Ukraine morning briefing: Russian soldiers 'regret actions our troops committed'

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Pro-Russian troops look pleased as they drive an armoured vehicle along a street in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk Region - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
Pro-Russian troops look pleased as they drive an armoured vehicle along a street in the town of Popasna in the Luhansk Region - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Good morning. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has warned that the military situation in eastern Ukraine is worse than people say it is and the country needs heavy weapons now to effectively fight Russia.

Washington has held discussions with Kyiv about the danger of escalation if it strikes deep inside Russia.

It comes as the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned the West that supplying weapons to Ukraine capable of hitting Russian territory would be "a serious step towards unacceptable escalation".

Here's what happened overnight – and you can follow the latest updates in our live blog.

1. Russian soldiers 'were only following orders'

Two Russian soldiers accused of war crimes in Ukraine have appeared at a second trial hearing in the northeastern town of Kotelva.

The Russian servicemen, Alexander Alexeevich Ivanov and Alexander Vladimirovich Bobykin, are charged with shelling civilian infrastructure with a multiple rocket launcher. Both soldiers pleaded guilty at the hearing held at the Kotelevsky District Court.

If convicted, the servicemen could face up to 12 years in prison.

Their defence attorney asked for eight years, saying the two were only following their officers' orders.

Asked if they wanted to make any declarations at the end of the hearing, Bobykin said: "I admit what I did, I regret the actions our troops committed, I believe that in the future the war will end and the peace we are all waiting for will come."

Ivanov made no comment.

The trial is adjourned to May 31.

2. Putin's forces wiping towns from the face of the Earth

Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with the West to send multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine as soon as possible to give it a chance against the Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas.

"We are fighting for Ukraine to be provided with all the weapons needed to change the nature of the fighting and start moving faster and more confidently toward the expulsion of the occupiers," Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation.

He said Russian forces were wiping some eastern towns from the face of the Earth and the region could end up uninhabited.

"They want to turn Popasna, Bakhmut, Lyman, Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk into ashes as they did with Volnovakha and Mariupol," Mr Zelensky said.

Mr Zelensky said at least nine people had been killed and 19 wounded in the shelling on Thursday of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. Among those killed was a five-month-old baby and the infant's father, with the child's mother seriously injured.

Mr Zelensky also had harsh words for members of the European Union who are resisting imposing even tougher sanctions on Russia including a ban on the import of Russian oil and gas, the major source of revenue for Moscow.

3. Intense fighting in Sievierodonetsk

The Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk is the centre of fierce fighting in the east of the country. Its mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk, said the city was holding out even though a Russian reconnaissance and sabotage group went into a city hotel.

Mr Stryuk said at least 1,500 people had been killed in Sievierodonetsk and about 12,000 to 13,000 remained in the city, where 60 per cent of residential buildings had been destroyed.

Sievierodonetsk is the only part of the Luhansk region in the Donbas under Ukrainian government control, and Russian forces have been trying to cut it off from the rest of Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Mr Stryuk said the main road between the neighbouring town of Lysychansk and Bakhmut to the southwest remained open, but travel was dangerous.

He said only 12 people had been evacuated on Thursday.

The Telegraph visited an emergency hospital in the Donetsk region which is receiving wounded from Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk - DAVID ROSE
The Telegraph visited an emergency hospital in the Donetsk region which is receiving wounded from Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk - DAVID ROSE

4. Moscow ready to help end food crisis but...

Moscow is ready to make a "significant contribution" to averting a looming food crisis if the West lifts sanctions over Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin told Italy's prime minister on Thursday.

The sanctions and military action have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from both Russia and Ukraine. The two countries produce 30 per cent of the global wheat supply.

"Putin emphasises that the Russian Federation is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertiliser, subject to the lifting of politically motivated restrictions by the West," the Kremlin said following Putin's call with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

5. Troops living in fear of discovery

In the Donbas, rumours abound about when and where Ukraine will put in a counter-strike, writes our Senior Foreign Correspondent, Roland Oliphant.

He says some officials have suggested it will come later in summer, when the Russian offensive has exhausted itself. Others have hinted it is needed urgently now.

In the meantime, the guns are duelling for dominance over vast distances on the rolling east Ukrainian plains. It is a ponderous but deadly game of hide and seek.

On the modern battlefield, with counter-battery radars and surveillance drones, the working assumption is that you have about three minutes to move before incoming counter-battery fire.

But as with so much in war, the application differs wildly from the theory.

Read his dispatch here: In Ukraine’s valleys of death, a lethal game of hide and seek is playing out