Breakaway Georgian region South Ossetia to hold referendum on joining Russia

South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov with Putin in 2019 – REUTERS

The leader of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia has announced that a referendum will be held in July on joining Russia.

Russia has exercised effective control over the region since fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Russia and a handful of other countries recognize South Ossetia as an independent state, but most of the world still considers it to be part of Georgia.

“We did it!” South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram on Friday in announcing that he had signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17.

“In legacy, we have fulfilled yet another important legal requirement,” he said. “And in normal language, we took a life-changing step – we are going home, we are going to Russia.”

About a month into Russia’s war with Ukraine, Mr Bibilov said South Ossetia would take the legal steps necessary to join Russia.

Follow the latest updates below.

06:45 AM

Kherson annexation moves closer – MoD

The Russian-imposed military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region said it will ask Russia to include it in the Russian federation, the Ministry of Defense said on Saturday.

If Russia carries out an accession referendum in Kherson, it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favor of leaving Ukraine, the MoD said.

05:48 AM

Ukraine intelligence chief: war will be over by Christmas

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed that the war will be over by Christmas and Vladimir Putin could soon be removed from power in a coup.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov has told Sky News that the war is going so well that it will reach a turning point by the middle of August.

Gen Budanov, who correctly predicted earlier this year that Russia would invade, also claimed that Putin is in a “very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick”.

He said the war would “lead to the change of leadership of the Russian Federation” and claimed the “process has already been launched and they are moving into that way”.

When asked if a coup was underway, he responded: “Yes. They are moving in this way and it is impossible to stop it.”

05:37 AM

Deputy head of Duma visits Kherson – report

A senior Russian lawmaker has visited the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine to discuss social and healthcare needs of the local population, according to the state RIA news agency.

There have been sparse confirmed reports of Russian senior officials visiting areas of fighting since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb 24.

Kherson is the first region set to be annexed after Moscow said in April it had gained full control of the region, which has seen sporadic anti-Russian protests.

Anna Kuznetsova, deputy head of Russia’s Duma or lower house of parliament, discussed the supply of food as well as medical and other products needed for children, RIA reported.

A damaged auditorium in Kherson.  Russia is set to annex the city - GETTY IMAGES

A damaged auditorium in Kherson. Russia is set to annex the city – GETTY IMAGES

05:12 AM

Ukraine’s answer to Graham Norton

Plaster peels off the walls, a single bulb dangles from the ceiling and, at night, the temperature can sink precipitously, David Knowles writes.

The bomb shelter where Ukraine’s commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest will work from on Saturday night is a dank, gloomy space, worlds away from the contest’s glittering stage in Turin.

But the chance of Russian artillery thundering down on Kyiv once more makes the bunker necessary.

“We have to be underground because you never know,” Timur Miroshnychenko told The Telegraph.

Read more: Inside the bunker where Ukraine’s answer to Graham Norton will host Eurovision

04:30 AM

The lost beauty of Mariupol

Before it became synonymous with war, the Ukrainian port was thronging with carefree crowds. This is what life was like before the siege.

Read our special report on the lost beauty of Mariupol.

Mariupol - PIERRE CROM

Mariupol – PIERRE CROM

03:39 AM

India blocks all wheat exports

The Indian government has blocked all exports of wheat with immediate effect in a move that could intensify the global shortage exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

India, which is the world’s second-largest wheat producer, has seen a sharp rise in local prices.

Exports of wheat from the Black Sea region have plummeted since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and global buyers had been hoping to rely on supplies of grain from India.

In 2020, Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat, with low-income countries such as Bangladesh and Lebanon among the beneficiaries.

On Thursday, G7 ministers discussed urgent measures to break the Russian blockade of grain exports from Ukraine’s ports.

02:20 AM

‘200th Russian aircraft shot down’

Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday night that Ukraine has shot down the 200th Russian aircraft of the war and he noted Russia’s heavy losses in tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and drones.

“And for what?” he said in his nightly address. “So that the Lenin statue can stand for a bit longer in temporarily occupied Genichesk? There is and can be no other result for Russia.”

Russian forces in April restored the Lenin statue in Genichesk, a town in the southern Kherson region.

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine was engaged in “very difficult negotiations” to try to evacuate the wounded fighters trapped in the Mariupol steelworks. “We’re talking about a large number of people. Of course, we are doing everything to evacuate all of the rest, each of our defenders. We have already brought in everyone in the world who can be the most influential mediators.”

On Friday, new footage emerged from inside the besieged steelworks in Mariupol showing utter devastation as Ukrainian fighters launch grenades to force back a Russian attack, in the first direct evidence that Moscow is trying to storm the plant.

Read more: Ukrainian troops fire grenades to fight off Russians storming Azovstal steelworks

01:28 AM

Resurgence of Russian shelling in Kharkiv

For four days this week, the people of Dergachi were able to relax, Roland Oliphant writes.

Ukrainian forces had cleared the Russian artillery from nearby hills, and for the first time in two months this quiet country town north of Kharkiv was not under fire.

But in the early hours of Friday morning, the war returned with a vengeance.

“I was in bed. There was an enormous noise, an explosion and I was covered in wood and bits of concrete from the ceiling, ”said Vladimir Malakhov, a security guard at the town cultural center.

“I started to dig myself out. It took me 20 minutes, and I did it with my eyes closed because of the dust. When we got outside, they started shelling again. ”

Mr Malakhov was one of 21 people sheltering in the basement of the cultural center, which was also an aid distribution center, when it was destroyed by a missile at about 2am on Friday.

Read more: Resurgence of Russian shelling reminds Kharkiv’s residents: Don’t get too comfortable

An apartment block damaged in Russian shelling of Kharkiv - EPA

An apartment block damaged in Russian shelling of Kharkiv – EPA

12:15 AM

No one knows when war will end, says Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday night that although Ukrainians are doing everything they can to drive out the Russians, “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 in his nightly video address to the nation. “This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”

He said he was thankful to all those who are working to strengthen the sanctions on Russia and increase military and financial support to Ukraine. “This is the only recipe for protecting freedom in the face of the Russian invasion. And for Western countries, this is not simply an expense. This is not about accounting, it’s about the future.”

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine on Friday shot down the 200th Russian aircraft of the war and he noted Russia’s heavy losses in tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and drones.

11:59 PM

Today’s top stories

  • The Turkish president spoke out on Friday night opposing Finland and Sweden’s attempts to join Natoin a blow to their hopes for rapid accession to the military alliance

  • Brussels is considering shelving its plans for an embargo on Russia oil imports because of mounting opposition from Hungary

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Emmanuel Macron of offering Vladimir Putin concessions on Kyiv’s sovereignty to help the Russian save face

  • Washington on Friday made a request for an immediate ceasefire and open dialogue between the West and Moscow in a phone call between US secretary of defense Lloyd J Austin and Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, in the first call between the pair since Feb 18

  • New footage from inside the besieged steelworks in Mariupol shows utter devastation as Ukrainian fighters launch grenades to force back a Russian attack, in the first direct evidence that Moscow is trying to storm the plant

  • The UK has imposed sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriendas well as his ex-wife and several close friends who are believed to be holding lucrative assets on his behalf

  • Ukraine opened its first war crimes trial of the war on Fridayputting a Russian soldier in the dock for allegedly shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in the head as he rode his bicycle home

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