KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s prime minister is appealing for Patriot missile batteries and other high-tech air defense systems to counter Russian attacks, as more Russian shelling was reported on Monday in the eastern regions of Ukraine where Moscow is trying to make battlefield gains.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told French broadcaster LCI that Russia wants to swamp Europe with a new wave of Ukrainian refugees by its targeting of infrastructure in Ukraine that has caused electricity and water outages for millions during freezing winter weather.
Millions of Ukrainians have already fled the country since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24, and there are fears that many more could leave their homes during winter. Thousands of people have died and dozens of cities and towns across Ukraine have been reduced to rubble during the more than nine months of the Russian onslaught.
Ukraine also needs resupplies of artillery shells and modern battle tanks, Shmyhal said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night ahead of meetings in Paris this week to raise and coordinate more international aid for Ukraine.
The Kremlin has said attacks on Ukraine’s energy supply system were a retaliation for what Moscow says was a Kyiv-orchestrated attack on the key, Russian-built bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the phone with U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday. Biden “highlighted how the U.S. is prioritizing efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense through our security assistance, including the Dec. 9 announcement of $275 million in additional ammunition and equipment that included systems to counter the Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles.,” the White House said.
Russian drone attacks near the Black Sea port of Odesa last weekend destroyed several energy facilities and left all customers except hospitals, maternity homes, boiler plants and pumping stations without power.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, on Monday completed a four-day visit to Ukraine, including Odesa.
“I saw how families have been torn apart and how power cuts and freezing temperatures have increased the suffering for too many during this difficult winter,” she said.
To defend against further strikes, Shmyhal reiterated previous Ukrainian calls for Patriot surface-to-air missiles — a highly sophisticated system that so far hasn’t been forthcoming. He also asked for more German and French air-defense systems that those countries have already supplied.
The provision of Patriot missiles to Ukraine would mark a major advance in the kinds of air defense systems the West is sending to help the country defend itself from Russian aerial attack. So far, no country has offered them, and such a step would likely mark an escalation with Russia.
Ukraine needs large quantities of shells to respond like-for-like against Russian artillery, Shmyhal said. Russia fires 50,000 to 70,000 shells per day at Ukrainian targets and “we need at least one third of that quantity every day,” he added.
Organizers of the conference in France say they are expecting more than 45 nations and 20 international institutions to take part. A focus of the meeting will be rushing aid to Ukraine to meet its needs for water, power, food, health and transport during the tough winter months.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign ministers on Monday also were gathering in Brussels to discuss fresh sanctions to further punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney sharply condemned “deliberate targeting by Russia of civilians in terms of inflicting suffering on a broad population. ” He described Russia’s actions as “a crime, in terms of both aggression and a crime against humanity.”
The latest fighting has focused in the eastern Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, particularly around the city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian officials on Monday said the country’s forces hit a hotel in the Luhansk region that served as headquarters for the Russian Wagner mercenary group — which has played a prominent role in the fighting in the east.
The Ukrainian governor of the region, Serhiy Haidai, said hundreds of Russians were killed in the strike on Kadiivka on Sunday. Moscow-backed local officials in Luhansk confirmed that a Ukrainian strike destroyed a hotel building in Kadiivka but claimed that the building was unused.
The Ukrainian mayor of the southeastern town of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported that Ukraine also attacked a hotel that reportedly housed a team of analysts from Russia’s top security agency, the FSB. Moscow did not comment on that claim and none of the reports could be independently confirmed.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office said Monday that two civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded in Russia’s shelling of the town of Hirnyk in the Donetsk region.
“It was yet another Russian attack against civilians,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on his messaging app channel.
Also on Monday, Slovakia said that in cooperation with Germany it has opened a new center to repair Ukrainian arms of Western origin. The center is located inside a military base in the town of Michalovce, some 22 miles west of the border with Ukraine, the defense ministry said. Howitzers and air defense systems are among the arms to be fixed there.