Zelensky hails EU support for Ukraine as heavy shelling hits Donbass

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President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed Brussels’ support for Ukraine’s EU candidacy as a historic achievement, as the eastern region of Donbass faced intense Russian bombardment. Brussels spearheaded a powerful show of European solidarity on Friday by backing Kyiv’s bid for EU candidate status, an endorsement that could add Ukraine to the list of countries vying for membership from next week. Follow the news on the FRANCE 24 liveblog. Every hour Paris time [GMT + 2].

9:19 a.m.: Ukrainian doctor who recorded video footage of Mariupol liberated by Russian forces, AP reports

A famous Ukrainian doctor whose video footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol by a PA team was freed by Russian forces on Friday, three months after she was captured on the city’s streets.

Yuliia Paievska, known in Ukraine as Taira, had used a body camera to record her team’s two-week efforts to rescue the injured, including Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

She transferred the clips to an AP team in Mariupol, one of whom fled with him embedded in a tampon on March 15. Paievska and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16, the same day a Russian airstrike hit a downtown theater, killing around 600 people according to an Associated Press investigation.

“It was such a great feeling of relief. It sounds like such ordinary words, and I don’t even know what to say, her husband, Vadim Puzanov, told AP Friday night. Puzanov said he spoke on the phone with Paievska, who was on her way to a hospital in Kyiv, and feared for her health.

7:11 a.m.: Russian state TV broadcasts videos of two US Army veterans who traveled to Ukraine

A Russian state television channel posted videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian military, saying they had been captured by Russian forces.

US President Joe Biden had said earlier on Friday that he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, two US military veterans whose relatives had lost contact with the couple.

The missing Americans – including a third identified as a former US Marine captain – are believed to be among an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops.

On Friday evening, Russian journalist Roman Kosarev – who works with state broadcaster RT – posted a video on the Telegram messaging platform of Drueke speaking in front of the camera.

A spokesperson for the US State Department confirmed on Saturday that US authorities had seen the photos and videos of the two US citizens “who were allegedly captured by Russian military forces in Ukraine”.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and our thoughts are with their families during this difficult time,” the spokesperson told AFP.

7:03 am: Zelensky and top diplomat Kuleba welcome European Commission’s decision to recommend EU ‘candidate status’ to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday hailed the European Commission’s decision to lend its support to granting Kyiv “candidate status” to the EU, nearly four months after Russia invaded the country.

“This is the first step on the road to EU membership which will certainly bring our victory closer,” Zelensky wrote on social media, adding that he was “grateful” to Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and “every member of the EC for a historic decision”. .

Formal “candidate” status for Ukraine could pave a years-long path to joining the bloc, with the decision to be formalized at a summit of EU leaders on June 23-24.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the EC support as “European history in the making” in a social media post and called for Ukraine to be granted full candidate status.

“It will be a shining proof of European leadership and a huge boost for Ukraine’s future transformations,” he said.

Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya hailed on social media what he called a “truly historic day for Ukraine and Europe”.

He said many Ukrainians “have already paid the ultimate price” for the European Commission’s support for Kyiv’s EU candidacy status.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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