Members of the Ukrainian forces participate in an urban combat training exercise, organised by the Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs, within the exclusion zone in the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Russia denies any plans to invade Ukraine, saying the forces are on routine maneuvers, but it has warned Kyiv against making any military move against the separatist regions Moscow backs in the Donbas area. Photographer: Ethan Swope/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(Reuters) – Russia has stepped up attempts to breach Ukraine’s defenses with heavy fighting in the country’s north and east, highlighting Kiev’s need for more Western weapons, Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

The Ukrainian military said fierce battles were underway, a day after Russian missiles and drones killed at least 11 people, in what appeared to be a response to promises by Western nations to supply tanks to Ukraine.

After weeks of negotiations, Germany and the United States promised Ukraine dozens of modern tanks to help repel Russian forces, paving the way for Canada, Poland, Finland, Norway and others to follow suit.

Russia accused the United States of “dumping weapons on Ukraine” and rebuked President Joe Biden, saying he held the key to ending the conflict in Ukraine but did not use it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked allies for their support, but renewed calls for tougher sanctions against Moscow and more weapons to repel the invaders in the 12th month of the war.

“This evil, this Russian aggression can and must be stopped only with adequate weapons. The terrorist state will understand nothing beyond that,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly televised address on Thursday.

Local officials on Friday reported intense shelling in northern, northeastern and eastern Ukraine, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since the Russian invasion on February 24 last year.

“The fierce fighting continues on the front lines. Our defenders are holding their positions firmly and inflicting losses on the enemy,” said Oleh Synehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region in the northeast.

Reuters was unable to verify reports from the battlefield.

The front lines have been virtually frozen for the past two months, with Russia trying to gain ground in the east after occupying swaths of territory there and protecting a corridor of land it has taken in southern Ukraine.

Both sides are expected to launch a spring offensive, although the United States has publicly advised Ukraine not to do so until the latest weapons are in place and training is provided–a process that is expected to take several months.
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