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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reported ‘positive’ news from the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhya, where he said Ukrainian forces were managing to thwart Russian troops who were trying to resume their offensive to completely take over the area .

Zelenskiy also said in a video address late June 9 that Ukrainian forces were gradually advancing in the Kharkiv region “liberating our land.”

The Ukrainian president said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation on the front lines and the possible evolution of the conflict in the coming days and weeks.

They also discussed Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union and issues of security guarantees for Ukraine and Europe as a whole.

“I am grateful that we discussed this topic with the French president. We continue to work,” Zelenskiy said.

Fierce fighting continued in the city of Syevyerodonetsk in a battle that Zelenskiy says could determine the fate of Donbass. Ukraine’s military said on June 9 that its forces were continuing to thwart Russian attempts to take the eastern city which had been hotly contested for weeks.

“The occupiers, with the help of motorized rifle and artillery units, carried out assault operations in the city of Syevyerodonetsk. They did not succeed; the fighting continues,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a June 9 update.

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Luhansk region chief Serhiy Hayday said “fierce battles” continue to engulf the city. Russian forces also continue to shell the nearby town of Lysychansk using high-caliber weapons that “pierce even concrete”, Hayday said.

Russia claimed to have used missiles to hit a base west of the capital in the Zhytomyr region, where it said mercenaries were being trained.

There is no independent confirmation of the claims of either party.

In Kyiv, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on June 9 that Ukraine was losing up to 100 soldiers every day in frontline fighting against Russian troops and hundreds more were injured.

“The situation on the front lines is difficult. Every day up to 100 of our soldiers are killed and up to 500 injured,” he said, adding that the Russians were paying an even higher price.

“The Kremlin continues to press heavily, stumbles, faces strong resistance and suffers huge losses,” Reznikov said. Facebook.

Speaking from Syevyerodonetsk, Commander Petro Kusyk said Ukrainian forces were drawing the Russians into street fighting to neutralize their artillery advantage.

“Yesterday was a success for us. We counterattacked and in some areas we managed to push them back a block or two. In others they pushed us back, but just by a building or two,” Kusyk said in a TV interview, adding that the Russians had suffered “serious losses.”

Kusyk said Ukrainian forces suffered from a “catastrophic” lack of artillery firepower to counter Russian guns. Getting such weapons would be a game-changer, he said.

Kusyk’s call for faster delivery of advanced artillery was echoed by Hayday, who said Ukraine could retake Syevyerodonetsk within days if it had long-range Western artillery systems.

The United States and Britain announced earlier this month that they are supplying Kyiv with long-range precision artillery systems that can hit targets up to 80 kilometers away. But delivering the systems and training Ukrainian staff is expected to take weeks.

“As soon as we have long-range artillery to be able to duel with Russian artillery, our special forces will be able to clear the city in two to three days,” Hayday said in an interview broadcast on his official social media.

“The Russians are destroying everything,” Hayday said in a TV ad, “They’re firing tanks and artillery at residential buildings.”

Syevyerodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on June 9 that around 10,000 civilians were still trapped inside the city, about a tenth of its pre-war population.

Hayday said Lysychansk, which is across the river from Syevyerodonetsk, remains fully under Ukrainian military control but is under “powerful and chaotic” shelling, he said on Telegram, blaming Russian forces from deliberately targeting hospitals and humanitarian aid distribution centres.

“The destruction is enormous,” he said.

In the south, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on June 9 that it had gained new ground in a counterattack in the Kherson region.

In the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, hundreds of bodies have been found in the rubble of destroyed buildings, local authorities say, but they suggest Russian forces are beginning to halt the search.

Petro Andryushchenko, deputy mayor of the Sea port city of Azov, said on the Telegram app that the bodies were being taken to a morgue, dumps and other locations.

At least 21,000 Mariupol civilians were killed during the week-long Russian siege, Ukrainian authorities have estimated.

On the diplomatic front, Zelenskiy called on June 9 for Russia’s expulsion from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), accusing Moscow of stoking the global grain crisis by invading his country.

Grain supplies from Ukraine have been drastically reduced due to Russia’s blockade of the country’s ports and targeted bombing of warehouses as part of its war against Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports typically export millions of tons of grain each year, but have been blocked since Moscow’s invasion in late February.

The blockade has driven up food prices and triggered famine warnings in the Middle East and Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on June 8 that any possibility of grain shipments would be conditional on the lifting of international sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Western governments have ruled out such a move, prompting many to accuse Russia of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

“There can be no discussion about extending Russia’s membership in the FAO,” Zelenskiy told delegates at a Paris meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development via video link.

“What can Russia do [in the FAO] if they cause at least 400 million people to go hungry, or potentially more than a billion people?” Zelenskiy added.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel also warned that Putin was preventing Ukraine from fulfilling its traditional role as a major supplier of agricultural products to world markets.

With reporting from Reuters, BBC, CNN, AFP and AP

Sylvester L. Goldfarb