Antony Blinken arrives in Ukraine as Russia takes more territory

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken visited Kyiv in a show of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government amid renewed Russian advances in the north-eastern Kharkiv region.

Speaking during a meeting with Zelenskyy, Blinken said more US assistance was on its way and some of it had already arrived. He is the first senior US official to visit Ukraine since Congress approved a $61bn military aid package last month.

“That’s going to make a real difference against the ongoing Russian aggression on the battlefield,” said Blinken.

Zelenskyy described US aid as crucial to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russia. He told Blinken that Ukraine needs two US-made Patriot missile systems for the north-eastern Kharkiv region.

The visit follows an advance by Russia north of the city of Kharkiv, where troops opened a new front on Friday and have since seized control of about 110 sq km of territory. Ukrainian officials have also warned of a possible Russian cross-border offensive in the Sumy or Chernihiv regions in the north of the country.

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Defence officials and analysts in Kyiv believe Russian troops are trying to stretch Ukrainian resources in other frontline areas, especially in the eastern Donetsk region, before the bulk of the delayed US aid arrives.

In its Tuesday morning briefing, Ukraine’s general staff admitted it had made positional changes and Russia had “partial” successes in a few areas. 

It said that Ukrainian forces had lost the village of Lukyantsi in Kharkiv and edged forward in two places in Donetsk near Ocheretyne and Kurakhove. 

According to the Ukrainian open-source group Deepstate, Russia occupied two villages and part of the town of Vovchansk in the Kharkiv region on Monday. But it does not appear to have broken through Ukraine’s defensive lines in the north of the region.

Nevertheless, the advance could soon put Kharkiv city once again within artillery range of Russian forces.

In his evening address on Monday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine had sent reinforcements to the Kharkiv region but would not forget about the rest of the front.

“We understand the enemy’s actions and their plan to divert our forces,” he said. “Of course, we do not leave the Donetsk direction without the necessary support and supplies. Our task is crystal clear: to thwart Russia’s attempt to expand the war.”

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Ukraine’s national TV news on Tuesday that the reinforcements were stabilising the line in Kharkiv. Budanov said the situation was not “catastrophic” but Ukrainian forces would need to intensify the fighting in order to push Russian troops back across the border. 

Budanov said Russia was planning a similar operation in Sumy region, to the west of its current Kharkiv offensive. He said it had amassed forces on the border with Sumy but “the situation has not yet allowed them to [begin] active actions”.

According to Ukraine’s defence ministry, six settlements in Chernihiv were shelled and 32 in Sumy on Monday.

Russia regularly sends in reconnaissance groups to attack Ukrainian positions in Sumy region but on Monday, its governor, Volodymyr Artyukh, announced a partial, precautionary evacuation of the border areas near Bilopillia and Vorozhba.

“This evacuation is not compulsory, it is a precautionary, voluntary measure . . . where the number of shelling incidents has increased significantly,” said Artyukh.

Ukraine’s general staff said in a briefing on Monday evening that its forces had retreated to reduce casualties around Lyman in northern Donetsk and west of Avdiivka in the south of the region.

Dmytro Pletenchuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, added that Russia had “eventually retreated” in areas of the south-eastern region of Zaporizhzhia having suffered losses and that Ukraine’s front lines were “holding”.

During a White House briefing on Monday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington was trying to get its aid to Ukraine as soon as possible in light of the “hole” created by congressional debate over the package.

https://www.highcpmgate.com/f0c2i8ki?key=d7778888e3d5721fde608bfdb62fd997

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