Ukraine faces twin challenges of fighting Russia and shifting political sands in the U.S.

After almost 30 months of war with Russia, Ukraine’s difficulties on the battlefield are mounting even as its vital support from the United States is increasingly at the mercy of changing political winds.

A six-month delay in military assistance from the U.S., the biggest single contributor to Ukraine, opened the door for the Kremlin’s forces to push on the front line. Ukrainian troops are now fighting to check the slow but gradual gains by Russia’s bigger and better-equipped army.

“The next two or three months are going to be probably the hardest this year for Ukraine,” military analyst Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment said in a recent podcast.

Lurking in the background is another nagging worry for Ukraine: how long will Western political and military support critical for its fight last?

On July 15, former President Donald Trump chose Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio as his running mate for the Republican ticket in November’s U.S. election, and Mr. Vance wants the United States to attend to its own problems — not necessarily war thousands of miles away on a different continent, even though he has said Putin was wrong to invade.

That view dovetails with Mr. Trump’s own stance. Mr. Trump has claimed that if elected, he would end the conflict before Inauguration Day in January. He has declined to say how.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency — recently infuriated other EU leaders by holding rogue meetings with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Europe’s biggest war since World War II has already cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides, including thousands of civilians. There is no sign of it ending any time soon.

And Mr. Putin wants to draw out the war in the hope of sapping Western willingness to send billions more dollars to Kyiv.

Here’s a look at Ukraine’s major challenges:

Russia holds 18% of Ukrainian territory, after defensive forces pushed it out of half of the area it seized following its full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, said in May. In 2014, Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea.

Russia hasn’t accomplished a major battlefield victory since taking the eastern stronghold of Avdiivka in February. But its forces are now pushing in border regions: Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

To buy time, Ukraine has employed an elastic defense strategy by ceding some territory to wear down Russian troops until Western supplies reach brigades. But, analysts warn, Russia will undoubtedly win a lengthy war of attrition, unless Ukraine can strike using an element of surprise.

Russia claimed on July 14 its forces had taken control of the Donetsk village of Urozhaine, but Ukrainian officials said there was still fighting there. Moscow’s army is aiming to take the nearby strategic hilltop city of Chasiv Yar, which could allow it to drive deeper into Donetsk.

Ukraine’s forces are largely holding back the Russian push around northeastern Kharkiv city, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. The Kremlin’s troops have been trying to get within artillery range of the city and create a buffer zone in the region to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks.

Meanwhile, Russia is firing missiles into rear areas, hitting civilian infrastructure. Last week it conducted a massive aerial attack that killed 31 civilians and struck Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital in Kyiv.

Crippling Ukraine’s electricity supply has been a key goal of Russia’s relentless long-range missile and drone attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the bombardment has destroyed 80% of Ukraine’s thermal power and one-third of its hydroelectric power.

A hard winter likely lies ahead for Ukraine, analysts say.

Ukraine is such a large country that massive air defences would be needed to protect it all. The country needs 25 Patriot air defence systems to fully defend its airspace, Mr. Zelenskyy said on July 15.

New deliveries of ammunition to Ukraine are trickling to units along the line of contact, shrinking Kyiv’s heavy disadvantage in artillery shells and allowing it to start stabilizing the front line.

But it will take time for Kyiv’s army to fully replenish its depleted stocks. Ukraine won’t be able to assemble a counteroffensive until late this year at the earliest, military analysts estimate.

Russia, meanwhile, is spending record amounts of money on defence to finance its grinding war of attrition.

Russia’s go-to tactic is to smash towns and villages to pieces, rendering them unlivable and denying Ukrainians defensive cover. Powerful glide bombs flatten buildings. Then the Russian infantry moves in.

Ukraine was late to build defensive lines but its fortifications have improved in recent months, according to analyst reports.

The Russian army has made creeping progress at eastern and southern points along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line but has not recently made any significant breakthrough and its advances have been costly, Ukrainian officials say.

Ukraine in April adopted an expanded military conscription law that aimed to replenish its depleted and exhausted forces.

Mr. Zelenskyy said on July 15 the drive is going well, though the country doesn’t have enough training grounds for the new troops. Also, 14 brigades haven’t yet received their promised Western weapons.

NATO countries have taken steps this month to ensure that Ukraine keeps receiving long-term security aid and military training.

Alliance leaders attending a summit in Washington last week signed a deal to send more Stinger missiles, a portable surface-to-air defense system.

Ukraine is also preparing to receive the first F-16 warplanes donated by European countries.

Even so, Mr. Zelenskyy is frustrated. He says Ukraine cannot win the war unless the U.S. scraps its limits on the use of its weapons to attack military targets on Russian soil.

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What’s at stake for Europe in Ukraine’s EU membership talks?

A new budget, rule of law, defence, and security are the top priorities for opening the European Union’s gates to Kyiv. Will Ukraine and the EU be up to the challenge?

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By opening the membership negotiations with Ukraine, the EU has decided to face its biggest moment of truth in decades.

The eastern European country of some 44 million is by far the biggest potential member state — by surface area, it is larger than the bloc’s current number one, France — and integrating it could prove to be a major existential matter.

During the “Big Bang” enlargement talks in the early 2000s — the first round of integration of the former socialist countries, some of which had been under Soviet influence for decades — the EU negotiators had a mantra: “Big countries, big problems.”

That enlargement process, the EU’s largest to date, opened in 1998 at the Conference of London, under a British EU presidency. It was completed in 2004 with the accession of Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Also included were Cyprus and Malta, the only new members that did not share the experience of an full-on socialist or communist regime.

The entire process took place in a relatively favourable environment, with predictions of general economic growth and a non-openly assertive Russia. But 20 years on, the situation has become quite the opposite.

Another world, another story

Most EU member states have been struggling with financial crises, including burdensome public debts and deficits, as well as massive inflows of migrants and refugees. Ukraine, meanwhile, is defending itself from Russian forces in the biggest war Europe has seen since 1945.

In terms of finances and human lives, peer-to-peer conflicts come with costs far higher than so-called “ethnic conflicts” or remote and ill-defined “wars on terror”.

Facing a huge demographic loss thanks to the war, Ukraine is now searching for peace, political stability, clear and safe borders and functional infrastructure.

Its closest supporters in the EU understand this.

“From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we talk about recovery and not simply reconstruction,” said Krzystof Kubon, the foreign and European policy adviser of Civic Platform, the party of the Polish PM Donald Tusk.

“Because recovery creates opportunity for the European state economies to grow and to expand and to get Ukraine closer to the European Union,” Kubon explained.

EU diplomats and officials estimate that the new enlargement will cost €186 billion over seven years, the duration of the multiannual financial framework. The entire EU budget in 2022 totalled €170bn.

Having said that, the EU’s entire long-term budget — the seven-year multiannual financial framework from 2021 to 2027 — amounts to slightly over €1.13 trillion.

This budgetary provision was set before the Ukrainian war and the reboot of the enlargement process.

However, while integrating an economically devastated Ukraine into the EU would be extremely demanding, especially fiscally, it wouldn’t be impossible.

