Top European Union (EU) officials have arrived in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian officials as rescue crews dig through the rubble of an apartment building hit by a Russian missile, killing at least three people and wounding about 20 others.
The scene of devastation in the eastern Donetsk provincial city of Kramatorsk, where emergency workers spent the night searching for survivors after the missile hit late on Wednesday, served as a grim reminder of the war’s toll almost a year after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has often hit apartment buildings during the war, causing civilian casualties, though the Kremlin has denied targeting residential structures.
Russian shelling across Ukraine over the past 24 hours has killed at least eight civilians and hurt 29 others, the presidential office said.
Along with the victims in Kramatorsk, the toll includes four who died when a Russian mortar shell hit a basement where they were sheltering in the north-east Chernihiv region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before a summit on Friday.
Mr Borrell said the visit aims “to convey (the) EU’s strongest message of support to all Ukrainians defending their country”.
EU assistance for Ukraine, he said, has reached 50 billion euros (£44.6 billion) since the start of Russia’s war on February 24 2022.
“Europe stood united with Ukraine from day one. And will still stand with you to win and rebuild,” Mr Borrell tweeted.
It is Ms Von der Leyen’s fourth visit since the invasion. The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 — a few months before the war started.
Ukraine’s anti-corruption drive is expected to be on the agenda.
Kyiv’s long path toward potential membership in the 27-nation bloc will be a key issue under discussion, with stamping out corruption a key condition for joining.
Ms Von der Leyen tweeted: “We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation.”
Mr Zelensky on Wednesday took aim at corrupt officials for the second time in the space of a week.
Several high-ranking officials were dismissed.
Mr Zelensky was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft.
The latest corruption allegations came as western allies channel billions to help Kyiv fight Moscow’s forces and as the Ukrainian government introduces reforms so it can potentially join the EU one day.
Ukraine’s government is keen to get more western military aid, on top of the tanks pledged last week, as the warring sides are expected to launch new offensives once winter ends.
Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets.
It expects Russia to “attempt something” on the February 24 anniversary, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov told France’s BFM television.
He stressed his government’s urgency on getting weapons without delay.
“We are telling our partners that we too need to be ready as fast as possible,” he said in an interview late on Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden has ruled out providing F-16s to Ukraine, while UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he will not send jets either.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said during a trip to the Philippines on Thursday the focus of American aid is to increase Ukraine’s military capabilities by sending artillery, armour, air defence and training Ukrainian troops.
The US is “focused on providing Ukraine the capability that it needs to be effective in its upcoming anticipated counteroffensive in the spring”, Mr Austin said.
“And so we’re doing everything we can to get them the capabilities that they need right now to be effective on the battlefield,” he said.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that strategy will backfire by prompting Moscow to ensure potential Russian targets are out of range.
“The longer range the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime, the farther we would need to push them away from the territories that are part of our country,” he said in an interview with Russian state media.
He said Moscow would like to see the war end but the length of the conflict is less important than its outcome: to protect Russian territory and “people who want to remain part of the Russian culture”, reaffirming Moscow’s declared goal to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine.