Ukrainian forces in the east sustained incessant Russian attacks over the past 24 hours as Kyiv again appealed for faster deliveries of weapons ahead of a meeting of Western allies that will discuss giving Ukraine offensive armaments such as tanks.
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The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report on January 17 that Russians launched more than 70 attacks the previous day, shelling 15 settlements near the disputed city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, including the strategic town of Soledar, which has been all but razed to the ground by Russian shelling.
A Russian victory in Soledar would allow Moscow’s forces to inch closer to Bakhmut, where pitched battles have been raging for months.
“The enemy does not abandon its intentions to seize the entire Donetsk region. It is conducting offensive actions in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions,” the General Staff said, adding that Russian forces also continued to press in the direction of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.
The latest attacks came after a Russian missile strike on an apartment building that houses around 1,700 people in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro killed at least 40 people, while 30 others are still unaccounted for.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his regular video address on January 16 that the attack on Dnipro and Russia’s push to gain the upper hand in the east highlighted the need for the West “to speed up decision-making” in supplying weapons.
Kyiv has been long pushing for tanks and armored vehicles that will help it punch holes in Russia’s front lines.
Britain confirmed on January 16 that it was going to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other military equipment, including hundreds of armored vehicles and advanced air defense systems.
On January 16, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki ratcheted up pressure on Germany on January 16 to follow suit and provide more weapons to Ukraine, including Leopard 2 battle tanks, but Berlin says those tanks should be supplied only if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.
Poland and Finland have already pledged to send some of their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Analysts say the Leopard 2 is superior to the tanks Russia has deployed and would give Kyiv a decisive advantage.
Oleskiy Danylov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, said on January 16 that Ukraine urgently needs more and better weapons as it expects Russia “to attempt to make a so-called final push,” which could occur on the invasion’s anniversary or in March.
“We must prepare for such events every day. And we are preparing,” Danylov told Ukrainian television.
“The first and last question is always about weapons, aid to help us defeat this aggressor that invaded our country,” Danylov said.
The calls come as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin prepares to visit Berlin on January 19 and then host a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group the following day at the U.S. military base in Ramstein to discuss further support — including military aid — for Ukraine with allies.
Zelenskiy said on January 16 that he expects a “key decision on arms supplies from our partners” at the Ramstein meeting.
Austin’s visit comes as the United States kicked off a training program for more than 3,100 Ukrainian troops on how to use and maintain certain weapons systems, including howitzers, armored vehicles, and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.
Other Western allies are also conducting training on the weapons they provide.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on January 17 that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had visited Russian troops involved in Ukraine. The information could not be independently confirmed.