NATO chief warns war in Ukraine could drag on for years and world must not drop support

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The war in Ukraine could drag on for years, the NATO chief said, calling for unwavering support from Ukraine’s allies as Russian forces battle for territory in the east of the country.

General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said supplying advanced weapons to Ukrainian troops would increase the chances of freeing his eastern Donbass region from Russian control, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported.

After failing to take the capital Kyiv at the start of the war, Russian forces focused their efforts on trying to take full control of Donbass, parts of which were already held by Russian-backed separatists before the 24 february.

“We have to be prepared for the fact that it could take years. We must not relax our support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

“Although the costs are high, not just for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who flew to Kyiv on Friday with an offer to train Ukrainian forces, also said on Saturday it was important Britain provided long-term support, warning against a risk of “Ukrainian fatigue” as the war drags on.

Boris Johnson has warned of the risk of “Ukraine fatigue”.(AP: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

In an op-ed in The Sunday Times of London, Mr Johnson said that meant ensuring ‘Ukraine gets arms, equipment, ammunition and training faster than the invader’.

It comes as Britain’s new army chief told troops the UK must be ‘ready to fight’ wars in Europe.

General Sir Patrick Sanders told British troops on Sunday, according to the i newspaper: ‘I am the first Chief of the General Staff since 1941 to take command of the army in the shadow of a ground war in Europe involving a continental power.”

The industrial city of Sievierodonetsk is one of the main targets of Moscow’s offensive aimed at taking full control of the Lugansk region, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbass.

Russia said on Sunday that its offensive in the city was proceeding successfully.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television that the fighting made evacuations from the city impossible, but that “all Russian claims that they control the city are a lie. They control the main part of the city , but not the whole city”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had taken control of Metyolkine, just southeast of Sievierodonetsk, with Russian news agency TASS reporting that many Ukrainian fighters had traveled there.

The Ukrainian military said Russia had “partial success” in the region.

Russia strikes Kharkiv

Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a note that “Russian forces will likely be able to capture Sievierodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrate most of their available forces in this small area”.

In Sievierodonetsk’s twin city, Lysychansk, residential buildings and private homes were destroyed, Haidai said.

Satellite image of destroyed buildings in a city.
Local officials in Lysychansk say people are dying on the streets.(Maxar Technologies via AP)

“People are dying on the streets and in bomb shelters,” he added. He said later that 19 people had been evacuated on Sunday.

In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, northwest of Luhansk, the Russian Defense Ministry said its Iskander missiles had destroyed weapons recently supplied by Western countries.

Russian forces were trying to approach Kharkiv, which had been heavily shelled early in the war, and turn it into a “frontline city”, an official with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said he would cancel a planned trip to Madrid to discuss the city’s reconstruction with Norman Foster and other architects due to uncertainty caused by increased bombardment.

In southern Ukraine, Western weapons helped Ukrainian forces advance 10 km towards Russian-occupied Melitopol, its mayor said in a video posted on Telegram from outside the city.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

“We will not give the south to anyone”

Russia says it has launched what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and protect Russian speakers there from dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and its allies dismissed this as a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who rallied citizens with daily filmed messages, said he visited forces in the southern Mykolaiv region, about 550 km south of Kyiv.

“Their mood is assured: they don’t all doubt our victory,” he said on Sunday in a video that appears to have been recorded on a moving train.

“We will not give the south to anyone, and everything that is ours we will take back.”

In the Mykolaiv and Odessa regions, Zelenskyy said he heard reports of destruction in Russian strikes.

“The losses are significant. Many houses have been destroyed, civilian logistics have been disrupted,” he said.

Ukraine received a significant boost on Friday when the European Commission recommended it for candidate status, a move EU countries are expected to endorse at a summit this week.

Although actual membership could take years, Ukrainian parliament speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk said the move puts a common Ukrainian dream within reach.

“Entire generations have fought for a chance to escape from the prison of the Soviet Union and, like a free bird, to fly to European civilization,” he said in a statement.

Such sentiments run counter to one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine: to keep Moscow’s southern neighbor outside the sphere of influence of the West.

Zelenskyy shares touching Father’s Day tribute

In an uplifting Father’s Day message on Sunday, Mr Zelenskyy posted 10 photos of parents and children against the grim backdrop of war, praising fathers who “protect and defend the most precious”.

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There are scenes of childbirth, as a man and woman gaze up at a swaddled baby in what appears to be a hospital room where the speckled walls show battle scars.

In another, a man lifts a child over a fence to a woman with outstretched arms on a train platform.

“Being a father is a great responsibility and a great happiness,” wrote Mr. Zelenskyy in an English text that followed the Ukrainian on Instagram.

“It’s the strength, the wisdom, the motivation to push forward and not give up.”

He urged his country’s fighters to endure for “the future of your family, of your children, and therefore of all of Ukraine”.

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Parts of eastern Ukraine pulverized by Russian bombardment.

Reuters

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