Mission possible

For one, budgetary lines always depend on the political will of the member states — a delicate matter of balancing political circumstances, geopolitical priorities, and domestic interests.

The entire process of integrating Ukraine will require a deep redesign of the EU budget, demanding concerted financial efforts from the current member states.

Current net beneficiaries like Poland, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and others are to become net contributors, while the old net contributors could be called to spend more money on the common budget. That, in turn, will require a complex redefinition of the EU cohesion policy.

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Kubon argued that if one day the advantages of the cohesion policy for a “Big Bang” member like Poland were to become history, the country would enjoy new opportunities for growth — but only if Ukraine joined the EU at a moderate pace.

“From the Polish perspective, if we look at Germany, the biggest net contributor when Poland joined the EU, we see our future as bright,” he said.

“When you look at the economic relations between Poland and Germany, you can find a profitable synergy of the two economies.”

According to Tusk’s centre-right Polish liberal conservatism, Germany’s net contribution to the EU budget, particularly for the cohesion policies, became a fruitful investment as Central European countries entered the mighty German manufacturing area of interest.

Seen through Polish eyes, there is a chance for Ukraine and Poland to replicate the same scheme.

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Black soil worth its weight in gold

Ukraine has formidable farming opportunities: 71% of its land mass features the most fertile soil in the world, and the humus-rich “chernozem” (an old Russian word for “black soil”) covers about 51%.

As an indicator of the potential that it offers, the Ukrainian land market was drastically expanded to private investors on 1 January 2022, just weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

While most of the big investors are either Luxembourg-based agribusinesses like Kernel, owned by local oligarchs, or transnational companies from the US, China and the Gulf states, Ukrainian land could, in theory, become eligible for the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) funding, especially after the war.

However, the prospect of Ukraine’s entry into the EU agricultural sector has not made existing member states too happy. Polish farmers, for example, stood up massively against the favourable import regime of Ukrainian grain set up by the EU to support Kyiv’s war effort.

But this is just one problem that has arisen. Integrating Ukraine, Moldova, the Western Balkan countries and, perhaps one day, Georgia would require drastic changes to the EU’s decision-making processes.

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Forcing the issue

After the European Commission’s troubled experiences with Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, the question about the EU institutions’ ability to enforce the rule of law has become unavoidable.

Every EU member state, even the smallest or the worst off, is a sovereign state with the right to vote, abstain, or veto if it is so inclined.

Any domestic shift that would see a member state less inclined to respect — or even block — the decisions made in Brussels would jeopardise the union’s long-term viability.

Some argue that revising the EU cohesion policies, the CAP, and the rule of law principles would require a deep and comprehensive reform of the EU’s core institutions and their decision-making mechanisms before the enlargement.

Since the 2004 “Big Bang”, the union’s leadership has been focused on reforming the European Council’s decision-making process, which grants every member state the power of veto, and expanding the list of policy areas covered by qualified majority voting to ensure the EU can function properly.

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According to Lukas Macek from the Paris-based Jaques Delors Institute, the issues of decision-making and the rule of law are tricky enough as it is.

“The enlargement to an EU of more than 30 member states can be as much part of the solution as a worsening of the problem,” Macek told Euronews. “Enlargement can move the lines where the 27 member states are stuck.

“Unfortunately, the current political dynamics do not seem to be moving in this direction.”

In the end, with mounting Euroscepticism across the EU and anti-enlargement positions increasingly entrenched in public opinion, the member states might opt for stability over change.

“I see that there is no political will in the majority of the member states to reform and to change the European Union,” Kubon said. “Among the main EU political forces, like my own political party in Poland… as well as the party of (Greek) Prime Minister Mitsotakis and other EPP members, there no such a big will to undertake changes.”

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The solution, Macek argued, could come from a smaller-step approach.

“The most important issue to tackle is that of reforming the enlargement process itself to make it more progressive, more nuanced, more motivating for applicants, more reassuring for members and also more reversible.”

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A Ukrainian woman remembers life under Russian occupation

Anastasiia lived in Kherson and was preparing for the birth of her second child when Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She didn’t want to live under occupation, so she decided to take the risk and leave.

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Anastasiia remembers waking up in shock and disbelief at five in the morning on the 24th of February 2022. “I woke up because our friends called us, telling us Russian tanks were rolling in from occupied Crimea”, she remembered, adding that she only really grasped the severity of the situation when her daughter’s kindergarten informed them a couple of hours later that they wouldn’t open. “They’re usually always open, even during the holidays”, she explains.

“We didn’t know if Kyiv was occupied”

Anastasiia thought the Russian forces would turn around. After a few days, Kherson, where she lived, was occupied and Anastasiia, who was pregnant, her husband and little daughter found themselves living under Russian occupation. She remembers that in the first few weeks, Ukrainian supplies couldn’t reach the city, food became scarce, and people were scared of starving. 

“It was chaos. People were trying to rob supermarkets and no one could blame them”, she recalled. “It wasn’t safe to leave the house,” she says, adding that staying inside, however, wasn’t any safer. Around a month later, the Russian supplies came from occupied Crimea and the situation somewhat stabilised. 

Besides limited access to food in the first month, Anastasiia remembers that their Ukrainian SIM cards didn’t work any more, implying they had no idea what was going on in the rest of the country. “We didn’t know if Kyiv was occupied,” she said. 

“Kherson is Ukraine”

Residents took to the streets to protest just a few weeks into Russia’s occupation of Kherson They carried Ukrainian flags and signs such as “Kherson is in Ukraine”. Anastasiia remembers the protest with awe.

“We had two revolutions in the last two decades, when we’re unhappy with something, we protest”, says Anastasiia. In the end, the protest in March 2022 was dispersed by Russian soldiers with force, using gunfire, stun grenades and rubber bullets. Several people were reportedly injured. 

Based on an allegedly leaked letter from an FSB whistleblower, there were plans to implement a ‘great terror’ to suppress protests in Kherson, stating that residents would be “taken from their homes in the middle of the night”, as reported by The Times.

The acts of protests didn’t stop, though. “There is a movement called ‘Yellow Ribbon’. Some people put little yellow ribbons [or Ukrainian flags] on the street, on trees or railings, and when you see it, it was a sign of resistance, and you knew, you weren’t alone”, says Anastasiia. The movement’s founder Ivan said in an interview with the Kyiv Independent that the concept behind ‘Yellow Ribbon’ was to ensure that acts of resistance were simple, safe, and accessible for everyday people. According to the Kyiv Independent, the movement now has 12 coordinators in major occupied cities.

People caught participating in the ‘Yellow Ribbon‘-movement face severe repercussions from Russian-controlled authorities, including secretive and likely fabricated charges leading to imprisonment. This suppression is part of Russia’s broader effort to stifle Ukrainian grassroots opposition to its occupation of Ukrainian territory. 

According to the organisation Human Rights in Ukraine, 35-year-old Mykola Onuk was sentenced last month to five years in prison on “secretive, and almost certainly fabricated, charges initiated several months after his detention, likely for pro-Ukrainian graffiti associated with the ‘Yellow Ribbon’ peaceful resistance movement.”

