Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged difficulties trying to defend the country’s eastern region but said Russian forces would continue to be met with Ukrainian resistance.
In his nightly address on Monday, Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces are fighting to defend the eastern cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, as well as the entire region.
“We have the most difficult fighting there. But we have our strong guys and girls there," he said, adding, "the occupiers receive a response to their actions against us."
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on national television Monday the situation in the eastern province was "extremely difficult."
He said Russian forces control most of the province’s embattled city of Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian forces remain in control of only one area of the city — around the Azot chemical plant, where Ukrainian fighters and about 500 civilians are taking shelter, Haidai said.
While Russia failed early in the war to topple Zelenskyy’s government and capture the capital, Kyiv, intense fighting is taking place in the eastern part of the country, centering on the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk province, which is part of the broader Donbas region that Russia is trying to control.
Earlier Monday, Zelenskyy accused Russia of holding Africa “hostage” by blocking wheat deliveries and contributing to rising food prices on the continent.
In a video speech to African Union leaders, Zelenskyy said, "This war may seem very distant to you and your countries. But catastrophically, rising food prices have already brought it home to millions of African families."
He said Ukraine is holding “complex, multilevel negotiations” to try to end Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports.
"But there is no progress yet. ... That is why the global food crisis will continue as long as this colonial war continues," he said.
Russia denies it is deliberately blocking wheat exports from Ukraine and blames sanctions imposed by Western nations for rising global food prices.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called Russia’s actions “a real war crime.” He told the EU’s top diplomats gathered in Luxembourg on Monday, “It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering (from) hunger.”
Also Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland met in Toronto to discuss sanctions and other ways to boost economic pressure against Russia.
Yellen said at the start of the meeting that the two would also work together to boost energy production to counter high gas and energy prices.
On Sunday night, Zelenskyy warned of “greater hostile activity from Russia” this week as EU leaders consider whether to support candidate status for Ukraine in the European Union.
“And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready. We are warning partners,” Zelenskyy said.
The European Commission recommended last week that Ukraine receive candidate status. The 27-member states will discuss the issue and give their votes during a summit Thursday and Friday. If Ukraine does advance to candidate status, the process for joining the EU in full could take several years.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Sunday that Russia’s war in Ukraine could be long-lasting but said Western allies should not curb their support for Kyiv’s forces.
“We must prepare for the fact that it could take years,” Stoltenberg told the German weekly Bild am Sonntag. “We must not let up in supporting Ukraine, even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.”
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.