A Russian missile strike on a city in the eastern region of Donetsk killed at least three people Saturday as Ukrainian forces engaged Russian troops in ferocious battles in several hot spots in the east, where Moscow has been pressing its offensive with increased urgency amid Western pledges of modern tank deliveries for Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used the occasion to press Western partners to supply his nation with long-range precision missiles, known as ATACMS, to reduce Russia’s ability to target cities.
"It would be possible to stop this Russian terror if we could source the appropriate missiles for our military forces," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Saturday.
Earlier, Zelenskyy had said major battles were under way for Vuhledar and Bakhmut, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
In the Donetsk city of Kostyantynivka, a Russian strike on a residential neighborhood killed three people and wounded at least 14 others, regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.
Factory worker Iryna Maltseva, 42, said she was watching television when the explosion violently rattled her living room.
’I opened my eyes, and everything was blown out,’ she said. ‘I was covered in blood. Mom was sitting in the bedroom, also covered in blood.’
Kyrylenko said four apartment buildings and a hotel had been damaged and that rescuers and police officials were at the site to ‘carefully document yet another crime by the Russian occupiers.’
"Kostyantynivka is a city relatively far from the front line, but still, it constantly suffers from enemy attacks. Everyone who remains in the city exposes themselves to mortal danger,’ Kyrylenko said, according to The Associated Press. ‘The Russians target civilians because they are not able to fight the Ukrainian army."
Earlier Saturday, Kyrylenko said four people had been killed and at least seven wounded by Russian strikes in the last 24 hours.
Serhii stands next to his car destroyed by a Russian missile strike during Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine, in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Jan. 28, 2023.
The Saturday strikes were the latest in a series by Russian forces to hit Ukrainian civilian targets as Moscow seemingly tries to weaken the nation’s resolve.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior Zelenskyy aide, said in an interview Saturday that Ukraine is in fast-track talks on the possibility of acquiring ATACMs and jet fighters.
The United States has so far refrained from sending Ukraine either weapon for fear it would be perceived by Moscow as escalatory.
The ATACMs could strike Russian arms depots and other equipment up to 300 kilometers away, weakening Moscow’s ability to supply its troops at the front lines.
U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that the Biden administration has no plans at the moment to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
Air support is a crucial element of a fighting strategy known as ‘combined arms,’ which also includes the use of artillery, tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and infantry.
The United States and its NATO allies earlier this month announced plans to send tanks, fighting vehicles, and more artillery to Ukraine as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily report early Saturday that Russian troops continued to press on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
’The enemy continues to conduct offensive actions in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Novopavlivka directions,’ the General Staff said. ‘In the Kupyansk, Lyman, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson directions, the enemy is on the defensive.’
Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatiy told local media that ‘there is fierce combat’ in Vuhledar.
’For many months, the military of the Russian Federation ... has been trying to achieve significant success there,’ he said.
Vuhledar, a town with a pre-invasion population of around 15,000 people, has strategic significance as a communications node in southern Donetsk.
Ukraine’s National Security Council chief, Oleksiy Danilov, told RFE/RL that Moscow was preparing for a new offensive Feb. 24, the anniversary of the Russian invasion.
’Now they are preparing for maximum activation ... and they believe that by the anniversary they should have some achievements,’ Danilov said. ‘There is no secret that they are preparing for a new wave by February 24, as they themselves say.’
FILE — Ukraine’s National Security Council chief Oleksiy Danilov speaks with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 8, 2022. Danilov recently told RFE/RL that Moscow was preparing for a new offensive on February 24, the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Western allies continue to pledge military equipment and aid to shore up Kyiv’s defenses.
U.S. National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said Washington anticipates an "intense period of fighting in the coming months,’ adding that there is ‘no sign’ of the war stopping.
Zelenskyy said Friday that Ukraine needs up to 500 tanks.
’We need 300 or 500 tanks now. We need tanks to protect our territory, our land. We need armored vehicles to protect our people, that’s all,’ he said in an interview with Sky News.
So far, a total of 321 heavy tanks have been promised to Ukraine by several countries, Ukraine’s ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, said on BFM television Friday.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also reassured Ukraine of the bloc’s unconditional support.
Speaking Saturday in Duesseldorf, Germany, von der Leyen said, ‘We stand by Ukraine’s side without any ifs and buts.’
Von der Leyen and her fellow EU commissioners plan an EU-Ukraine summit Feb. 3.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gestures of Western solidarity with Ukraine and said it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating ‘direct involvement’ of the United States and NATO in Russia’s war of aggression, something both deny.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and Agence France-Presse.