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Russian missile wrecks Kramatorsk apartment block as EU leaders arrive in Kyiv

A Russian missile has destroyed an apartment building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, killing at least three people before top European Union officials arrived in Kyiv for talks seen as key to Ukraine’s pivot towards the West.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed more anti-corruption measures as authorities continued raids before the meetings with the EU, reflecting his determination to show that Kyiv can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in aid.

“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and co-operation,” the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted as she arrived in Kyiv by train on Thursday along with more than a dozen other senior EU officials.

However, unwilling to admit a country at war, the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, underlining the need for more anti-corruption measures.

The team from Brussels will discuss sending more arms and money to Ukraine, increasing access for Ukrainian products to the EU, helping Kyiv cover energy needs, strengthening sanctions on Russia and prosecuting Russian leaders for the war.

The EU says it has already earmarked almost 60 billion euros ($96 billion) in aid to Ukraine but Kyiv’s membership bid is expected to take years.

In his evening video address, Mr Zelensky also gave another bleak assessment of the battlefield situation as Russian forces continued to make incremental gains in the east of the country as the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion looms on February 24.

In Kramatorsk, a Russian Iskander-K tactical missile struck on Wednesday night, killing at least three people and injuring 20 others, police said.

Police said at least eight apartment buildings were damaged, and one of them was destroyed.

Kramatorsk, about 50 kilometres north-west of Bakhmut, is the main focus of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia, determined to make progress before Ukraine gets newly promised Western battle tanks and armoured vehicles, has picked up momentum on the battlefield and announced advances north and south of Bakhmut, which has suffered persistent Russian bombardment for months.

“The situation has become tougher,” Mr Zelensky said.

“The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion.”

Bakhmut and 10 towns and villages around it came under Russian fire, the Ukrainian military said late on Wednesday.

Russian forces are pushing from both the north and south to encircle Bakhmut, using their superior troop numbers to try to cut it off from resupply and force out the Ukrainians, Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy said.

Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow has taken huge losses around Bakhmut, sending in waves of poorly equipped troops, including thousands of convicts recruited from prisons as mercenaries.

Ukraine has secured pledges of weapons from the West offering new capabilities – the latest expected this week to include rockets from the United States that would nearly double the range of Ukrainian forces.

“We’re focused on providing Ukraine the capability that it needs to be effective in its upcoming anticipated counteroffensive in the spring,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to the Philippines on Thursday.

The new weapons would put all of Russia’s supply lines in eastern Ukraine, as well as parts of Crimea, within range of Ukrainian forces.

Moscow says such rockets will escalate the conflict but not change its course.

“The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian state TV on Thursday.

Moscow claims to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces last year, as well as Crimea which it seized in 2014.

-Reuters

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