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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian artillery has "destroyed" 113 churches during "the full-scale war" with Ukraine.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Zelensky said, "Among them are the ancient ones - those that withstood World War II, but did not withstand the Russian occupation."
"There are also those that were built after 1991. Reconstruction of the Skete of All Saints of the Sviatohirsk Lavra began in 2001. June 10 would be another anniversary of the beginning of construction," he said.
Earlier Saturday, CNN reported All Saints Church in Sviatohirsk Lavra was "destroyed" by Russian shelling.
Zelensky noted in his address it is "not the first shelling of the Lavra," and "three Lavra monks were killed by the Russian shelling on Wednesday. Worship services are forced to be held in the basement."
According to the President, the sounds of incoming Russian artillery are "constant" in the Lavra.
Zelensky pointed out Sviatohirsk Lavra "belongs to Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is still considered in Moscow to be connected with the Russian Orthodox Church, but even this does not stop the Russian army."
In the light of "the support of the Orthodox hierarchs in Russia for the aggression against Ukraine," Zelensky called on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church "to draw conclusions."
"The Russian army can stop burning churches. The Russian army can stop destroying cities. The Russian army can stop killing children. If the same person in Moscow just gives such an order. And the fact that there is still no such order is an obvious humiliation for the whole world," he said.
The Russian state news agency TASS said five civilians were killed and 20 were injured Saturday as a result of multiple explosions close to the city of Donetsk by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The city is held by the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, but is rarely shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian officials have not commented on the explosions.
The DPR said on its Telegram channel 10 Grad rockets had been fired at the Kirov district of the city. The headquarters of the Territorial Defense of the DPR said, "as a result of the shelling in Donetsk, the number of wounded increased to 10 people."
Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian Defense Minister, said it is "hard to predict when the war will end, but my optimistic projection is that it may end by the end of the year."
Reznikov was speaking at the GLOBSEC-2022 forum in Bratislava in Slovakia.
He said Ukrainian defense forces still "need heavy weapons, primarily MLRS, as well as other artillery, tanks, anti-ship systems, unmanned systems, missiles and air defenses."
"We need them quickly and in quantities commensurate with the scale of the threats. Ukraine found itself in a state of war without adequate support from the democratic world," he said.
"The situation is changing now, but slowly. We appreciate the contribution of each country which is currently with Ukraine, which has committed itself to increase the effectiveness of international support," Reznikov said.
He added: "Ukraine has changed its philosophy in the supply of weapons. If in the first month of the war we focused on obtaining anti-tank and anti-aircraft portable systems, now the nature of the war has changed and we need more heavy weapons."
"In the Kherson region, the Russian army is building a deeply echeloned defense. Our goal is to prevent Russian scenarios from being realized and to liberate our territories as soon as possible," he said.
Russian forces are carrying out missile and air attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to Ukrainian military, as troops seek to capture the key cities of Severodonetsk and Sloviansk.
Here are the latest developments from Saturday.
Fighting in the east: Russia’s air activity “remains high” over eastern Ukraine and has contributed to Russia’s “recent tactical successes,” but has “failed to have a meaningful impact on the conflict,” according to the latest intelligence assessment from the UK’s defense ministry.
The Ukrainian military maintains that the Russians are making little progress, particularly in Donetsk.
In Sloviansk, hundreds of people have fled as the Ukrainian military said Russian units are being reinforced on the approaches to the city in preparation to resume an offensive. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Friday the Russians are concentrating a force of up to 20 battalion tactical groups in the area. Artillery was used against several settlements north of the city, according to a military spokesman.
The Russian army is "throwing all its reserves into" capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, according to the head of the regional military administration. The official said Ukraine controls about half of the city after regaining ground from Russian troops, and street battles continue to play out.
Church destroyed: The All Saints church in Sviatohirsk — whose original temple dates back to 1526 — was "destroyed," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday. Video shows a roaring fire coming out of the picturesque wooden building dotted with onion domes. Zelensky said it was first damaged during the Soviet era.
Ukrainian foreign minister slams Macron: Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted angrily to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that "we must not humiliate Russia." Kuleba said that it is "Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives."
Video from the city of Donetsk at dusk local time on Saturday showed multiple explosions close to the city, apparently from incoming artillery or rocket fire.
The city is held by the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, but is rarely shelled by Ukrainian forces.
The DPR said on its Telegram channel that 10 Grad rockets had been fired at the Kirov district of the city. The headquarters of the Territorial Defense of the DPR said that "as a result of the shelling in Donetsk, the number of wounded increased to 10 people."
