Ukraine’s bloody struggle to defeat the Russian invasion will be difficult to win through diplomacy, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview marking the third anniversary of his inauguration.
“We didn’t start this war. But we have to end it,” he said in the hour-long broadcast, which was taped Friday and released Saturday.
“Victory will be bloody in battle. But the end will be in diplomacy. We want everything back. Russia doesn’t want to give anything away.”
An end to the bitter war can only be reached “at the negotiating table,” he added.
Zelensky also used his appearance on national television to applaud his country’s armed forces for breaking the “backbone” of Vladimir Putin’s military, which he described as “one of the strongest armies in the world.”
“We’ve already done that. Psychologically too,” he continued, adding, “They’re not going to bounce back for the next few years. But let’s not forget that all our soldiers also want to live.”
An interview with the President’s wife, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska, was included in the historic wartime broadcast, in which she proclaimed that the brutal invasion had not changed her husband.
She said: “I can’t say he’s changed. As he was a dependable husband and man, so is he.”
“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is now torn apart. We haven’t seen each other for two and a half months, we just talked on the phone. Thank you for this opportunity because we are now spending time together — dating on TV,” Zelenska added.
The interview aired after reports from local officials that Russia had launched a full-scale attack to capture the last remaining Ukrainian territory in Luhansk.
Along with Donetsk, Luhansk in south-eastern Ukraine is one of two provinces that Moscow has declared independent entities.
Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Lugansk region, said in a social media post earlier today that Russia is trying to destroy the city of Severodonetsk and that there has been fighting on the city’s outskirts.
“The shelling continues from morning to evening and also throughout the night,” he said in a video post on the Telegram messaging app.
He added: “The enemy is planning to encircle the region or set it on fire like they did in Popasna. That is the difficult fate of the Lugansk region – to prevent the Russians from advancing further.”
The capture of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces would allow Moscow to claim victory after announcing last month that had been its goal. Russia changed its plan after failing to take Kyiv.
“These will be the critical next few weeks of the conflict,” said Mathieu Boulegue, an expert at London think tank Chatham House. “And it depends on how effective they are in capturing Severodonetsk and the surrounding lands.”
As Ukraine’s eastern regions feel the full brunt of Russia’s brutal offensive, relatives of Ukrainian militants defending the Azovstal Steel Plant have expressed concern at the fate of their family members after they were ordered to resign.
Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Natalia Zarytska, wife of one of the Mariupol militants who surrendered, said she had had no contact with her husband except for a 10-minute telegram exchange two days ago.
“So my husband sent me a message two days ago and the situation is really hard and terrible and my husband is on his way from one hell to another hell, from Azovstal steel mill to prison and captivity,” she said .
Zarytska also said she believes her husband is still alive and that one day he will return home.
The group, made up of three wives and a mother of Azovstal fighters, were in Turkey this week to ask the country to help ensure the safety of fighters at the steel mill.
Elsewhere, Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom confirmed on Saturday that it had halted gas exports to neighboring Finland after trying to join the NATO military alliance.
The Finnish grid operator Gasgrid Finland had previously said: “Gas imports via the Imatra entry point have been stopped.”
It comes after Gazprom Export demanded that European countries pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles because of sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – which Finland has refused.
Although Finland mainly uses gas from Russian sources, it accounts for only a small percentage of its total energy consumption.
Gasum has already indicated that it will meet demand via Finland’s Balticconnector pipeline with Estonia.
In response to Russia’s move, Mika Wiljanen, the company’s CEO, said: “It is very unfortunate that natural gas supplies under our supply agreement are now being suspended.
“However, we have carefully prepared for this situation and, provided there are no disruptions in the gas transport network, we will be able to supply all of our customers with gas in the coming months.”
It comes after US President Joe Biden signed legislation today to provide nearly $40 billion (£32 billion) in aid to Ukraine as part of efforts to step up military support to the Russian invasion, said the White House.
The new legislation will provide $20 billion in military aid and ensure a steady flow of advanced weaponry used to thwart Russia’s advance.
There is also $8 billion in general economic assistance, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukraine’s agriculture and more than $1 billion to help refugees.
But reports of the staggering US support package were somewhat deadened by an announcement from Russia saying it was barring 963 Americans from entering the country, including President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA chief William Burns.