Ukraine’s defences under severe pressure from air and ground attacks as Zelenskiy arrives in US for key talks

Ukrainian president to meet US president Joe Biden and address Senate in bid to increase supports, while Russia plans to hold elections in occupied Ukraine

Moscow launched more air and ground attacks on Ukraine and said people living in occupied areas of the country would vote in Russian elections next March, as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy began a crucial visit to the US.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down all eight ballistic missiles and 18 explosive-laden drones fired by Russia early on Monday, but falling debris injured at least four people and knocked out electricity supplies to more than 100 homes in a Kyiv suburb. Energy officials said dozens of communities around Ukraine were suffering power cuts due to damage from air strikes, other combat activity and high demand as winter takes hold.

At least one person was killed and four injured in Russian shelling of the southeastern city of Kherson, and a Russian cruise missile was shot down over the eastern city of Kryvyi Rih, as heavy fighting continued along the front line about 350km further east.

“Yesterday, the enemy launched a massive offensive with armoured support in the Avdiivka and Marinka directions,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said of the situation around the two devastated towns on the edge of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk.


“The occupiers are trying to advance both south and north of Avdiivka ... Fierce battles continue. Our soldiers are firmly holding their defences,” he added.

Russia seems intent on seizing Avdiivka and Marinka regardless of casualty numbers, just as last spring it sent thousands of troops to their deaths in a battle that was dubbed the “meat grinder” to capture the ruins of Bakhmut, a city about 70km north of Avdiivka.

Ukrainian forces fear their defensive operations will be compromised by a lack of ammunition as vital US military aid dwindles due to political disagreement in Washington.

Mr Zelenskiy is scheduled to meet US president Joe Biden on Tuesday and address the country’s Senate, in a bid to persuade Republicans to approve a White House package of support that includes about $60 billion (€56 billion) for Ukraine. He was also expected to meet senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials in Washington on Monday.

“Every day, every hour we utilise to give more to Ukraine, to our people – more opportunities, more protection, more strength ... I thank everyone who fights and works for the interests of our country, our society, our freedom and our victory!” Mr Zelenskiy wrote on social media before leaving Argentina after meeting several Latin American leaders.

Russian president Vladimir Putin visited his country’s far north on Monday to view two new nuclear-powered submarines that he said would soon enter service: “We will quantitatively strengthen the combat readiness of the Russian navy, our naval power in the Arctic, the Far East, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea,” he declared.

Mr Putin plans to extend his 20-year rule in presidential elections next March 17th. Russia’s central election commission said on Monday that people living in four partly occupied areas of eastern Ukraine would take part in the vote, along with residents of Crimea on the Black Sea, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe