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Alamy Stock Photo People walk past a destroyed residential area that was damaged as a result of the shelling of the Russian army in the city of Irpin, near of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

EU's Charles Michel forced to take cover during strike in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that his country would not allow Russia to appropriate victory in World War II.

LAST UPDATE | May 9th 2022, 3:45 PM

EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT Charles Michel, who made a surprise visit to Odessa today, was forced to break off a meeting and take cover when missiles again struck the southern Ukrainian city, an EU official said.

The strike took place as Michel held talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal.

“During the meeting with the PM, the participants needed to interrupt the meeting to take shelter as missiles struck again the region of Odessa,” the official said.

In a video posted later, Michel said that Russia would fail to “execute” Ukraine’s “freedom” and that people in the country had been “tortured, raped and executed in cold blood”, but that its citizens were  “resisting with courage”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who joined their talks by video conference, thanked Michel for visiting Ukraine on Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Ukraine said both sides discussed taking “immediate measures to unblock Ukraine’s ports for grain exports”.

Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has forced its grain exporters to look for alternatives to move their precious cargo.

The cargo is loaded onto trains, lorries or barges and taken to Romania, now a vital maritime export hub for Ukraine’s crops.

“In the port of Odessa, I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” Michel said.

“This badly-needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black sea ports causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. We need a global response,” he added.

In recent weeks, Russian forces have pushed forward in their assault on Ukraine, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol ahead of Victory Day.

Determined to show a success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian troops have targeted a sprawling seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were making what appeared to be their last stand to save Mariupol from falling.

The mill is the only part of the city not overtaken by the invaders, and its defeat would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Zelenskyy previously warned that worsening attacks could be linked to Victory Day.

In a speech today to mark the annual commemoration of the former Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, Russian president Vladimir Putin described Moscow’s military action in Ukraine as a forced response to Western policies.

Russia had no choice, Putin said, but to undertake a pre-emptive response to aggression, calling it “the only right decision” for a “sovereign, strong and independent country”.

He also hailed the Soviet Union’s “triumph” over Nazi Germany and said that everything must be done to ensure the “horror of a global war will never be repeated”.

Putin held a minute’s silence for fallen soldiers and ended his speech with: “Glory to our glorious armed forces. For Russia, for victory.”

russia-victory-day-parade Alexander Zemlianichenko Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu salutes to his soldiers as he is driven along Red Square. Alexander Zemlianichenko

‘We will win’

Ahead of Putin’s speech, Zelenskyy said that his country would not allow the victory against Nazi Germany in World War II to be appropriated by Moscow. 

“Today we celebrate Victory Day over Nazism. We are our proud of our ancestors who together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition defeated Nazism. And we will not allow anyone to annex this victory. We will not allow it to be appropriated,” he said.

Zelenskyy listed several Ukrainian towns and cities currently under control of invading Russian forces, saying that Ukrainians during World War II had ousted Nazi Germany’s forces from these regions.

“The names of these cities inspire us today. They give us faith that we will drive the occupiers from our land,” Zelenskyy said in the video address, listing Mariupol, Kherson, and the Crimean peninsula by name.

“We won then. We will win now,” the Ukrainian president added.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced she would meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban today to discuss plans for an embargo on Russian oil.

Landlocked Hungary relies on Russian oil from a single pipeline and Orban has warned he cannot approve the European Commission’s proposed sixth package of EU sanctions against Moscow.

“They will discuss issues related to European security of energy supply,” von der Leyen’s spokesman Eric Mamer said.

School bombed

Elsewhere in Ukraine, more than 60 people were feared dead after a Russian bomb flattened a school being used as a shelter in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.

Authorities said about 90 people were sheltering in the school’s basement when it was attacked on Saturday. Emergency crews found two bodies and rescued 30 people, but “most likely all 60 people who remain under the rubble are now dead”, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Russian shelling also killed two boys, aged 11 and 14, in the nearby town of Pryvillia, Haidai said. Luhansk is part of the Donbas, the industrial heartland in the east that Russia’s forces are working to capture.

On Ukraine’s coast, explosions echoed again across the major Black Sea port of Odessa. The Ukrainian military said Moscow was focusing its main efforts on destroying airfield infrastructure in eastern and southern Ukraine.

In a sign of the dogged resistance that has sustained the fighting into its 11th week, Ukraine’s military struck Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the war’s first days. A satellite image by Planet Labs showed smoke rising from two sites on the island.

russia-victory-day AP / PA Images A Russian soldier wipes his T-72 tank from dust on the eve of the Victory Day military parade which will take place at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square. AP / PA Images / PA Images

But Moscow’s forces showed no sign of backing down in the south. Satellite photos show Russia has put armoured vehicles and missile systems at a small base in the Crimean Peninsula.

The most intense combat in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeast near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, is making “significant progress”, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from the embattled eastern city of Popasna, regional authorities said.

With reporting from Jane Moore and © AFP 2022

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