A couple of weeks later, the residents of Kherson were offered Russian SIM cards, which many accepted out of desperation. It was then that she was able to catch up with everything that had been happening so far, such as the siege of Mariupol.

Anastasiia gives birth while living under occupation

On the 9th of March 2022, Russian forces bombed a hospital serving as a children’s hospital and maternity ward in Mariupol. At least four people were killed, 16 were injured, and the attack led to at least one stillbirth. Anastasiia, who was pregnant at the time Kherson was under Russian occupation, was due to give birth soon. Seeing photos and reading what happened in Mariupol terrified her.

“I was really scared. Leaving the house during nighttime was dangerous, so my doctor and I decided to have a C-Section instead of waiting for labour”, she recalls. “It was absolutely terrifying. I felt I wasn’t only risking my own life, but also the life of my baby”, Anastasiia says.

Luckily, the birth of her second child went well and Anastasiia and her son were healthy. Due to Russian forces burning down the regional office of the State Migration Service of Ukraine, she couldn’t get her son’s documents issued. 

ISW: Hospitals are threatening to take newborns from mothers if neither parent can prove Russian citizenship

In the temporary-occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, possession of a Russian passport is essential for proving property ownership and retaining access to healthcare and retirement benefits. Failure to obtain the forced new passport by July 1st 2023, as mandated by a new Russian law in occupied territories, may lead to imprisonment as a ‘foreign citizen’, risking custody loss, imprisonment, or worse.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported recently that in the Russian-occupied Luhansk Oblast, hospitals are threatening to take newborns from mothers if neither parent can prove Russian citizenship, according to Artem Lysohor of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration. 

Starting May 6th 2024, proof of Russian citizenship is required for parents to be discharged with their newborns. The ISW reports this action violates the Convention on Genocide, which prohibits measures to prevent births within a group.

“I was scared every day”

Whilst living under occupation in Kherson, Anastasiia remembers being terrified every day. Life was uncertain and dangerous. Even something normal, such as texting, turned into something that could endanger your life. “Phones were checked regularly. They checked messages, which Telegram channels one subscribed to and even photos”, adds Anastasiia. “We had to delete everything. Anything pro-Ukrainian was dangerous. If they found anything that connects you to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, you were brought to a filtration camp.”

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Ukrainians living under Russian occupation now can face up to 20 years in prison for expressing pro-Ukrainian views, additionally, there have been reports of homes being raided and children and adults being kidnapped and deported to the Russian Federation.

In a speech at this year’s Lviv Media Forum conference, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk said: “Occupation doesn’t reduce human suffering, it simply makes it invisible.”

“Culture can be a tool of resistance”

“I think they wanted to use Kherson as a ‘model’”, says Anastasiia. Compared to occupied Donetsk, occupied Luhansk and occupied Crimea, there was no active fighting and shelling in the city while she was there, she remembers. 

Russians looting museums, such as the Contemporary Art Museum of Kherson and destroying Ukrainian books has been well documented. Artists, such as Viacheslav Mashnytskyi, who mysteriously disappeared during the occupation of Kherson. Currently, there is no information on his whereabouts or fate.

“Culture can be a tool of resistance, a carrier of memory and self-determination, freedom and independent thinking. It can also be a tool of expansion, displacement of another culture, a tool of power. Therefore, in the occupied territories, cultural agents become priority targets for Russian soldiers”, says curator Natalia Matsenko

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“The occupiers often try to pull people from the creative sphere over to their side, forcing them to collaborate. And in case of refusal, they destroy or imprison, deprive them of their voice in any way. This is not a new tradition: in Soviet times, especially under Stalin repressions, it was precisely cultural figures who disagreed with the authorities who were exterminated as the greatest threat to the stability of the regime. Thousands of writers, artists, theatre artists, musicians were shot, imprisoned or sent into exile”, she adds.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Committee for Culture has recently recognised that the erasure of Ukrainian cultural identity is being used by Russia as a weapon in its war against Ukraine. This act is considered a facet of a genocidal policy aimed at annihilating the Ukrainian nation.

Taking the risk: Leaving occupied Kherson

Living under such conditions and constant fear for her and her family’s life, Anastasiia wanted to leave Kherson. “I had a two-year-old toddler and a newborn, I didn’t want them to grow up under these circumstances under occupation”, she says. 

There are humanitarian corridors that should allow Ukrainians to leave the Russian-occupied territory or city, however, these aren’t safe. “These corridors are frequently bombed or soldiers just shoot the people trying to leave in their cars”, says Anastasiia. There was no guarantee of safety and survival for Ukrainians trying to reach freedom. It shows therefore how desperate people are who are trying to leave the occupied territories, such as a 98-year-old woman, who walked almost 10 kilometres to reach Ukrainian-controlled territory. 

Despite the risk, Anastasiia decided to organise her family’s journey to escape occupation in the summer of 2022. Her husband was unsure in the beginning, considering the risks of being killed by Russian forces on their way. In the end, they decided to leave their home and embarked on a dangerous journey that forced them to cross around 40 Russian checkpoints. Finally making it to the last checkpoint to close to safety, they were met by a long row of hundreds of cars.

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“We have two little children, please let us go”

“At the last checkpoint, nearly 700 cars were waiting to reach safety in Ukraine. They processed around 100 cars a day. We were number 690”, remembers Anastasiia. Out of desperation, she asked a soldier if they could somehow open another line since they had a toddler and a newborn with them. “I pleaded with them: We have two little children, please let us go.” Anastasiia was lucky and a second lane for people with children under one year was opened. They only had to wait one day to reach the final checkpoint. 

There, their car was checked. “They took our phones, laptops and all other electronics to another guard who screened them”, she recalled. “Other soldiers checked everything in our car, every single shoe.” Terrified that they would be sent back or worse, killed, Anastasiia felt a massive weight off her shoulders when she and her family were allowed to pass. 

On 23rd September 2022, Russia initiated ‘referendums’ to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine. Ukrainian officials reported that people were prevented from leaving some occupied areas during the four-day vote, armed groups entered homes, and employees were threatened with job loss if they didn’t participate.

Less than a month later, Kherson was liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the 11th of November 2022. Parts of the Kherson Oblast, namely the territory on the left bank of the Dnieper River, is still under Russian control.

“Russian terror relies on unpredictability”

Anastasiia and her family ended up moving to Kyiv. There, Anastasiia had to finally get her son’s documents issued, which took her around a month of proving with scans and other documents that she was his mother. Not living under occupation hasn’t taken away her constant fear, though. 

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“I’m scared every day. Russian terror relies on unpredictability, and I know my chances of being killed are much lower than in a car accident. But it feels like I can influence my safety in a car by being cautious. Meanwhile, the source of danger now remains unpredictable and scary”, Anastasiia says.

Moving to Kyiv wasn’t the only change in her life. Russian is her mother tongue, but since the full-scale invasion, she doesn’t want to speak it any more. “Since the full-scale invasion, I’ve read up on Ukrainian history and how Ukrainian identity and culture was suppressed by the Russians throughout the centuries. I speak Ukrainian now, my children’s mother tongue is Ukrainian. I feel like I’ve finally reclaimed my Ukrainian identity”, says Anastasiia. 

