Ukraine Calls For More Arms, Tougher Sanctions To Fend Off Russia In Donbas

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Ahead of a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba underscored his country’s need for a sustainable supply of arms.

“The more weapons we get, and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved, the more cities and villages will not be [destroyed], and there will be no more Buchas,” Mr. Kuleba said, in reference to the town near Kyiv that this week drew global shock after nearly 300 bodies of civilians were found there following the withdrawal of Russian troops.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has warned that the war is entering a critical phase, said the meeting would address Ukraine’s need “for more air-defense systems, antitank weapons, lighter—but also heavier—weapons, and many different types of support.”

NATO members are supplying Ukraine with fuel, ammunition, body armor, helmets and medical equipment. U.K. government defense officials held a meeting this week with Ukrainian officials to discuss what weapons they would need for the next stage of the war, according to a government statement. Officials have so far declined to provide tanks to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously said it would be impossible to hold back a Russian advance in the east without a steady supply of heavy weapons.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday said Russian forces had secured Solodke, a town in the Donetsk region. Russian forces continued strikes across the country overnight, targeting fuel depots in Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Chuhuiv, said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.

Hopes for progress in peace talks have dimmed in recent weeks. On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukrainian negotiators had presented a draft agreement a day earlier that declined to say security guarantees for Ukraine wouldn’t include Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, among other disagreements. Mr. Lavrov said Kyiv’s true intentions were in “delaying and even undermining the negotiations.”

Russia is seeking to expand its control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which make up the eastern Donbas area, following its withdrawal from the north and areas around the capital, Kyiv. Retreating Russian forces have left evidence in northern towns such as Bucha of what Ukrainian officials and independent rights watchdogs say are war crimes, including executions, rape and other human-rights abuses. Russia has denied the reports and said they were staged by Ukrainian troops.

In his customary overnight address, Mr. Zelensky said Russian forces were seeking to destroy evidence of killings in other territories under their control by disposing of bodies. The comments came after the mayor of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, said Russian forces had begun using mobile crematoriums to get rid of the bodies of Ukrainian civilians. Mr. Boychenko, who put the death toll at 5,000 civilians last week, said he now believes tens of thousands of Mariupol residents could have been killed. There was no independent confirmation of his assessment.

The mayor of Irpin, a town near Kyiv that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last week, said Thursday that the bodies of people suspected of being run over by Russian tanks had been removed from streets by rescue workers.

“When we liberated the area, residents told me the occupiers began to divide families, taking away men to be used for prisoner exchange and leaving women and children,” said the mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn. “Those that the Russians did not like the look of were shot. Those who refused to surrender were shot.”

Mr. Zelensky, in his address, urged Western countries to impose harsher sanctions on Russia, saying nothing short of freezing Moscow out of the international financial system and banning the purchase of Russian oil would be appropriate.

“This package has a spectacular look. But this is not enough,” Mr. Zelensky said. “If there is no really painful package of sanctions against Russia and if there is no supply of weapons we really need and have applied for many times, it will be considered by Russia as a permission. A permission to go further. A permission to attack. A permission to start a new bloody wave in Donbas.”

European Union members on Wednesday backed Brussels’ latest proposal for a ban on Russian coal imports, with formal approval expected by Friday. White House officials also confirmed the Biden administration was implementing sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and its biggest private bank, Alfa Bank, as well as expanding other economic sanctions, including on President Vladimir Putin’s daughters and family members of other top officials.

In New York, the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday was set to vote on whether to suspend Russia from its human-rights council. The U.S. initiated the push to strip Russia of its position on the U.N.’s top rights body on Monday. Russia has sharply criticized the attempt to remove it from the panel.

Bracing for an intensification of violence amid Russia’s eastern offensive, Ukrainian officials have urged civilians to leave Donetsk, Luhansk and parts of the Kharkiv regions. Fierce fighting is already under way in the towns of Rubizhne, Popasna and Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region, said presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych.

“These are areas where our troops are defending, counterattacking, stopping the enemy. The situation is very difficult,” Mr. Arestovych said.

Russian forces are preparing an offensive south from Izyum toward Kramatorsk and Slovyansk in an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops further east, he said.

The head of the Luhansk regional state administration, Serhiy Haidai, said Russian forces had shelled the towns of Zolote and Hirske heavily overnight, and targeted a hospital in Severodonetsk and houses in Lysychansk.

“There is a great deal of destruction, both of residential properties and infrastructure,” he said. “This area is being wiped out by the enemy.”

Russian forces also launched 48 strikes using rockets, artillery and mortars on Kharkiv’s civilian infrastructure overnight, according to Oleh Sinehubov, head of the regional state administration. Mr. Sinehubov renewed a call for residents of Lozova and Barvinkove to leave the area, saying 15,000 had already managed to flee.

—Evan Gershkovich and Max Colchester contributed to this article.

 

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