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Von der Leyen says Ukraine ready for EU ‘candidate status’ ahead of bloc meeting

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Europe sent a powerful symbol of solidarity with Ukraine on Friday, as Brussels backed Kiev’s bid for EU candidate status, even as Russia shelled Ukrainian frontline cities and cut gas supplies to the West.

With the support of the European Commission, Ukraine could now be added to the list of countries vying for EU membership as early as next week when the leaders of the member states meet at their summit in Brussels.

All 27 EU leaders will have to agree to the candidacy, but the heads of the European Union’s largest members – France, Germany and Italy – already gave their full support to the idea on Thursday, during a trip to a war-torn suburb of Kyiv.

Then on Friday, the European Commission gave the executive formal support to the bid, and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen made her position clear by donning a striking jacket in Ukraine’s national colors.

“We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live with us for the European dream,” she said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately welcomed the decision as a “first step on the EU membership path that will certainly bring our victory closer”.

He thanked von der Leyen for the committee’s “historic decision” and said he expected EU leaders to give Ukraine a “positive outcome” at the June 23-24 summit.

Once Ukraine joins the EU’s candidate list — along with several countries in the Western Balkans — it could take years to meet all formal membership requirements, even if Kiev prevails in the war.

“Yes, Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country – this is based on the understanding that good work has been done, but there is also important work to be done,” said von der Leyen.

And in the meantime, the fighting continues as Russian troops bombard Ukrainian resistance pockets on the frontline of Severodonetsk, including civilians entrenched in a chemical factory in the eastern Ukrainian city.

And Moscow stepped up pressure on Western allies, greatly reducing the flow of natural gas in its pipelines to Western Europe, driving up energy prices.

‘Dying for the dream’

The French network operator said it had not received any Russian gas via pipeline from Germany since June 15, and Italy’s Eni said it expected Russian company Gazprom to cut its deliveries by half on Friday.

Several European countries, including Italy and Germany, rely heavily on Russian gas for their energy needs and, being the western side of Ukraine, Moscow is cutting supplies.

Berlin and Rome have rejected Russia’s argument that technical problems caused the supply drop, arguing that state-owned Gazprom’s move is political.

But Western Europe is sweltering in a heat wave and energy prices are already rising, leading to runaway inflation and union action in several economies.

The situation is, of course, more grim in Ukraine itself, where Russian forces occupied much of the south and east of the country during the 113-day war, including much of the Donbas region.

“The humanitarian situation in Ukraine, especially in eastern Donbas, is extremely alarming and continues to deteriorate rapidly,” said the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA.

According to the statement, the situation is “particularly worrying in and around Severodonetsk”, where bloody fighting has been going on for weeks.

‘God’s will’

Severodonetsk is in the Lugansk region, where Governor Sergiy Gaiday called for a ceasefire, declaring that hundreds of civilians were trapped in the besieged Azot chemical plant in the city.

“It is now impossible and physically dangerous to get out of the factory due to constant shelling and fighting. There are 568 people in the shelter, including 38 children,” he said.

Gaiday said earlier this week that about 10,000 civilians remain in the city, which is largely controlled by Russian forces.

In the frontline Donbas village of Adamivka near the city of Sloviansk, a community of Orthodox nuns has been seen shooting a rocket hole in the wall of their well-tended garden.

Under almost constant bombardment by Russian troops, Sister Anastasi and a group of other black-clad nuns and pilgrims live day by day, praying for redemption.

“We are all alive, yes. No one has left. This is our home,” she said softly, her face framed by a black veil as shells crashed into the distance.

“We trust in God’s will, in God’s help, in the help of all the saints and the Blessed Virgin. This is our home, we have nowhere else to go.”

A Russian attack on a residential area in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv has left at least two dead and 20 injured, the local governor said.


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