- Zelensky speaks to the leaders of the United States, France and Turkey
- Ukraine is struggling to restore power to Odessa and other regions
- US support to continue “as long as it takes” – Yellen
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart on Sunday that the United States was prioritizing efforts to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses, as President Volodymyr Zelensky stepped up efforts to secure international help for Russia’s invasion, which drags into its tenth month.
Heavy fighting in the east and south of the country continued unabated, while drone and missile strikes on key energy infrastructure, particularly in the Black Sea city of Odessa, kept many Ukrainians out in the cold and in the dark.
There are no peace talks and no end in sight to Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War Two, which Moscow calls a “special military operation” and Ukraine and its allies an act of unprovoked aggression.
“We are constantly working with partners,” Zelensky said after his talks with Biden and the leaders of France and Turkey, adding that he expects some “important results” next week from a series of international events that will address the situation in Ukraine.
On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold an online meeting with G7 leaders, and EU foreign ministers will try to agree on more sanctions on Russia and Iran and on additional aid or arms shipments to Ukraine.
While Zelensky has held numerous conversations with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the invasion of Russian forces in late February, the accumulation of discussions in just one day is not an ordinary occurrence.
Zelensky said he thanked Biden for the “unprecedented defense and financial” assistance provided by the United States and spoke with the US president about Ukraine’s need for effective anti-aircraft defense systems to protect the population.
The White House said Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to continue providing Ukraine with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance, to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes and atrocities, and to impose costs on Russia for its aggression.”
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CBS that Washington’s support for Ukraine’s military and economy — more than $50 billion and counting — will continue “as long as it takes” and emphasized that ending the war is the single best thing for the United States. It can do to the global economy.
Earlier, Zelensky said he had a “very meaningful” conversation with Macron on “defence, energy, economics and diplomacy” that lasted more than an hour and “very specific” talks with Erdogan on guaranteeing Ukraine’s grain exports.
Turkey, which mediated peace talks in the early months of the war, worked alongside the United Nations in a grain deal, and opened Ukrainian ports to exports in July after a six-month de facto Russian blockade.
Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader made a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, calling for a quick end to the conflict.
Putin said last week that Moscow’s near complete loss of confidence in the West would make a final settlement over Ukraine more difficult and warned of a protracted war.
Moscow shows no signs of being willing to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and pre-war borders, saying that the four regions it claims it annexed from Ukraine in September are part of Russia “forever”. The government in Kiev ruled out ceding any land to Russia in return for peace.
On the ground in Ukraine, the entire Eastern Front line was continuously bombarded as heavy fighting broke out.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an update on Sunday evening that Russian forces continued their attempts to break through Ukrainian defenses, training tanks and artillery fire on 26 settlements near Avdiivka and Bakhmut.
Serhiy Gaidai, the exiled governor of the Russian-occupied Luhansk region, told Ukrainian television that local forces attacked a hotel in the town of Kadyevka where members of Russia’s private military Wagner group were stationed, killing several of them.
Pictures posted on Telegram channels showed a building largely reduced to rubble.
“They had a little bit of a pop over there, which is where Wagner is headquartered,” he said. “A large number of those who were there died.”
Reuters could not verify these allegations and it was not possible to obtain comment from the Russian Defense Ministry.
Moscow also targets Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone strikes, sometimes cutting electricity to millions of civilians in the winter, when temperatures often drop below zero degrees Celsius.
Russian forces used Iranian-made drones to strike two power plants in the Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday, knocking out power to 1.5 million people — nearly all non-critical infrastructure in and around the port.
Zelensky said other regions with “very difficult” energy supply conditions included the capital Kiev, the Kiev region, four regions in western Ukraine and the Dnipropetrovsk region in the center of the country.
(Reporting by Nick Starkoff in Kiev) Additional reporting by Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg, Canada; Writing by Lydia Kelly and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Grant McCall and Simon Cameron-Moore
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