A large convoy of hundreds of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday night after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave, Reuters reports. Ukraine has gradually been evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.
Ukraine has ridden a wave of emotional support from Europeans to win the 66th Eurovision song contest, which was held on Saturday evening in Turin in Italy. Stefania by Kalush Orchestra finished first after strong showings by the United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden in the early voting. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the win and pledged to one day hold the final in a “free, rebuilt” Mariupol.
The US Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, joined the growing list of US politicians making visits to Kyiv. Zelenskiy welcomed McConnell’s visit as a powerful signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine.
Zelenskiy also thanked president Joe Biden for signing into law this week an update to the second world war era Lend-Lease act, which allows for faster production and delivery by the US of weapons and munitions to allies engaged in conflicts in which it is not a direct participant.
Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, says his country’s diplomats in Washington DC are being threatened with violence and harassed by US intelligence services, Reuters is reporting, citing the Tass news agency of Russia.
Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, told Vladimir Putin that Helsinki plans to join NATO. Niinistö delivered the news during a phone call with the Russian leader.
Putin said abandoning neutrality would be a mistake and that there are no current threats to Finland’s security. Russia has described Helsinki’s bid to join Nato as a hostile move that “definitely” would represent a threat – to which Moscow will respond.
Ukraine says Moscow is planning to hold a referendum, perhaps as early as Sunday, on whether Mariupol wants to become part of Russia. It follows news of a similar poll in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia and allegations from western allies that Russia is planning sham referendums to justify military actions.
Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kharkiv city area, its mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said. He said that, “due to the efforts of Kharkiv territorial defense and Ukrainian armed forces, the Russians have withdrawn out far from the city area in the direction of the Russian border”.
The war will be over by the end of 2022, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence said. Major General Kyrylo Budanov claimed Moscow was suffering heavy casualties and predicted a turning point by mid-August – adding his belief that “most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year”.
Moscow is failing to reach its political aims in Ukraine, the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said. The fact Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russia local leadership in the city of Kherson “highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives”, the latest intelligence update said.
“Very difficult negotiations” on the next stage of evacuations from Mariupol were ongoing, Zelenskiy said. The city’s last remaining Ukrainian defenders are holed up in the Azovstal steel plant.