KYIV/KHARKIV: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday hailed the EU’s expected offer of candidate status for his battle-weary nation as Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s second biggest city Kharkiv and the eastern Donbas region. European leaders will formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Though mainly symbolic, the move will help lift national morale at a very difficult time in a four-month conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and flattened towns and cities.
The war has also had a massive impact on the global economy and European security arrangements, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek Nato membership. “I do believe that all 27 EU countries will support our candidate status,” Zelenskyy told students of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto via videolink. “This is like going into the light from the darkness.”
The Russian strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday on Kharkiv, near the Russian border, were the worst for weeks in an area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Moscow’s forces back in a major counter-offensive last month. Kyiv characterised the strikes, which killed at least 20 people, as an attempt to force Ukraine to pull resources from the main battlefields further south in the Donbas to protect civilians. “It was shelling by Russian troops. It was probably multiple rocket launchers. And it’s the missile impact, it’s all the missile impact,” Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters amid the ruins of cottages struck on Tuesday in a rural area on the city’s outskirts. Medical workers carried the body of an elderly woman from a burnt-out garage to a nearby van. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that Russian forces were hitting Kharkiv “with the aim of terrorising the population”.