Make a choice ‘whether we indeed are allies’: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky tells NATO defence ministers

NATO must decide if it is Kyiv’s ally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday, urging defence ministers from the bloc’s member states to step up arms deliveries to his struggling forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky(AP)

His appeal to Western partners to provide at least seven more air defence systems came hours after Russia launched a wave of fatal drone and missile attacks across the country.

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A barrage in Ukraine’s eastern Dnipropetrovsk region killed at least eight people, including two children. But Ukraine said it had downed one of the long-range Russian bombers that launched the missiles for the first time.

“Our sky must become safe again,” Zelensky told a gathering of NATO defence ministers via video link.

“It depends fully on your choice,” he said, telling the meeting in Brussels that their alliance faced a choice over “whether we indeed are allies”.

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Comparing Western efforts to defend Israel from Iran’s recent aerial attacks to Ukraine’s situation, Zelensky argued more could be done to help Kyiv fend off Russian bombardments.

– ‘Cannot wait’ –

Ukraine could not defend itself without Western support, he told NATO ministers.

“It is obvious that now, while Russia has air advantage and can rely on its drone and rocket terror, our capabilities on the ground, unfortunately, are limited,” he said.

Earlier Friday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the bloc had agreed to give Ukraine more weapons including air defences.

“I expect new announcements on air defence capabilities for Ukraine soon,” he added.

Ukraine has faced a surge in devastating Russian attacks on its cities. Earlier this week, a strike on the city of Chernigiv killed 18 people.

Zelensky called a vote Saturday in the US House of Representatives on a long-delayed $61 billion military aid package “vitally important”.

The aid has been delayed since last year amid political infighting in the Republican Party. But Zelensky said Friday: “This year, we can’t wait for decisions to be made.”

He called for at least seven more Patriots or similar air defence systems. “They can save many lives and really change the situation,” he added.

Earlier Friday, Zelensky said he had visited Ukrainian front-line troops and inspected new defensive lines in the war-battered Donetsk region.

He also said Russia had hit two food export terminals at the Black Sea port of Pivdennyi Friday.

“Agricultural products destined for Asian and African countries were destroyed in them,” he said.

This was “part of a deliberate Russian strategy to cause maximum damage to Ukraine and the countries that rely on Ukrainian agricultural goods”, said Zelensky.

– Two children killed –

Overnight Russian missile attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk region hit housing blocks and sparked a fire in one multi-storey building.

In the regional capital Dnipro, rescuers trawled the damage searching for survivors and bodies throughout the day, as residents hauled their belongings out of destroyed apartments in rucksacks and carrier bags.

“Two children are among those killed. A 14-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.

“Children must not be killed in air strikes in modern Europe. We must protect them with a reliable air shield,” Kuleba said.

Ukraine’s railway operator said train facilities were hit in the attack and that seven employees were among those wounded. A female member of staff was killed, they added.

Russian shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region and the eastern Sumy region killed two people, local officials announced.

– ‘Revenge’ –

The Russian Tu-22M3 bomber that Kyiv said it had shot down crashed as it was returning to its base after firing missiles at Ukraine earlier in the night, the main intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defence ministry said.

“We took revenge for our cities and civilians,” a Ukrainian air force spokesman, Ilya Yevlash, told AFP.

Russian officials said the plane crashed over the southern Stavropol region. The pilots ejected but at least one member of the crew died, they added.

The Russian defence ministry blamed a technical error, state-run news agencies reported.

Stavropol governor Vladimir Vladimirov said two crew members had been taken to a local medical centre and the search for the fourth pilot was continuing.

The plane crashed in the region’s Krasnogvardeysky district, he added — around 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the eastern edge of the annexed Crimean peninsula.

The Ukraine intelligence directorate said the plane “was shot down at a distance of about 300 kilometres from Ukraine. As a result of the hit, the bomber was able to fly to the Stavropol area, where it crashed.”

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