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Live: Ukraine says troops edging closer to retaking Russian-held stronghold of Lyman

Ukrainian troops have captured two villages that lie very close to the eastern Russian-occupied stronghold of Lyman, officials said on Friday, in the clearest sign yet the town could soon fall. Lyman, in the Donetsk region, has served for months as a logistics and transport hub anchoring Russian operations in the north of the region. Follow FRANCE 24 for live updates. All times Paris time (GMT+2).

11:15am: Turkey rejects Russian annexation of Ukraine provinces

Turkey on Saturday said Russia's annexation of four Ukrainian provinces was a "grave violation" of international law and called for negotiations to end the conflict.

A foreign ministry statement said Ankara had not recognised Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and held the same stance after Russia on Friday declared Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia part of its territory after referendums that were slammed globally as a sham vote.

"Turkey did not recognise Russia's annexation of Crimea in an illegitimate referendum in 2014 and has emphasised its strong support to Ukraine's territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty on every occasion," the ministry said.

It added it rejected the latest annexation "which constitutes a grave violation of the established principles of international law".

"We reiterate our support to the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations," the statement added.

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10:13am: Ukraine military encircles Russian forces around Lyman stronghold

Ukraine has encircled Russia's forces around a bastion that is critical for Moscow at the eastern town of Lyman, in an operation that is still under way, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said on Saturday.

Russia's forces at Lyman totalled around 5,000 to 5,500 soldiers, but the number of encircled troops may have fallen because of casualties and some soldiers trying to break out of the encirclement, said Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine's eastern forces.

8:50am: Russia accused of 'kidnapping' head of Ukraine nuclear plant

Ukraine’s nuclear power provider accused Russia on Saturday of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, a facility now occupied by Russian troops and located in a region of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved to annex illegally.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4pm Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin, in a sharp escalation of his war, signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said.

Kotin demanded that Russia immediately release Murashov.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, did not immediately acknowledge Energoatom’s claim of Murashov’s capture.

8:47am: Ukrainians perceive an opportunity for fast-track NATO entry after Putin's speech

Reporting from Kyiv and referring to Vladimir Putin's speech from yesterday, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Kyiv Gulliver Cragg says, "Perhaps more than ever before, Vladimir Putin directed his vitriol at what he describes as the 'collective West'. It was not just a speech about Ukraine that Vladimir Putin made, but one that really made clear that he regards the West as Russia's enemy. [. . .] That was the change needed for Volodymyr Zelensky to say, 'look, West, we are the guys defending you' and as he put it, 'we are de-facto already part of the NATO alliance because Ukraine is now using NATO-supplied weapons and has show itself capable of using them'".

7:20am: Zelensky hails 'significant results' of counteroffensive in east Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday hailed the successes of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the east, as Kyiv's forces appear to be edging closer to retaking the key town of Lyman, which Moscow captured in the spring.

"We have significant results in the east of our country. There is already enough public information about this. Everyone has heard what is happening in Lyman, Donetsk region. These steps mean a lot to us," Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation.

6:29am: World Bank to give Ukraine $530 mln in additional aid

The World Bank has said it will provide an additional $530 million in support to Ukraine, bringing the total aid by the bank to $13 billion, as Russia's invasion of the country continues.

The aid is supported by the United Kingdom ($500 million) and the Kingdom of Denmark ($30 million), the World Bank said in a statement.

Of the total aid of $13 billion to Ukraine to date, $11 billion has been fully disbursed, the bank added. The World Bank's most recent analysis puts the total long-term cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine over the next three years at well over $100 billion, said Arup Banerji, World Bank Regional Country Director for Eastern Europe.

5:40am: Putin annexes Ukraine territories, Kyiv vows to fight back

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties Friday to illegally annex more occupied Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of his war. Ukraine's president countered with a surprise application to join the NATO military alliance.

The event at the Kremlin — a turning point in post-Soviet history — came hours after shelling killed 30 people in Ukraine's southern region of Zaporizhzhia in one of the worst attacks against civilians in months.

Putin was defiant during his address to Russia's political elite, telling the West that the internationally condemned manoeuvre was irreversible and urging Ukraine to negotiate a surrender.

"I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens forever," Putin said.

Washington announced "severe" new sanctions against Russian officials and the country's defence industry, and said G7 allies support imposing "costs" on any nation that backs the annexation.

9:43pm: Russia vetoes UN Security Council resolution on annexation

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning its annexations of Ukrainian territory, with China and India abstaining.

Russia's ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, complained that it was unprecedented to seek condemnation of a permanent member of the Security Council.

Moscow's veto was a certainty but Western powers will be heartened that Moscow did not find support from Beijing and will now seek to pressure Russia through a vote of the General Assembly, which includes all countries.

9:20pm: UN Security Council meets to vote on resolution on annexation

The UN Security Council has started a session on Russia's annexations of Ukrainian territory.

Opening the meeting, US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield called on member states to act. "This is exactly what the Security Council was made to do. Defend sovereignty, protect territorial integrity, promote peace and security," she said.

"The United Nations was built on an idea that never again would one country be allowed to take another's territory by force," she said.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the US and Albania, would condemn the "illegal" referendums held in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine and call on all states not to recognize any changes to Ukraine's borders.

It also calls on Russia to withdraw troops immediately from Ukraine, ending an invasion launched on February 24.

The Security Council, led by France, went ahead with the session despite certainly that Russia – one of five permanent members – will veto it.

9:02pm: Ukraine reclaims village near Lyman

Ukraine says its troops have "liberated" a village near Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region, hours after Moscow-backed forces reported "alarming" news from the area.

The defence ministry tweeted a photo of what it said were Ukrainian troops in Drobysheve, some 10 km (six miles) to the north west of Lyman, which was taken by Russia in May after an extended battle.

Lyman has been at the centre of renewed fighting since Ukraine routed Russian forces in the nearby Kharkiv region in a lightning counteroffensive this month.

The head of the Russian-backed administration in the Donetsk region said earlier on Friday that Lyman was "semi-encircled" by the Ukrainian army and that news from the front was "alarming".

In a message posted on Telegram, Denis Pushilin admitted that his forces no longer fully controlled either Drobysheve or Yampil, just to the south east of Lyman.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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