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Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 4

Ukrainian emergency service personnel work outside a damaged building following shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Ukrainian emergency service personnel work outside a damaged building following shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 4, 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.

10:13 p.m.: Ukraine said Saturday its forces were managing to push back against Moscow's troops in fierce fighting in Sievierodonetsk despite Russia "throwing all its power" into capturing the strategic eastern city.

At least 11 civilians were reported killed in the Lugansk region where Sievierodonetsk is located, the nearby Donetsk region, and in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

In his Saturday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "the situation in Sievierodonetsk, where street fighting continues, remains extremely difficult," as well as in other cities in the Donbass region.

There are "constant air strikes, artillery and rocket fire. As of this morning, the total number of various Russian missiles used against Ukraine is 2,503," Zelenskyy added.

Russia's army claimed some Ukrainian military units were withdrawing from the city.

9 p.m.: Far from battlefields and Russian invaders, the Ukrainian footballers exempted from military service are trying to complete the mission to lead their country to the World Cup.

As they prepare to face Wales on Sunday in a playoff final, The Associated Press reported, they will have a little extra inspiration in their locker room: a yellow and blue flag sent by soldiers on the frontlines in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, signed with messages.

“We all hope that very soon Ukraine will be liberated and will return to being an independent country," Ukraine midfielder Oleksandr Karavayev said through a translator in the Welsh capital.

8:27 p.m.: Brittney Griner hasn’t been forgotten at the NBA Finals.

The WNBA star has been detained in Russia for more than 100 days, and some members of the Boston Celtics are using their platform at the NBA’s title series to add their voices to those demanding she be allowed to come home.

Several players wore black T-shirts with “We Are BG” on the front in orange letters for their practice session at the NBA Finals on Saturday.

The shirts also had a QR code on the back, linking to an online petition seeking 300,000 signatures in support of the notion of bringing Griner home.

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, has been detained since February after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at an airport in Moscow.

7:55 p.m.: Russia's sanctions against Gazprom Germania and its subsidiaries could cost German taxpayers and gas users an extra $5.4 billion a year to pay for replacement gas, the Welt am Sonntag weekly reported, citing industry representatives.

In May, Russia decided to stop supplying Gazprom Germania, which had been the German subsidiary of Gazprom, after Berlin put the company under trustee management after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, the Bundesnetzagentur energy regulator, acting as trustee, has had to buy replacement gas on the market to fulfil supply contracts with German municipal utilities and regional suppliers.

Welt am Sonntag reported that Economy Minister Robert Habeck estimates an extra 10 million cubic meters per day are required, which would currently cost about 3.5 billion euros a year.

7:20 p.m.: June 4 marks the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, as commemorated by the United Nations. In an interview with Good Morning America on Thursday, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been deadly for the country’s children with more than 240 killed as a result of the war.

6:45 p.m.: Top U.S. General Mark Milley said Saturday that the United States is determined to support Sweden and Finland as the countries pursue NATO membership.

"It's important for us, the United States, and it's important for the other NATO countries to show solidarity with both Finland and Sweden in this exercise," Milley said during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson ahead of NATO's annual Baltic Sea naval maneuvers.

The Baltops 22 naval exercise takes place this year in the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That invasion prompted the two Nordic countries to reverse decades of military nonalignment and apply for NATO membership.

5:30 p.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday said Western sanctions would have no effect on the country's oil exports and predicted a big jump in profits from energy shipments this year.

"Considering the price level that has been established as a result of the West's policies, we have suffered no budgetary losses," he said on a Bosnian Serb television station, the ministry said.

"On the contrary, this year we will significantly increase the profits from the export of our energy resources," he added.

"Oil, generally speaking, is not subject to politics, there is a demand for it ... we have alternative sales markets, where we are already increasing sales," Lavrov said.

4:51 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian artillery hit an early 17th century Ukrainian Orthodox monastery in war-torn eastern Ukraine on Saturday, engulfing its main church in flames.

Russia's Defense Ministry denied involvement, accusing Ukrainian troops of setting fire to the All Saints Monastery before pulling back.

The Svyatohirsk Lavra monastery complex belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and lies near Russian positions in eastern Donetsk, one of two regions that the Kremlin is focused on capturing.

Flames could be seen ripping through the timber walls of a church with onion domes in footage posted by Zelenskyy on his official Telegram channel. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.

Two monks and a nun were killed at the site in shelling on June 1.

4:15 p.m.: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink joined Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova on Saturday on a visit to Borodyanka, one of the settlements outside Kyiv that have witnessed heinous atrocities by Russian occupation forces.

3:30 p.m.: Iga Swiatek received a standing ovation at Roland Garros on Saturday with an emotional "stay strong Ukraine" plea after winning her second French Open title.

"I wanted to say something to Ukraine, to stay strong, because the war is still there," said Swiatek, who has worn a ribbon in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukraine flag on her cap throughout the tournament.