Freezing the war

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, there have been calls for negotiations and appeasements with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In March, Pope Francis ‘advised’ Ukraine to have the courage to raise the ‘white flag’ and negotiate an end to the war with Russia.

For Ukrainians, ‘freezing the war’ means living under occupation. Living under Russian occupation means living in constant fear, facing threats of violence, and enduring profound hardships, as shown by harrowing accounts of rape and other war crimes. 

Anastasiia doesn’t understand the calls to freeze the war. “Freezing the war in the occupied territories would lead to a mass exodus of those who can afford to leave. Only the elderly, the sick, and those without the means to start anew would remain, eventually obtaining Russian passports. The most alarming aspect is the Russians taking over schools and using Russian textbooks, effectively rewriting history for children”, explains Anastasiia.

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On the 8th of May 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing the state policy on historical education, emphasising the dissemination of reliable historical knowledge and fostering patriotism. The policy aims to counteract foreign attempts to distort Russian history and includes measures such as updating educational programs, creating unified history textbooks, and promoting historical and cultural heritage. The decree also plans to develop digital platforms for educational materials, support non-state historical museums, and regulate media to “prevent historical falsifications”.



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Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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How 17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia escaped a Russian re-education camp

17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia was abducted to a Russian re-education camp in Crimea. She tells Euronews how she made it back to Ukraine on her own.

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Before the full-scale invasion, 17-year-old Valeriia lived an ordinary life as a 10th-grade student, preparing for exams and taking part in activities, including dancing and aerial gymnastics. She lived with a family member since the age of 13 following the death of her parents.

Everything changed with the Russian full-scale invasion

Valeriia had a bright future ahead of herself – everything was supposed to work out the way she wanted. When she heard about the full-scale invasion on the news, it felt surreal to her. Everything changed rapidly, and she struggled to fully understand the situation.

Russian troops soon arrived and occupied the southern Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, also her hometown. During a particularly intense period of shelling, she was forced to live without food after Ukrainian supplies ran out, but the situation stabilised after supply trucks from occupied Crimea started arriving. Back then, Russian military police gradually appeared in the city, located in the Kherson Oblast. It was a quiet period – explosions didn’t shatter the air.

In October 2022, Russian troops announced an “evacuation” of children from Nova Kakhovka to occupied Crimea. Valeriia, along with other kids, had to gather in the main square surrounded by armed military. Buses took them to the Crimean border. Upon arrival, they confiscated the children’s passports and documents.

“Russia will give you everything”

After Valeriia arrived in a Crimean camp called ‘Luchystiy,’ paediatricians examined the children for lice and COVID-19. She remembers the camp resembling a retirement home, but devoid of child-centric amenities. Plus the facility was surrounded by armed police officers, constantly guarding the children. A regimented daily routine included singing the Russian National Anthem – which she refused. Authorities promoted Russian universities and lifestyles, promising them that “Russia will give you everything”.

For Valeriia, the coerced environment raised concerns about her freedom and future, but the daily schedule was unpredictable, therefore making it difficult to plan. “The camps were re-education camps”, she added. In her opinion, they served the purpose of ensuring the majority of children ended up going to Russia. The classes could therefore only be described as propaganda, she remembered, adding that learning Ukrainian at the school was not an option.

The programme at these camps is called ‘University Shift‘ and operates with the support of the Russian Ministry of Education of Russia and the Ministry of Education and Science. It aims to (re-)educate children aged 12-17 from temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories into Russian culture and history.

“The forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is a part of genocidal policy”

According to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, human rights lawyer and Center for Civil Liberties-leader, Oleksandra Matviichuk, these camps and their aim to russify Ukrainian children is not just a war crime, but part of a broader picture. “This war has a genocidal character”, she said, “Putin openly said that Ukrainians don’t exist, that we are the same as Russians. We see these words implemented into horrible practice on the ground since 2014.” 

Just like Valeriia, she also mentioned the deliberate ban on the Ukrainian language and history. “For ten years, we’ve been documenting how Russians deliberately exterminate acting locals, such as mayors, journalists, civil society actors, priests and artists, for example.”

In this regard, the forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is part of a genocide policy, because some of them are put in re-education camps where they’re told they’re Russian and Russia is their motherland, she told me. “Later, some of them are subjected to forceful adoption into Russian families to be brought up as Russians,” Matviichuk continued.

As a lawyer, she knows how difficult it is to prove this crime, especially according to the current standards. “Even if you’re not a lawyer, it’s easy to understand that if you want to partially or destroy a national group, you have several strategies, such as killing them or forcefully changing their identity,” she added.

“Forceful abduction of Ukrainian children is a part of this broader genocidal policy of the Russian state against Ukraine.” The Genocide Convention’s Article II defines genocide as the deliberate act of destroying a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, either wholly or partially. It excludes, however, political groups and what is referred to as ‘cultural genocide’.

Valeriia decides to pursue her dream of studying medicine

In the camp, poor-quality food frequently caused stomach issues, with limited access to medical care. Very small children suffered greatly due to inadequate care and harsh conditions, remembered Valeriia. With their parents or guardians absent, they roamed unsupervised, enduring cold weather without proper clothing. Many fell ill with bronchitis. Outbreaks of diseases like chickenpox and lice were common.

Though the children were allowed to use their phones, there was hardly ever any service. Valeriia just about managed to contact a member of her family, asking to be picked up.

Ukrainians living in the occupied territories are considered “New Russians” by the Russian authorities

According to the Crimean Centre of Civil Education, Alemenda, these kinds of camps restrict the children’s return citing parental political stance. Instances of forced relocation and psychological pressure have been reported, with family members facing obstacles to reuniting with their children, especially when they are pro-Ukraine. When these children express a desire for their parents to visit them, the family members are encouraged to relocate to Russian-controlled territories. Ukrainians living in temporarily occupied territories are seen as “New Russians” by the authorities.

Her family member was therefore able to pick her up, since they lived in occupied territory. After having stayed in the camp for a total of two months, she went to occupied Henichesk in southern Ukraine.

Valeriia travels on her own to Ukraine

Having experienced this dire medical situation in the camp, Valeriia decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. As an orphan from an occupied territory, she leveraged her circumstances in university admissions, and had both Russian and Ukrainian passports. While staying in temporary-occupied Henichesk, she chose a university in Odesa and applied online, as she didn’t want to stay in Russian-controlled and occupied territories.

From occupied Henichesk, Valeriia started her journey by herself on a bus. Passing through various occupied Ukrainian cities, such as the destroyed Melitopol and Mariupol, then crossing into Rostov in Russia.

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With a Russian passport, crossing the border was smooth. In the temporary-occupied territories, possession of a Russian passport is essential for proving property ownership and retaining access to healthcare and retirement benefits. Failure to obtain the forced new passport by July 1, as mandated by a new Russian law in occupied territories, may lead to imprisonment as a ‘foreign citizen’, risking custody loss, imprisonment, or worse.

The last border crossing

Continuing through Belgorod and the Sumy region, the journey, facilitated by efficient border crossings, took her a day to complete. At the final border in Sumy, which is still open for pedestrians but entails strict filtering by the Russian guards, Valeriia kept her Ukrainian passport hidden and used her Russian passport to pass the border. Checks were organised in groups from a bus, with passports being collected and Valeriia being questioned about travelling alone underage without a guardian.

