Damaged buildings and tanks on the road in Lyman, which Russian forces have captured most of
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Russia has lost 30,000 troops in Vladimir Putin’s war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has claimed.

The West is also working to break the Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports in order to stop a global food crisis by releasing millions of tons of grain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on Saturday morning with President Volodymyr Zelensky about international efforts to put a stop to the ‘despicable blockade’ of Odesa, Ukraine’s major southern port on the Black Sea.

Zelensky said they spoke on the phone about ‘strengthening defence support for Ukraine, intensifying work on security guarantees and supplying fuel’.

He added: ‘We must work together to prevent a food crisis and unblock Ukrainian ports.’ 

The conversation between the leaders comes after Mr Johnson revealed this week that the West was supporting the Ukrainians to demine the Black Sea and reopen international shipping lanes.

Ukraine was known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ and was one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.

But the Russian invasion and Moscow’s mining of the access to the southern ports has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies.

It came as Ukraine has admitted it may have to retreat from its last post in the Luhansk region as Russian forces continue their relentless march.

Putin’s forces – now into their fourth month of the invasion – have concentrated on the east of the country in recent weeks.

Ukrainian soldiers leaving Luhansk will be a blow to the country, due to its symbolic significance in the war.

Putin wants both Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full and their capture was one of his earliest objectives in the deranged despot’s so-called ‘special military operation’. 

Damaged buildings and tanks on the road in Lyman, which Russian forces have captured most of

Damaged buildings and tanks on the road in Lyman, which Russian forces have captured most of

Towed Russian artillery and self-propelled artillery batteries deployed along tree lines north of Lyman

Towed Russian artillery and self-propelled artillery batteries deployed along tree lines north of Lyman

Russian howitzers in firing positions north of Lyman on Friday. Lyman is a railway hub west of Severodonetsk

Russian howitzers in firing positions north of Lyman on Friday. Lyman is a railway hub west of Severodonetsk

Ukraine has admitted it may have to retreat from its last post in the Luhansk region as Russian forces continue their relentless attacks in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Russian troops have entered Severodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days

Ukraine has admitted it may have to retreat from its last post in the Luhansk region as Russian forces continue their relentless attacks in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Russian troops have entered Severodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days

This morning Boris Johnson offered fresh support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

This morning Boris Johnson offered fresh support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelensky (pictured via video link at the World Economic Forum on May 23) said he spoke on the phone with the PM about 'strengthening defence support for Ukraine, intensifying work on security guarantees and supplying fuel'

Zelensky (pictured via video link at the World Economic Forum on May 23) said he spoke on the phone with the PM about ‘strengthening defence support for Ukraine, intensifying work on security guarantees and supplying fuel’

Giving details of the phone call between Johnson and Zelensky, a No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘The leaders spoke about Putin’s despicable blockade of Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest shipping port.

‘The Prime Minister outlined to President Zelensky the intensive work taking place with international partners to find ways to resume the export of grain from Ukraine to avert a global food crisis.

‘He said that the UK would work with G7 partners to push for urgent progress.

‘The leaders agreed next steps and the imperative for Russia to relax its blockade and allow safe shipping lanes.’

In an interview with Bloomberg on Friday, the Prime Minister said the Royal Navy would not be able to play any part in minesweeping the Black Sea, as the Montreux Convention restricts the movement of warships through the Turkish Straits.

But he said efforts were being made to aid Kyiv in finding solutions to the problem.

He said: ‘I think there is an absolutely appalling situation, which is when so much of the world is facing food price inflation, if not actual shortages of food, caused by what’s going on in Ukraine, caused by Putin’s war of choice.

‘He decided to invade Ukraine, he had no reason to do it and it is he who is making it difficult to get 25 million tons of grain from those Black Sea ports, particularly from Odesa.

‘Twenty-five million tons is equivalent to the entire grain consumption of the poorest countries in the world, and we’ve got to get it out.’

