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A view of the destroyed House of Children and Youth Creativity in the village of Borova, Kharkiv Oblast, on May 21, 2024. (Viktor Fridshon/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Key developments on June 18:

  • Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade warns of Russian attempt to capture Borova in Kharkiv Oblast
  • Russian troops beheaded Ukrainian soldier in Donetsk Oblast, Kyiv claims
  • Putin arrives in North Korea to sign strategic partnership agreement
  • Media: Italy may send Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine, sources say
  • SBU drones hit Russian oil depots in Rostov Oblast, source says

Russian troops are intensifying attacks in the border areas of Luhansk Oblast with the aim of capturing the village of Borova in neighboring Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade said on June 18.

Borova is located around 35 kilometers (21 miles) south of Kupiansk and just 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the front line in Luhansk Oblast.

In a post on Telegram, the brigade said Moscow's forces are using tanks, FPV (first-point-view) drones, and anti-aircraft missiles in an effort to advance, and also claimed they had deployed chemical weapons, without providing further details.

"The front line… in Kharkiv Oblast, bordering Luhansk Oblast, is today one of the most intense areas of the enemy's offensive," they wrote.

"The immediate task of the occupiers is to get to the (villages of) Cherneshchyna (and) Pershotravneve, with the subsequent seizure of Borova."

According to the crowd-sourced DeepState monitoring service, Russia has amassed 10,000 troops as part of a "shock fist" to capture the village.

Borova had been occupied by Russian forces in March 2022 but was liberated later that year during Ukraine's sweeping counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast.

Both the 3rd Assault Brigade and DeepState reported that Russian forces were currently taking heavy losses but were managing to replenish numbers.

"The enemy is throwing entire platoons and companies of personnel at the assaults of our positions," the 3rd Assault Brigade wrote.

"Their rapid liquidation is compensated by the replenishment of manpower in the amount of 250-400 soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation every week."

The brigade said it was managing to hold the front line "despite the overwhelming number of the enemy and the lack of reserves."

The Kyiv Independent could not verify the reports.

Ukraine must win the war first before joining NATO, White House says
His statement came a few days after Kyiv and Washington signed a 10-year bilateral security deal at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy, which is recognized by the parties “as supporting a bridge to Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO.”

Russian troops beheaded Ukrainian soldier in Donetsk Oblast, Kyiv claims

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin on June 18 accused Russian forces of beheading a Ukrainian soldier in Donetsk Oblast, saying it was yet another war crime and part of a "planned strategy" by the Kremlin.

In a post on social media, Kostin said his office had received information that Russian commanders had given orders "not to capture Ukrainian servicemen, but instead to kill them with inhuman cruelty - by beheading."

His post was accompanied by a blurred picture showing a military vehicle with a severed head on the hood.

The Kyiv Independent could not verify the photo.

His office released further information in a post on Telegram saying the gruesome find was discovered during "aerial reconnaissance at one of the combat positions in the Donetsk region."

"This is terrible barbarism that has no place in the 21st century," Kostin said.

"And this is more proof that the war crimes committed by the aggressor are not isolated incidents, but a planned strategy of the Russian regime.

"These criminal orders were given at the level of battalion and company leadership of the occupying forces."

Kostin said Ukraine would "not leave these crimes unpunished" and called on the "entire civilized world to isolate and punish the terrorist country."

Russia is accused of committing numerous war crimes during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including the execution of captive Ukrainian soldiers.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets appealed to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to investigate videos showing beatings, humiliation, and threats of Ukrainian prisoners of war by Russian soldiers reportedly in the Kharkiv direction.

"Unfortunately, such treatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war is not an exception to the rules, but a common tactic for the occupiers," Lubinets wrote.

Lubinets has previously appealed to the UN and the ICRC to investigate other crimes committed against Ukrainian prisoners of war, including the execution of at least five POWs in Avdiivka in February.

As of March 2024, Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office collected pretrial information on over 128,000 victims of war crimes.

Children being recruited by Russia to set fire to military cars, Ukrainian ombudsman says
Ukrainian children are being recruited by Russia to set fire to military cars parked in cities, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said on June 18.