Aware of potential risks, she strategically explained her journey, emphasising passing through Ukraine without any intent to stay. Valeriia informed the guards that her sole intention was to traverse Ukraine to pick up her aunt from Europe and bring her back to Russia. She remembered the importance of telling the officials what they needed to hear. At the border, amidst their apprehension, they scrutinised her documents and phone, such as her photos, Telegram messages and E-Mails.

Despite Valeriia’s prior composure, the situation at the border crossing was very overwhelming. Since she had hidden her Ukrainian passport, she wasn’t forced to undergo a lie detector test, and because she was a minor, she couldn’t legally sign any documents. As soldiers with machine guns deliberated among themselves, one guard proposed letting her cross. From the Russian checkpoint, she had to walk through fields to reach Ukrainian territory – and when she did and heard Ukrainian, she was overcome with emotions.

Change of plans?

Her initial plan was to go to Odesa to study medicine, but things didn’t quite go according to plan. Upon her arrival in Sumy, she was given the option to move to Kyiv due to the constant shelling in Odesa at the time. She stayed in Sumy for approximately half a week, during which she underwent thorough medical screenings and tests to ensure her well-being having survived the re-education camp and occupation. 

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“Throughout my stay, I was closely monitored by the juvenile police and representatives from Kyiv. Afterwards, accompanied by the juvenile police, I travelled to Kyiv, where I immediately visited the ombudsman’s office”, she told me.

She currently lives in Kyiv, initially staying in a hostel before enrolling in Kyiv Medical College. To maintain a sense of normality, she engages in several activities and attends frequent therapy sessions. “I enjoy learning about medicine and exploring the city of Kyiv. I am grateful to speak Ukrainian and the support of my guardian, Olha, who has become like a parent to me”. 

She met Olha through meetings with a psychotherapist and established a strong bond.

“In her presence, I can embrace my youth and momentarily forget about the responsibilities of adulthood. I appreciate the psychological support I’ve received,” Valeriia added. She is receiving free therapy consultations provided by Voices of Children, which is helping her deal with the things she’s gone through.

What psychological effects do children go through after living in occupation?

Upon returning to Ukraine, the mental state of children is deeply influenced by their experiences during the occupation, says Yulya Tukalenko, a psychologist at the Voices of Children charity foundation. 

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“Factors such as the duration of their stay, living conditions, age, and the hardships they endured play significant roles”, she added. Deprivation, particularly in terms of limited social interaction and restricted movement, is a common challenge faced by children. Prolonged exposure to dangerous conditions where speaking Ukrainian or showing support could result in harm, fosters mistrust in others.

According to Tukalenko, the aftermath of such experiences often manifests in various symptoms across behavioural, emotional, and physical domains. These include emotional outbursts, sadness, self-harm, sleep disturbances, and digestive issues. Left untreated, these symptoms can evolve into more serious conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and impaired social functioning. Therefore, a timely intervention by trained professionals is crucial to address and mitigate the long-term effects of occupation on children’s mental health.

Out of nearly 20,000 abducted and displaced children, only 400 have been returned

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both Ukrainian and international organisations have documented grave human rights violations against children. Reports detail children forcibly deported or displaced by Russian forces, subjected to re-education and forced adoption. 

The Children of War initiative reports that over 19,500 children have been deported or displaced, with fewer than 400 returned. In response, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation, Maria Lvova-Belova, for child deportation.

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“After 2014 and the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, we lost from 15 to 20% of our child population,” said Mykola Kuleba of Save Ukraine, a charitable organisation aiding families and children affected by war. These children encompass those who lost parents to Russian shelling, along with those residing in institutions or under foster care, such as Valeriia, who is an orphan. Russia alleges that these children lack parental care. 

An investigation by the AP reveals Russian officials deported Ukrainian children without consent, convincing them their parents don’t want them any more, exploiting them for propaganda, and placing them with Russian families granting them citizenship.

This process is simplified if the children are already native-Russian speakers. “To resolve the issue of acquisition of Russian citizenship by Ukrainian children, they granted the right to submit a relevant application on behalf of the child to guardians, and heads of institutions for children, including educational and medical ones. The child’s opinion, of course, is not taken into account. Therefore, it is enough to enrol a Ukrainian child in an educational institution or put them in treatment, and the director or the chief doctor has the right to apply for the acquisition of Russian citizenship for the child under a simplified procedure”, explained Kuleba.

“Being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it”

Living in Kyiv means still living under frequent air-raid alerts. There were no air raid alarms, as the shelling was constant when she lived under occupation. “No one bothered to turn on the air-raid warning signal to the Ukrainians under occupation. However, there are still moments of uncertainty in Kyiv. Despite the risks, you have to continue living your life in those moments”, said Valeriia.

For the 17-year-old, a lot has changed in the past couple of years. She added she’s not in contact with any of the kids in her camp who chose Russia – even her former girlfriends and classmates. For her, “being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it.”

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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute



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‘Massive’ Russian air attack hits Western Ukraine, Kyiv; Poland says its airspace violated

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the western region of Lviv came under a “massive” Russian air attack early Sunday, officials said, and Polish forces were also placed on heightened readiness.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a series of deadly aerial attacks, with Sunday’s strikes also coming a day after the Russian military said it had seized the Ukrainian village of Ivanivske west of Bakhmut.

A militant attack on a Moscow concert hall on Friday that killed at least 133 people also became a new flashpoint between the two arch-rivals.

“Explosions in the capital. Air defence is working. Do not leave shelters,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko posted on Telegram on Sunday.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Stryi district, south of the city of Lviv, near the Polish border, was also attacked.



© France 24

Ukraine was earlier placed under a nationwide air alert that warned of cruise missiles being launched from Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers. The alert was lifted about two hours later.

Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the missiles were fired at the capital “in groups” in the third pre-dawn attack in four days.

Preliminary reports suggested there were no casualties or damage, he said, and the city’s air defences had hit “about a dozen” missiles.

“The enemy continues massive missile terror against Ukraine,” Popko said on Telegram. “It does not give up its goal of destroying Kyiv at any cost.”

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink also noted the increased frequency of recent attacks.


“Russia continues to indiscriminately launch drones and missiles with no regard for millions of civilians, violating international law,” Brink wrote on social media platform X.

In Lviv, Mayor Andriy Sadovy said about 20 missiles and seven Iranian-made Shahed drones were fired at the region.

“They targeted critical infrastructure facilities,” Sadovy said.

Poland to demand explanation from Moscow

Poland’s foreign ministry on Sunday said it would demand an explanation from Moscow over this “new violation of airspace” after one of the Russian cruise missiles fired at western Ukraine breached Polish airspace overnight.

“Above all, we ask the Russian Federation to end its terrorist airstrikes against the population and territory of Ukraine, to end the war and to focus on the country’s own internal problems,” ministry spokesman Pawel Wronski said in a statement.