Relatives, friends and comrades attend a funeral ceremony for Ukrainian serviceman Svyatoslav Khomenko in Kyiv, May 28

Relatives, friends and comrades attend a funeral ceremony for Ukrainian serviceman Svyatoslav Khomenko in Kyiv, May 28

Ilona attends the funeral of her husband, Ukrainian serviceman Svyatoslav Khomenko, in Kyiv, May 28

Ilona attends the funeral of her husband, Ukrainian serviceman Svyatoslav Khomenko, in Kyiv, May 28

Russia has suggested the blockade could be relaxed in return for international sanctions being eased but Mr Johnson said president Vladimir Putin was ‘completely not to be trusted’.

The Prime Minister said the UK was looking to work with international partners to ‘help the Ukrainians to demine the approaches to the harbour’ in Odesa.

But he added: ‘That will be something they have to do themselves.’

Downing Street confirmed that Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky also spoke about the ‘equipment’ Kyiv’s defenders need to battle against the ‘barbaric’ Russian onslaught in the Donbas.

In a tweet, Mr Zelensky confirmed they discussed ‘strengthening defence support’.

The Kremlin’s forces are making slow but steady gains in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartlands amid fears Russia will subject the same devastation to towns and cities in the region as was delivered on the battered southern port of Mariupol.

The fighting in Donbas is focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk.

Ukrainian people inspecting and taking photos of destroyed tanks at the area between the villages of Dmitrivka, Zabuchia, which is 27 kilometers from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 27

Ukrainian people inspecting and taking photos of destroyed tanks at the area between the villages of Dmitrivka, Zabuchia, which is 27 kilometers from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 27

A building torn apart after heavy Russian shelling in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine, on May 27

A building torn apart after heavy Russian shelling in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine, on May 27

Heavy machines work by a destroyed building in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

Heavy machines work by a destroyed building in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

Burnt-out cars and truck littered the ground around buildings destroyed by Russian shells

Burnt-out cars and truck littered the ground around buildings destroyed by Russian shells

They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas and where Russia-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years.

The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, has warned that Ukrainian soldiers may have to retreat from Severodonetsk to avoid being surrounded.

Kyiv has warned the West that unless its troops are supplied with more advanced weapons, it will not be able to halt the Russian advance.

A Downing Street spokesman, detailing the rest of the conversation, said: ‘The Prime Minister spoke about the importance of the international community continuing to work and act together, so that Ukraine succeeds and Putin fails.

‘He also emphasised that countries have a duty to support Ukraine, both now and in the long-term, so that it is never in the position to be attacked again.’

Mariupol has seen some of the heaviest and most intense fighting in Putin's war in Ukraine

Mariupol has seen some of the heaviest and most intense fighting in Putin’s war in Ukraine

Alleged war criminal Vladimir Putin has besieged Mariupol since the start of the war on February 24

Alleged war criminal Vladimir Putin has besieged Mariupol since the start of the war on February 24

Russia has stepped up its attacks in the Donbas region in the east of of Ukraine, an area that is more pro-separatist than the rest of the country

Russia has stepped up its attacks in the Donbas region in the east of of Ukraine, an area that is more pro-separatist than the rest of the country

Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Severodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days, though adding that Russian forces would not be able to capture the Luhansk region ‘as analysts have predicted’.

‘We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat,’ Gaidai said on Telegram.

Gaidai said 90 per cent of buildings in Severodonetsk were damaged with 14 high-rises destroyed in the latest shelling.

Russia’s separatist proxies said they controlled Lyman, a railway hub west of Severodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, to the southwest.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles. 

President Zelensky said Ukraine was doing ‘everything’ to defend Donbas and protecting the country ‘as much as our current defence resources allow’. 

A view from damaged sites amid Russian attacks in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

A view from damaged sites amid Russian attacks in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

Mangled machinery beside a wrecked building damaged in heavy fire from Russian artillery

Mangled machinery beside a wrecked building damaged in heavy fire from Russian artillery

A destroyed tank in Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule

A destroyed tank in Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule

Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the February 24 invasion

Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the February 24 invasion

‘If the occupiers think that Lyman and Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,’ Zelensky said in his daily address.

He said Russia had ‘concentrated maximum artillery, maximum reserves in Donbas’.

He told Dutch paper Nieuwsuur that Ukraine’s military had been preparing a year in advance for the invasion.

He said: ‘The army was ready. It showed.’ 

Although he could have evacuated the country a year ago, he said this would have decimated the economy and would have been the ‘wrong’ decision.