Video on one Russian network purported to show people being evacuated from an apartment building. Other social media video showed cars on fire in the city.
The Russian army is "throwing all its reserves into" capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the eastern Luhansk region, according to Serhiy Hayday, the head of the regional military administration.
"They had previously managed to capture most of the city, but now our military has pushed them back," Hayday told Ukrainian television, claiming the Russians are "suffering huge losses."
Hayday also said Chechen forces who appear to have thought the battle was won had entered the city.
He said the Russians were trying to demolish bridges "so that we cannot provide reinforcements to our guys who are in Severodonetsk, who are defending the Luhansk region. ... They are really afraid that the success of our defenders will develop, and this can be done if ammunition, weapons and reinforcements are provided in time. This is the first thing they are afraid of."
Earlier Saturday, Hayday said Ukraine now controls about half of Severodonetsk. He was responding to a question about the latest UK intelligence assessment, which had predicted Russia would control all of the Luhansk region within two weeks.
The humanitarian situation is difficult in the area, he added.
"At present, we can neither evacuate people nor bring humanitarian aid, for example, to Severodonetsk. The only places where we can deliver humanitarian cargo — food, medicine — are Lysychansk and the Hirske community," which are to the south of Severodonetsk, he said.
"Even in Lysychansk, we are shelled, but daily we continue to transport humanitarian goods by trucks. We may even evacuate people, but quietly, without publicity, because the Russian army is shooting at evacuation buses," Hayday claimed.
Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk military administration, said late Saturday that street battles continue in the city, and "our military is doing everything to drive the enemy out of the city."
Striuk said that residential areas of the city are now "divided in half."
"Street battles are being fought, which is accompanied by constant artillery shelling. The situation is quite tense, but there is hope and confidence in our armed forces that everything will work out. The city remains Ukrainian,” he said.
He said there had been about 13,000 people in the city before it was stormed by Russian troops, but some had been "forcibly removed to the occupied territory."
Pope Francis told a child from Ukraine on Saturday that he wants to visit Ukraine and will be discussing a potential trip to the country with Ukrainian officials.
Pope Francis met with children at the Vatican as part of a teaching initiative.
According to a transcript by the Holy See press office, a Ukrainian child named Sachar said, "I don't have a question but rather a request: can you come to Ukraine to save all the children who are suffering there now?"
Pope Francis replied:
"I'm glad you are here. I think a lot about children in Ukraine, and that’s why I have sent some Cardinals to help there and be close to all the people, to the children. I would like to go to Ukraine; I just have to wait for the moment to do it, you know, because it's not easy to make a decision that can do more harm to the whole world than good."
"I have to look for the right time to do it. This next week I will be receiving representatives of the government of Ukraine, who will come to speak, also to talk about my possible visit there. Let's see what happens," the Pope added.
Amid heavy fighting on several fronts, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces have carried out missile and air attacks on several targets in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said Russian troops fired four Tochka missiles in the areas of Bakhmut, Kramatorsk, Kostiantynivka and Lysychansk, as well as carried out airstrikes against Sloviansk and Soledar.
North of Sloviansk, a key target for Russian forces, artillery was used against several settlements, Shtupun said. The community of Sviatohirsk, which is 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of Sloviansk, appears to have seen heavy fighting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier on Saturday said that a wooden church there, which was first ruined during the Soviet era, had been destroyed again.
Further east, "fighting continues for the establishment of full control over the city of Severodonetsk," Shtupun said.
Ukrainian officials say Ukrainian forces have recovered some ground in the city. But Russian combat helicopters and planes struck nearby towns and villages, including Hirske and Ustynivka, Shtupun said.
There were air strikes against several other parts of the front line, Shtupun said, with Russian Su-25 aircraft active in the area.
The overall picture indicates intense Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian defenses with missiles, rockets and aerial bombardment, but only modest incremental gains on the ground for Russian forces north of Sloviansk and a developing stalemate amid street fighting in Severodonetsk.
On Friday, the Luhansk regional military administration predicted that Russian forces would not succeed in taking Severodonetsk in the next two weeks. Shtupun said that "Ukrainian defenders inflict losses on the Russian occupiers in all areas where active hostilities continue."
According to the latest intelligence assessment from the UK’s defense ministry earlier on Saturday, Russia’s air activity “remains high” over eastern Ukraine and has contributed to Russia’s “recent tactical successes,” but has “failed to have a meaningful impact on the conflict.”
In southern Ukraine, the military reported a Russian air strike in an area of Zaporizhzhia region that has seen ground fighting recently.
Maxim Marchenko, head of the Odesa regional military administration, said two people had been injured in a missile attack as well.