Ukraine declared an air raid alert over most of the country early Thursday as authorities in Kyiv warned of a possible Russian missile attack while heavy fighting continued unabated in the east, where Moscow’s forces have been increasing pressure on Ukrainian defenders.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on Telegram, “the first Russian missiles have already been shot down,” without specifying the locations.
Authorities asked citizens not to ignore the danger signal and to remain in shelters.
Electricity firm DTEK said it was performing emergency power shutdowns in Kyiv and the region around the capital as well as in the regions of Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk due to the danger of missile attack.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking just hours after Germany and the United States pledged to provide Kyiv with advanced battle tanks, called on Kyiv’s Western allies to deliver long-range missiles and military aircraft to beef up Ukraine’s air defense.
Zelenskyy said in his regular nightly video address Wednesday that it is now necessary to “go ahead with the supply of aircraft for Ukraine.”
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued to sustain incessant pressure from Russian attacks in the east, mainly in Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in Donetsk region and Chervopopyivka in Luhansk, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily report Thursday.
Ukrainian forces destroyed 24 drones, including 15 over Kyiv, that Russia launched in overnight attacks, it said, warning about the danger of more Russian air raids.
“Despite suffering numerous losses, the enemy did not halt its offensive actions,” the General Staff said, adding that Ukrainian defenders also repelled attacks in Lyman, Kupyansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson.
Russia has been “intensifying” its offensive near Bakhmut, where it deployed a “superior number of soldiers and weapons” in what has become a hot spot in the 11-month-old invasion, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Wednesda, adding that “the enemy is intensifying pressure in the Bakhmut and Vuhledar sectors” of the front.
Ukrainian officials on Wednesday also acknowledged their loss to Russian forces of the Donetsk-region salt-mining town of Soledar as many military experts are forecasting a Russian spring offensive in the area.
Berlin and Washington agreed to provide the tanks following months of intense debate among NATO allies in the hope of helping stem the expected push by Russia.
Zelenskyy praised the allies’ commitment to deliver advanced tanks and urged them to provide large numbers of tanks quickly.
“The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,” he said. “We have to form such a ‘tank fist,’ such a ‘fist of freedom.'”
“It is very important that there is progress in other aspects of our defense cooperation as well,” Zelenskyy said.
“We must also open the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine. It is important — we must also expand our cooperation in artillery, we must enter into the supply of aircraft for Ukraine. And this is a dream. And this is the task.”
President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the United States will send 31 of its highly advanced Abrams tanks in a move he said was not a threat to Russia.
Moscow has warned that it regards the Western supply of advanced battle tanks to Ukraine a dangerous provocation.
Speaking from the White House, Biden said the NATO tanks for Ukraine would help “improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”
He praised Berlin’s similar announcement as evidence that “Germany has really stepped up.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said hours earlier that Germany will supply 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and will also allow third countries to reexport their own German-made Leopards.
Scholz said the decision, approved Wednesday, was “the right principle” in the face of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius added that the first Leopard tanks could be in Ukraine within three months.
With reporting by Reuters, The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and dpa.