Leaders of the European Union are to meet to shore up support for Kyiv as Russian forces continue their offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The two-day summit, which begins on May 30 and comes as German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has expressed fears that the bloc’s unity was “starting to crumble,” is expected to reiterate EU commitment to aiding Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself and to continue to provide arms and finances to Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to address the summit by video conference on May 30 to press EU leaders for a new round of economic sanctions against Russia to put additional pressure on Moscow to end the unprovoked war.

On May 29, EU ambassadors failed to reach consensus on a proposal by the European Commission to exempt Russian oil imported by pipeline from sanctions. The commission had earlier proposed barring imports of all Russian crude oil in six months’ time, but Hungary blocked the measure.

The EU summit is expected to reopen the discussion, including proposals to end Russian oil exports within five years.

Russian forces have continued their offensive in southeastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, focusing on Luhansk and Donetsk regions as well as the adjacent Kharkiv region to the north.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was shelled after Zelenskiy visited on May 29 in his first trip outside Kyiv since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in late February.

Russian forces increased the pressure on Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region after claiming to take the nearby city of Lyman, with Ukrainian officials saying defenders were holding out under desperate conditions in those strategic areas.

On May 30, the Luhansk regional governor, Serhiy Hayday, said that Russian troops were moving into Syevyerodonetsk amid “very fierce” fighting. Hayday said 1 million people had been left without gas and water, and that efforts to evacuate civilians were under way.

In a televised speech on May 29, Zelenskiy said that “some 90 percent of the buildings are damaged” in Syevyerodonetsk, adding that “more than two-thirds of the city’s housing has been completely destroyed.”

“Capturing Syevyerodonetsk is a fundamental task for the occupiers,” he said of the Russian forces. “We do all we can to hold off this advance.”

Zelenskiy’s comments came after he earlier in the day paid a surprise visit to the northeastern city of Kharkiv, visiting with soldiers on front-line positions and with Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, regional administrator Oleh Synyehubov, and members of the military command.

“You risk your lives for us all and for our country,” Zelenskiy’s office quoted the president as telling troops fighting there.
The presidential office posted a video on the Telegram messaging app of Zelenskiy in a bulletproof vest as he toured areas devastated by Russian shelling in and around the city over recent weeks.

Reuters reported that hours after Zelenskiy’s visit, several blasts were heard in the city and that a large plume of smoke was visible northeast of the central area.

The State Emergency Service said Russian shelling had caused fires around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Russia has kept up a bombardment of Kharkiv after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.

Russian forces have turned their efforts to the Donbas region after stiff resistance prevented them from taking Kyiv at the beginning of the invasion.

In comments to French television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 29 said what he called the “liberation” of Ukraine’s Donbas region was an “unconditional priority” for Moscow. Other Ukrainian territories should decide their own future, he said.