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KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine's second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow's forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country's eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine's general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to "deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.


Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was "entering a new - long-term - phase of the war."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were doing their "maximum" to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.

"No one today can predict how long this war will last," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late Friday.

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ABC News' Ian Pannell reports from the frontline with the latest news on the war in Ukraine.

In a show of support, a U.S. Senate delegation led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv. A video posted on Zelenskyy's Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas greeting him.

After Russian forces failed to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Russia's offensive aims to encircle Ukraine's most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are based in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine's control.

Getting a full picture of the direction the fighting in the east is taking has been difficult because airstrikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. But the battle appears to be a back-and-forth slog with no major breakthroughs on either side.

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Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, a city with a prewar population of around 55,000.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine's forces had also made progress in the east, retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

Kharkiv, which is not far from the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key Russian military objective earlier in the the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major Ukrainian cities.

Ukraise "appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv." the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. "Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv."

Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.

He said Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control since at least the beginning of April.

Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia's advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.

"The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided - there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers," he said.

However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river - the largest in eastern Ukraine - in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said, in another sign of Moscow's struggle to salvage a war gone awry.

Britain's Defense Ministry said Russia lost "significant armored maneuver elements" of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of "the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine."

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but "no one today can predict how long this war will last."

"This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum," he said. "This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world."

The Ukrainian leader warned that the war causing a food crisis around the world as a Russian blockade stops Ukrainian grain from leaving port.

The Group of Seven leading economies echoed that warning, saying Saturday that "Russia's war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe."

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war in Ukraine aiming to thwart NATO's expansion in Eastern Europe. But the invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia's flank worried they could be next.

This week, the president and prime minister of Finland said they favored their country seeking NATO membership. Officials in Sweden are expected to announce a decision Sunday on whether to apply to join the Western military alliance.

Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinist that there are no threats to Finland's security and joining NATO would be an "error" that would "negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations."

The Kremlin said the two leaders had a "frank exchange of views" in a phone call on Saturday.

Niinist said the discussion "was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important."

Russia's response to the moves by Finland and Sweden has so far been muted, though Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Saturday that their accession to NATO would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, "turning it into an arena of military competition."

The Nordic nations' potential bids were thrown into question Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is "not of a favorable opinion" toward the idea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

In other developments:

- Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant in the ruined southern port of Mariupol faced continued Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Ukraine's deputy prime minister said Ukrainian authorities are negotiating the evacuation of 60 severely wounded troops from the steelworks. Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia had not agreed to the evacuation of all wounded fighters at the plant, who number in the hundreds.

-The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Anna Kuznetsova, visited Kherson, a region bordering the Black Sea that has been held by Russia since the early days of the war. Russia has installed a pro-Moscow regional administration, and Britain's defense ministry said Russia could stage a local referendum on joining Russia, with the results likely manipulated to show majority support for breaking away from Ukraine.

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Eurovision winners Kalush Orchestra arrive home to ecstatic crowds as they prepare to fight Russians

EUROVISION winners Kalush Orchestra have been greeted by ecstatic crowds when they arrived home in Ukraine.

As they band crossed the border from Poland locals with Ukrainian flags rushed to greet the band, who could soon be fighting the Russians.

7Kalush Orchestra were greeted as heroes on their return to UkraineCredit: AFP 7The band were presented with flowers by fansCredit: Reuters 7Oleg Psiuk gave his girlfriend a kiss as they crossed the borderCredit: Reuters

7Kalush Orchestra won the contest on Saturday with its song StefaniaCredit: AFP

Oleg Psiuk gave his girlfriend a kiss as they crossed the border - a day after he was seen smooching her outside his hotel in Turin.

The band were presented with flowers and people with Ukrainian flags posed for selfies with band.

The six-piece band won the contest in Turin, Italy, on Saturday with its song Stefania - finishing with an astonishing 631 points.

But the all male group - who were given special permission to leave the country to attend the competition - were ordered to return home to their war-torn nation by Monday.

Under Ukrainian law, all men aged 18-60 are banned from leaving the country and urged to join the army or support the war effort.

Psiuk told Rolling Stone the story of how he was called up to fight Russian invaders, only two days after his band were chosen to represent Ukraine.

READ MORE EUROVISION STORIESPRIDE OF BRITAIN National hero Sam Ryder praises 'glorious Ukraine' for Eurovision success

He explained how a soldier barked at him: “OK, first you have to sign this form saying the Ukrainian armed forces are not responsible if you get killed here.

"Then you should go upstairs because our Eurovision entrants are about to hold a press conference. It should be interesting – it’s a really good song!”

In an interview back in March with Associated Press, rapper Psiuk said he had established a volunteer organisation that uses social media to help find transportation and shelter Ukrainians in need.

The brave singer added how the band were "doing everything possible to help our country".

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He praised backing dancer Slavik Hnatenko for his decision to pick up a rifle and fight the Russians with the territorial defence force outside capital Kyiv.

The band’s members are all based in different parts of the country and all have been involved in the war since the February 24 invasion.

Shortly after being crowned Eurovision 2022 winners, the band took to the stage and screamed "Glory to Ukraine" amid euphoric scenes.

Receiving the trophy, the band said: "Thank you for supporting Ukraine. This victory is for every Ukrainian. Slava Ukraini."

“Stefania” was written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mum, but since the outbreak of war it has become an anthem to his motherland.

The lyrics pledge: “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to stage the competition - as per tradition for the competition winners - in Mariupol in 2023 despite the ongoing bloodshed.

Only hours after their historic win, the band released a new music video of its winning hit featuring scenes of war ravaged Ukraine and women in combat gear.

Female soldiers appear to carry children through destroyed cities while Psiuk performs amongst the wreckage of destroyed and burning buildings.

Britain's Sam Ryder came a shock second in the famous competition with his song Space Man.

It is the best result for the UK since 1998 when they finished second.

Britain last won the contest in 1997 and have regularly finished at the bottom of the leader board in recent years.

The UK finished with 466 points, after topping the standings following the jury vote.


But the dream scenes of Eurovision were followed by depraved social media posts from brainwashed Putin supporters.

In a sickening comment on social media, Russian journalist Yuliya Vityazeva suggested blasting the final at the Pala Olympic Arena with a missile.

She wrote: "Bomb it with a Satan missile."

The RS-28 Sarmat, aka 'Satan 2', can fly over 11,000 miles, carry 15 warheads and has the potential to destroy an area the size of the United Kingdom in a single strike.

Putin has previously boasted that the apocalyptic nuke can "break through any defences".

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While a chilling picture emerged of a missile which had been daubed by Russian soldiers calling for Eurovision to be ‘NUKED'.

Putin's butchers had also reportedly wrote "Kalush, as you asked", "help Mariupol" and "help Azovstal right now" across the bomb.

7The band were voted the best in show at the contest in ItalyCredit: AFP 7Oleg Psiuk will travel home to join up with his volunteering outfitCredit:

7Psiuk gave his girlfriend Oleksandra a big kiss outside his hotel before they leftCredit: AP

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