Ukraine says it damaged Russian ship, seeks evacuation of injured Mariupol fighters

  • Ukraine says it damaged Russian supply ship in Black Sea
  • Relatives of Mariupol fighters call for rescue
  • Finland wants security after Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • Sweden is expected to follow in a bid to join the alliance

KHARKIV, Ukraine, May 13 (Reuters) – Ukraine said it had damaged a Russian Navy logistics ship near Snake Island, a small but strategic outpost in the Black Sea, while relatives of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the besieged Mariupol steel mill begged to have them saved.

Renewed fighting around Snake Island in recent days could turn into a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast, some defense officials say, as Russian forces struggle to make progress in northern and eastern Ukraine.

“Thanks to the actions of our seamen, the support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov has caught fire – it is one of the newest in the Russian fleet,” said Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa Regional Military Administration.

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Reuters could not independently verify the details. The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Satellite images provided by Maxar, a privately held US-based company, showed the aftermath of what it said was likely missile strikes on a Russian Serna-class landing craft near the island, close to Ukraine’s maritime border with Romania.

Footage also showed recent damage to buildings on the island, which became famous early in the invasion for the brutal resistance of its Ukrainian defenders. read more

Russia faced further setbacks on the battlefield as Ukraine expelled its troops from the region around the second-largest city of Kharkiv, the fastest advance since expelling the Kremlin’s forces from Kiev and the northeast more than a month ago.

Reuters journalists have confirmed that Ukraine is now in control of the territory stretching to the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, about 40 km (25 miles) east of Kharkov.

In images released by the Ukrainian airborne command, several burnt-out military vehicles and parts of a bridge appear to have been destroyed and partially submerged in the river.

Regional authorities reported continued rocket attacks around Poltava and shelling at Dergach, near Kharkov, that killed two people.

In the capital Kiev, wives and relatives of Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel mill in the southern port of Mariupol marched and called for their rescue. Russian forces have bombed the steel mill, the last bastion of Ukrainian defenders in a city almost completely controlled by Russia after a siege of more than two months.

“I want all the defenders who are there to return home so that they can live a normal life with their children and relatives,” said Maria Zimareva, whose brother is in the steel mill. “They deserved it. Why can the others walk down the street with their loved ones and they can’t? Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

Kiev said it was in the process of rescuing the military, many of whom were seriously injured.

“We have started a new round of negotiations around a roadmap for an (evacuation) operation. And we will start with those who are badly injured,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told 1+1 television.

NATO EXPANSION

As fighting continued across the country, wider diplomatic moves increased pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow suit, would lead to the expansion of the Western military alliance that Putin wanted to prevent.

Giving up the neutrality they maintained during the Cold War would be one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.

Moscow called Finland’s announcement hostile and threatened retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical” measures.

“Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and the consequences of such a move,” the foreign ministry said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Finns would be “warmly welcome” and promised a “smooth and swift” accession process. read more

The White House supported such a move.

“We would support a NATO application from Finland and/or Sweden if they apply,” said press secretary Jen Psaki.

Finland’s 1,300 km (800 mi) border will more than double the length of the border between the US-led alliance and Russia, putting NATO guards a few hours’ drive from St. Petersburg’s northern suburbs .

Putin cited the potential expansion of NATO as one of the main reasons he launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February.

Thursday also saw an intensification of disputes over Russian energy supplies to Europe – still Moscow’s largest source of money and Europe’s largest source of heat and power.

Moscow said it would stop gas flows to Germany via the main pipeline over Poland, while Kiev said it would not reopen a pipeline route it had closed this week unless it regains control of areas from pro-Russian fighters. Gas prices in Europe skyrocketed. read more

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Reporting by Reuters agencies; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Stephen Coates; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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