KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday Ukraine would fight to hold on to the eastern “fortress” city of Bakhmut for as long as it could, and urged the West to supply long-range weapons to help Kyiv push Russian forces out of the Donbas region.
“Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress,” Zelensky told a news conference with top European Union officials following a summit in Kyiv.
“If weapons [supplies] are quickened, specifically long range weapons, we not only will not leave Bakhmut, but we will also begin to deoccupy Donbas, which has been occupied since 2014,” he said.
The city of Bakhmut has become the focal point of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s attacks and of Moscow’s drive to regain battlefield momentum.
Russian officials have said Russian forces are encircling Bakhmut from several directions and battling to take control of a road which is also an important supply route for Ukrainian forces.
Zelensky said Russia would continue to push in the east but that Ukrainian forces would be able to hold out until more Western weapons arrived.
Meanwhile, the European Union will unveil its 10th package of sanctions against Russia on February 24 to mark the anniversary of Moscow’s war on Ukraine , a senior official from the bloc said in Kyiv on Friday, as Ukrainian forces gird for an expected Russian offensive in the coming weeks.
The sanctions will target technology used by Russia’s war machine, among other things, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.
The sanctions will take aim in particular at components used in the manufacturing of drones, she said, naming Iran as a key supplier of Russia.
Closing loopholes that the Kremlin uses to circumvent sanctions will also be a priority, according to Von der Leyen, who was on her fourth visit to the Ukrainian capital since the war began.
The exact measures in the next EU sanctions package must be agreed upon by the bloc’s 27 member countries — a process that can take weeks.
Top EU officials met Zelensky in a show of support for the country as it battles to counter the Kremlin’s forces and strives to join the EU as well as NATO.
The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 — a few months before the war started. The highly symbolic visit is also the first EU political mission of its kind to a country at war.
The high-level meeting came as a 60-year-old man was killed and six others were wounded Friday after Russian missiles hit central Toretsk, a town in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, the local prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Facebook.
Ukrainian authorities reported Friday that at least six civilians were killed and 20 others were wounded over the previous 24 hours.
Also, six people were wounded and 18 apartment buildings, two hospitals and a school were damaged in a Russian attack in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Thursday, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV. Three people died when a Russian missile hit an apartment building in that city on Wednesday.
European officials were adamant about continuing to support Ukraine militarily and economically, but they didn’t provide any new details about Ukraine’s accession path to the EU.
Zelensky said that Ukraine’s goal “is to start negotiations this year.” But the process will likely take years and require the adoption of far-reaching reforms, including a clampdown on endemic corruption as the country receives billions of dollars in aid. Kyiv formally submitted its application last June.