Following a “massive attack” on Ukraine by Russia, Poland activated “all air defence systems, all air force systems”, the country’s Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

He said that the missile would have been shot down “had there been any indication it was heading for a target on Polish territory”.

The army said the missile, which was travelling at almost 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph) around 400 metres (1,300 feet) above the ground, had crossed about two kilometres over the border into Poland.

“Polish airspace was breached by one of the cruise missiles fired in the night by the air forces… of the Russian Federation,” the army wrote on X.

“The object flew through Polish airspace above the village of Oserdow (Lublin province) and stayed for 39 seconds,” the statement said, adding that it was tracked by military radar throughout its flight.

 “The Polish army is constantly monitoring the situation on Ukrainian territory and remains on permanent alert to ensure the security of Polish airspace,” the army said.

Kyiv says it hit two Russian ships in Crimea strikes

Russia and Ukraine have increased their air attacks in recent weeks.

Kyiv, which has struggled to find weapons and soldiers after more than two years of war, has promised to retaliate by taking the fighting to Russian soil.

Multiple air attacks Saturday on the Russian border region of Belgorod adjoining Ukraine killed two people and injured at least seven, the regional governor said.

Further east, a drone attack on the Samara region caused a fire at a major oil refinery, the latest in a series of strikes against Russia’s energy industry. 

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that two districts in his region, as well as the regional capital, Belgorod, had been hit in drone and air attacks.

A man was killed when three balconies on an apartment building collapsed, Gladkov said. 

Russia said later Saturday that it had repulsed a barrage of more than 10 Ukrainian missiles fired at the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Sevastopol’s governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said rocket fragments had killed a 65-year-old resident and four other people had been wounded.

“It was the biggest attack in recent times,” he said.

Ukraine said early on Sunday that it had hit two large Russian landing ships, a communications centre and other infrastructure used by the Russian navy in the Black Sea during its strikes on the annexed Crimean peninsula.

Its statement did not say how it hit the targets. “The defence forces of Ukraine successfully hit the Azov and Yamal large landing ships, a communications centre and also several infrastructure facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in temporarily occupied Crimea,” said Ukraine’s military.

Territorial gains by Russia

Moscow has escalated its own strikes, firing dozens of missiles on Friday and launching dozens of explosive drones to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Russian forces have also taken control of a string of frontline settlements in recent weeks. 

The capture last month of Adviivka, near the Russian-held stronghold of Donetsk, was the first major territorial gain made by Russia since the devastated city of Bakhmut was seized 10 months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed that success as a sign that Russian forces are back on the offensive.

Putin has also sought to tie Kyiv to the Moscow concert hall attack, saying four “perpetrators” were detained while travelling towards Ukraine.

Kyiv has strongly denied any involvement, saying that Russia was looking for excuses to step up the war.

The United States has said it has seen no sign of Ukrainian involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)



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Two years on: How is Ukraine adapting to a long-term war?

Euronews Reporter Valérie Gauriat travels to Kyiv and the Donbas to see how Ukraine’s population are coping with a conflict that has become part of their daily lives.

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More than 10,000 civilians have died since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Many hoped the fighting would be shortlived, however, the conflict, now in its third year, has evolved into a war of attrition.

On a rainy day in February, Antonina Danylevich, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier, and a few dozen women, had gathered in Kyiv to call for shorter terms of service for soldiers mobilised on the frontline since the first days of the war.

“My husband has been in the combat zone for two years. In all this time he only had 30 days off. Our men should be replaced, they should have time to rest. And after that, if they want to go back, then fine,” Antonina told Euronews.

An absence hard-felt

Every Saturday, in a secret location at the edge of the Ukrainian capital, groups of women partake in military training sessions, under the aegis of ‘Ukraine Walkyrie’.

Daryna Trebukh founded the course after Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region in March 2022. “After what happened in Bucha and Irpin, our women were defenceless, they were under occupation and they didn’t know how to protect themselves. So I decided to start this school of survival, to teach women how to defend themselves,” she explained.

Daryna and her trainees expect a long-lasting war. Kateryna, a doctor, stop to talk to us after finishing a shooting drill. Her husband has been on the frontline for two years: “My daughter is very interested in what I do here. She can’t wait to turn 14 in a few months, the age at which she’s allowed to start military training, not with real weapons, but with strikeballs for instance. I wish it wasn’t, but war could well be part of her future”, she sighs .

The war, an experimentation field

Ukrainian students are also learning to adapt to the war. We visit the prestigious Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Many courses are now carried out remotely.

But a new ultra-secure space has been set up to allow students to work on site in times of war.

“In this modern shelter, students and teachers can work in a safe and comfortable way,when there are no alerts, and when the alert is on”, says vice-rector Vitali Pasichnyk.

Generators, ventilation systems, internet connection, rest areas, nothing has been left out. Funded by companies, the initiative must be replicated in other universities in the country.

“If you don’t support young students, they could leave Ukraine. You can create innovations here, build businesses. This is more than just a reaction to Russia’s aggression. It’s an investment in our future.”, smile Pasichnyk.

We follow 20 year old Ivan to one of the Institute’s research lab. He and a group of co-students are busy assembling an electronic stretcher that can be controlled remotely and used to transport wounded soldiers away from the frontline.

“It takes three or four people to carry a wounded soldier with equipment, but with this, you just place him on the stretcher and drive him away remotely,” explained Ivan.

Beyond participating in the war effort, the students have ambitions for the future. “We are gaining skills with this project. My dream is to help develop Ukraine and create modern enterprises, to produce new and competitive things. We have huge potential” he added.

One of the budding sectors of the future is drone manufacturing. Hundreds of drone factories have sprung up all over Ukraine in the past two years. 

Airlogix gave Euronews a tour; approximately thirty surveillance and reconnaissance drones are dispatched from its factory every month.

“They allow our armed forces to fly deep into enemy lines and identify enemy equipment, such as air defence systems, electronic warfare, armoury, warehouses, and so on,” said CEO Vitalii Kolisnichenko.

“You need to be technologically advanced in this war. We consider drones to be key to our victory.” 

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Starting from a small cargo drones manufacture, with around ten employees two years ago, Vitalii now employs a hundred people. He plans to double production soon and extend it to kamikaze and bomber drones.

An expansion supported by the Ukrainian state. Tax cuts, or the increase in the profit thresholds authorized for military contracts, have favored the birth of hundreds of factories like this one.

“That’s quite a boost for companies like ours, because we reinvest. We continuously try to invent technologies that will help us gain our victory.”

In the long run, Kolisnichenko believes drones could become a top Ukrainian export and help drive the country’s economy: “I think eventually, Ukraine will become the centre of unmanned technologies, for the whole world.”

We leave Kyiv, to head for the regions close to the front line, which extends over a thousand kilometers in the south and east of Ukraine.

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Areas which concentrate a large part of the country’s industrial infrastructure, much exposed to Russian bombings.

Set at the edge of the city of Zaporizhzhia, stands one of the largest steel factories in Ukraine.

Iron will

Zaporizhstal became the country’s leading producer of steel and cast iron, after the destruction of the sadly famous Azovstal site during the Battle of Mariupol, in the first months of the full-scale invasion.

