Russian shelling of a city in eastern Ukraine killed six people on Monday, Kiev said, as EU ministers meeting in Brussels insisted the pressure of Western sanctions against Moscow was working.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed an acting security chief on Monday after announcing the suspension of senior law enforcement officers late Sunday.
Blue helmet rescuers dug through debris and cleared debris from a collapsed two-storey building in Toretsk in the industrial east that was hit by Russian artillery early Monday.
“I had my windows open. There was a huge explosion around 5 a.m. – rocks and dust,” local resident Nadia told AFP journalists, still trembling.
Emergency services said five people had been dug under the rubble, while a sixth, seriously injured, had died in hospital.
Toretsk, a city of about 30,000 inhabitants, is located 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kramatorsk, a prime target for Russian forces, who invaded Ukraine in late February.
Russian forces have recently made gains in the eastern region of Donbas, taking the twin cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.
On Monday, pro-Moscow rebels claimed their next target in Donbas – the city of Siversk – was under their control, an announcement that could not be independently verified.
Conversations about grain supply
In Kiev, Zelensky appointed 39-year-old Vasyl Malyuk – the first deputy head of the SBU security services since March – as acting head after removing Ivan Bakanov from his post.
Andriy Smirnov, a deputy head of the presidential government, told Ukrainian television on Monday that Attorney General Iryna Venediktova and Bakanov had been suspended to avoid “potentially affecting criminal proceedings against employees of Ukraine’s security service”.
The night before, Zelensky said security officials were investigating more than 650 cases of suspected treason and aiding and instigation of Russia, including 60 cases of officials in Russian-occupied territories working against Ukraine.
In Brussels, the EU’s foreign policy chief warned that the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports was threatening grain supplies to tens of thousands of people vulnerable to famine and said it must end.
“It is a matter of life and death for many people. And the question is whether Russia should lift the blockade and allow the export of Ukrainian grain,” Josep Borrell told reporters.
Zelensky tweeted Monday that he had held talks with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. “Discussed the importance of resuming Ukrainian grain exports to avoid a global food crisis caused by Russia,” he wrote.
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators will meet in Istanbul on Wednesday with UN and Turkish diplomats to try to end the months-long blockade of Ukrainian ports.
Kremlin adviser Yury Ushakov, meanwhile, said the deadlock will occur in talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran on Tuesday.
Stick to sanctions: Borrell
Borrell urged the EU not to hesitate over sanctions against Russia, and insisted they work, days after Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said the sanctions hurt Europe more than Russia.
“It’s what we had to do and we will continue to do that,” said Borrell.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned against “withdrawing and bowing to” Putin’s demands “will not work, it never worked.”
“This is a trap,” he said.
Meanwhile, Putin promised to solve the high-tech problems caused by the sanctions.
“This is a huge challenge for our country,” he said at a rally. “We realize the enormous amount of difficulties we face, and will look for new solutions energetically and competently.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited gas-rich Azerbaijan on Monday to secure alternatives to Russian energy for Europe.
“We will double Azerbaijan’s gas supply to the EU,” she said within a few years after meeting President Ilham Aliyev, a leader routinely criticized by right-wing groups.
Russia focuses on long-range weapons
A Ukrainian counter-offensive towards the encircled Black Sea ports is gaining momentum.
With the delivery of long-range precision artillery to Ukraine by its western allies, battlefield dynamics in the south — and in the east — have shifted, Kiev and observers of the conflict say.
Those weapons are a major concern for Russia, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a recent troop inspection that Moscow’s forces should begin neutralizing systems like the US-supplied Himars.
“Shoigu ordered to prioritize the destruction – with high-precision weapons – of enemy artillery and long-range missiles,” Russia’s defense ministry said.
In a BBC television interview broadcast on Sunday, the head of the British armed forces, Admiral Tony Radakin, estimated that 50,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded in the invasion, which destroyed nearly 1,700 Russian tanks and some 4,000 armored fighting vehicles. .
But more than 20 weeks since the invasion began, Moscow said this weekend it would step up its military operations.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)