He said:  ‘Our country was preparing. To dig trenches, take people out of the country — it had to be done a year before the invasion. 

‘I think [would be] wrong because sowing panic in our society is not necessary, because it will hit on the financial situation, on the budget and the economy.’

The damaged Azovstal plant is seen in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

The damaged Azovstal plant is seen in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 27

Civilians gather to receive pure water distributed by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, May 27

Civilians gather to receive pure water distributed by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, May 27

A local resident Nikolai Kononenko, 67, opens the door of a bomb shelter in the village of Mayaky, Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 27

A local resident Nikolai Kononenko, 67, opens the door of a bomb shelter in the village of Mayaky, Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 27

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Saturday Ukrainian forces had repelled eight assaults in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the previous 24 hours. 

Russia’s attacks included artillery assaults in the Severodonetsk area ‘with no success’, it said.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct assaults on built-up areas of Severodonetsk, they would likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.

Russian military vehicles destroyed on a road near the village of Kutuzivka, Kharkiv, on May 27

Russian military vehicles destroyed on a road near the village of Kutuzivka, Kharkiv, on May 27

Damage and debris in the classroom of a school in the village of Kutuzivka, Kharkiv, on May 27

Damage and debris in the classroom of a school in the village of Kutuzivka, Kharkiv, on May 27

A man walks outside a Gypsum Manufactory plant after shelling in the city of Bakhmut at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Friday

A man walks outside a Gypsum Manufactory plant after shelling in the city of Bakhmut at the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Friday

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, during shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Thursday

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, during shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Thursday

A building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region yesterday

A building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region yesterday

‘Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,’ they said.

Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Severodonetsk. Russian ground forces have captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s defence ministry said.  

Natalia Kovalenko, 52, who lives in Popasna, had left the cellar where she was sheltering in the wreckage of her flat when a shell hit the courtyard, killing two people and wounding eight.

She said: ‘We are tired of being so scared.’ 

Britain’s defence ministry said Lyman, which has been mostly captured by Russia, was likely seen as a ‘preliminary operation for the next stage of Russia’s Donbas offensive’.

The defence ministry added: ‘Lyman is strategically important because it is the site of a major railway junction, and also gives access to important rail and road bridges over the Siverskyy Donets River.

‘In the coming days, Russian units in the area are likely to prioritise forcing a crossing of the river.  

Natalia Kovalenko, 52, who lives in Popasna, had left the cellar where she was sheltering in the wreckage of her flat when a shell hit the courtyard, killing two people and wounding eight

Natalia Kovalenko, 52, who lives in Popasna, had left the cellar where she was sheltering in the wreckage of her flat when a shell hit the courtyard, killing two people and wounding eight

She said: 'We are tired of being so scared.' Pictured: Natalia stands inside her apartment damaged in Popasna, Luhansk, on May 26

She said: ‘We are tired of being so scared.’ Pictured: Natalia stands inside her apartment damaged in Popasna, Luhansk, on May 26

‘For now, Russia’s main effort likely remains 40km to the east, around the Severodonetsk pocket but a bridgehead near Lyman would give Russia an advantage in the potential next phase of the Donbas offensive, when it will likely seek to advance on key Ukrainian-held cities deeper in Donetsk Oblast, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

‘On May 26, head of the self-declared, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russian state-controlled media that a referendum would be held if Russia captured the entirety of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. 

‘If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion.

‘However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to conduct a well-organised defence of the sector, and continue to impose a high level of casualties on Russia.’ 

A video showed Russia today testing its new hypersonic Zircon – or Tsirkon – missile ahead of its imminent deployment.

The 6,670mph was fired from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate in the Barents Sea, and hit a target at a range of 625miles in the White Sea.

A statement from the Russian defence ministry said: ‘According to objective control data, the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile successfully hit a sea target located at a distance of about 1,000km.

‘The flight of the hypersonic missile corresponded to the specified parameters.’

Vladimir Putin has poured money into developing new nuclear-capable missiles which – he claims – are ‘unstoppable’ by Western air defences.

Deliveries of the Zircon are due within months and possibly weeks.

A still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military, which according to them shows Russian army position set up near private house being attacked, shows an explosion of a building, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Vojevodivka, Luhansk region.

