Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a rare trip outside Kyiv to visit the war-damaged city of Mykolaiv.
It was the Ukrainian leader's first visit to the southern city since Russia invaded Ukraine almost four months ago. The president's office published video Saturday of Zelenskyy surveying a badly damaged high rise residential building and holding meetings with local officials. He also visited soldiers on the southern front line. The president’s office did not say when the visit took place.
Russian troops were driven from Mykolaiv in early March after reaching the outskirts of the regional capital.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian official says “fierce battles" are raging in villages near the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, which Russian troops have been trying to take control of for weeks.
"Now, the most fierce battles are near Sievierodonetsk. They [Russia]) do not control the city entirely," Sergiy Gaiday, the governor of the eastern Luhansk region, said on social media site Telegram. "In nearby villages there are very difficult fights -- in Toshkivska, Zolote. They are trying to break through but failing... Our defenders are fighting Russians in all directions. Recently, they shot down a plane and took captives."
The governor also said that Russian troops are heavily shelling Lysychansk, a city across a river from Sievierodonetsk, that is still controlled by the Ukrainians.
Ukraine appears to be on a path to membership in the European Union.
The head of the EU said Friday that Ukraine should be formally considered for candidate status.
Zelenskyy applauded the decision in a tweet on Friday. "It's the 1st step on the EU membership path that'll certainly bring our Victory closer," he tweeted.
The recommendation is the first step in the long process of becoming a member of the 27-nation bloc. EU leaders will meet later this month to consider the commission's recommendation. The commission also recommended candidacy for Moldova, though not for Georgia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is not opposed to Ukraine joining the EU because, unlike NATO, the EU is not a military alliance.
"We have nothing against it. It's their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not. ... It's their business, the business of the Ukrainian people," Putin said.
Ukraine applied to join the EU just days after Russian troops invaded the country.
Putin slams West
Putin spoke Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he accused the West of "colonial arrogance" and trying to crush Russia with sanctions he described as "stupid."
Putin said the "special military operation" in Ukraine will continue, and he emphasized Russia's sovereignty and strength when faced with what he called "Western hostility."
"In the current situation, against a backdrop of increasing risks for us and threats, Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced — difficult, of course, but forced and necessary," Putin said.
He said the U.S. is trying to change "the course of history," and he accused the West of fanning anti-Russian sentiment and of "active military appropriation of Ukrainian territory."
Americans missing in Ukraine
President Joe Biden said Friday that he doesn't know the status of three Americans who are reportedly missing after volunteering to go to Ukraine to fight against the Russians.
We don't know where they are," he said. "Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. I'll say it again, Americans should not be going to Ukraine."
Russian state television showed video Friday of two of the missing men. It identified them as Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh.
The RT television report said the men were being held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.