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Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 23

A woman visits the photo exhibition 'The war is not over' opened in the Taras Shevchenko park in Kyiv on June 23, 2022.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

9:15 p.m.: Britain is willing to assist with demining operations off Ukraine's southern coast, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, and he is considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tons of grain stuck in the country, Reuters reported.

Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea ports has prevented the country, traditionally one of the world's top food producers, from exporting much of the more than 20 million tons of grain stored in its silos.

Turkey is trying to broker talks between the United Nations, Ukraine and Russia to create a possible safe sea corridor in the Black Sea, but Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted first to facilitate its grain and fertilizer exports.

"There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks and other European friends and allies to see what we can do," Johnson told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit.

8:22 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the European Union’s decision to make Ukraine a candidate for membership.

“Today, you have adopted one of the most important decisions for Ukraine in all 30 years of independence of our state,” he said. “However, I believe this decision is not only for Ukraine. This is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, in our time and in such difficult conditions, when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity.”

“Today, I would like to reaffirm that Ukraine is capable of becoming a full-fledged member of the European Union,” Zelenskyy said.

7:40 p.m.:

7 p.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders will announce new punitive measures against Russia at a G-7 summit starting Sunday in Germany, Agence France-Presse reported, according to a senior U.S. official said.

Biden will meet with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan at the summit in Bavaria before traveling to Madrid for a NATO summit.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address both summits by video link.

6:15 p.m.: Several European Union members have had their Russian gas supplies cut off for refusing to pay in rubles.

The French government aims to have its natural gas storage reserves at full capacity by autumn, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, Agence France-Presse reported, adding France will also build a new floating methane terminal to receive more energy supplies by ship.

5:22 p.m.: Russia is closing in on the strategically important cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine's embattled eastern Donbas region, Agence France-Presse reported.

Taking the two cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, one of two regions with neighboring Donetsk that make up Ukraine's industrial heartland of Donbas.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Lugansk region, says Ukrainian troops have lost control over two settlements southeast of Lysychansk, Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka.

The regional governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, says no town there is safe for residents as fighting intensifies between Ukrainian and Russian troops.

4:33 p.m.: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Ankara was investigating claims that Ukrainian grain has been stolen by Russia and shipped to countries including Turkey, Reuters reported.

Kyiv's ambassador to Ankara said in early June that Turkish buyers were among those receiving grain that Russia had stolen from Ukraine, and he sought Turkey's help to identify and capture those responsible.

Russia has previously denied allegations that it has stolen Ukrainian grain. The Kremlin reiterated on Thursday that it had not stolen any grain.

3:55 p.m.: Ukraine, in a symbolic move, on Thursday said it had formally filed a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to end "the mass and gross human rights violations" by Moscow's forces during the war in Ukraine.

The bid has no chance of substantive success, given that on June 7 the Russian parliament approved two bills ending the court's jurisdiction in Russia, Reuters reported.

A Ukrainian justice ministry statement said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

3:14 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the European Union's move to accept his nation as a candidate for membership, calling it "a unique and historic moment" in relations with the 27-nation bloc.

"Ukraine's future is in the EU," he tweeted.

2:24 p.m.: Ukraine is officially a European Union candidate.

1 p.m.: The United States will send another $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, U.S. officials told the Associated Press and Reuters on Thursday. The officials say the package includes some additional medium-range rocket systems. The news comes a week after the U.S. announced an additional $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine.

12:10 p.m.: The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that Russia could cut gas supplies to Europe entirely in order to boost its leverage against the West following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has severely restricted gas flows to Europe in recent days. The Kremlin blames a delay in servicing equipment caused by European Union sanctions, while Europe accuses the Kremlin of playing geopolitics. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell has more on the story.

10:42 a.m.: Germany has triggered the second stage of its three-part emergency gas plan in response to Russia's reducing supplies and accused Moscow of an "economic attack." RFE/RL says the June 23 move, made under a plan meant to be activated when there is disruption or very high demand for gas, brought Europe's largest economy a step closer to rationing gas but stopped short of allowing utilities to pass rising energy prices to customers.

9:20 a.m.: U.S. sports apparel giant Nike says it is fully quitting the Russian market, three months after suspending its operations in the country, RFE/RL reported.

Nike said on Thursday that it was joining other major Western brands in leaving the Russian market over Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

"Nike Inc. made a decision to leave the Russian market...The Nike stores were temporarily closed recently and will not reopen," the company said in a statement, adding that its Russian website and app will also be shut down.

Last month, Nike said it would not extend its franchise agreement with Russia's Inventive Retail Group (IRG), the largest retailer of Nike products in the country.

8:41 a.m.: Ukraine’s defense minister says the country has received U.S. supplies of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The truck-mounted system can carry six rockets with a range of about 70 kilometers. Earlier this month, The United States announced it is sending $1 billion more in military aid to Ukraine, Washington’s 12th and biggest tranche yet of weaponry and equipment intended to confront Russia’s slow but relentless advance on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

7:55 a.m.: Russian forces captured two settlements south of the key city of Lysychansk in the Donbas as they pressed ahead with an offensive meant to completely cut off the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region, a regional official said on Thursday, RFE/RL reported.

Russia's improved military performance in the area of Lysychansk and its twin city of Syevyerodonetsk was likely the result of recent troop reinforcement and heavy use of artillery fire, Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin.

Luhansk military governor Serhiy Hayday said on Thursday that the villages of Loskutyvka and Rai-Oleksandryvka south of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk fell to the Russians, but he added that Ukrainian forces continue to resist in Syevyerodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka.

5:55 a.m.: Ukraine is expected on Thursday to hold a preliminary hearing in the trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Reuters.

The suspect, 32-year-old Mikhail Romanov, is accused of murdering a civilian in the Kyiv area and then repeatedly raping the man's wife. He is not in Ukrainian custody and will be tried in absentia.

Moscow has denied allegations of war crimes; Reuters was unable to reach the soldier.

4:55 a.m.: More than 152 cultural and historic sites have been damaged or destroyed since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, according to a report in Agence France-Presse.

The damaged or destroyed structures include museums, monuments, churches, and libraries.

"These repeated attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop," UNESCO'S director general Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. "Cultural heritage, in all its forms, should not be targeted under any circumstances."

3:50 a.m.: The Associated Press notes that three summits over the next week will test the West's resolve to support Ukraine:

European Union leaders will meet in Brussels to consider making Ukraine a candidate for membership.

The Group of Seven leading economic powers will hold their annual summit in Germany.

After that, NATO leaders will gather in Madrid.

2:17 a.m.: The New York Times reports that both Ukrainian and Russian forces are growing weary as they battle for the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

“There is evidence that both sides, due to high numbers of casualties and ammunition expenditure, are nearing exhaustion,” Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general and commander of the Australian Defence College, wrote in a recent analysis. “An operational pause in the next month or two is highly possible.”

1:30 a.m.: In its June 23 intelligence update, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence discuss fighting in the Lysychansk-Sieverodonetsk area.

12:01 a.m.: European Union leaders are holding a summit Thursday and Friday, with a top item on their agenda — okaying Ukraine’s bid to be a candidate for the bloc — appearing to be on track.

Kyiv has pushed hard to join the 27-member bloc. Some EU countries such as Portugal and Denmark earlier expressed reservations. But last week, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed support for Ukraine.

“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective," said der Leyen. "We want them to live with us the European dream.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.