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Ukraine's defence minister 'optimistic' that war could end this year

Ukraine’s defence minister has said it is “possible” that the war with Russia could be over by the end of this year.

Oleksiy Reznikov was speaking at an international security forum just hours after the war entered its 100th day.

He said: “Russia continues to make efforts to occupy our entire state.

“It is currently impossible to predict when the war will end, but my optimistic predictions are that it will be possible to do it this year.”

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But he warned that, until the Russians are forced out of Ukraine, other countries are also at risk, saying: “Next will be Poland, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, and others.

“That is why we must stop Russia and restrain (them) in the future.”

His warning over Russia’s ambitions came after French President Emmanuel Macron was criticised for saying that Moscow must not be “humiliated” over the invasion of its neighbour.

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In an interview with a regional newspaper, Mr Macron said: “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means.”

In response, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted: “Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.”

He added: “We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place.”

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Boys man Ukraine checkpoint

Explosions heard in Kyiv

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said several explosions were heard in the city overnight.

Posting on Telegram, he said the blasts were heard in the districts of Darnytsky and Dniprovsky.

“There are currently no casualties from missile strikes on infrastructure,” he wrote.

“One injured person was hospitalized. The services are still working in the affected areas.”

Fierce fighting continues in Donbas region

Meanwhile, fierce fighting continues in the southeastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, the focus of the Russian army since it abandoned hope of taking Ukraine’s capital Kyiv last month.

Ukraine said it had recaptured part of the strategically-important city of Severodonetsk – success in a region where Russia has been making steady progress.

Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, said Ukrainian forces previously controlled about 30% of the city, but the counter-attack had gained them a further 20%.

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Russia’s defence ministry said its troops were forcing the Ukrainians to withdraw across the Siverskiy Donets river to Lysychansk.

Bridges and apartment buildings were blown up by Russian airstrikes on Saturday.

If Russia was to take Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the province of Luhansk would be under Moscow’s control, and the entire Donbas region – which includes Luhansk and Donetsk – would be within its grasp.

British officials said Russia is devoting significant troop strength and firepower to a “creeping advance” in the region.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday night: “The situation remains very difficult in Severodonetsk, where street fighting is ongoing.”

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Children with toy guns manning checkpoints, while body hunters search for dead Russian soldiers

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‘Victory will be ours’

Elsewhere this weekend, Russian shelling killed at least three civilians in the Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv, mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said.

Russian shelling and a fire contributed to the destruction of a 16th century timber Orthodox Christian monastery in eastern Ukraine, killing two monks and a nun.

And the number of bodies of civilians that have been exhumed in the Kyiv region since Russia’s military retreat now stands at more than 1,300, according to Ukraine’s interior ministry.

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