Ukraine ended its search for survivors in the ruins of an apartment block where a Russian missile killed at least 45 civilians, as the country’s president urged his German counterpart to send more weapons and Kyiv’s top general met his US opposite number.
The talks took place as several senior western officials urged Berlin to allow German-made Leopard tanks to be transferred to Ukraine, and its allies prepared to discuss ramping up arms supplies.
“The search-and-rescue operation is over. Thank you to the rescuers, doctors, policemen, utility workers, volunteers... Thank you to everyone who fought for and helped the victims during these long 69 hours,” Dnipropetrovsk regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said on Tuesday in the city of Dnipro, where a Russian missile hit a tower block on Saturday.
He said 45 people, including five children, were known to have been killed in the attack, and 79 people injured, 16 of them children. The death toll is expected to rise, because 19 people are still missing and 10 of the 28 victims being treated in hospital are in a serious condition.
The attack underlined what Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy says is his country’s urgent need for more advanced air defence systems, long-range rockets to strike Russian positions and western-made heavy battle tanks to expel Moscow’s troops.
His office said he spoke to German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier by video link and “emphasised the need to increase defence support for Ukraine, to create conditions for the further liberation of occupied Ukrainian territories”.
“Together we must bring [victory] closer. And I think we have every chance to get the long-awaited peace and the victory of common sense over aggression this year,” Mr Zelenskiy said.
Media in the Netherlands reported that its prime minister, Mark Rutte, told US president Joe Biden that it would join Washington and Berlin in sending a Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
Germany appointed Boris Pistorius as its new defence minister, as pressure mounted on Berlin before a meeting on Friday in the so-called Ramstein format of dozens of countries that are supplying Ukraine with military aid.
Britain has pledged to send about 14 Challenger tanks to Kyiv and Poland has expressed willingness to supply a similar number of Leopard tanks if an “international coalition” on the issue is formed; as manufacturer of the Leopards, Germany must grant permission for other countries to re-export them.
“We are currently in intensive discussions on what more we can do as the European Union, Nordic countries to help Ukraine,” Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“The discussion is ongoing about the Leopard tanks. I hope this decision will be made real and Finland definitely is ready to play its part in that support.”
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to hold talks with Mr Pistorius in Germany on Thursday, and in Poland on Tuesday the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, met top Ukrainian military commander Valeriy Zaluzhnyi for the first time.
“I outlined the urgent needs of the armed forces of Ukraine which, if met, will accelerate our victory,” Gen Zaluzhnyi said.
Dave Butler, a spokesman for Gen Milley, said: “These guys have been talking on a very regular basis for about a year now… And it’s important – when you have two military professionals looking each other in the eye and talking about very, very important topics, there’s a difference.”
Russia vows to destroy western tanks and other weapons in Ukraine and says arms supplies will only prolong the conflict without preventing the Kremlin’s victory in what it calls a “special military operation”.