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1. ‘Everything engulfed in fire’ as Russian troops continue Sievierodonetsk offensive
Russia’s military kept on grinding down Ukraine’s defences on Monday, with combat in eastern areas said to be entering a “decisive” phase.
In Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, which in recent weeks has become the focal point of Moscow’s attempt to impose its will on its neighbour, battles raged for the control of multiple villages around Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the local governor Serhiy Haidai said.
Pro-Moscow separatists claimed to have captured Toshkivka, a town on the mostly Ukrainian-held western bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, south of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine acknowledged the Russian success there, and also confirmed a Russian claim to have captured Metyolkine on Sievierodonetsk's eastern outskirts.
Haidai described the situation in Sievierodonetsk as “very difficult,” with the Ukrainian forces maintaining control over just one area — the Azot chemical plant, where a number of Ukrainian fighters, along with about 500 civilians, are taking shelter.
The Russians keep deploying additional troops and equipment, he wrote. “It’s just hell there. Everything is engulfed in fire, the shelling doesn’t stop even for an hour.”
Although Russian shelling and airstrikes on the industrial outskirts of Sievierodonetsk have intensified, Haidai said, the staunch Ukrainian resistance is preventing Moscow from deploying its resources to other parts of the country.
Only a fraction of 100,000 people who used to live in the key industrial city before the war remain, with no electricity, communications, food or medicine.
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said the Kremlin had ordered the Russian military to overrun the entire Luhansk region by next Sunday. Currently, Moscow’s forces control about 95% of the region.
Maliar said in televised remarks that “without exaggeration, decisive battles are taking place” in the area, where Ukrainian forces, outnumbered in personnel and weapons, are desperately trying to avoid being encircled.
2. Russian blockade of Ukraine grain exports a 'real war crime', says EU's Borrell
Russia's blockade of Ukrainian grain exports is a "real war crime", the EU's top diplomat told reporters ahead of a meeting of foreign affairs ministers.
"It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger," said Josep Borrell, urging Russia to unblock the ports.
"This is a real war crime. So I cannot imagine that this will last much longer."
Borrell warned of the "risk of a great famine" in the world, but especially in Africa.
"It is the war which is creating price increases and scarcity on energy and food," Borrell said, emphasising that the EU's sanctions were not influencing the crisis as they do not target food or fertiliser.
He said the EU supported the United Nations' efforts to find a solution to unblock the exports, which have been held up since the beginning of Russia's invasion at the end of February.
"The problem comes from the Russian blockade of the Ukrainian grain. Millions of tonnes of wheat are being blocked."
3. Lithuania bans transit of goods to Russia exclave Kaliningrad
Lithuania has banned the transit of some goods through its territory from Russia to its exclave of Kaliningrad.
It includes coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology, accounting for around 50% of all goods that Kaliningrad imports.
Moscow said the move was "unprecedented" and "unlawful" and threatened to respond.
Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his country was simply implementing sanctions imposed by the EU, of which it is a member.
He said the measures introduced on Saturday were taken after “consultation with the European Commission and under its guidelines”.
The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell agreed, denying that a "blockade" was being imposed and adding that the transit of passengers and goods that were not sanctioned continues.
Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Home to some 430,000 people, it is isolated from the rest of Russia.
4. Germany and Netherlands look to coal to cover for Russian gas
The Netherlands is lifting its restrictions on coal-fired power generation to compensate for cuts in Russian gas supplies due to the war in Ukraine, Energy and Environment Minister Rob Jetten announced on Monday.
"The cabinet has decided to immediately lift the production restrictions for coal-fired power plants from 2022 to 2024. This means that coal-fired power plants can again operate at full capacity instead of the maximum of 35%," Rob Jetten announced at a press conference.
Germany, which has announced it will increase the use of coal to compensate for cuts in Russian gas supplies, promised that this will be a temporary solution and will not change its goal of abandoning this polluting energy in 2030.
"The exit from coal in 2030 is not at all shaky," Stephan Gabriel Haufe, a spokesman for the Economy and Climate Ministry, said on Monday, adding that the timetable was even "more important than ever".
The goal of abandoning coal "ideally" by 2030 is a central point of the coalition agreement of Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his green and liberal partners.
The government nevertheless decided on Sunday to announce that it would use so-called "reserve" coal-fired power stations, currently used only as a last resort, to guarantee the country's energy security as Russia gradually reduces its gas flows to Europe.
In concrete terms, some plants will remain operational longer than foreseen in the German energy transition plan.
Austria also moved on Sunday to convert a reserve gas-fired power plant so that it can produce electricity with coal should restricted gas supplies from Russia result in an energy emergency.
5. Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov sells Nobel Prize for Ukrainian children
Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov is due to auction off his Nobel Peace Prize medal on Monday night. The proceeds will go directly to UNICEF in its efforts to help children displaced by the war in Ukraine.
Muratov, awarded the gold medal in October 2021, helped found the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was the publication's editor-in-chief when it shut down in March amid the Kremlin's clampdown on journalists and public dissent in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
It was Muratov’s idea to auction off his prize, having already announced he was donating the accompanying €475,000 cash award to charity.
The idea of the donation, he said, “is to give the children refugees a chance for a future”.
Novaya Gazeta journalists were often the targets of attacks for their investigative journalism commonly revealing connections between the criminal underground and the Kremlin -- most recently in late April when a man threw red paint laced with acetone at Muratov on a train, potentially damaging his eyesight.