"Since I made my speech in Doha (after winning the tournament in February) it had started and I was hoping when I do the next tournament speech the situation will be better, but I will still have hope."

The 21-year-old Pole spoke after defeating Coco Gauff on Court Philippe Chatrier.

2:45 p.m.: Ukrainian intelligence services are in communication with fighters captured at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol and said that Kyiv is doing all it can to ensure their release, RFE/RL reports.

Uncertainty has surrounded the fate of hundreds of soldiers taken prisoner by Russian forces after they abandoned the steel-mill complex in the port city on the Sea of Azov last month.

"It is through [the intelligence services] that we are learning about the conditions of the detention, nutrition, and the possibility of their release," Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy said on Ukrainian television late on June 3.

Russia has said that some 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers have been taken into custody at the plant.

2:15 p.m.: A European Union decision to extend sanctions against Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko to his wife is irrational because she has never held Russian citizenship or resided in Russia, a representative for the couple said on Saturday.

Aleksandra Melnichenko, who was born in Belgrade and holds Serbian and Croatian citizenship, will "vigorously contest the unfortunate decision against her," the representative said in an email to Reuters, declining to give a name.

Reuters reported last month that Melnichenko ceded ownership of coal company SUEK AO and fertilizer company EuroChem Group AG to his wife on March 8, a day before the EU put him on a sanctions list.

The EU sanctioned Melnichenko's wife on Friday as part of a sixth round of sanctions against Russia for waging a war against Ukraine. The EU said Aleksandra Melnichenko "takes good advantage of the fortune and benefits from the wealth of her husband."

1:40 p.m.: Pope Francis said on Saturday he would meet soon with Ukrainian officials to discuss the possibility of a visit to their country. He disclosed the coming meeting in a question-and-answer session with children in one of the Vatican's main courtyards.

A Ukrainian boy named Sachar asked him: "Can you come to Ukraine to save all the children who are suffering there now?"

The 85-year-old Francis, who has been using a wheelchair because of knee pain, responded that he often thought of Ukrainian children and wanted to visit the country but had to choose the right time.

"It is not easy to make a decision that could do more harm than good to the rest of the world. I have to find the right moment to do it," he said, according to a Vatican transcript of the event. He did not elaborate.

"Next week I will receive representatives of the Ukrainian government, who will come here to talk, to talk even about an eventual visit of mine there. We'll see what happens," Francis said. He gave no further details.

1:25 p.m.: Russian anti-aircraft forces have shot down dozens of Ukrainian weapons and are "cracking them like nuts," President Vladimir Putin said in a brief excerpt of an interview aired on Saturday.

RIA news agency, which first cited the comments, quoted Putin as responding to a question about U.S.-supplied arms by saying, Russia was coping easily and had already destroyed the weapons by the dozen.

But the clip of an interview to be aired on Sunday made clear that Putin had in fact been responding to a different question, which was not shown.

"Our anti-aircraft systems are crunching them like nuts. Dozens have been destroyed," Putin said.

Although the exact kind of weapon was not clear, Russia says it has destroyed both aircraft and missiles fielded by Ukraine.

1:10 p.m.: RFE/RL cites Russian media in reporting that a Russian philharmonic orchestra has canceled a concert led by a conductor critical of the war in Ukraine, citing health issues.

Vassily Sinaisky, who posted a statement on February 28 calling the war vile, was scheduled to lead the St. Petersburg Akademicheskaya Filarmonia in concert Saturday.

The philharmonic faced calls to cancel the concert because of Sinaisky’s vocal opposition to the war, RBC reported.

In his February statement, Sinaisky, whose maternal grandfather was Ukrainian, criticized musicians in Russia for not voicing their opinions of the war and said truth was not on Russia’s side.

12:45 p.m.: Russia has so far failed to achieve its military objectives since invading Ukraine, but the chances are still high that President Vladimir Putin may attempt another assault on the capital, Kyiv, says a Ukrainian legislator who is now serving in the country’s military. Roman Kostenko, a special forces commander and member of the liberal pro-European Holos (Voice) party, made his remarks in an interview on June 3 with Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He was speaking as Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine entered its 100th day.

Russian military forces are now largely focused on seizing control of Luhansk and Donetsk, known collectively as the Donbas. However, the Ukrainian capital could face a second Russian assault with the likelihood of such a scenario possibly dependent on Belarus, said Kostenko, who also serves as secretary of the national security, defense and intelligence committee.

“Belarus is also our enemy, and we understand this. A country, that allowed our enemies to use its territory to kill our civilians, its leaders are also our enemies,” said Kostenko.

12:20p.m.: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba chastised French President Emmanuel Macron, who earlier Saturday urged world powers not to “humiliate Russia" and expressed his conviction that France must mediate the conflict.

“Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it. Because it is Russia that humiliates itself,” Kuleba tweeted Saturday.

“We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives,” he added.

