KYIV, Ukraine — After his country won Eurovision, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was defiant and promised early today that the song contest would one day be held in the besieged city of Mariupol, totally controlled by Russia except for a steel plant where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters resist.
The Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra won the popular competition with their song “Stefania”, which has become an anthem among Ukrainians during the war, and their victory was a morale booster.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Zelensky said on Facebook. “Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision!”
During the contest, the band made an impassioned call for aid to be sent to the fighters still at the Azovstal steelworks in the port city. Zelensky said that “one day” the contest would be held “in a Ukrainian Mariupol.”
The President’s upbeat words followed the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, after weeks of bombing. Moscow’s forces remained locked in a bitter battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas.
Russia has probably already lost a third of the combat ground forces it dedicated to the campaign in February and continues to suffer “a high level of attrition” without making significant gains in territory in the last month, the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today. Defense in your daily intelligence report.
“The Russian offensive in Donbas has lost momentum and has been significantly delayed,” the ministry said on Twitter. Forces suffer from “continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to drastically accelerate its rate of advance in the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
In the western city of Lviv, a Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” early today, but there was no immediate information on deaths or injuries, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has attacked rail facilities and other critical infrastructure in and around Lviv. The city is close to the Polish border and has been a major entry point for NATO-supplied weapons.
The attacks in the area have had no appreciable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its troops, according to Western officials.
As Russian forces withdraw from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military says Moscow is focused on policing its supply routes, while employing mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk region in an attempt to “ weaken Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine “enters a new – long-term – phase of the war.”
Russian forces now control an arc of territory in the Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, which form the eastern Donbas region, along the border of the industrial region where Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
In southern Donbas, the port of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, is mostly under Russian control, except for the steel mill where a few hundred troops are resisting.
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars with civilians was able to leave the city and arrive in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhia on Saturday, according to reports. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded fighters from the steel plant.
After a failed attempt to take kyiv in the invasion that began on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused on Donbas, trying to surround the better-equipped and more experienced Ukrainian troops, as well as seize areas that remain under Ukrainian control.