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Russia intensifies push to seize Luhansk

Deafening explosions echoed across Severodonetsk on June 20, following weeks of Russian and Ukrainian forces fighting for control of the city. (Video: Reuters)

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The fate of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region is on the line as Russian forces continue to advance. Ukraine says the village of Toshkivka, south of Lysychansk, fell to Russia this week and is being used as a base to bombard the city, where Ukrainian forces are digging in. “Hellish battles” are ongoing in Severodonetsk, the regional governor said Wednesday, while Lysychansk is “constantly suffering from enemy fire.”

Elsewhere in Europe, Russia’s stranglehold on gas could force the hand of governments intent on reducing carbon emissions back toward coal power.

Ahead of a European Council summit Thursday and Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is conducting a marathon session of calls with leaders across the continent to maximize his country’s chances of being granted candidate status for membership in the European Union. “The lives of thousands of people depend directly on the speed of our partners — on the speed of implementation of their decisions to help Ukraine,” he said in a speech Tuesday night.

E.U. poised to back Ukraine’s candidate status. Here’s what it means.

Here’s what else to know

  • Amid the invasion of Ukraine, the international view of Russia has taken a hit; the images of the United States and NATO have not, according to polling by Pew.
  • Washington “continues to systematically destroy bilateral relations, which are already in a deplorable state,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. She was responding to the U.S. decision not to allow Russian aircraft to convey Russian diplomats from the United States.
  • The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Russian forces “executed” a Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier who accompanied him in a forest near Kyiv in March.
7:03 p.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
On the eve of this week’s European Council summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky projected confidence that the 27 E.U. member states will award his country candidate status, the first step down a long road to joining the bloc. The move will not automatically grant Ukraine membership, but it will signal broad European support and likely boost the country’s morale during a brutal war.Zelensky has advertised this decision as “truly historic” for Ukraine, and he has spent the days leading up to the summit lobbying leaders at a furious pace. On Wednesday, he spoke with at least 10 E.U. premiers. Zelensky said he expects a decision on Thursday evening. A top Ukrainian official told the Associated Press that she is “100 percent” confident that Ukraine will become an E.U. candidate.
5:08 p.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
During a Q&A with Canadian students on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was asked about his historical and fictional role models, the inquirer noting that he has drawn comparisons to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and hero of the wizarding world Harry Potter. Zelensky, former comedian and television star, seized on the mention of the Boy Who Lived without missing a beat: “Thank you for these kind of comparisons,” he told the crowd, smiling. “Harry Potter is better than Voldemort, and we know who is Voldemort in this war, and who is Harry Potter, so we know how the war will end.”This was also not the first time the arch-villain of J.K. Rowling’s book series has been invoked to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin. In March, Ukraine’s official Instagram page promoted murals depicting Zelensky and Putin cosplaying Potter and Voldemort.
2:58 a.m.
Headshot of Bryan Pietsch
The Russian ruble hit a seven-year high against the U.S. dollar this week, outperforming many global currencies even as Russia has faced global economic and diplomatic backlash over the war.As of late Tuesday Eastern time, 1,000 rubles were worth about $18.56 — the highest exchange rate for the ruble since June 2015. Although the ruble fell sharply in the early days of the invasion in February, it has risen steadily since early March, in part because of strict currency controls to stop the ruble from leaving the country, as well as skyrocketing fuel prices and Russia’s demands that its fossil fuels be purchased with the currency. The ruble’s rally comes amid forecasts that Russia will probably fall into a recession this year.
2:08 a.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
Like a U.S. lawmaker whipping votes in Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is opening his Rolodex this week and dialing leaders across Europe, lobbying for votes in favor of Ukraine’s candidacy to the European Union. On Tuesday, Zelensky said he spoke with at least nine E.U. premiers — a third of the bloc’s members and “a marathon of phone conversations.”“We are increasing the number of those who stand for Ukraine’s candidacy,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. The European Council is expected to decide whether to grant Ukraine E.U. candidate status at a summit this week. Zelensky has called the coming days “truly historic” for his country, and he has sought to wield his growing international clout to get Ukraine fast-tracked through the accession process.“I will do my best to ensure that the historic decision of the European Union is adopted,” he said. “This is important for us.”