Ukraine ranks priority in holding line as global security leaders

Ukraine ranks priority in holding line as global security leaders gather – Portal

  • Political and military leaders gather for the Munich Conference
  • Zelenskyy says the priority is to “maintain the situation” at the front
  • Ukrainians say Russian bodies are piling up in battle for Bakhmut

KIEV, February 17 (Portal) – Russian forces stepped up attacks along the frontlines in eastern Ukraine on Friday, as senior politicians and military leaders from around the world were due to meet in Germany with Ukrainian officials expected to attend the speaking security conference.

Backed by tens of thousands of reservists, Russia has stepped up ground attacks in southern and eastern Ukraine as the first anniversary of its February 24 invasion approaches.

A major new Russian offensive appears to be taking shape, and the governor of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region on Friday reported a significant increase in Russian attacks along frontlines there.

“Today it is quite difficult in all directions because the number of attacks has increased sharply, the shelling has also increased sharply, including from the air force,” Governor Serhiy Haidai told a Ukrainian television station.

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“There are constant attempts to breach our defenses,” he said of the fighting near the city of Kreminna.

Russia rained missiles over Ukraine on Thursday, hitting its largest oil refinery. Of about 36 missiles Russia fired, about 16 were shot down, the Air Force said, a lower rate than normal.

There was no word from Russia about the recent fighting or the missile attacks, and Portal could not independently confirm the battlefield reports.

Ukraine said Thursday’s barrage included missiles its air defenses can’t shoot down, which will only add urgency to its calls for more Western military support.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and US Vice President Kamala Harris are among many high-level officials attending the Munich Security Conference.

Last year’s meeting took place days before the start of the war. As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, Western leaders in Munich urged President Vladimir Putin not to invade and warned of dire consequences if he did.

This year, leaders will grapple with the consequences of Putin’s decision to ignore their pleas and unleash the most devastating war in Europe since World War II, which has killed untold thousands and forced millions to flee.

Russian leaders will be conspicuous by their absence from the conference, which lasts until Sunday, but senior Ukrainian officials are expected to comment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late night video address that his priority is to repel Russian attacks and prepare for an eventual Ukrainian counter-offensive.

“Keeping the situation at the front line and preparing for enemy escalation steps – that is the priority for the near future,” he said.

US officials have advised Ukraine to hold off on counteroffensives until the last stockpile of US weapons is in place and training is complete.

“Body Piled Up”

Russia is centered on the small eastern town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, one of two regions that make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia.

In fighting led by the Wagner mercenary group swollen by prison recruits, Russia has bombarded and encircled Bakhmut for months. Most of the pre-war population of around 70,000 people left the country, leaving Ukrainian soldiers buried in it.

“They’re sending a lot of troops. I don’t think they can bear it,” said the press secretary of Ukraine’s 80th airborne assault brigade, Taras Dzioba, of the Russians.

“There are places where their bodies are just piled up. There is a ditch where… they just don’t evacuate their wounded or killed.”

Dzioba spoke to Portal while standing near a howitzer battery in front of a defense bunker near the Bakhmut front.

Its conquest would give Russia a springboard to advance on two larger Donetsk cities further west, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. But Ukraine and its allies say taking Bakhmut would be a Pyrrhic victory given the months it took and the casualties Russia has suffered.

In Munich, the war will spark long-running debates about how much Europe should build its own military capabilities and how much it should rely on the United States for security.

Police in Moldova, where parliament passed a new pro-Western government on Thursday, said they have again found rocket debris near the border with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Belarus, which allowed Russia to use its territory to send troops to Ukraine earlier in the war, said it would only fight alongside its ally if attacked.

Germany said 1.1 million people arrived from Ukraine in 2022, surpassing the 2015-16 migrant influx.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen traveled to Ukraine, the first such wartime visit from Israel, which is coordinating with Russia over attacks on suspected Iranian targets in Syria and has pledged no weapons to Kyiv.

On Twitter, Cohen said Israel will increase the aid it is giving to Ukraine and help it rebuild.

Reporting by Olena Harmash, Max Hunder, Pavel Polityuk, Yiming Woo, Caleb Davis, Tim Heritage, Jake Cordell, Gwladys Fouche, Sabine Siebold, Ron Popeski, David Ljunggren, Gabriela Baczynska, Andrew Gray, Andreas Rinke; writing by Robert Birsel; Adaptation by Stephen Coates

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