In two years, the factory lost a quarter of its 10,000 employees, mobilized or gone to safer areas in the country or abroad.

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The site now operates at 70 percent of its capacity. Not without obstacles.

«The main type of logistics for metallurgy industries was sea logistics. We were forced to move to railway transport, which is four times more expensive. And also we can’t import all the raw material we need, nor can we reach the volumes at which we need to sell our products.” says CEO Roman Slobodianuk.

Set some 40 kilometers away from the frontline, the factory is under constant threat. But the workers are holding on.

Maksym used to work at the Azovstal factory, and was able to find a job here. “I can’t avoid thinking about the dangers about the war. But we are human beings, we have to live, to distract ourselves, and we don’t lose hope. We work for our victory. »

Distracting from the war is a challenge, for adults and children alike.

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We end our visit to Zaporizhzhia in an extra-curricular activity center that we cannot identify for security reasons. The climbing session we were due to film was interrupted just before our arrival.

«There was an alert, we sent our children to the bomb shelter.”, aplologises Galyna, the centre’s director. We join the children in the shelter. “We are used to the alerts, there are 9 or 10 of them a day, smiles 13 year old Veronika.  “At the beginning of the war I was afraid of alarms. Now I am used to them, and to shellings, to drones flying, all those things…”

The alert is over. The children hurry back to their climbing session. With the war, activities organized for children have been adapted to the war context.

Living from one alert to another

“We are teaching children not only how to travel in the mountains, how to orient themselves on the terrain, but also how to provide first aid, and how to transport victims, to different areas and in different conditions.”, explains Svitlana Bebeshko, head trainer at the centre.

The children’s moment of respite is short-lived, as another siren shrieks out. “That’s how we work, from one alert to the next alert. But we’re not afraid of them!” says Galyna, shrugging.

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We hit the road again towards the East, and the Donetsk region, in the Donbass, where the war of attrition continues its ravages.

A veterinarian during the weekend, Evgeniy Tkachov spends the rest of his time helping people in towns and villages close to the front line.

He takes us to the town of Selydove, set some 20 kilometers away from the frontline. Evgeniy and his team from the Proliska ngo had organized distribution of basic goods and wooden panels for residents whose homes were shattered by overnight Russian shellings.

“Every day there are more and more people in need. Apart from the fact that we give humanitarian aid, we call people to evacuate and leave. People have spent their whole lives in these small mining towns. So, it’s very hard for them to go elsewhere.”, explains Tkachov.

« We have nowhere to go”, sighs Inna, one of the residents. “We’ll rent an apartment. We hope that at least it will be quiet. And we will be able to come back here. We hope each day that it will end soon. Or everything will be destroyed.”

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We end our journey in the village of Selydove, set a dozen kilometers away from point zero. Rows of torn out houses offer a desolate sight.

Most residents have left to safer areas. Oleksandr is one of around twenty villagers, out of some 150, who decided to stay, despite the proximity of the fighting and harsh living conditions. His wife left for safety in a neighboring town after their home was bombed.

But he stayed on. He shows us the two small rooms he now lives in, after rebuilding the roof and walls. Oleksandr lives on food and basic necessities delivered each week by volunteers. But leaving is not an option.

“This is my land. It’ s my father’s land, the land of my grandfather and my great-grandfather. Why should I go anywhere?” he exclaims, as explosions tear the air. “No one would have stayed here if they didn’t believe that we were going to win, that the war would end with our victory.”

One of the soldiers operating in the area pays us an unexpected visit.

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« I’m coming from the frontline. It’s hard. The fighting is ongoing. They’re trying to capture Avdiivka. They’re coming, they’re coming !”, says the soldier, sternly. “War is the hardest job that ever could be in this life” he sighs, before heading off. “I’m on my way, to serve the Motherland”.

A few days later, the town of Avdiivka fell into the hands of the Russian army.

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Russia says it has captured frontline village of Orlivka in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of the eastern Ukrainian village of Orlivka, situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of the town of Avdiivka, which Moscow’s forces captured last month after one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Earlier, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the United States “will not let Ukraine fail” as he attended a meeting of Kyiv’s Western allies in Germany.

  • Russian spy chief says French military in Ukraine would be priority target for Russia

Sergei Naryshkin, chief of Russia‘s foreign intelligence service, said on Tuesday that any French military sent to Ukraine to help fight Russia would be a priority target for Russian troops, the TASS news agency reported.

“It (a French contingent) will become a priority and legitimate target for attacks by the Russian Armed Forces. This means that the fate of all Frenchmen who have ever come to the territory of the Russian world with a sword would await it,” Naryshkin said.

French President Emmanuel Macron in late February opened the door to European nations sending troops to Ukraine.

  • German defence minister announces €500 million aid for Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced on Tuesday a €500 million ($542 billion) aid package for Ukraine which includes 10,000 rounds of ammunition and said the United States was still a reliable partner.

“We have once again put together an aid package worth almost half a billion euros,” Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of talks with the United States and other allies at Ramstein Air Base.

He also said he had nothing to add to Germany’s position that there would be no boots on the ground in Ukraine.

  • Washington will not let Ukraine fail, US defence chief vows

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised on Tuesday that the United States will not let Ukraine fail in fighting off Russia, even as further aid remains stalled in Congress and Kyiv’s forces face shortages of munitions.

The Republican-led House of Representatives has been blocking $60 billion in assistance for Ukraine and the United States has warned that a recent $300 million package would only last a few weeks.

The “United States will not let Ukraine fail”, Austin said at the opening of a meeting in Germany of Ukraine’s international supporters, at which he is seeking to secure further assistance for Kyiv.

“We remain determined to provide Ukraine with the resources that it needs to resist the Kremlin‘s aggression,” he said.

Washington announced $300 million in assistance for Ukraine last week, but Austin said it was only possible due to savings on recent purchases.

“We were only able to support this much-needed package by identifying some unanticipated contract savings”, Austin said.

  • French army says it is prepared for ‘toughest’ engagements

French land forces are ready to respond to any threat as they prepare for even “the toughest engagements”, their commander said in remarks published on Tuesday.

The statement from ground army chief of staff General Pierre Schill comes after President Emmanuel Macron said he would not rule out dispatching ground troops to help Ukraine fight Russia.

The French army “is ready”, Schill wrote in an op-ed piece in the French daily Le Monde.

“However the international situation may evolve, French people can be certain that their soldiers stand ready to respond,” he said.

Schill said a display of French military capabilities would help to “deter any attack on France“.

“To protect itself from any attack and to defend its interests, the French army is preparing for even the toughest engagements,” he said.

  • Russia says it has captured frontline village in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of Orlivka, a frontline village situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has made a number of gains in recent months, pressing its advantage on the battlefield as Kyiv struggles with shortages of ammunition and troops.

“On the Avdiivka front, units of the ‘Centre’ grouping of troops liberated the village of Orlivka,” the defence ministry said.

The reported capture comes a little over a month after Russian forces seized the nearby town of Avdiivka following one of the bloodiest battles in the conflict.


  • Putin tells FSB security agency to punish ‘scum’ pro-Ukraine Russian fighters

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called on the FSB security service to identify and punish pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters who have taken part in an increasing number of deadly attacks on border regions.

