1. Ukraine says Snake Island ‘military operation’ completed
The Ukrainian flag has been raised again on Snake Island in the Black Sea, Ukraine’s military said on Monday, after Russian forces withdrew from the strategic outpost last week.
“The military operation has been concluded, and … the territory (Snake Island) has been returned to the jurisdiction of Ukraine,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, told a news conference.
Some analysts have said Russia’s withdrawal from Snake Island off Ukraine’s southwestern coast could loosen its blockade on Ukrainian ports.
But a Kyiv-based foreign diplomat told Reuters it was still not enough to allow for safe transit of Ukrainian grain.
“There is a requirement for demining, and Russia still has capabilities (military vessels, costal defence systems and air superiority) that will allow them to interdict shipping lanes,” the diplomat said.
2. Putin declares victory in Luhansk after Ukrainian forces withdraw
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, one day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with the neighbouring Donetsk province makes up Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbas.
Shoigu told Putin that “the operation” was completed on Sunday after Russian troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.
Putin, in turn, said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”
Putin’s declaration came as Russian forces tried to press their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday.
Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being surrounded.
“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.
“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”
The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia.
The Russian army has also intensified its shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.
3. Ukraine lays out reconstruction plan at Lugano conference
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday the reconstruction of his war-battered country is the “common task of the entire democratic world,” as his prime minister laid out a $750 billion recovery plan once the guns of Russia’s invaders fall silent one day.
As Russian forces continued their crushing advance in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Zelenskyy spoke by video message to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Switzerland about the needs of the country that has been on an up-and-down march toward democracy since the end of the Cold War and now faces widespread devastation.
“The reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local project, is not a project of one nation, but a common task of the entire democratic world — all countries, all countries who can say they are civilized,” Zelenskyy told hundreds of attendees in Lugano.
”Restoring Ukraine means restoring the principles of life, restoring the space of life, restoring everything that makes humans humans.”
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said such a recovery would require a sort of “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine to help it rebuild.
Such ambitions, Zelenskyy said, will require wide-scale construction, funding and security “in all of our country which will be forced to continue living beside Russia.”
The task, which is already underway in some areas that were liberated from Russian forces, aims to leverage outside expertise, government funds and work of Ukrainians to rebuild hospitals, schools, government buildings, homes and apartments — but also water pipes, gas lines and other battered infrastructure.
4. Turkish authorities stop Russian-flagged ship accused of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain
Turkey has halted a Russian-flagged cargo ship off its Black Sea coast and is investigating a Ukrainian claim that it was carrying stolen grain, a senior Turkish official said on Monday.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey said on Sunday that the Zhibek Zholy was detained by Turkish customs authorities. Ukraine had previously asked Ankara to detain it, according to an official and documents viewed by Reuters.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have seized since their invasion began in late February, an allegation the Kremlin previously denied.
“Upon request, the ship named Zhibek Zholy was halted off Karasu,” a senior official said. “The allegations are being investigated thoroughly. It is not written on the grain who it belongs to.”
Ukrainian Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar had said on Ukrainian national television that the ship’s fate would be decided by a meeting of investigators on Monday and that Ukraine was hoping for the confiscation of the grain.
5. All three foreigners sentenced to death by DNR appeal against verdict
A British and a Moroccan man who fought in the Ukrainian army and were sentenced to death by the pro-Russian separatists’ judiciary have appealed to the Supreme Court of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, or DNR.
They were sentenced to death for “mercenary activities” and “terrorism” in the eastern Ukrainian region, which has been in the hands of Moscow-backed and armed separatists since 2014.
Britain’s Aiden Aslin filed his appeal on Monday, a Supreme Court spokesman told Russian news agencies, while Moroccan Brahim Saadoun did the same on 1 July, the court said in a statement.
The second Briton, Shaun Pinner, had filed his appeal with the court in June, according to his lawyer.
According to the families of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, the two men, who have been living in Ukraine since 2018 and are married to Ukrainian women, had been serving in the Ukrainian army for several years. London had harshly criticised the conviction.
Brahim Saadoun’s father confirmed on Monday that his son had joined the Ukrainian navy in 2021, before the start of the Russian offensive in February 2022, and said he was “wearing the official uniform of the Ukrainian army”.
6. Zelenskyy vows to reclaim lost ground after Russia captures Lysychansk
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged in his address on Sunday night that Kyiv’s forces had withdrawn from the strategic city in the eastern Donbas region after a grinding Russian assault.
He however vowed to regain control over the area with the help of long-range Western weapons.
Moscow said the capture of Lysychansk meant it had “liberated” the Luhansk region, less than a week after taking neighbouring Sievierdonetsk.
Lysychansk was the last Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk, a key target for Russia. Its capture will provide Moscow’s troops with a stronger base from which to press their advance in the Donbas — the old industrial region of mines and factories that Vladimir Putin is bent on capturing.
The battlefield focus now shifts to the neighbouring Donetsk region, where Kyiv still controls swathes of territory.