Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow's massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region and urged Ukraine's allies to accelerate the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield. Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for all the latest developments. All times Paris time (GMT+2).
6:14am: Battle for Donbas reaching 'fearsome climax', Ukraine says
The fight for the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine's Luhansk region is "entering a sort of fearsome climax", said Oleksy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia is seeking to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbas region - the nation's industrial heartland.
"We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly," Zelensky said in a video address released early Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for larger and faster weapons.
"There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier's goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step," he said.
"This is why we again and again emphasise the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine's borders."
On the diplomatic front, European leaders on Thursday are expected to formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels. Though mainly symbolic, the move may help lift Ukrainians' morale after four months of bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.
5:21am: Russia seeks new fuel markets in Africa, Middle East as Europe turns away
Russia is increasing gasoline and naphtha supplies to Africa and the Middle East as it struggles to sell fuel in Europe, while Asia is already taking bigger volumes of Russian crude, Refinitiv Eikon data showed and sources told Reuters.
The European Union has slowly reduced imports of Russian crude and fuel since March and agreed a full embargo that will take effect by the end of the year.
Asian buyers have stepped in to rapidly increase purchases of Russian crude, even though Asia is not a natural market for Russian fuel because Asia refines more oil than it needs and is a net fuel exporter.
That makes finding new outlets such as Africa and the Middle East paramount for Russia to protect its global market share and avert a deeper decline in oil exports and output.
"Africa and the Middle East seem to be main options for Russian oil product suppliers, so we expect more shipments there in the second half of the year as EU embargo gets closer," a trader involved in Russian oil product trading told Reuters.
3:18am: Rights groups call on Biden to negotiate for WNBA star Griner's release
A coalition of human rights groups on Wednesday called on US President Joe Biden to "make a deal" to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia for months.
Griner was taken into custody at a Moscow airport on February 17 when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed multiple cannabis oil vape cartridges. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
Last week her pre-trial detention was extended to July 2.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via telephone on Wednesday evening with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the two-time Olympic champion, a senior State Department official said, without giving details on the content of the call.
1:52am: Russian strikes hit school, grain facilities in Mykolaiv
The Russian defence ministry claimed responsibility in a briefing Wednesday for a missile strike it said killed a number of Ukrainian troops in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian officials said seven Russian missiles had struck the port city, killing at least one person and causing several major fires. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych told Ukrainian television that the strike hit two firms and a school, sparking a blaze that authorities could not put out.
The operators of two grain storage facilities, global grain traders Bunge and Viterra, confirmed that their facilities had been hit.
12:11am: G7 summit to announce measures increasing 'pressure on Russia', US official says
Leaders at the upcoming G7 summit in Germany will announce new measures aimed at pressuring Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official said Wednesday.
"We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia," the official said. US President Joe Biden flies Saturday to join the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan at the summit in Bavaria.
The club of wealthy democracies is at the heart of a fierce economic and diplomatic campaign to punish Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February and continues to wage battles across the pro-Western country's eastern region, as well as occupying swaths of the south.
After attending the G7 summit from Sunday to Tuesday, Biden will fly to Madrid for a summit of the NATO military alliance next week.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)