US sanctions Russian TV stations and bans accounting services after G7 leaders meeting

Russia has continued to deploy forces and equipment in its all-out offensive in eastern Ukraine, where it seeks to encircle Ukrainian troops in two towns, as kyiv warns the country faces an existential battle that could determine his fate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Donbass was “extremely difficult” as Russia steps up its assault.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

“Virtually all the might of the Russian military, all it has left, is on the offensive there,” he added. mentioned in his evening speech of May 24.

Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle the easternmost sector of Ukraine’s Donbass pocket, concentrating on the twin towns of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, located on the eastern and western banks of the Siverskiy Donets River.

The fighting has reached the outskirts of Severodonetsk, said Serhiy Hayday, governor of the Luhansk region, where the two towns are located. “Russian troops have advanced far enough to be able to fire mortars already” on the city, he said in a statement on social media.

Hayday said earlier that six civilians had been killed by Russian shelling in Severodonetsk the previous night.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said on May 24 that battles in eastern Ukraine could determine its future.

“Now we are observing the most active phase of the large-scale aggression that Russia has deployed against our country,” Motuzyanyk said in a televised briefing. “The situation on the [eastern] front is extremely difficult, because the fate of this country may be being decided [there] right now.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said on May 25 that it had finished clearing the port of Mariupol and foreign ships stuck there would be able to sail again. Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a press briefing that the port had started to “work normally”.

The United Nations has urged Russian authorities to release grain stuck in Ukrainian ports to avert global food shortages.

Meanwhile, British intelligence has warned that the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s key port of Odessa has caused grain supply shortages that cannot be met by land exports.

WATCH: Veronika from Ukraine’s Donetsk region lost her family in an attack on the skyscraper where she lived. Hit by shrapnel, she remained in a coma. Kira from Kharkiv was hit by shelling while walking in a park. Her friend was killed.

The British Ministry of Defense assessed in daily life newsletter on May 25, as long as the threat of the Russian naval blockade prevents access of commercial ships to Ukrainian ports, “the resulting supply shortages will further increase the price of many basic products”.

On May 24, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for talks with Moscow on unblocking wheat exports trapped in Ukraine following the Russian maritime blockade.

“Russian warships in the Black Sea are blocking Ukrainian vessels full of wheat and sunflower seeds,” von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 24.

Russia is using the food supply as a weapon with global repercussions, just as it does in the energy sector, von der Leyen said.

The war and Western sanctions against Russia have caused the price of grain, cooking oil, fertilizer and energy to skyrocket.

Many countries, including some of the world’s poorest, rely on Russia and Ukraine, which together account for almost a third of the world’s wheat supply, for more than half of their wheat imports.

On May 25, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged governments and companies to “kill Russian exports” in order to help Moscow end its war on Ukraine.

“My message is very simple. Kill Russian exports,” Kuleba said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on May 25.

“Stop buying from Russia. Stop allowing them to earn money that they can invest in the war machine that destroys, kills, rapes and tortures people in Ukraine.”

Dozens of major international companies from a wide range of sectors have left Russia since it launched war on Ukraine on February 24, while the European Union, the United States and many Western allies have passed tough sanctions against Moscow, top state officials and President Vladimir Putin and the billionaires seen near him.

But Kuleba said more needs to be done given that the war’s impact on Ukraine is still far greater than the West’s actions against Russia.

The Ukrainian economy “suffers more from Russian destruction and attacks than the Russian economy suffers from sanctions”.

“As long as Russia is making money selling oil and gas, its pockets are pretty deep,” he added.

The European Union is currently working on a proposal to ban the import of Russian oil and gas into the 27-nation bloc, but several countries, in particular Hungary, have said they will need help in the form of assistance and a transition period if they want to register for the measure.

With reporting from Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, CNN and BBC

Kristan F. Talley