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Russia Presses Donbas Offensive        05/22 09:12

   Russia pressed its offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region Sunday as 
Poland's president traveled to Kyiv to support the country's Western 
aspirations and became the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian 
parliament since the start of the war.

   POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia pressed its offensive in Ukraine's eastern 
Donbas region Sunday as Poland's president traveled to Kyiv to support the 
country's Western aspirations and became the first foreign leader to address 
the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.

   Ukrainian lawmakers stood to applaud Polish President Andrzej Duda, who 
thanked them for the honor of speaking in a place where "the heart of a free, 
independent and democratic Ukraine beats," according to remarks carried by the 
Polish state-run news agency PAP.

   Duda's visit, his second to Ukraine's capital since April, came as Russian 
and Ukrainian forces engaged in battles along a 551-kilometer (342-mile) wedge 
of the country's eastern industrial heartland.

   After declaring its full control of a sprawling seaside steel plant that was 
the last defense holdout in the port city of Mariupol, the Russian military 
launched artillery and missile attacks in Ukraine's industrial heartland, 
seeking to expand the territory Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014.

   In a Saturday night video address to the nation, Ukrainian President 
Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the Donbas as "really hard," but 
he said his country's ability to withstand nearly three months of full-scale 
war against Russia "is good news."

   "Every day that our defenders take away from these offensive plans of 
Russia, disrupting them, is a concrete contribution to the approach of the main 
day. The desired day that we are all looking forward to and fighting for: 
Victory Day," Zelenskyy said.

   Zelenskyy stressed Saturday that the 27-member European Union should 
consider Ukraine's desire to join the bloc as soon as possible within the 
context of Russia's invasion.

   "I want to emphasize that our European integration path is not just about 
politics," Zelenskyy said. "It's about quality of life. And about the fact that 
Ukrainians perceive the values of life in the same way as the vast majority of 
Europeans."

   Poland is ramping up efforts to persuade other EU members that are more 
hesitant about accepting Ukraine as a member. The country's potential candidacy 
is set to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.

   "The free world has the face of Ukraine," Duda told the Verkhovna Rada, 
Ukraine's legislature, on Sunday.

   "Despite the great destruction, despite the terrible crimes, the great 
suffering that the Ukrainian nation experiences every day, the Russian invaders 
did not break you, they did not manage to do it and I believe deeply that they 
will never succeed," he said.

   Poland, which has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees since Russia 
invaded its neighbor, is emerging as one Ukraine's key allies. It has become a 
major gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons going into Ukraine.

   Meanwhile, it is also a transit point into Ukraine for some foreign 
fighters, including from Belarus, who have volunteered to fight against the 
Russian forces.

   Russia appeared to have made slow grinding moves forward in the Donbas in 
recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city 
under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk 
province makes up the Donbas.

   Lujansk Gov. Serhii Haidai said the only functioning hospital in the city 
has just three doctors and enough supplies for 10 days.

   On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense said Russia's only operational 
company of BMP-T Terminator tank support vehicles, which are designed to 
protect main battle tanks, "has likely been deployed to the Sievierodonetsk 
axis of the Donbas offensive."

   It said, however, with a maximum of 10 of the vehicles deployed, "they are 
unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign."

   In a general staff morning report, Russia also said that it was preparing to 
resume its offensive toward Slovyansk, a city in Donetsk province that is 
critical to Russia's objective of capturing all of eastern Ukraine and saw 
fierce fighting last month after Moscow's troops backed off from Kyiv.

   Russian shelling on Saturday killed seven civilians and injured 10 more 
elsewhere in Donetsk province, the regional governor said.

   A monastery in the village of Bohorodichne was evacuated after being hit by 
a Russian airstrike, the regional police said Saturday. About 100 monks, nuns 
and children had been seeking safe shelter in the basement of the church and no 
one was hurt, the police said in a Facebook post.

   With Russia claiming to have taken prisoner nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters 
from the besieged Mariupol steel plant, concerns grew about their fate and the 
future facing the remaining residents of the city, now in ruins with more than 
20,000 residents feared dead.

   Family members of the fighters, who came from a variety of military and law 
enforcement units, have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war 
and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 
Saturday that Ukraine "will fight for the return" of every one of them.

   The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday released video of its troops taking 
into custody Serhiy Volynskyy, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy's 36th 
Special Marine Brigade, which was one of the main forces defending the steel 
plant. The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify the date, 
location and conditions of the video.

   The Azovstal steel plant for weeks was the last defense holdout in Mariupol 
and became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity. Its seizure gave Russian President 
Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began nearly three months 
ago.

   Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's 
Republic, vowed the Ukrainian fighters from the plant would face tribunals. He 
said the fighters included some foreign nationals, though he did not provide 
details.

   The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia's claim of capturing 
Azovstal. Ukraine's military had told the fighters their mission was complete 
and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a 
mass surrender.

   Mariupol, which is part of the Donbas, was blockaded early in the war and 
became a frightening example to people elsewhere in the country of the hunger, 
terror and death they might face if the Russians surrounded their communities.

   The mayor warned Saturday that the city faced a health and sanitation 
"catastrophe" from mass burials in shallow pits across the ruined city as well 
as the breakdown of sewage systems. An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people 
who resided in Mariupol before the war remain.

   "In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the (Russian) 
occupiers and collaborators, the city is on the verge of an outbreak of 
infectious diseases," Mayor Vadim Boychenko said said on the messaging app 
Telegram.

   With Russia controlling the city, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face 
delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, 
including the bombings of a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of 
civilians had taken cover.

   Satellite images in April showed what appeared to be mass graves just 
outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of concealing the 
slaughter by burying up to 9,000 civilians.

 
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