- European Commission chief in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s bid for the EU
- The president of Ukraine promises more anti-corruption measures
- Zelenskiy gives a gloomy assessment of the Russian offensive in the east
- Russian strike destroys apartment building; 4 dead – officials
- Lavrov says Russia will respond to long-range missile deliveries
KYIV, Feb. 2 (Reuters) – A Russian missile destroyed an apartment building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, killing at least three people before top European Union officials arrived in Kiev for talks seen as key to the pivot from Ukraine to the West.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged more anti-corruption measures as authorities continued their raids ahead of the meetings with the EU, reflecting his determination to show that Kiev can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in aid.
“We are here together to show that the EU is as steadfast as ever supporting Ukraine. And to further deepen our support and cooperation,” European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen tweeted as she traveled by train on Thursday. arrived in Kyiv. along with more than a dozen other senior EU officials.
However, the EU, unwilling to admit a country at war, will dash Ukraine’s hopes for early membership, underlining the need for more anti-corruption measures.
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The team from Brussels will discuss sending more weapons and money to Ukraine, improving access of Ukrainian products to the EU, helping Kiev cover its energy needs, strengthening sanctions against Russia and prosecuting of Russian leaders before the war.
The EU says it has already allocated nearly €60 billion in aid to Ukraine, but Kiev’s membership is expected to last for years.
In his evening video address, Zelenskiy also gave a gloomy assessment of the situation on the battlefield as Russian forces continued to make gains in the east of the country as the first anniversary of the invasion of Moscow looms on February 24.
In Kramatorsk, a Russian Iskander-K tactical missile struck at 21:45 (1945 GMT) on Wednesday, killing at least three people and injuring 20 others, police said.
“At least eight apartment buildings have been damaged. One has been completely destroyed,” police said in a Facebook post.
“People can stay under the rubble.”
Kramatorsk is located about 55 km northwest of Bakhmut and is currently the main point of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
‘STRONGER’ ON THE EAST FRONT
Russia, determined to make progress before Ukraine gets the newly promised Western main battle tanks and armored vehicles, has picked up momentum on the battlefield and is announcing advances north and south of Bakhmut, which has suffered months of sustained Russian bombardment.
“There has been a marked increase in the offensive operations of the occupiers at the front in the east of our country. The situation has become more difficult,” said Zelenskiy.
“The enemy is at least now trying to achieve something to show that Russia has some chance on the anniversary of the invasion,” he added.
Bakhmut and 10 towns and villages around it came under Russian fire, the Ukrainian army said late Wednesday.
Russian forces are advancing from both the north and south to encircle Bakhmut, using their superior troop numbers to try to cut off supplies and drive out the Ukrainians, Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy said.
“This is the most difficult scenario for us,” Dikiy told Espresso TV.
“The enemy can use his only resource, which he has in abundance, his men,” he said, describing a landscape northeast of Bakhmut “literally covered in corpses”.
Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow has suffered huge losses around Bakhmut, sending waves of ill-equipped troops, including thousands of convicts recruited from prisons as mercenaries.
A former commander of the Russian mercenary group Wagner who fled to Norway in January told Reuters he wanted to apologize for the fighting in Ukraine and spoke out to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice.
“First of all, repeatedly and again, I want to apologize,” said 26-year-old Andrei Medvedev.
Ukraine has secured pledges of weapons from the West offering new capabilities – the latest expected this week are missiles from the United States that would nearly double the range of Ukrainian forces.
“We are focused on providing Ukraine with the capability it needs to be effective in its anticipated spring counter-offensive,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to the Philippines on Thursday.
The new weapons would bring all Russian supply lines in eastern Ukraine, as well as parts of Crimea, within range of Ukrainian troops.
Moscow says such missiles will escalate the conflict but will not change course.
“The greater the reach of the weapons supplied to the Kiev regime, the more we will have to push them back from areas that are part of our country,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian state television on Thursday. Moscow claims to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces last year, as well as Crimea it seized in 2014.
Russian troops are investigating weaknesses in Ukraine’s defenses on the western edges of the Luhansk region, Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian TV on Thursday.
“The amount of shelling has increased, the number of attacks towards Svatove-Kreminna has increased… They are piling up our positions with bodies,” said Gaidai.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield reports.
President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last February in a “special military operation” to “disarm” his neighbor, and is now portraying the campaign as a battle to defend Russia against an aggressive West. Ukraine and the West are calling it an illegal war to expand Russian territory.
Reporting by Reuters Agencies Written by Himani Sarkar and Gareth Jones Edited by Robert Birsel and Peter Graff
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