A still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military, which according to them shows Russian army position set up near private house being attacked, shows an explosion of a building, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Vojevodivka, Luhansk region.

Smoke rises after an explosion of a Vojevodivka building in this still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military on Thursday

Smoke rises after an explosion of a Vojevodivka building in this still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military on Thursday

Apartment buildings damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region

Apartment buildings damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk region

Russia’s eastern gains follow the withdrawal of its forces from approaches to the capital, Kyiv, and a Ukrainian counter-offensive that pushed its forces back from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.

Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days killing nine people, authorities said. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls its ‘special military operation’.

Ukraine’s General Staff said on Saturday while there was no new attack on the city, there were multiple Russian strikes on nearby communities and infrastructure.

In the south, where Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the February 24 invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule.

In the Kherson region in the south, Russian forces were fortifying defences and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor, Hennadiy Laguta, told media.

He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it very difficult to leave.

Police said 31 people had been evacuated on Friday from the Luhansk region, including 13 children.

On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal might be reached by Sunday to ban deliveries of Russian oil by sea, accounting for about 75 per cent of the bloc’s supply, but not by pipeline, a compromise to win over Hungary and clear the way for new sanctions.

However, Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov said he hopes to make one trillion rubles (£12billion) from oil and gas in 2022. Moscow is likely to profit from high oil prices in part caused by its invasion of Ukraine. 

The Russian advance in the east has been backed by massive artillery bombardment across as many as 50 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk to force Ukrainian troops to retreat (destroyed residential building in Popasna, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 26)

The Russian advance in the east has been backed by massive artillery bombardment across as many as 50 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk to force Ukrainian troops to retreat (destroyed residential building in Popasna, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 26)

Having lost thousands of troops in scattered fighting along the eastern front in recent weeks, Russian forces yesterday launched a targeted assault from three sides to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (Russian troops pictured May 26 in Luhansk)

Having lost thousands of troops in scattered fighting along the eastern front in recent weeks, Russian forces yesterday launched a targeted assault from three sides to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (Russian troops pictured May 26 in Luhansk)

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive a tank along a street past a destroyed residential building during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine May 26

Service members of pro-Russian troops drive a tank along a street past a destroyed residential building during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine May 26

Zelensky has accused the EU of dithering over a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc was funding Russia’s war and delay ‘merely means more Ukrainians being killed’.

In a telephone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict can be resolved only if the West lifts sanctions.

Nehammer said Putin expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but added: ‘If he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question.’

Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters, and Russia’s blockade of ports has halted shipments, driving up global prices. Russia accuses Ukraine of mining the ports.

Russia justified its assault in part on ensuring Ukraine does not join the US-led NATO military alliance. 

The war in Ukraine has pushed Sweden and Finland, both neutral throughout the Cold War, to apply to join NATO in one of the most significant changes in European security in decades.

Meanwhile, a branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church that had remained loyal to Moscow said it will break with the Russian church over the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine was given permission by the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide to form a church independent of Moscow in 2019, largely ending centuries of religious ties between the two countries.

Members of a branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church attend a council meeting at St Panteleimon Monastery, Kyiv, on May 27, as the branch decided to break its ties with the Russian church over Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Members of a branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church attend a council meeting at St Panteleimon Monastery, Kyiv, on May 27, as the branch decided to break its ties with the Russian church over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Following a meeting of its leadership the church announced it would declare its ‘full independence’ from Russia. It condemned Russia’s invasion and how Russian Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Kirill has supported Putin’s war

A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre found that 34 per cent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 per cent were members of Ukraine's Moscow Patriarchate Church. Pictured: A woman lights a candle at Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 28

A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre found that 34 per cent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 per cent were members of Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate Church. Pictured: A woman lights a candle at Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 28

However many parishes, especially in Ukraine’s east, elected to remain loyal under the umbrella of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.

Following a meeting of its leadership the church announced it would declare its ‘full independence’ from Russia.

It condemned Russia’s invasion and how Russian Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Kirill has supported Putin’s war.

A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre found that 34 per cent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 per cent were members of Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate Church.

More than 400 parishes had already left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate ahead of Friday’s decision because of the invasion. 

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