Top presidential aide calls for ‘complete restoration of territorial integrity’ as Polish president backs stance during Kyiv visit

Lorenzo Tondo

22 May 2022

The Guardian

Ukraine has said it will not agree to any ceasefire deal that would involve handing over territory to Russia, as Moscow intensified its attack in the eastern Donbas region on Sunday.  “The war must end with the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” said Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, in a Twitter post.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, offered Warsaw’s backing, telling politicians in Kyiv that the international community had to demand Russia’s complete withdrawal and that sacrificing any of Ukraine’s territory would be a “huge blow” to the west. “Worrying voices have appeared, saying that Ukraine should give in to Putin’s demands,” Duda said, in the first in-person address to the Ukrainian parliament by a foreign leader since Russia’s invasion on 24 February. “Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future,” he said.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s lead negotiator in the stalled peace talks, Mykhailo Podolyak, said: “Any concession to Russia is not a path to peace, but a war postponed for several years. Ukraine trades neither its sovereignty, nor territories and Ukrainians living on them.”

A few hours before, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had suggested that his government was willing to resume talks with Russia as long as Moscow did not kill Ukrainian troops who had been defending the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

Following calls for an immediate ceasefire from the US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, and the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, Podolyak made clear that Ukraine would not accept any deal with Russia that involved ceding territory, and that agreeing to a ceasefire now while making concessions to Russia would backfire on Ukraine because “Moscow would hit back harder after any break in fighting”.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Russian forces continued their bombardment of frontline Ukrainian cities, waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas. Moscow’s goal – having taken full control of the port city of Mariupol, in what is perhaps Moscow’s biggest capture of the nearly three-month war – is to seize the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the region and gain military momentum.

Controlling Mariupol gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.

Shelling and missile strikes hit Kharkiv in northern Ukraine, and Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia in the south, while eight civilians were killed on the eastern front in the Donbas, Ukrainian officials said.

Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for Ukraine’s defence ministry, said Russian rockets struck a mobile anti-drone system near the settlement of Hannivka, about 60 miles (100km) north-east of the city of Mykolaiv.

On the Donetsk frontline, Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defences to reach the administrative borders of the Luhansk region, while further north they continued heavy shelling of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, according to Ukraine’s general staff.

Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, its twin city on the other side of the Siverskiy Donets River, form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, said that although Severodonetsk had been attacked from “four separate directions”, the Russian forces had not succeeded in breaking into the city.

The Russian army has flattened the Black Sea port of Mariupol during its siege and subjected Ukrainian troops and towns in the east to relentless ground and artillery attacks. “There is no work, no food, no water,” said Angela Kopytsa, 52, breaking into tears as she spoke to AFP reporters on a Russian-organised tour of Mariupol.  Kopytsa said her home and her life had been destroyed during the fighting and that “children at maternity wards were dying of hunger”.