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Latest developments: EU chief visits Ukraine amid ‘difficult battles’

KYIV – Here are the latest developments in the war in Ukraine:

EU CHIEF VISITS UKRAINE

Ursula von der Leyen is in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine's bid for candidacy status to join the European Union.

The discussions "will feed into our assessment" of Kyiv's readiness to be considered a candidate country to begin lengthy negotiations including needed reforms, von der Leyen says.

Kyiv has been pushing for rapid admission into the European Union, but officials and leaders in the bloc have cautioned that the road to membership is a long one, which can take years or decades.

'VERY DIFFICULT BATTLES'

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country's forces are involved in "very difficult battles", including in the eastern Donbas region where Russia has focused its firepower.

"Ukrainian troops are doing everything to stop the offensive of the occupiers," Zelensky says.

He adds in his address that Ukraine must "not allow the world to divert its attention away from what is happening on the battlefield".

'OUT OF AMMO'

In the Mykolaiv region near the frontline in the south, the regional governor calls for urgent international military assistance.

"Russia's army is more powerful, they have a lot of artillery and ammo. For now, this is a war of artillery… and we are out of ammo," Vitaliy Kim says.

"The help of Europe and America is very, very important."

'IMPERIAL APPETITES'

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issues scathing criticism of Moscow and its goals in Ukraine.

"Let's be clear: Russia's invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all," he tells the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore.

"It's what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours."

"And it's a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in."

FRANCE OFFERS ODESSA PORT HELP

France is ready to assist in an operation to allow safe access to Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa, an advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron says.

"We are at the disposal of the parties to put in place an operation which would allow access in complete safety to the port of Odessa, in other words for boats to pass through despite the fact that the sea is mined," says the advisor, who asked not to be named.

The port has been subject to a de facto blockade by Russia, and grain is waiting to be exported with fears mounting of a global food crisis that would especially hurt developing countries.

UKRAINE STRIKES KHERSON

Ukraine says it has struck Russian military positions in the southern Kherson region where Kyiv's army is fighting to reclaim territory captured by Moscow early in the invasion.

"Our aircraft carried out a series of strikes on enemy bases… equipment and personnel and field depots around five different settlements in the Kherson region," the defence ministry says.

DEATH SENTENCES RILE UN AND BRITAIN

The UN warns that unfair trials of prisoners amount to war crimes after pro-Russian separatists sentenced two captured British fighters and a Moroccan to death for joining Ukraine's army.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is "appalled" by the verdicts, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss calls them an "egregious breach of the Geneva convention".

RUSSIA RECOVERS…

Russia's central bank cuts interest rates for the second time in a fortnight, saying its economy is recovering faster than expected from sanctions.

But it warns that the "external environment for the Russian economy remains challenging".

…AS UKRAINE ECONOMY SHRINKS

The war has caused Ukraine's economy to contract by 15.1% in the first three months of the year, the state statistics agency says.

The invasion laid waste to large swathes of the economy, with the International Monetary Fund predicting Ukraine's gross domestic product will shrink by 35% in 2022.

Artmotion S.Africa

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