Ukraine allies pledge air defence, Russia inches towards Bakhmut

Ukraine allies pledge air defence, Russia inches towards Bakhmut

Russia's foreign ministry behind a billboard showing the letter 'Z' -- a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine -- with the caption 'Victory is forged in fire'
Russia's foreign ministry behind a billboard showing the letter 'Z' -- a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine -- with the caption 'Victory is forged in fire'. Photo: Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
Source: AFP

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Ukraine on Thursday was getting pledges from its Western allies for more powerful air defence systems, as the country was reeling from days of devastating and punitive Russian missile attacks.

The Kremlin meanwhile was anticipating that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan would offer to mediate negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv in a potential bid to calm nearly eight months of fighting.

On the battlefied, separatists forces in the east, fighting under the Kremlin's banner announced they had inched closer to the industrial city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

Britian's announcement early Thursday to supply Ukraine with air defence missiles came after Western allies vowed to rapidly deliver equipment to Ukraine to bolster protection against Russian aerial attacks.

"The AMRAAM rockets... will be provided in the coming weeks for use with the NASAMS air defence systems pledged by the US," the British defence ministry said in a statement.

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The rockets for the first time provide Ukraine with the capability of shooting down cruise missiles which rained on Ukraine earlier this week, damaging critical energy infrastructure and shrouding the country in rolling blackouts.

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"These weapons will help Ukraine defend its skies from attacks and strengthen their overall missile defence alongside the US NASAMS," British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said.

In a further show of support, the G7 vowed to "stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes", while International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva pledged financial help for the sake of "moving with you in the direction of a strong Ukraine".

Rebels push to Bakhmut

Putin this week is attending a summit of regional leaders in the capital of Central Asia's largest country Kazakhstan and was due later Thursday to meet with Erdogan, who has aimed to keep channels of dialogue open with Moscow and Western capitals since Russia invaded Ukriane.

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"The Turks are offering their mediation. If any talks take place, then most likely they will be on their territory: in Istanbul or Ankara," Ushakov said.

Ahead of that meeting, Russian-backed separatist forces in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine said Thursday they had captured two villages near the industrial city of Bakhmut, posting small gains against Kyiv's counter-offensive.

"A group of DNR and LNR troops -- with fire support from the Russian Armed Forces -- liberated Opytine and Ivangrad," a statement released by separatist authorities said on Telegram, using acronyms for the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics.

The villages are located just south of Bakhmut, a wine-making and salt-mining city that used to be populated by some 70,000 people and which Russian forces have been pummelling for weeks to capture.

The reported gains come after weeks in which Ukrainian troops have been clawing back large swathes of territory in the south and east of Ukraine -- including Donetsk -- controlled by Russian forces for months.

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The Ukrainian military said in an update Thursday that it had repelled Russian attacks near the villages of Bakhmutske, Ozaryanivka, Ivangrad, Bakhmut and Maryinka.

Boy pulled from rubble

Ukraine troops told AFP this week near the frontline south of Bakhmut that they were still outgunned by Russian artillery on this section of the frontline. Russian supply lines from the part of Donetsk occupied since 2014 are still intact.

AFP reporters in Yampil just outside the recently liberated town of Lyman on Thursday heard heavy exchanges of artillery fire to the southeast.

A Ukrainian soldier returning from the frontline said that positions in the village of Torske were under fire from Russian guns guided by spotter drones.

From a hill outside Yampil, the horizon to the north was heavy with smoke from multiple shell strikes in the direction of Torske and the hills beyond.

In the south, where Ukrainian forces have also announced sweeping grains over recent weeks, the town of Mykolaiv was again rocked by Russian bombardments.

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The head of the city Oleksandr Sienkevych said on social media that a five-story residential building was hit, with two upper floors were destroyed completely.

"An 11-year-old boy was recovered from under the rubble and another seven people may still be there," he said, adding a security guard was killed a sea rescue station.

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Source: AFP

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