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Russia pressed its offensive in eastern Ukraine as Poland’s president travelled to Kyiv to support the country’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.
Legislators gave a standing ovation to President Andrzej Duda on Sunday, who thanked them for the honour of speaking where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats.” Duda said that to end the conflict, Ukraine did not need to submit to conditions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Unfortunately, in Europe there have also been disturbing voices in recent times demanding that Ukraine yield to Putin’s demands,” he said. “I want to say clearly: Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and Polish President Andrzej Duda shake hands during a news conference after their meeting in Kyiv. (AP)

Duda’s visit, his second to Kyiv since April, came as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-km wedge of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

After declaring full control of a sprawling seaside steel plant that was the last defensive holdout in the port city of Mariupol, Russia launched artillery and missile attacks to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the region known as the Donbas.

To bolster its defences, Ukraine’s parliament voted on Sunday to extend martial law and the mobilisation of armed forces for a third time, until August 23.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stressed that the 27-member EU should expedite his country’s request to join the bloc. Ukraine’s potential candidacy is set to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.

France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune on Sunday told Radio J it would be a “long time” before Ukraine gains EU membership, perhaps up to two decades.

Ukrainian reservists patrol on the outskirts of Kharkiv. The Ukraine government has revealed its defence forces are losing 50 to 100 personnel every daily in the east of the country. (Getty)

“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying.”

But Poland is ramping up efforts to win over EU members who are more hesitant about accepting Ukraine into the bloc. Zelenskyy said Duda’s visit represented a “historic union” between Ukraine, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Poland, which ended communist rule two years earlier.

“This is really a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built through blood, through Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said. “All this not to lose our state, not to lose our people.”

Poland has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees and become a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons into Ukraine. It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight the Russian forces.

Two Ukrainian National Guard soldiers drink a toast to their comrades who died in the war after they were buried at the Kharkiv cemetery. (AP)

On the battlefield, Russia appeared to have made slow, grinding moves forward in the Donbas in recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province makes up the Donbas. The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that Russian forces had mounted an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of Sievierodonetsk.

Foreign fighters flock to help Ukraine army

Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelenskyy said that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.

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