- Fierce fighting was reported around Bakhmut
- Zelensky visits Poland and Macron to put pressure on China
- Washington pledges billions more as Ukraine prepares to attack
KYIV (Reuters) – The United States announced a new package of weapons and military equipment for Ukraine, as Russian forces pressed their long and costly battle for control of the eastern city of Bakhmut.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in neighboring Poland on Wednesday for an official visit to a close ally who has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees and provided vital weapons to the Kiev government.
French President Emmanuel Macron was due in China after he and US President Joe Biden agreed they would try to reach out to Beijing to hasten an end to Russia’s assault on Ukraine, now in its second year.
On Tuesday, the United States pledged $2.6 billion in additional military aid to Zelensky’s government, including three air surveillance radars, anti-tank missiles and fuel trucks. The United States has now provided more than $35 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
The Russian news agency TASS said that Moscow’s embassy in Washington accused the United States of wanting to prolong the conflict for as long as possible.
The new US aid package comes as Ukrainian forces prepare to launch a counter-offensive in the east against Russian forces, though the exact date for the start of the offensive has not been revealed.
The focus of the battlefield remained Bakhmut, a mining town and transportation hub on the edge of a part of Donetsk Province largely under Russian control. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and much of the city was reduced to rubble after months of street fighting and bombing.
The fate of Bakhmut was not clear on Wednesday morning after Russian forces said over the weekend they had captured the city center – a claim denied by Kiev.
Near the town of New York, 50 kilometers south of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers in muddy dugouts described fending off Russian attacks on a daily basis.
“They are sneaking around, shooting and trying to wear us down. Then they assess the situation and they can move forward for more,” the infantry unit commander, who gave his nom de guerre, told Reuters.
“In the meantime, we’re trying to let them get close to us so we can hit them more accurately.”
Ukrainian military leaders stressed the importance of capturing Bakhmut and other towns and inflicting losses before the expected counterattack.
The Ukrainian General Staff said in a report: “In the Bakhmut sector, there was no complacency in the enemy’s actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut. At least 20 enemy attacks were repulsed here in the last 24 hours.”
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
In Warsaw, Zelensky was to meet President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and speak to Ukrainian refugees.
The Ukrainian leader crossed the border into Poland – which has played an important role in persuading other Western powers to supply Ukraine with battle tanks and other weapons – on Wednesday morning.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the Ukrainian side would ask Poland and other foreign partners for more support…but we must realize that we as Poland have already done a lot,” said Marcin Przydac, aide to the Polish presidency.
Przydacz said earlier that the first shipment of MiG fighter jets has already been delivered to Ukraine.
“MiGs from Poland will significantly strengthen our defense, allow us to make our airspace safer, save the lives of our citizens, and also reduce the destruction caused by Russian attacks,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov wrote on Telegram.
Separately, the Kremlin said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko would travel to Moscow on Wednesday for two days of talks with Putin.
Belarus is among Putin’s staunchest allies and was used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion in February last year. Putin said last month that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Reporting by Pavel Politik. Additional reporting by Ron Popeskey and Mike Stone. Written by Angus McSwan, Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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