“About these traitors… we must not forget who they are, we must identify them by name. We will punish them without statute of limitations, wherever they are,” Putin said, calling Russians fighting against their country “scum”.

  • Russian region bordering Ukraine to evacuate 9,000 children amid attacks

Russia‘s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine plans to evacuate 9,000 children following an uptick in deadly Ukrainian shelling, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Tuesday.

Kyiv’s attacks on the territory have killed 16 people since last week, with shelling intensifying in the run up to elections poised to keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2030, authorities say.

“We are evacuating a large number of villages, and now we are planning to evacuate about 9,000 children because of the shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces,” Gladkov told a meeting of ruling party members.

“I am proud that the residents of the region did not succumb to the difficult situation and that many more people came to the polling stations than ever before,” he said.

  • Russia appoints acting head of navy to replace incumbent

The new head of Russia’s Navy was formally presented in his new role for the first time on Tuesday at a pomp-filled ceremony, the state RIA news agency reported, confirming the appointment of Admiral Alexander Moiseev as acting head of the Navy.

His appointment follows a series of sustained Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is traditionally based in Crimea, which Moscow took from Kyiv in 2014.

Moiseev replaces Nikolai Yevmenov, the previous head of the Navy.

RIA showed video of a ceremony at the port of Kronstadt near St Petersburg where it said Moiseev was presented as acting head of the Navy.

He served on nuclear submarines for more than 29 years and has been decorated as a Hero of Russia, the country’s top military award.

He was appointed acting commander and then commander of the Black Sea Fleet in 2018 and then appointed commander of the Northern Fleet in 2019 before taking up his current role.


© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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‘A fight for your way of life’: Lithuania’s culture minister on Ukraine and Russian disinformation

Lithuania’s Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys spoke to FRANCE 24 about Lithuania’s fight against Russian disinformation and why the Baltic nation feels so bound to Ukraine.

Issued on:

5 min

In March 1990, Lithuania became the first nation to declare its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed, setting an example for other states that had been under the Kremlin’s influence for half a century. As a nascent democracy emerging from Soviet control, Lithuania was free to rediscover its own history and culture.

But Vilnius has once again become a target for Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long considered the demise of the Soviet Union as a historical tragedy in which Russians were innocent victims. As part of efforts to justify the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia has launched a disinformation campaign aimed at Kyiv’s allies in the West.

In addition to putting pressure on Ukraine’s supporters, the Kremlin has attempted to intimidate them. Russian authorities placed Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and others on a wanted list in February along with other Baltic officials for allowing municipalities to dismantle WWII-era monuments to Soviet soldiers, moves seen by Moscow as “an insult to history”. 

Upon being informed his name was listed, Culture Minister Kairys was insouciant. “I’m glad that my work in dismantling the ruins of Sovietisation has not gone unnoticed,” he said.

Read moreThe Kremlin puts Baltic leaders on ‘wanted’ list

FRANCE 24 spoke to Kairys on why it is vital to fight Russian propaganda, and why the Baltic state feels so invested in what is happening in Ukraine.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What historical narratives has Russia tried to distort when it comes to Lithuanian independence?

Simonas Kairys: Russia is still in “imperialism” mode. The way they inscribed me onto their wanted list shows that they think and act upon the belief that countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union – sovereign and independent countries such as Lithuania – are still part of Russia.

Russia has its own law system, which – from their point of view – is [the law even] in free countries (in the Russian criminal code, “destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers” is an act punishable by a five-year prison term). It’s absurd and unbelievable how they interpret the current situation in the world. If they say, for example, that they are “protecting” objects of Soviet heritage in a foreign country like Lithuania, they are spreading their belief that it is not a free country. But we are not slaves, and we are taking this opportunity to be outspoken and say Russia is promoting a fake version of history.

Why is combating Russian disinformation essential for Lithuanian national security?

It is not important for Lithuania – it is important for the EU, for Europe and for the entire free world. The war in Ukraine is happening very near to the EU; it is happening only a few hours away from France. Culture, heritage [and] historical memory are also fields of combat. Adding me to their wanted list is just one example of this. When we see how Russia is falsifying not only history but all information, it’s important to speak about it very loudly. Lithuania has achieved a lot in this domain, along with Ukraine and France. 

When France had the [rotating, six-month] presidency of the EU [in early 2022], we made several joint declarations. The result was that we signed a sixth package of sanctions against Russia and we designated six Russian television channels to be blocked in the EU – this was the first step in considering information as a [weapon]. In other words, information is being used by Russia to convince their society and sway public opinion in other European countries. Now we have a situation in which we are blocking Russian television channels in EU territory.  

Our foreign partners often ask us upon which criteria Russian information can be considered as disinformation. These days, it’s very important to stress that any information – from television shows to news to other television productions – coming from Russia is automatically disinformation, propaganda and fake news. We must understand that there is no truth in what Russia tries to say.

This fight against disinformation is crucial because we are in a phase of big developments in technology and artificial intelligence. We have to ensure that our societies will be prepared, be capable of critical thinking, and understand what is happening in the world right now.


Olympic and world champion Ruta Meilutyte swims across a pond colored red to signify blood, in front of the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. © Andrius Repsys, AP

To borrow a term from Czech writer Milan Kundera, would you say that Lithuania was “kidnapped from the West” when it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940?

During the Middle Ages, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania spanned from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. We were the same country as Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. We were oriented to the West and not the East. In much older times, during the Kievan Rus period, Moscow didn’t even exist; there were just swamps and nothing more. But with [growing] imperialism from the Russian side, they began portraying history in a different way. Yet our memory is like our DNA, our freedom and orientation are ingrained. The eastern flank of the EU is currently talking about the values of Western civilisation much more emphatically than in the past.

[During the Cold War] not only was our freedom taken but [Russia] tried to delete history and paint a picture only from the time when this imperialism entered our territory. But we remembered what happened in the Middle Ages; we remember how modern Lithuanian statehood arose after World War I and how we regained our freedom in 1990. It’s impossible to delete this memory and name Lithuania as a country that isn’t free. Once you take a breath of freedom, you never forget it. This is the reason why we understand Ukrainians and why we are so active to not only defend the territory of Ukraine, but also the values of Western civilisation as well.   

How has the war in Ukraine influenced Lithuanian life and culture?

The main thing is to think about freedom; we have to do a lot because of that freedom, we have to fight for freedom … we understand more and more that culture plays a big role in this war, because it is based on culture and history. You can see what Putin is declaring and it is truly evident that culture, heritage and historical memory are used as the basis for an explanation of why Russia is waging war in Ukraine right now. (To justify the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has insisted that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and uniting them is a historical inevitability.) 

There are important collaborations taking place with Ukrainian culture and artists. It’s important to give them a platform – for everyone to see that Ukraine is not defeated, that Ukraine is still fighting, that Ukraine will win, that we will help them. 

The best response to an aggressor is to live your daily life, with all your traditions, habits and cultural legacy. This fight is also for your way of life. The situation is not one where you must stop and only think about guns and systems of defence – you have to live, work, create, and keep up your business and cultural life. 

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