Ukraine steps toward EU membership, Russia advances

STORY: Unfurling a 30-meter flag in front of the EU parliament, lawmakers and Ukrainians took a moment to mark Ukraine being granted candidate status for the European Union on Thursday (June 23).

It's a move that will boost the country's morale as the battle with Russian troops for two eastern cities reaches a bloody climax.

The approval of the Kyiv government's application by EU leaders in Brussels is just the start of what will be a years-long process.

But it marks a huge geopolitical shift that will anger Russia as it struggles to impose itself on its neighbor.

On Wednesday (June 22), Ukraine's President Zelenskiy said he had been in contact with multiple European leaders to shore up support.

"Since this morning I have continued the phone call marathon for the sake of a positive decision on the candidacy for Ukraine. Today - 11 leaders. Tomorrow I will continue similar marathon - we must ensure maximum support to our state."

Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a "special military operation".

Russia has partially justified the action by pointing to Western encroachment into what Russia considers its sphere of influence.

The West sees it as an unjustified war of aggression by Russia.

The war of attrition in the Donbas in the east of Ukraine is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, on opposite sides of the Siverskyi Donets River in Luhansk province.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti released this footage late on Wednesday, said to be of fighting in the Lysychansk area.

An adviser to Zelenskiy said the battle there is "entering a sort of fearsome climax".

Russian forces were trying to encircle Ukrainian troops defending Lysychansk, a Ukrainian defense official said on Thursday.

The Governor of Luhansk said separately that all Lysychansk was within reach of Russian fire and the Ukrainian troops there might retreat to new positions to avoid being trapped.

Zelenskiy is due to speak at next week's NATO summit.

On Thursday, the organization's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pledged further aid.

"We will take further decisions to support Ukraine and other partners at risk, including with a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine. I welcome that President Zelenskiy will address leaders at our summit. We will improve burden-sharing with more defence investment to do more together."

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