By HANNA ARHIROVA, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy worked Thursday to add political momentum to Ukraine’s recent military gains against Russia, while missile strikes that caused flooding near his hometown demonstrated Moscow’s determination to reclaim the battlefield advantage.
A week after a Ukrainian counteroffensive caused Russian troops to retreat from a northeast region, Zelenskyy met with European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen during her third visit to Kyiv since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Von der Leyen publicly conveyed the wholehearted support of the 27-nation bloc and wore an outfit in Ukraine’s national colors.
“It’s absolutely vital and necessary to support Ukraine with the military equipment they need to defend themselves. And they have proven that they are able to do this, if they are well equipped,” she said.
Yet highlighting the breadth of the nearly 7-month-old war, air raid sirens blared several times in the Ukrainian capital during von der Leyen’s meeting with Zelenskyy, showing the fear and damage Russian troops could still inflict.
Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles missile strikes on a reservoir dam near Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyy’s birthplace and the largest city in central Ukraine, sent water raging through some streets. Over 100 homes flooded, and efforts were underway to prevent more spillage.
Russian military bloggers charged the attack was intended to flood areas downstream where Ukrainian forces made inroads as part of their counteroffensive.
The attack so close to his roots angered Zelenskyy, who said the strikes had no military value.
“In fact, hitting hundreds of thousands of ordinary civilians is another reason why Russia will lose,” he said.
But the president, who said Ukrainian forces had recaptured almost 400 Russian-occupied settlements in less that a week, remained in a buoyant mood and shrugged off a traffic collision the previous night that left him with no major injuries
On a day when political optics stood out, the Ukrainian leader’s snug, warm meeting with the president of the European Commission contrasted with a formal encounter between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a regional security summit in Uzbekistan.
The European Parliament completed the drawn-out process of approving a 5 billion-euro preferential loan to Ukraine, the key part of a 9 billion-euro aid package to offset the cost of war.
Zelenskyy said more assistance cannot come quickly enough. He insisted that the West needed to impose more sanctions on the Kremlin and to provide more weapons for his frontline soldiers to use.
Zelenskyy said that the only way to guarantee the security of Ukrainians is to “close the sky” over the country with air defense systems provided by Western allies.
Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, announced Thursday that it would send two additional MARS II multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine, as well as 50 DINGO armored vehicles.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was pressuring Chancellor Olaf Scholz to decide whether to supply advanced tanks to Ukraine soon, while its counteroffensive gained traction.
“In the decisive phase that Ukraine currently finds itself, I also don’t believe that it’s a decision which can be delayed for long,” Baerbock said that
Having little with which to repay his Western partners, Zelenskyy said von der Leyen’s name would by engraved on a plaque in a square near Ukraine’s parliament that is called “Walk of the Brave.”
“Here are the names of those leaders of Europe and the world who supported our state and were on our side against the aggression,” he said.
In Uzbekistan’s ancient city of Samarkand, Putin sought to break through his international isolation and further cement his ties with Xi in a geopolitical alliance increasingly seen as potent counterweight to the Western powers.
Putin and Xi met one-on-one on the sidelines of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance created as a counterweight to U.S. influence. In opening remarks, the Russian leader painted the war as a litmus test for those seeking to stand up to Washington and its NATO allies.
“Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently taken an absolutely ugly shape. They are absolutely unacceptable for the vast majority of countries on the globe,” the Russian president said in opening remarks. His fiery rhetoric contrasted with the more subdued comments of Xi.
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