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Ukraine relishes victories on the battlefield and a Eurovision triumph to boot  

Ukraine is being hailed as a winner on the battlefields of the war against Russia and also on the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest. Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland put themselves on the path to join NATO, a new blow to Russia.

(CN) — Ukraine was enjoying the taste of victory on Monday as its troops forced the retreat of Russian forces away from Kharkiv and a Ukrainian band won the Eurovision music contest, Europe’s hugely popular music competition.   

Increasingly, Russia is depicted by the West as being on the road to losing the war in Ukraine and suffering deep strategic defeats as the West shows more determination to confront the Kremlin.   

“Ukraine can win this war,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday during a meeting of top diplomats from NATO in Berlin. He said the war “is not going as Moscow had planned.”  

By Monday, Russia faced new blows with Finland and Sweden set on joining NATO and Germany reportedly planning to cut off Russian oil imports by the end of the year even if the European Union does not agree on an embargo. By late Monday, the EU had failed to agree on a new package of sanctions on Russia, including the oil embargo.  

Still, Russia too is claiming some victories as its forces continued to slowly advance in eastern Ukraine and a small group of Ukrainian soldiers reportedly surrendered at Azovstal, the besieged steelworks plant in Mariupol. 

But Ukraine’s confidence is growing after its troops took hold of large areas north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and videos surfaced of troops standing at the border with Russia.   

“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian land,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.   

The battered country also got a big morale boost Saturday night when the Ukrainian rap band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual music extravaganza watched by 200 million people worldwide, with its piece “Stefania.” On Sunday, the band released a video for the song depicting scenes of war and Ukrainian female fighters carrying children to safety. The song has become an anthem for Ukrainians during the war.   

“We won Eurovision2022. We will win this bloody Russian war against Ukraine. Victory is always ours! Because the whole world supports us!” said Inna Sovsun, a Ukrainian parliament member, on Twitter.   

The victory sets up the likelihood that Ukraine will be next year’s Eurovision host because winning countries typically are given that honor. Zelenskyy said that he hoped to one day host the contest in Mariupol, the southeastern port city now under Russian control.   

Events appear to be moving to Russia’s disadvantage as the war in Ukraine grinds on and the West applies more pressure on the Kremlin.  

On Sunday, Sweden’s ruling party, the Social Democrats, said it backed NATO membership, marking a historic shift for Sweden and Finland, which have remained neutral for decades. Swedish and Finnish leaders say Russia’s attack on Ukraine has made it essential for their safety to join NATO.  

Parliaments in both countries were debating NATO membership on Monday and their admission to the military alliance seems likely. The shift away from nonalignment by Sweden and Finland would leave Austria, Cyprus, Ireland and Malta as the only neutral countries in the European Union.  

Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki on Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Russia has warned that it considers the Nordic expansion of NATO a threat and that it would respond with “military-technical” measures.  

But Sweden and Finland’s admission isn’t guaranteed.   

Turkey, a NATO member, has signaled its displeasure, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday saying he did not have “favorable thoughts” about the northern European countries and he accused them of being “home to many terrorist organizations,” an apparent reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Turkey has been in a long-running armed conflict with the PKK, which is outlawed in Turkey. Kurds have also received political asylum in the Nordic countries.   

On Monday, Erdogan doubled down and held a news conference where he called Sweden a “hatchery” for terrorists and said Turkey would block their bids to join NATO.  

Still, it remained possible that Turkey won’t risk angering other NATO members, especially the United States, and block the Nordic countries from entering the alliance. Ankara may be seeking to get more leverage by playing tough.    

The push to punish Russia suffered another setback on Monday after the EU said its members still had not agreed on a new package of sanctions against Moscow, including an embargo on Russian oil.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has opposed the oil embargo, arguing that his country is heavily dependent on it and that an embargo would be catastrophic to its economy.    

On the battlefields in Ukraine, Russian forces appeared to be making slow advances in their attempt to seize the eastern Donbas region and Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian defenses were cracking, prompting the West and Ukraine to exaggerate Russia’s losses and Ukraine’s successes.    

In recent days, Ukraine and Western intelligence reported that Russia suffered a major defeat when its forces tried to cross the Siverskyi Donets river and suffered tremendous losses.  

Satellite images revealed the carcasses of numerous armored vehicles, tanks and destroyed pontoon bridges in what was likely a nasty days-long fight. British defense intelligence claimed Russia lost most of a battalion tactical group in the failed crossing. Such a formation contains about 800 troops. 

But Russian sources too are claiming that Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses in their bids to cross the same river, which has become strategically important as the two armies fight over Donbas.   

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.  

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