11:30 a.m.: Four international fighters have been killed in Ukraine, the spokesperson for the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

Spokesperson Damien Magrou named the four men as Ronald Vogelaar, Michael O’Neill, Bjorn Benjamin Clavis and Wilfried Bleriot and showed the flags of France, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.

“No words exist to express our gratitude for their service and ultimate sacrifice," Magrou posted. “These are the unsung heroes who came here to defend the values they believed in and stand up against tyranny.”

11:10 a.m.: Finland and Sweden joining NATO would put Russia in a difficult military position in the Baltic Sea, top U.S. General Mark Milley said on Saturday during a visit to Stockholm ahead of a military exercise.

The two Nordic neighbors, both of which have long borders on the Baltic Sea, applied last month to join the military alliance amid security concerns after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, although they face objections from Turkey.

Their joining would mean the Baltic Sea's coastline would, bar short strips around Russian cities Kaliningrad and St Petersburg, be encircled by NATO members.

"So from a Russian perspective that will be very problematic for them, militarily speaking, and it would be very advantageous to NATO," said Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The Baltic (Sea is) very strategically important, it's one of the great seaways of the world," Milley added.

10:45 a.m.: Kyiv Independent reports that in an interview with Polska Agencia Prasowa, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski Polish said that the EU has already begun working on a seventh package of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Sanctions should be even tougher regarding the gas that Russia can still sell,” he said.

The EU has imposed a partial Russian oil embargo in the sixth sanctions package on May 30.

9:30 a.m.: A NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June is not a deadline for a decision on Sweden and Finland's membership bids, which are opposed by Turkey, the Turkish president's spokesman said on Saturday.

Sweden and Finland applied to join the Western defense alliance last month in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but their bids have faced resistance from Turkey, which has accused them of supporting Kurdish militants.

While the two Nordic countries have said talks would continue to resolve the dispute, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier in the week that Ankara had not received any responses to its demands, including stopping support for groups Turkey considers terrorists, lifting arms embargoes on Ankara and extraditing suspects it seeks.

Speaking to the state-run Anadolu news agency during a visit to Madrid, Erdogan's spokesman and chief foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin repeated that progress on the membership bids hinges on how Sweden and Finland respond to Turkish demands.

8 a.m.: French President Emmanuel Macron said it is vital that Russia is not humiliated so that when the fighting stops in Ukraine a diplomatic solution can be found, adding that he believed Paris would play a mediating role to end the conflict.

Macron has sought to maintain a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February. His stance has been repeatedly criticized by some eastern and Baltic partners in Europe, as they see it as undermining efforts to pressure Putin to the negotiating table.

"I am convinced that it is France's role to be a mediating power," Macron said in an interview to regional newspapers published on Saturday.

7:40 a.m.: Ukraine says its forces have recaptured 20 percent of the territory they lost in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the focus of a Russian offensive to take the eastern Donbas region, and could hold it for up to two weeks, RFE/RL reports.

Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said Ukrainian forces continued to hold their positions inside Sievierodonetsk and were pushing back Russian troops in several locations.

"As soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions,” Haidai said.

7:30 a.m.: Kyiv said Moscow has reinforced its troops around Sievierodonetsk and attempted to cut off Ukraine's access to the industrial city, the focus of a Russian offensive to take the eastern Donbas region.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, said Russian forces were blowing up bridges across the Siverskyi Donets river to prevent Ukraine bringing in military reinforcements and delivering aid to civilians in Sievierodonetsk.

"The Russian army, as we understand, is throwing all its efforts, all its reserves in that (Sievierodonetsk) direction," Haidai said in a live TV broadcast on Saturday.

4:20 a.m.: The Washington Post reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an appearance on Russian TV, blamed Western sanctions for world food problems.

Ukraine is a major producer of wheat and corn. The Associated Press reports that African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020.

The AP reports that Ukraine and its allies have blamed Russia for blocking Ukraine's grain exports.

3:14 a.m.: Al Jazeera reports that Japan's prime minister, Fumio Kishida, may join a late June NATO summit to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

The NATO summit is set for June 29-30 in Madrid.

2:15 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, has issued a new assessment of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

In it, the institute notes that Russia has made minor gains in Sievierodonetsk but still faces localized counterattacks from Ukrainian forces.

Additionally, it says, Russian officials have begun issuing Russian passports to residents of the occupied cities of Kherson and Melitopol. They're still facing Ukrainian partisan actions in the occupied areas.

It also notes that frontline units lack medical supplies, causing "abysmal medical care."

1:04 a.m.: The New York Times, citing a report by the United Nations Development Program, says that Ukraine has removed 127,393 explosive devices, mostly in urban areas.

12:02 a.m.: Volunteers have carried out the largest evacuation from Ukraine's Kharkiv region to date. Around 1,500 people were evacuated from the occupied territory in just one day on May 30 after five volunteer organizations came together and organized a humanitarian corridor to safety. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has the story.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.