Putin arrives in North Korea to sign strategic partnership agreement

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Pyongyang on June 18 for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Putin, making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, praised the country for backing his full-scale war against Ukraine in an op-ed in North Korean state media ahead of the visit.

With Russia's military stocks running low and domestic production capacity simultaneously hampered by Western sanctions, North Korea has been shaping up to be Russia's leading weapons supplier.

In anticipation of Putin's arrival, his portraits and Russian flags were displayed in the North Korean capital.

The two countries are expected to sign a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, according to Russia's state-owned news agency TASS.

Putin claimed that Russia and North Korea would develop unspecified trade and payment systems "that are not controlled by the West" and would jointly oppose sanctions against them, which he labeled as "unilateral and illegal restrictive measures."

Moscow has reportedly received extensive military packages from Pyongyang, including ballistic missiles and around 5 million artillery shells.

Both Kyiv and Washington have previously said that Russia has been using North Korean-produced missiles to attack Ukraine.

In March, Ukrainian prosecutors reported that Russia had fired around 50 such missiles to attack six Ukrainian oblasts during the full-scale war.

Despite the increasingly strong alliance, Putin has not visited North Korea since 2000, when he met with previous North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Putin in Russia in September 2023.

China’s support for Russia’s war machine ‘has to stop,’ says Blinken
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was providing support that enables “Russia to keep that defense industrial base going, to keep the war machine going, to keep the war going.”

Media: Italy may send Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine, sources say

Ukraine may receive long-range Storm Shadow missiles from Italy, Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported on June 18, citing its undisclosed sources.

"A batch of" Storm Shadow missiles and another SAMP/T air defense system will reportedly be included in the ninth aid package for Ukraine, which Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto will present to the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee by the end of June.

Unlike the missiles, the delivery of the SAMP/T system has been publicly confirmed by the Italian government.

The missiles were requested by Kyiv, the source told the newspaper. The number of the missiles to be sent was not disclosed.

The deliveries of Storm Shadow to Ukraine will make Italy the fourth country supplying Kyiv with long-range missiles, along with the U.K., France, and the U.S.

The British Storm Shadow missiles, as well as their French equivalent SCALP, have a range of up to 250 kilometers (150 miles), while the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) sent to Ukraine by Washington can fly roughly 300 kilometers (190 miles).

Ukraine has repeatedly successfully used these missiles to strike Russian targets on the occupied territories, including Crimea.

While several countries said they do not oppose Ukraine striking targets inside Russia with Western-provided weapons, Rome has repeatedly said that its arms are for use within Ukraine's borders only.

Zelensky on strikes inside Russia: ‘It works, just as we expected’
President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed the success of strikes inside Russia with Western-supplied weapons, saying the ability to hit “Russian terrorists’ positions and launchers near the border… truly matters.”

SBU drones hit Russian oil depots in Rostov Oblast, source says

Drones operated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) hit two oil depots in Russia's Rostov Oblast overnight on June 18, a source in security and defense forces told the Kyiv Independent.

In recent months, Ukrainian forces have launched a series of drone strikes aimed at damaging Russia's oil industry, the profits of which fuel Moscow's war efforts.

Russian authorities reported fires at several oil storage tanks in the Russian town of Azov in southwestern Rostov Oblast earlier the same day.

According to the source, the drone attack successfully targeted the oil depots Azovska and Azovnaftoprodukt, where 22 oil storage tanks were located. Powerful fires erupted following the reported attacks.

"The SBU will continue to implement 'drone sanctions' against the Russian oil refining complex and reduce the economic potential of the enemy, which provides the aggressor with resources for waging war against Ukraine," the source added.

According to local Telegram channels, residents reported hearing explosions, and footage of the fire was shared on social media.

The source said that the blasts could be heard near the town's railway station and near the port where the oil depots are located.

Overall, the SBU carried out 20 successful attacks against Russian oil industry facilities in various regions, the source said. Other previous strikes have been linked to Ukraine's military intelligence agency (HUR) or the Armed Forces.

Satellite images show Russian oil refinery ablaze after Ukrainian drone strike
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative project Schemes, the depot in the Russian city of Azov is run by Azovproduct which can store up to 30,000 tons of oil products.

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