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Ukraine one step closer to joining EU

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The European Union's executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.

In another show of Western support, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to offer continued aid and military training, adding that evidence points to Russia "taking heavy casualties" in the invasion.

"We are with you to give you the strategic endurance that you will need," Johnson said on his second visit to the country.

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Although he did not detail the aid, he said Britain would lead a program that could train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers every 120 days in an unspecified location outside the country.

The latest embrace of Ukraine by its European allies also marks another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbor away from the West and back into Russia's sphere of influence.

At Russia's showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin reprised his usual defence of the war. He has alleged the invasion was necessary to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to ensure Russia's own security.

Johnson's trip followed one by the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania, who vowed in Kyiv a day earlier to support Ukraine's fight without asking it to make any territorial concessions to Russia.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, and European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi participate in a media conference after a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 17, 2022. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, chairs a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 17, 2022.

Johnson said the British-led training program could "change the equation of this war." Ukraine has been taking heavy casualties in the battle for the country's eastern industrial heartland.

"I completely understand why you and your people can make no compromise with Putin because if Ukraine is suffering, if the Ukrainian troops are suffering, then I have to tell you that all the evidence is that Putin's troops are under acute pressure themselves and they are taking heavy casualties," Johnson said.

"Their expenditure of munitions, of shells and other weaponry, is colossal."

He said that two months after his last visit, "the Ukrainian grit, determination and resilience is stronger than ever, and I know that unbreakable resolve will long outlive the vain ambitions of President Putin."

Search and rescue workers and local residents remove a body from under the rubble of a building after a Russian air raid in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Johnson said his government will work to intensify the sanctions on Russia. He praised the resilience of Ukrainians and how "life is coming back to the streets" of Kyiv, but noted that "only a couple of hours away, a barbaric assault continues. Towns and villages are being reduced to rubble."

Zelenskyy welcomed Johnson's visit, saying on Telegram, "We have a common view of the movement towards Ukraine's victory. I'm grateful for a powerful support!"

The possibility of membership in the European Union, created to safeguard peace on the continent and serve as a model for the rule of law and prosperity, fulfils a wish of Zelenskyy and his Western-looking citizens.

The European Commission's recommendation that Ukraine become a candidate for membership will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine's candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided over how quickly and fully to open their arms to new members.

France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, left, Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi, center, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, second left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Kyiv, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Political and military support for Ukraine from Western countries has been key to its surprising success in the face of larger and better-equipped Russian forces.

Zelenskyy has also clamored for additional immediate support in the form of more and better weapons to turn the tide in the east, known as the Donbas region.

Russia pressed its offensive there Friday, leaving desperate residents struggling to make sense of what the future holds.

"We are old people, we do not have a place to go. Where will I go?" asked Vira Miedientseva, one of the elderly residents grappling with the aftermath of an attack Thursday in Lysychansk, just across the river from Sievierodonetsk, where a key battle is raging.



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