Pummelled by Russian offensive in the east, Ukraine rules out ceasefire

KYIV: Ukraine ruled out a ceasefire or concessions to Moscow while Russia intensified an offensive in the eastern Donbas region and stopped sending gas to Finland in its latest salvo in response to Western sanctions and its deepening international isolation.

Polish President Andrzej Duda told Ukraine’s parliament that ceding even “one inch” of the country’s territory would be a blow to the whole West and reassured Kyiv of Warsaw’s strong backing for its European Union membership bid.

“Worrying voices have appeared, saying that Ukraine should give in to (President Vladimir) Putin’s demands,” Duda said, the first foreign leader to address Ukrainian lawmakers in person since Russia’s Feb 24 invasion.

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future.”

After ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol, Russia is waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of Luhansk and the neighbouring Donetsk provinces before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, but Moscow wants to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the region.

On the Donetsk frontline, Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defences to reach the administrative borders of the Luhansk region, while further north they continued heavy shelling of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, Ukraine’s general staff said in its daily update on Sunday.

Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.

The British Defence Ministry said on Sunday that Russia was deploying its BMP-T “Terminator” tank-support vehicles in that offensive. With only 10 available for a unit that already suffered heavy losses in the failed attempt on Kyiv, however, the ministry said they were “unlikely to have a significant impact”.

Ukraine’s lead negotiator, speaking to Reuters on Saturday, ruled out a ceasefire or any deal with Moscow that involved ceding territory. Making concessions would backfire because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting, Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

“The war will not stop. It will just be put on pause for some time,” Podolyak said in an interview in the heavily guarded presidential office. “They’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large-scale.”

Recent calls for an immediate ceasefire have come from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured, gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.

The last Ukrainian forces holed up Mariupol’s vast Azovstal steelworks have surrendered, the Russian defence ministry said on Friday.

Full control of Mariupol gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.