(AFP) Western powers promised Ukraine on Friday long-range weapons to counter a Russian invasion, while the European Union (EU) backed the former Soviet republic’s bid to join the bloc, at a summit in Kiev.
The United States announced a new aid package worth $2.2 billion in weapons, including rockets that could nearly double the range of Ukrainian artillery.
“The United States will continue to work with its allies and partners to provide Ukraine with the capability to respond to immediate battlefield needs and long-term security needs,” the Pentagon said.
France and Italy will deliver a MAMBA medium-range anti-aircraft defense system to help Ukraine “defend against Russian drone, missile and aircraft attacks,” the French Defense Ministry said.
Bakhmut, the “fortress”
Almost a year after the start of the Russian invasion, fighting is concentrated in the east of the country, especially in Bakhmut, besieged and bombed for weeks.
“Nobody will hand over Bakhmut […] We will fight as much as we can” to defend this “fortress,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky declared.
Smoke rose in the center of the city, and Ukrainian military helicopters flew low over the frozen plains to avoid detection.
According to the authorities, only 6,500 of the 70,000 inhabitants remained in Bakhmut after the war.
Oleksander Tkachenko, 65, said that, alongside other residents, he ran to pull a woman out of the wreckage of her vehicle after a bombardment.
“Clearly” it was not a military objective, since her car “was red,” he denounced.
In Kherson, a large southern city that was in Russian hands before Ukrainian forces took it back, shelling killed one person and wounded another, officials said.
“Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine”
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with Zelensky and expressed their support for Ukraine’s membership in the bloc.
“Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine,” Charles Michel launched at the end of the summit in Kiev, where anti-aircraft sirens sounded twice during the day.
Ukraine has been a candidate for membership since June 2022, a process that requires numerous reforms and could take years.
The Ukrainian president said that his country will not lose “even one day” to meet integration requirements and considered it “possible” to start negotiations later this year.
European leaders highlighted in a statement Ukraine’s “progress” in creating “independent and effective” institutions to fight corruption.
Von der Leyen revealed that the EU is preparing new sanctions against Russia for February 24, the first anniversary of the invasion.