LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday promised to provide tanks and artillery systems to Ukraine, amid renewed missile attacks by Moscow targeting the Ukrainian capital and other cities.
Air raid sirens wailed across most of Ukraine on Saturday and officials told residents to take shelter from a possible Russian air attack.
The regional governor of Mykolaiv, Vitaliy Kim, said Russian missiles had already been spotted flying in Ukraine's south and that air defences were working.
Sunak’s Downing Street office said in a statement that he made the pledge to provide Challenger 2 tanks and other artillery systems after speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday.
It did not say when the tanks were to be delivered or how many. British media has reported that four British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks will be sent to eastern Europe immediately, with eight more to follow shortly after, without citing sources.
Zelenskyy in a tweet Saturday thanked Sunak “for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
Ukraine has for months sought to be supplied with heavier tanks, including the US Abrams and the German Leopard 2 tanks, but Western leaders have been treading carefully.
The Czech Republic and Poland have provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces. Poland has also expressed readiness to provide a company of Leopard tanks, but President Andrzej Duda stressed during his recent visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that the move would be possible only as an element in a larger international coalition of tank aid to Kyiv.
Earlier this month, France pledged to supply its AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles — designated as “light tanks” in French — to Ukraine as well.
Sunak’s announcement came several hours after a series of explosions rocked Kyiv on Saturday morning. An infrastructure target was hit in what Ukrainian officials said was a missile attack.
Explosions were heard in the Dniprovskyi district, a residential area on the left bank of the Dnieper River, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. Klitschko also said that fragments of a missile fell on a non-residential area in the Holosiivskyi district on the right bank, and a fire briefly broke out in a building there. No casualties have been reported so far.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether several facilities in Kyiv were targeted or just the one that was reported hit. The Ukrainian capital hasn’t been attacked by missiles since New Year’s night, January 1.
In the outlying Kyiv region, a residential building in the village of Kopyliv was hit, and windows of the houses nearby were blown out, Tymoshenko said.
A total of 18 private houses were damaged in the region, according to regional Gov. Oleksii Kuleba. “There are damaged roofs and windows,” but no casualties, Kuleba said in a Telegram post. He added that a fire has been contained at a “critical infrastructure facility” in the region.
Earlier on Saturday, two Russian missiles hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the governor of the Kharkiv region reported.
Oleh Syniehubov said Russian forces fired two S-300 missiles at the industrial district of Kharkiv. The strikes targeted “energy and industrial objects of Kharkiv and the (outlying) region,” Syniehubov said. No casualties have been reported, but emergency power cuts in the city and other settlements of the region were possible, the official said.
The attacks follow conflicting reports on the fate of the fiercely contested salt mining town of Soledar, in Ukraine’s embattled east. Russia claims that its forces have captured the town, a development that would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield.
Ukrainian authorities and President Zelenskyy insist the fight for Soledar continues.
Moscow has painted the battle for the town and the nearby city of Bakhmut as key to capturing the eastern region of the Donbas, which comprises of partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and as a way to grind down the best Ukrainian forces and prevent them from launching counterattacks elsewhere.
But that cuts both ways, as Ukraine says its fierce defense of the eastern strongholds has helped tie up Russian forces. Western officials and analysts say the two towns’ importance is more symbolic than strategic.