Despite Western arms deliveries, the situation of Ukrainian troops in the heavily contested areas in the east of the country remains extremely difficult, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Meanwhile, Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin is threatening countermeasures after Finland and Sweden join NATO - and again claimed that the Russian "special operation" in Ukraine is going according to plan.
Zelenskyj: The pressure that has been put on Russia so far is not enough
The Russian military is relying on massive artillery fire in the Donbass industrial area to weaken Ukrainian positions. Ukrainian artillery is outnumbered despite some modern guns arriving from the west. Fighting is currently going on for the city of Lysychansk, and Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from neighboring Sievjerodonetsk. "We are doing everything we can to equip our military with modern artillery systems and to respond appropriately to the occupiers," Zelenskyj said in his daily video speech at night. The previous pressure on Russia is not enough, said Zelenskyj, pointing out that ten Russian rockets were fired at the Ukrainian city of Mikolajiv on Wednesday alone. "And all were aimed at civilian targets," he said.
Ukrainians and Russians exchange almost 300 prisoners
According to their own statements, the Ukrainian army and the Russian side exchanged a total of almost 300 prisoners. 144 people returned to Ukraine, said Zelenskyy. The oldest is 65 years old and the youngest 19. Among the released Ukrainian soldiers are 95 fighters who, until a few weeks ago, were defending the hard-fought Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol, which has since been conquered by the Russians. According to Ukrainian sources, it was the largest exchange of prisoners since the beginning of the war. The separatist leader Denis Puschilin, on the other hand, spoke of 144 pro-Russian and Russian fighters who had been released from Ukrainian captivity.
Putin: "Special operation" in Ukraine is going according to plan
More than four months after Russia's war of aggression began, Putin again claimed that hostilities were going according to plan. "The work is quiet, rhythmic, the troops are moving and reaching the lines that have been given to them as milestones," he told journalists in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat. "Everything is going as planned." The war is officially referred to as "special operations" by Russia. According to Western experts, the Russian military is advancing, but is suffering high casualties and is using up its artillery ammunition at a rapid pace.
Amnesty: Attack on theaters in Mariupol was a war crime
Amnesty International has classified the air strike on the Mariupol theater in March as a war crime by Russian forces. The human rights organization collected evidence for a good three months and has now presented a report on it. "The attack on the theater in Mariupol is a war crime by Russian troops," said Julia Duchrow of Amnesty International Germany. Most likely, two 500-kilo bombs were dropped. Residents of the embattled Ukrainian port city had sought shelter in the theater.
Putin: Russian soldiers are heroes
Kremlin chief Putin called Russian soldiers "heroes". Songs and poems should be written about them and monuments should be given to them, he said. Ukrainian and international experts have documented numerous cases of violence against civilians by Russian soldiers, such as the killing of residents in the Kiev suburb of Bucha. Moscow claims the atrocities were staged. Putin declined to comment on how long the hostilities could continue. "It would be wrong to set any deadlines," he said. More intense fighting would mean higher casualties and "the main thing we have to think about is how to save our boys' lives."
London increases military aid by 1.15 billion euros
Britain plans to send another billion pounds (EUR 1.15 billion) worth of military aid to Ukraine. This should strengthen Ukraine's defense capability, including through air defense systems, unmanned missiles and electronic equipment. This brings the value of British military aid to Ukraine to £3.8 billion this year.
Captured US fighter: Didn't fire a shot
A former US soldier captured in eastern Ukraine says he did not fire during the fighting. "I didn't fire a shot," said the man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in a video interview distributed by the Russian state news agency RIA. "My combat experience here was a single mission in a single day," he said. Two British citizens and a Moroccan had been sentenced to death in the pro-Russian separatist region of Donetsk. The Russian side sees foreign fighters as mercenaries who are not protected as prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention.
Zelenskyy: No relations with Syria after separatist recognition
After Russia's close ally Syria recognized the two eastern Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, Zelenskyi wants to cut all relations with the country. Russia "squeezed" this out of Syria, he said. Syria was the first country after Russia to recognize the separatist areas as states. Next to Iran, Moscow is the closest ally of the leadership in Damascus in the Syrian civil war. Not least thanks to the Russian military operation, supporters of ruler Bashar al-Assad once again control around two-thirds of the country.
Dispute over Kaliningrad: Lithuania accuses Russia of disinformation
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda sees Moscow's complaints about transit restrictions for Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad as part of a disinformation campaign. "Russia is trying to use this opportunity to create a propaganda bubble and of course trying to scare us, to threaten us," Nauseda said. But don't let that intimidate you. "We are not afraid for our safety." Lithuania trusts in the NATO countries' obligation to provide assistance and in the strength of the military alliance as a collective defense alliance. In mid-June, Lithuania banned the rail transit of some goods through its territory to the area around Kaliningrad - formerly Koenigsberg - that are on Western sanctions lists. Russia criticized the restrictions as "illegal" and threatened countermeasures.
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You can read all further developments in our live ticker on the Ukraine war.