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KYIV: Nearly 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russia invaded, the country’s top military officer said Monday, as Moscow accused Kyiv over the assassination of the daughter of a leading hardliner.

The European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell meanwhile told reporters in Spain that the bloc was considering military training for Ukraine’s forces.

General Valeriy Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, said Ukraine’s children needed particular attention “because their fathers have gone to the front and are maybe among the nearly 9,000 heroes who have been killed”.

Zaluzhny’s comments on the Ukrainian death toll, reported by Interfax-Ukraine news agency, was the first indication of Kyiv’s military losses since April.

On Wednesday, Ukraine will mark its independence day – and six months since Russian troops invaded.

After Ukrainian resistance thwarted an early Russian push on the capital Kyiv, Moscow’s forces have focussed on gaining ground in the east of the country.

The shockwaves of the war are being felt around the world with soaring energy prices and food shortages.

Putin denounces ‘vile crime’

Russia’s FSB security services on Monday accused Ukraine of being behind Saturday’s car bombing in the outskirts of Moscow that killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of hard-line Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin.

“The crime was prepared and committed by Ukrainian special services,” the FSB said in a statement Monday carried by Russian news agencies.

Six months of war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the “vile crime” in a message of condolence to her family.

The FSB statement said the person responsible was a Ukrainian woman born in 1979 who had rented an apartment in the same building where Dugina lived.

After the car bombing, she had fled to EU member Estonia, it added.

Dugin, 60, is an outspoken Russian ultranationalist intellectual who enthusiastically backs Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as did his daughter. Russian media reports suggest Dugina had borrowed her father’s car at the last minute.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak denied that Kyiv had had anything to do with the bombing.

Tense Independence Day

In Spain Borrell told reporters that EU defence ministers would next week discuss launching a major training operation for Ukrainian forces in nearby countries.

“It seems reasonable that a war that is lasting and looks set to last requires an effort not only in terms of supplies of material,” Borrell said.

EU defence ministers have a two-day meeting in Prague from next Monday.

Ukraine war pulls rug out from under world economy rebound

“I hope it will be approved,” said Borrell, adding that the details would have to be agreed by all EU member states.

Any such operation would be a step up from the military training that several nations are already providing to Ukrainian forces under bilateral agreements.

With much of Europe preparing for fuel shortages as Moscow cuts back its deliveries to the west in response to sanctions, Bulgaria said Monday it was seeking talks with Russia gas giant Gazprom.

The country is almost totally dependent on Russia for its annual consumption of 3.0 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

“We obviously have to turn to them,” said Energy Minister Rosen Hristov.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky warned over the weekend that Russia might mark Ukraine’s Independence Day by launching a trial of Ukrainian soldiers captured during the siege of Mariupol.

“This will be the line beyond which no negotiations are possible,” he warned in Sunday’s nightly address.

The capital Kyiv has already announced a ban on public gatherings around Wednesday’s public holiday, and the city of Kharkiv, in the east, has declared a curfew.

Ahead of independence day, residents in Kyiv clambered on destroyed Russian tanks put on display in the city centre over the weekend.

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