Ukrainian officials pleaded for more help from the West on Friday, including quicker deliveries of artillery and battlefield rocket systems, to hold off Russian forces at a critical time in the battle in the east.
Heavy fighting was still being reported in Sievierodonetsk, the small eastern city that has become the focus of Russia's advance and site of one of the bloodiest battles in a war that has increased financial and physical hardship around the world.
Chronic hunger could afflict up to 19 million more people globally over the next year due to reduced exports of wheat and other food commodities from Ukraine and Russia, the United Nations' food agency said.
Within Ukraine, officials said they were worried about the spread of deadly cholera and dysentery in the southern city of Mariupol, where tens of thousands of civilians live in ruins captured last month after being pulverized by Russian siege.
In a speech via video-link to a democracy conference in Copenhagen, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded for his country to be accepted as a part of the West, with binding guarantees for its protection.
"The European Union can take a historic step that will prove that words about the people of Ukraine belonging to the European family are not just words, and therefore are not empty," he said, calling on the EU to accept Ukraine's request to be accepted as a membership candidate.
Ukrainian officials say the war in the east has become primarily an artillery battle, in which they are severely out gunned by Moscow. The tide could be turned only if the West fulfils promises to send more and better artillery, including rocket systems that Washington and others have promised.
"This is an artillery war now," Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine's military intelligence, said in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper.
"Everything now depends on what (the West) gives us," said Skibitsky. "Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces. Our Western partners have given us about 10% of what they have."
CORPSES CONTAMINATE WATER
Russia has concentrated its forces into a battle for the city of Sievierodonetsk, hoping to capture the full territory of eastern Luhansk province, which it demands Ukraine cede to separatists along with neighbouring Donetsk province.
Ukrainian troops have largely pulled out of the residential areas of the city but have not yielded their foothold on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets river, and have so far thwarted Russia's efforts to encircle them. Both sides say they have inflicted massive casualties in the battle for the city.
Russian forces are also pushing from the north and south in the surrounding areas to try to encircle the Ukrainians, but so far have made just limited progress. Ukraine's ministry of defence said the Russians were still trying to test Ukrainian defences along the river.
The Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, now operating outside the southern port which is fully controlled by Russians after a near three month siege, said thousands more could die from cholera.
Russian occupying forces had failed to properly dispose of bodies scattered throughout the city, which were rotting in hot weather and rain, contaminating the water supply, said Vadym Boichenko.
"There is an outbreak of dysentery and cholera. This is unfortunately the assessment of our doctors. That the war which took over 20,000 residents, ... unfortunately, with these infection outbreaks, will claim thousands more Mariupolites."
President Vladimir Putin launched his "special military operation" in Ukraine in February claiming his aim was to disarm and "denazify" Russia's neighbour. Kyiv and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression to capture territory.
Russian forces were defeated in March at the outskirts of the capital Kyiv and later pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv, but remain in control of a swath of the east and south. They are focusing on the east, an area known as the Donbas, comprising Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where they have backed a revolt by separatist proxies since 2014.
Ukraine said a speech delivered on Thursday by Putin - who drew a parallel between what he portrayed as a new quest to win back Russian lands and the historic achievements of Tsar Peter the Great - proved that Moscow's aim was conquest.
"Putin's confession of land seizures and comparing himself with Peter the Great prove: there was no 'conflict', only the country's bloody seizure under contrived pretexts of people's genocide," tweeted Zelenskiy aide Mykhailo Podolyak.
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