1. Russia pounds Kharkiv ‘in same way as Mariupol’
Russian forces pounded Kharkiv and surrounding countryside with rockets, killing at least 20 people on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, in what Kyiv called a bid to force it to pull resources from the main battlefield to protect civilians from attack.
The strikes on Ukraine’s second largest city were the worst for weeks in the area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Russian forces back in a major counter-offensive last month.
Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters that it was probably caused by multiple rocket launchers, as he stood amid the ruins of cottages in a rural area on the city’s outskirts.
Medical workers carried the body of an elderly woman out of the rubble of a burnt-out garage and into a nearby van.
“She was 85 years old. A child of the war (World War Two). She survived one war, but didn’t make it through this one,” said her grandson Mykyta. “There is nowhere to flee to… She didn’t want to go anywhere from here.”
“Russian forces are now hitting the city of Kharkiv in the same way that they previously were hitting Mariupol – with the aim of terrorising the population,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address.
In Mykolaiv, a Russian missile strike on Wednesday killed at least one person and damaged buildings including a school, the local mayor said. Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said earlier that seven missiles had hit the southern city.
In the main battlefield city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russia has claimed to have Ukrainian forces surrounded since last week, scenes filmed by a freelance journalist made clear the battle was not over, with Ukrainian troops able to resupply their garrison by crossing a river in inflatable rafts.
Inside Russia, a fire tore through an oil refinery just 8 km (5 miles) from the Ukrainian border, after what the refinery described as a cross-border attack by two drones.
Production was suspended at Russia’s Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery, on the Russian side of the frontier with Donbas territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
There was no immediate Ukrainian comment. The local emergency service, cited by Interfax, said no one was hurt and the blaze was put out.
Ukrainian forces claim to have scored a ‘significant’ victory against Russian forces after launching a new attempt to re-take Snake Island in the Black Sea.
2. Over half of Russian separatist force dead or wounded, claims UK
Wednesday’s intelligence update by the British Ministry of Defence says the pro-Russian force in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) appears have lost over half its forces to death or injury, by its own reckoning.
It says figures published by the separatists mean “the casualty rate is equivalent to around 55% of its original force”. This “highlights the extraordinary attrition Russian and pro-Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas”, it adds.
On 16 June the DPR acknowledged 2128 military personnel killed in action and 8897 wounded, the UK ministry says. It adds that on both sides the ability to generate and deploy reserve units is likely to be crucial to the outcome of the war.
3. Ukrainian journalist and soldier ‘coldly executed’, says Reporters Without Borders
A Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier accompanying him appear to have been “coldly executed” during the first weeks of the war in Ukraine as they searched in Russian-occupied woods for the photographer’s missing camera drone, Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.
The press freedom group said it sent investigators back to the woods north of the capital, Kyiv, where the bodies of Maks Levin and serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov were found on 1 April. The group said its team counted 14 bullet holes in the burned hulk of the pair’s car, which remained at the spot.
Some of Levin and Chernyshov’s belongings, including the soldier’s ID papers and parts of his bulletproof vest and the photographer’s helmet, were recovered, Reporters Without Borders said.
A Ukrainian team with metal detectors also located a bullet buried in the soil where Levin’s body had been, it said. The group said that finding suggests “he was probably killed with one, perhaps two bullets fired at close range when he was already on the ground.”
A jerrycan for gasoline was also found close to where Chernyshov’s burned body was found, it added.
Reporters Without Borders said its findings “show that the two men were doubtless coldly executed.”
4. Microsoft says Russian cyber spying targets 42 Ukraine allies
State-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report on Wednesday.
“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting (of Ukraine’s allies) has been successful 29% of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions.
Nearly two-thirds of the cyber espionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target, followed by Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting,
A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders.
“Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.
Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defences “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in attacking Ukrainian targets.
The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and wooing people in nonaligned countries.
Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”
5. Zelenskyy goes on a charm offensive ahead of EU candidacy decision
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has gone on a charm offensive ahead of a pivotal summit on whether Ukraine can become a candidate for EU membership.
Brussels gave Ukraine and Moldova the green light but the final decision rests with the European Council, which is made up of the leaders of EU countries.
In a flurry of tweets, Ukraine’s president said he’d spoken to leaders from across the bloc to thank them for supporting Kyiv’s bid to be a candidate.
A senior government figure overseeing the country’s push to join the European Union said Wednesday that she’s “100%” certain all 27 EU nations will approve making Ukraine a candidate for membership.
Olha Stefanishyna, a deputy prime minister, said the decision could come as soon as Thursday, on the first day of the two-day EU leaders summit in Brussels.