is reached, potentially involving a Turkish naval escort for tankers leaving Ukraine. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, hosts his Russian counterpart for talks on the plan on 8 June.
Belarus was ready to allow the transit of Ukraine’s grain to Baltic Sea ports if it is also allowed to ship Belarusian goods from those ports, the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, was quoted as saying. Exports from Ukraine via Belarus have been one of the options in discussions led by the UN.
In a phone call with UN secretary-general António Guterres on Friday, Lukashenko said Belarus was ready to free up needed capacity on its railway for Ukraine’s grain, and proposed organising talks between Belarus, Ukraine and other countries ready to provide access to their ports.
On the defence and security front, Turkey said progress on Finland and Sweden’s applications to join Nato – which Ankara is blocking – before an alliance summit in Madrid later this month would depend on their response to Turkey’s demands.
Turkey accuses the two Nordic countries of supporting and harbouring Kurdish militants and other groups it deems terrorists, and says it has not yet received a satisfactory response from Stockholm or Helsinki.
“Nato is not a tourism or economic alliance; it is a security alliance, which means that it must provide security to all its members equally and fairly,” said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson and chief foreign policy adviser to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.