Every week we wrap up essential coverage of the war in Ukraine, from news and features to analysis, opinion and more.
Ukraine on path to EU membership in further blow for Putin
Ukraine was set firmly on the path to EU membership this week when the European Commission recommended that formal negotiations begin, Lisa O’Carroll reported from Brussels.
In a 1,200-page report on future enlargement of the 27-member bloc, the EU said talks should formally be launched once Kyiv satisfied the remaining conditions related to stepping up the fight against corruption, adopting a law on lobbying in line with EU standards and strengthening national minority safeguards.
“Today, the history of Ukraine and the whole of Europe has made the right step,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Telegram.
The commission’s recommendation marked the latest casualty of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine: its own war for economic domination, or at least competitiveness, in eastern Europe, Andrew Roth wrote in an analysis.
Ukraine used the war as a springboard to apply for fast-track EU membership, submitting a bid days after the Russian invasion began. The turnaround time would have been unthinkable before Russia launched Europe’s largest conflict since the second world war.
Before the invasion, some observers in Europe and inside Ukraine believed enlargement was “clinically dead”, Lorenzo Tondo reported separately. The war changed everything. As one diplomat said: “Enlargement is not only back on the [EU] agenda but it is back as one of the top three issues the leaders are dealing with.”
Why free Kherson holds out
The governor of Kherson region has beseeched civilians in this southern area of Ukraine to leave. He has offered free travel and help with accommodation. As well as shells to dodge, there has been a flood, unleashed apparently by the Russians, when the Kakhovka dam was destroyed in June.
And yet at the city’s market, almost a year since Ukraine’s liberation of the area, residents were stocking up for another week on the frontline, Tom Burgis reported.
The Dnipro river cuts the region in two. The eastern side is still occupied by the Russians. Freedom has returned to the western side – where Kherson city abuts the bank – but not peace.
In the year since Ukrainian troops reached the centre of Kherson, the hundreds of shells, bombs, mortars, missiles and drones that the Russians fire across the river every day have killed 397 and injured 2,057, according to the local authorities, equivalent to about a quarter of the civilian death toll from murder, shelling and mines during the occupation.
One aerial assault struck near the shop opposite Victoria’s market stall a few weeks ago. It sold milk, cheese and sausages to a loyal clientele. The shopkeeper had stepped out for a cigarette. That’s what saved her.
‘Grenade among birthday gifts’ kills top military adviser
A close adviser to the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s army was killed after a grenade among his birthday presents exploded, according to officials.
“Under tragic circumstances, my assistant and close friend, Major Gennadiy Chastiakov, was killed … on his birthday,” Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi posted on Telegram on Monday.
Chastiakov’s death was initially reported as a suspected assassination using a booby-trapped gift until further details emerged. Ukraine’s interior minister, Igor Klymenko, released a statement saying Chastiakov had been showing his son a box with grenades inside that he had received as a gift.
“At first, the son took the munition in his hands and began to turn the ring. Then the serviceman took the grenade away from the child and pulled the ring, causing a tragic explosion,” Klymenko said.
Police had identified a fellow soldier who gave the gift, said Klymenko, and seized two similar grenades. An investigation was under way.
The cost of letting Putin win
While “donor fatigue” may be setting in, helping Ukraine to win the war against Vladimir Putin will cost less than letting Ukraine lose, Philip Inman, Observer economics editor, wrote.
“There are still leaders who rightly care about Kyiv’s need to push Russian troops back to the internationally recognised border. Joe Biden is one who believes the billions of dollars handed to Ukraine are an investment in world peace,” Inman argued.
“A victorious Putin will pull every lever to bring about economic and political chaos among his enemies. Ukraine’s allies must hang together and stay the course.”
Inman runs through the economics of the situation, from oil and gas supplies, and the potential to seize Russia’s $400bn worth of capital in western banks. “If the west can stay the course, Russia’s capability will crumble.”
‘Shakhtar must work harder than anybody’
Shakhtar Donetsk shocked La Liga champions Barcelona 1-0 win in their UEFA Champions League Group H match on Tuesday. Leading up to the match, Nick Ames was in Kyiv to get a remarkable backstory on a team unable to play in Donetsk since the 2014 Russian invasion.
Nobody can put a number on the hours the team bus has spent shuttling Shakhtar to Poland and back since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. They cannot fly to or from their own country during wartime, so their neighbours provide a gateway to the rest of the world … To earn the riches of a top club, Shakhtar must work harder than anybody.
“I’ve heard people say Shakhtar is like a cloud,” says Vitaliy Khlivnyuk. “You have all the materials and then you move, unload them and load them up again, ready to go.” Khlivnyuk heads up the club’s sport management department. “Last season everyone was exhausted after 12, 13, 14 hours on the bus,” he says.
“It’s like we are on a training camp all year,” Taras Stepanenko, Shakhtar’s talismanic captain, says with a smile.
“But it’s easy to keep up the energy. We visit soldiers in hospital and realise how strong these people are. They contribute the most expensive thing you have in your life: their health. And you realise that, as a footballer, you have such a privilege to play outside Ukraine. I have three sons and I’d like them to see their father do something good to protect and help the country. These are the things that motivate me.”
Pjotr Sauer this week examined how the Kremlin is moving to absorb former Wagner soldiers into Russia’s military structures. Wagner halted recruitment in the chaotic months after founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed march on Moscow in June, followed by his death in a plane crash, a suspected assassination. Russian military leadership dismantled Wagner’s military base in the south of Russia and forced it to hand over thousands of tonnes of weaponry.
But Vladimir Putin still needs battle-tested fighters for its war in Ukraine, and the regular army is just one pathway open to former Wagner soldiers. Russia’s national guard – known as Rosgvardia, and answering directly to Putin – as well as several state-linked private military groups are also poaching Wagner veterans.
Using a Russian phone number, the Guardian called several former Wagner recruitment centres. “You will fight as Wagner but the contracts will be signed with Rosgvardia,” said Andrei Bulgakov, a Wagnerite who led its office in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Bulgakov said the Wagner formation at Rosgvardia would be commanded by Prigozhin’s son Pavel: “Pavel Yevgenyevich is now in charge.”
Some Wagner fighters have chosen to join other Russian mercenary groups – chief among them Redut, which has operated in the Middle East, Ukraine and most recently in Africa, and is closely leashed to the Russian defence ministry.
After Prigozhin’s rebellion, Redut started to openly recruit Wagner fighters eager to go to Africa. “Wagner is in the past. If you are really interested in real work in Africa, then the ministry of defence and the Redut PMC are your choice!” said one advertisement on Russian social media.
The bear who came to stay
Yampil was only a few days from death when he was found by Ukrainian troops in the ruins of an abandoned zoo in the town near Donetsk that gave him his name, Robyn Vinter reported. Today, the asiatic black bear shows no scars of the shelling that destroyed his enclosure or the Russian occupation that killed almost all of the 200 other zoo animals.
Zookeepers from Five Sisters zoo in West Lothian were pleased to find a healthy bear chomping merrily on a cucumber when they arrived at his temporary home at the Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre in eastern Belgium – a world away from the videos they had seen of Yampil, dirty and concussed, being carried through the rubble on a tarpaulin by soldiers.
Now, Five Sisters zoo is building a new enclosure for Yampil. He is due to move into it this month.
Frederik Thoelen, a spokesperson for Natuurhulpcentrum, said: “If one animal deserves a good and better future, it’s without doubt war victim Yampil. We’re very grateful they can offer Yampil the future he deserves.”