© Reuters. Emergency personnel work at the site where an apartment block was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Dnipro, Ukraine January 16, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
By Herbert Villarrga and Tom Balmforth
DNIPRO, Ukraine/KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine urged the West to speed up its supply of weapons, with the city of Dnipro reeling from a Russian missile strike that killed at least 40 people in an apartment block and Ukrainian troops under increased pressure on the eastern front.
Ukraine’s army General Staff said on Tuesday that Russia had launched more than 70 rocket attacks in the past 24 hours.
It said Russian forces shelled more than 15 settlements near the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, including the salt-mining town of Soledar, where Russia and Ukraine have waged fierce trench warfare for weeks.
Relentless Russian shelling has completely destroyed the city of Bakhmut and heavily damaged the city of Avdiivka in the centre of the Donetsk region.
“Very heavy fighting is continuing in the two key sectors of … Bakhmut and Avdiivka,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said on YouTube.
“The enemy is attacking constantly and around the clock. And we are trying to maintain our positions. Russian troops are active at night – we are in great need of night vision equipment.”
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his Monday night video address that the attack on Dnipro and Russia’s attempts to gain the initiative in the war underscored the need for the West “to speed up decision-making” in supplying weapons.
Western countries have produced a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine since Russian forces invaded last Feb. 24 but Zelenskiy and his government are insisting they need tanks.
Britain confirmed on Monday it was going to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other hardware, including hundreds more armoured vehicles and advanced air defence missiles.
Germany is under pressure to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine but its government says those tanks should be supplied only if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.
Oleskiy Danylov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, also mentioned on Monday night the need for an acceleration in weapons supplies because the government expected Russia “to attempt to make a so-called final push.”
Danylov told Ukrainian television that could take place on the invasion’s anniversary or in March.
“We must prepare for such events every day. And we are preparing … The first and last question is always about weapons, aid to help us defeat this aggressor that invaded our country,” Danylov said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was to host allies at an air base in Germany on Friday to discuss further aid for Ukraine.
Russia calls its actions a “special military operation” to protect its security because its neighbour grew increasingly close to the West. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory and to erase the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic.
Russia’s invasion has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left Ukrainian cities, towns and villages in ruins. Kyiv and its allies have also accused Russia of the large-scale deportation of Ukrainians.
Zelenskiy called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) on Monday to do more about Ukrainians he says have been forcibly taken to Russia.
The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organisation, consisting of 57 states and encompassing the United States and all European states, including Russia and all states of the former Soviet Union.
“No international organisation has found the strength to gain access to the places of detention of our prisoners in Russia yet. This must be corrected,” Zelenskiy said.
The U.S. State Department estimated last year that between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, have been forcibly deported into Russian territory.
Russia denies deportations and says those arriving are war refugees. In November, the country’s emergency ministry said that some 4.8 million Ukrainians, including 712,000 children, had arrived in Russia since February.