Ukraine calls for faster weapons supplies as Russia presses eastern offensive
Russian missile strikes killed three people in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson while fighting raged in the eastern Donetsk region where Russia again shelled the key town of Vuhledar, Ukrainian officials said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was facing a difficult situation in Donetsk and needed faster weapons supplies and new types of weaponry, just days after allies agreed to provide Kyiv with heavy battle tanks.
“The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region – there are constant Russian attacks,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Sunday.
“Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine.”
Three people were killed and six injured on Sunday by Russian strikes on Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said.
Russian troops had occupied Kherson shortly after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and held the city until Ukrainian forces recaptured it in November. Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnipro river.
Later on Sunday a missile struck an apartment building in the northeastern town of Kharkiv, killing an elderly woman, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said.
A Reuters picture from the scene showed fire engulfing part of a residential building in the country’s second most-populous city.
Russia on Saturday accused the Ukrainian military of deliberately striking a hospital in a Russian-held area of eastern Ukraine, killing 14 people. There was no response to the allegations from Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement on Monday that Ukrainian defenders had repelled a Russian attack in Bakhmut, the focus of Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, and in several other cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
A Ukrainian military statement issued on the previous evening had noted intensified fighting in Vuhledar, southwest of Bakhmut, in recent days.
Denis Pushilin, the administrator of Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk, said on Monday that his forces had gained a foothold in Vuhledar, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
Ukrainian military analyst and colonel, Mykola Salamakha, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Russian troops were mounting waves of attacks on Vuhledar.
“From this location we control practically the entire rail system used by the Russians for logistics … The town is on an upland and an extremely strong defensive hub has been created there,” he said.
“This is a repetition of the situation in Bakhmut – one wave of Russian troops after another crushed by the Ukrainian armed forces.”
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.
Sunday’s civilian casualties came three days after at least 11 people were killed in missile strikes which were seen in Kyiv as the Kremlin’s response to pledges from Ukraine’s allies to supply battle tanks.
After weeks of wrangling, Germany and the United States last week said they would send Ukraine dozens of tanks to help push back Russian forces, opening the way for other countries to follow suit.
While a total of 321 heavy tanks had been promised to Ukraine by several countries, according to Kyiv’s ambassador to France, they could take months to appear on the battlefield.
Ukraine is keen to speed up the delivery of heavy weapons as both sides in the war are expected to launch spring offensives in the coming weeks.
Talks were also under way between Kyiv and its allies about Ukraine’s requests for long-range missiles, a top aide to Zelenskiy said on Saturday. Ukraine has also asked for U.S. F16 fighter jets.
German arms-maker Rheinmetall is ready to greatly boost the output of tank and artillery munitions to satisfy demand in Ukraine and the West, and may start producing HIMARS multiple rocket launchers in Germany, CEO Armin Papperger told Reuters.
HIMARS systems are currently made in the United States and have been used to devastating effect by the Ukrainian military.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited South Korea, a U.S. ally and major arms exporter, on Monday and urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine.
Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Monday that as the United States had decided to supply tanks to Ukraine, it made no sense for Russia to talk to Kyiv or its Western “puppet masters”.
On Sunday however a Kremlin spokesperson told RIA Russian President Vladimir Putin was open to contacts with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Scholz was quoted by the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Sunday as saying, “I will also speak to Putin again – because it is necessary to speak”.
“The onus is on Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine to end this horrendous, senseless war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives already,” he added.
Russia says it launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine to fend off a hostile West and “denazify” the country. Ukraine and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked act of aggression.
Zelenskiy said he had sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron as part of his campaign to keep Russian athletes out of the Paris Olympic Games. He said that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Paris Games would be tantamount to showing that “terror is somehow acceptable”.