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France 24

Pro-Ukraine fighters active in Belgorod to hand captured Russian soldiers to Kyiv

People evacuated from Russia's Belgorod region bordering Ukraine carry humanitarian aid on June 3, 2023. © Olga Maltseva, AFP

Pro-Ukraine Russian fighters active in Russia's Belgorod region said Sunday they will hand at least two Russian prisoners over to Ukraine after a meeting they proposed with Belgorod’s governor did not take place amid a dispute over its location. Russian authorities earlier Sunday called on residents of a Belgorod district on the Ukraine border to leave their homes as Ukrainian shelling intensified this week. Read our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

9:54pm: No breakthrough on NATO membership for Sweden after Stoltenberg-Erdogan talks in Istanbul

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made no breakthrough on Sunday in talks about Sweden’s membership in the military alliance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with officials from the two countries to meet in just over a week to try to bridge their differences.

NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time US President Joe Biden and other allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move. All 31 member countries must ratify a candidate’s accession protocol for it to join the transatlantic alliance.

Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient on terror organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt. Hungary has also delayed its approval, but the reasons why haven't been made publicly clear.

“President Erdogan and I agreed today that the permanent joint mechanism should meet again in the week starting on June 12. Membership will make Sweden safer, but also NATO and Turkey stronger,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Istanbul.

The permanent joint mechanism was set up to address Turkey’s concerns about Sweden and Finland, the latter of which became the 31st member of NATO in April.

Fearing they might be targeted by Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella.

8:36pm: Pro-Ukraine Russian fighters active in Russia's Belgorod say they will hand over prisoners to Ukraine

Pro-Ukraine Russian fighters active in Russia's Belgorod region said Sunday they will hand over at least two Russian prisoners to Ukraine after a meeting they proposed to have with the regional governor didn't happen amid a dispute over its location. FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports.

7:07pm: Russian army says it used artillery to deter ‘sabotage group’ trying to cross into Russia from Ukraine

The Russian army on Sunday said it had hit a Ukrainian "terrorist" group that tried to cross into Russia's western Belgorod region.

"On June 4, units covering the state border of the western military district and border service of the Federal Security Service found an attempt by a sabotage group of Ukrainian terrorists trying to cross the river near the settlement of Novaya Tavolzhanka," the Russian army said in a statement.

"The enemy was hit by artillery. The enemy scattered and retreated."

Belgorod regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov also said Sunday that fighting was ongoing in Novaya Tavolzhanka, and that “a sabotage group came in”.

4:47pm: Russian governor offers to meet group holding soldiers captive

The governor of Russia's Belgorod region said on Sunday that he was willing to meet a pro-Ukraine group of Russian partisans holding two Russian soldiers captive, as he reported a renewed flare-up of fighting near the border.

The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps have claimed responsibility for a spate of cross-border attacks inside Russian territory, including last week when Moscow said two civilians were killed during fighting.

In a video on the Freedom of Russia's Telegram channel, a man identifying himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand over two soldiers they were holding captive in exchange for a meeting with the governor.

The video showed the two captives, one of whom appeared to be injured.

The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, appeared in a message three hours later in which he agreed to meet the group if the soldiers were still alive.

"Most likely they (the saboteurs) killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 5-6pm Shebekino checkpoint. I guarantee safety," Gladkov said.

4:01pm: Kremlin says supplying long-range missiles to Kyiv would create ‘spiralling tension’ in Ukraine war

The Kremlin said on Sunday that if France and Germany supply long-range missiles to Kyiv it would lead to a further round of "spiralling tension" in the Ukraine war.

The UK last month became the first country to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles.

Ukraine has asked Germany for Taurus cruise missiles, which have a range of 500 kilometres, while French President Emmanuel Macron has said his country will give Ukraine missiles with a range that allow Kyiv to carry out its long-anticipated counteroffensive.

"We are already starting to see discussions about deliveries from France and Germany of missiles with a range of 500 kilometres or more," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a reporter from the Rossiya-1 TV channel.

"This is a completely different weapon which will lead to, let's say, another round of spiralling tension," he said.

3:34pm: Ukraine’s military renews pleas for ‘silence’ about anticipated counteroffensive

The Ukrainian military on Sunday renewed its plea for operational silence around a long-awaited counteroffensive against Russian forces, the latest in a stream of messages by Kyiv as it prepares for the assault.

Anticipation has mounted around what is expected to be a broad attack by Ukrainian forces to retake Russian-occupied territory in the east and south.

But Ukrainian officials have repeatedly discouraged public speculation over the operation, saying it could help the enemy.

Authorities in recent days have also cracked down on citizens sharing images or footage of air defence systems shooting down Russian missiles.

"Plans love silence. There will be no announcement of the start," the defence ministry said in a video posted to official Telegram channels, apparently referring to the counteroffensive.

12:44pm: Russia says Ukraine shelled market area in town of Shebekino

The governor of Russia's Belgorod region said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces shelled a market area in the town of Shebekino, about 7 km (4 miles) from the Ukrainian border, but that no one was injured.

He said the shelling had caused fires to break out near the town's market, a private area and a grain depot. Reuters was not able to immediately verify his account.

"Emergency services are on the scene," Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on the Telegram 

12:25pm: Ukrainian president says at least 500 children killed by war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that Russia's war, now in its 16th month, has killed at least 500 Ukrainian children.

The president said in a statement that “Russian weapons and hatred” continued to “take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day”.

“Many of them could have become famous scholars, artists, sports champions, contributing to Ukraine’s history,” he said.

Zelensky said it was impossible to establish the exact number of children who were casualties due to the ongoing hostilities and because some areas are under Russian occupation.

