Ukraine will fight for Bakhmut ‘as long as we can’: Zelenskyy | Conflict news

Ukraine will not give up the embattled Bakhmut in the country’s east, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, as Moscow forces continue their assault on the city the Ukrainian leader has described as a “fortress”.

The city in the fiercely contested Donetsk region has been at the center of fighting for months, and Zelenskyy said on Friday that Ukrainian forces would continue to hold it for as long as possible, during a summit in Kiev with EU leaders.

“No one will hand over Bakhmut. We will fight as hard as we can,” Zelenskyy said, standing side by side with European Council President Charles Michel, who was on his second visit to Kyiv in less than three weeks, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. .

“If (deliveries of) weapons speed up – more specifically, long-range weapons – not only will we not withdraw from Bakhmut, but we will begin to de-occupy Donbas,” Zelenskyy added, referring to the eastern region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Moscow says Russian forces are surrounding Bakhmut from several directions and are fighting to take control of the road, which is also an important supply route for Ukrainian forces.

Zelensky’s defiant comments about the battle for Bakhmut came at the end of a two-day visit by several senior European Union officials to Kiev, during which the Ukrainian leader called for his country’s swift accession to the regional bloc.

Zelenskyy has been clear that he wants Ukraine to join the EU as soon as possible and has said he wants talks to start this year.

“Our goal is absolutely clear: to start negotiations on Ukraine’s membership,” he said on Friday. “We will not lose a single day in our work to bring Ukraine and the EU closer together.”

In June of last year, just months after the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, the EU extended candidate status to Kyiv, but the path to full membership is likely to be difficult and could take years.

Von der Leyen and Michel reiterated the EU’s unwavering support for Ukraine during the meeting in Kyiv.

Michel doubled down on his support for Kiev’s integration with Brussels, saying: “Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine.”

“Your future is with us. Your destiny is our destiny,” Michel wrote in a tweet.

The EU issued a statement on Friday acknowledging that Ukraine had made “substantial efforts” to move towards membership, but calling on Kyiv to implement further reforms.

Corruption is a key concern of the EU, and Ukraine has stepped up efforts to tackle the problem with raids this week of a politically connected oligarch and a former interior minister.

“You are at war and, while you are at war and defending your country against aggressors, you are able to deliver one result after another that is necessary to move forward,” von der Leyen said.

But she also warned that the accession process was based on merit and said there could be “no hard deadlines” for Ukraine’s membership or negotiations.


Battle for Bakhmut

Constant fighting continued in Bakhmut during Friday morning.

Smoke could be seen rising from the center of the city, behind the golden-domed All Saints Church, and Ukrainian helicopters flew low toward Bakhmut over the frozen landscape in the northwest, Agence-France Presse news agency reported.

A Belarusian volunteer fighting for Ukraine inside the city said there were no signs yet that Ukrainian forces planned to withdraw.

“At the moment it is the opposite, positions are being strengthened where the Russians are trying to cut us off… For now we are holding on,” he told the Reuters news agency.

A charity that helps residents of the war-torn city said that a day earlier, an attack on a car carrying volunteer paramedics had killed one and injured several others.

The investigation is ongoing, but it could take several days to establish the victim’s identity following reports that foreign nationals may be involved, a police official said.

Oleksandr Tkachenko, 65, said he and three other locals rushed to help when the car was hit, managing to pull the injured woman out of the vehicle.

He said it was “clear” that the car, which was destroyed in the attack, was not a military target.

The locals who took part in the rescue were not soldiers, he added, but they were also attacked and injured in another attack while trying to help.

“I don’t know how we didn’t part. I got shrapnel in my leg,” Tkachenko added, limping toward the community center with the aid of a cane.

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