Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops were throwing “everything they can” at Kiev’s troops fighting to retake ground in the south and east, again underscoring the tense nature of a counteroffensive that is moving more slowly than some allies had hoped.
Ukrainian forces have made only small gains since launching the much-anticipated campaign in June, and in recent weeks, they appear to have stalled in some areas in the face of staunch Russian defenses. Casualties are mounting, and U.S. officials have said Ukraine has also lost newly supplied Western armored vehicles in field after field of mines.
Mr. Zelensky, who defended the pace of the counteroffensive, said in his nightly address late on Friday that he had a “detailed” meeting earlier in the day with his top commanders to discuss the front lines and “logistics” – including weapons and the “reasonable use of shells, supplies from partners”, an apparent reference to the evidence. at which the forces of Ukraine spend ammunition.
“We must all understand very clearly – as clearly as possible – that the Russian forces on our southern and eastern lands are investing everything they can to stop our military,” he said. “Every thousand meters of advance, every success of each of our combat brigades deserves thanks.”
Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly pressed his Western allies for increasingly sophisticated weapons, and he won new pledges this week from allies at the NATO summit in Lithuania, including long-range missiles from France and more tank ammunition from Germany. But it was not immediately clear how soon those weapons would arrive, or how significant a boost they might provide to the counteroffensive.
The United States has acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are short of ammunition, which was one reason President Biden agreed last week to allies’ objections to sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. The weapons are very dangerous to civilians and are banned by all but a few countries, including the United States, Russia and Ukraine.
The defense ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands announced this past week that they have gathered 11 countries to help train Ukrainian pilots with F-16 fighter jets as soon as next month. Mr Biden agreed in May to drop his objections to giving Ukraine F-16s, although that may not happen until next year.
Ukraine has also asked the US for long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, which have a range of about 190 miles – about 40 miles more than missiles that France and Britain provide. U.S. and European officials said the Biden administration, after months of maintaining that it would not make the weapons available for fear of further provoking Russia, is considering whether to send some to Ukraine.
One ally that has resisted sending weapons to Ukraine is South Korea, whose president, Yoon Suk Yeol, arrived in Ukraine on Saturday on an unannounced trip.
Seoul, reluctant to openly antagonize Moscow, has refused to send lethal aid and has imposed strict export control rules on its global arms sales. It also provided humanitarian aid and financial support to Ukraine for demining, power grid restoration and reconstruction projects.
However, Mr. Yoon indicated that Seoul might be willing to consider sending Ukraine military aid in the event of a large-scale attack on civilians.
He visited the towns of Bucha and Irpin – which became synonymous with Russian atrocities in the earliest days of the invasion – after arriving on Saturday, and was expected to meet with Mr Zelensky later, Mr Yoon’s office said.
In the meantime, Ukraine’s military continued to report on Saturday fierce fighting in the south and east of the countrysaying that Russian forces in southern Ukraine were focused on “preventing the further advance” of Kiev’s troops fighting in the direction of two key Russian-occupied cities, Melitopol and Berdiansk.
John Yoon contributed reporting.