11:25am: Russia urges border district to evacuate amid Ukraine shelling

Russian authorities on Sunday called on residents of an area on the Ukraine border to leave their homes as Ukrainian shelling intensified this week.

The district of Shebekino in the western Belgorod region on the Ukraine border has been hit by daily shelling, killing several civilians and forcing villagers to flee.

The governor of the region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, urged residents to cooperate with authorities and evacuate from the area.

"I ask that in the villages of, first of all, the Shebekino district that has been shelled, to listen to the position of authorities and leave -- temporarily leave -- their homes," Gladkov said on Telegram.

10:27am: Kyiv says Russia hit airfield in central Ukraine

Kyiv said Sunday that Russian missiles had struck an airfield near the city of Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine. 

"Six missiles and five attack drones" were launched by Russia, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said on television. "Unfortunately not all of them were destroyed. Of the six, four were destroyed by air defence and two hit the operational airfield near Kropyvnytskyi," he said, giving no further details. 

9:20am: Shelling continues in Russia's Belgorod as thousands relocated, governor says

Shelling by Ukrainian forces on Russia's Belgorod region continued overnight on Sunday after two people were killed the previous night and hundreds of children were evacuated away from the border, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday.

"Overnight, it was quite restless," Gladkov said on the Telegram channel, adding that the Shebekino and Volokonovsky districts suffered "lots" of damage from shelling during the night.

More than 4,000 people were relocated to temporary accommodation in the region, which borders Ukraine to its south and west, Gladkov said.

The reality of the war, which Moscow launched in Ukraine in February 2022, has been increasingly brought to Russia, with intensified shelling on border regions but also air strikes deep inside the country, including earlier this week on Moscow.

Ukraine denied attacking Moscow last week and has also denied that its military is involved in the incursions into Belgorod. It says they are conducted by Russian volunteer fighters. 

8:17am: Strike kills girl, injures 22 in Dnipro, local official says

A 2-year-old girl was killed and 22 people injured, including five children, when a Russian missile struck near the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the regional governor said on Sunday.

"Overnight, the body of a girl who had just turned two was pulled from under the rubble of a house," Serhiy Lysak wrote on the Telegram messaging channel.

Seventeen people were being treated in hospital after the attack on a residential area by Iskander short-range cruise missiles, Lysak said.

7:33am: Clashes near Bakhmut continue despite easing, Ukraine's military says

Despite a recent easing of combat in Bakhmut, clashes around the obliterated city in eastern Ukraine continue with Moscow suffering significant losses, Kyiv's armed forces said on Sunday.

Ukraine's top military command said in its daily report that Russian forces had carried out two unsuccessful operations around Bakhmut and launched a number of air strikes and artillery shelling on nearby villages.

"The enemy continues to suffer significant losses in the Bakhmut direction," said the commander of the Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky on the Telegram messaging app after what he said was a visit to troops around Bakhmut. "Defence forces continue to fight. We will win."

The Ukrainian daily report on Sunday said some 23 combat clashes had taken place over the past day in the Donetsk region, home to Bakhmut, and the neighbouring Luhansk region, which together make up the Donbas.

5:11am: Air strike injures 20 in residential area of Dnipro, Ukrainian official says

An air strike hit a residential district in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro on Saturday night, injuring 20 people and leaving three children in a serious condition, officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Russia for the strike, saying more people were trapped beneath the wreckage.

"The Russians attacked the city," Zelensky posted on Facebook on Saturday. "They hit between two two-storey residential buildings. Unfortunately, there are people under the rubble."

"Five children were wounded by the enemy in Pidhorodnenska community," said Serhiy Lysak, governor of Dnipropetrovsk region. "The total number of injured increased to 20. Of these, 17 are hospitalised," he added.

"Under the rubble of a mangled house, rescuers continue to search for people. There is probably a child there."

Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike on outskirt of the Dnipro city, Ukraine on June 3, 2023. © Service d'urgence de l'État ukrainien, Reuters

4:53am: Russia's air attack repelled on approach to Kyiv, Ukraine says

Russia launched a wave of air attacks on Ukraine early on Sunday, with air defence systems repelling all missiles and drones on their approach to Kyiv, the capital's military officials said.

"According to preliminary information, not a single air target reached the capital," Serhiy Popko, the head of the military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app early on Sunday.

"Air defence destroyed everything that was heading towards the city already at their distant approaches."

Reuters could not independently verify the report.

4:39am: Drone shot down in Crimea's Dzhankoi, says Moscow-installed official

A drone was shot down in Dzhankoi in Crimea, a Russian-installed official in the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said on Sunday.

"There is damage to windows in several houses in a residential district" from the overnight incident, Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser in the Moscow-installed administration of Crimea, posted on the Telegram messaging app.

"All services are working. Official information  in the morning," he said.

Reuters could not independently verify the report.

2:08am: Air defence systems engaged in repelling air attacks in Kyiv

Air defence systems were engaged in the early hours of Sunday in repelling air attacks near Kyiv, the military administration of the Ukrainian capital said on the Telegram messaging channel.

Reuters' witnesses reported that there were several blasts heard in the Kyiv region from what sounded like air defence systems hitting targets.

All of Ukraine was under air raid alerts.

Key developments from Saturday, June 3:

Ukrainian officials announced Saturday that an inspection had found nearly a quarter of the country’s air raid shelters locked or unusable, just two days after a 33-year-old woman in Kyiv allegedly died waiting outside a shuttered shelter during a Russian missile barrage. The interior ministry said that of the “over 4,800” shelters it had inspected, 252 were locked and a further 893 “unfit for use”.

Ukraine is ready to launch its long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview published on Saturday. "We strongly believe that we will succeed,” Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal.

Read yesterday's live blog to see how the day's events unfolded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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