A meteoric wave of Russian strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure killed 11 people on Thursday, a day after Germany and the United States promised heavy tanks for Kyiv.
The increased military aid swept away longstanding apprehensions among the allies and signaled increased Western support for a counteroffensive against the Russian invasion.
The latest wave of Russian attacks came as the Kremlin said it perceived the tanks «as a direct involvement in the conflict».
Many Ukrainians welcomed the move, with a doctor who gave only her first name Liza telling AFP near the frontline town of Bakhmut that «it should have happened earlier and in greater quantities».
As a result of In the latest Russian missile strikes, 11 people were killed and 11 others injured, Ukrainian emergency services said.
Earlier in the day, officials said a 55-year-old man was killed in Kyiv by fragments of a missile shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems.
The Ukrainian army said its forces had destroyed 47 of the 55 missiles launched by Russia.
Since October, Russia has launched regular strikes against energy infrastructure across Ukraine, where temperatures are near zero.
Energy Minister German Galushchenko charged Russia to seek to «create a systemic failure in the Ukrainian energy system».
Electricity supply in Kyiv stabilized in the afternoon, but in the southern region of Odessa on the Black Sea, «emergency power cuts will continue», the energy supplier said DTEK.
The attacks delayed the visit of French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who arrived in Odessa to discuss aid with top Ukrainian diplomat Dmytro Kuleba.
The United States said on Wednesday it would supply 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the go-ahead to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks – a move that opened the floodgates to several other armed European nations of Leopard to submit their own contributions.
The British government has said it intends to send tanks at the end of March, with training starting next week.
Although Western countries have already sent Ukraine everything from artillery to Patriot missile defense systems, the tanks have long been seen as a step too far, risking an increasingly violent backlash from the military. ‘Ukraine. Russia.
But as Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive to push back the increasingly entrenched Russians to the east and south, allies are now scrambling to respond.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Thursday that the Leopard tanks promised by Berlin would arrive «at the end of March, beginning of April».
Training of Ukrainian troops on German Marder infantry fighting vehicles will begin in the coming days, he added, and «a bit later» for Ukrainian soldiers who will be trained on the Leopard.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the tank deliveries represented «direct involvement in the conflict».
But Paris has insisted that neither France nor its allies are waging a war against Russia.
«We are not at war with Russia and none of our partners are,» Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said.
«The delivery of military equipment…does not constitute co-belligerence.»
After a series of reverses on the battlefield, Russia claimed gains on the eastern front, where Ukraine acknowledged that its troops had withdrawn from the town of Soledar in the Donetsk region.
Russian forces and units of the Wagner Mercenary Group claimed two weeks ago that they had captured the small salt mining town.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said Moscow was also stepping up pressure along the eastern front, in the fight for nearby Bakhmut.
The American Institute for the Study of War said Russia engaged in “wasted attacks on most of the front line in Ukraine in order to disperse and distract the Ukrainian forces”.
These measures, he said, were to «create the conditions for launching a decisive offensive operation» in the eastern region of Lugansk.
As Russian forces advance, the head of the UN refugee agency told AFP that Kyiv and European governments should prepare for a possible surge of people fleeing the fighting.
He said that despite repeated offers of assistance, Russia still only granted the agency limited access to Ukrainians there.
“Any exacerbation of the war is likely to cause new displacements, one way or another, and we must prepare for this,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in Kyiv.
Separately, Ukraine has threatened to boycott the 2024 Olympics in Paris if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to participate.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has proposed ways to allow competitors to Russia and Belarus are set to be «explored further», despite having been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the invasion of Ukraine last February.
«Such a situation is unacceptable for our country,» Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Goutzeit said.