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Zelensky says NATO must choose 'whether we indeed are allies'

By AFP

April 19, 2024 10:48 PM


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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that NATO must decide if it is Ukraine's ally and urged the defense alliance's members to accelerate weapons deliveries to help his struggling forces.

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

A barrage in Ukraine's eastern Dnipropetrovsk region left at least seven dead, including children. But -- in a first -- Ukraine said it had downed one of the long-range Russian bombers that launched the missiles.

"Our sky must become safe again," the Ukrainian leader told a gathering of NATO defense 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".

Zelensky has pointed to Western efforts to defend Israel from Iranian aerial attacks and suggested Ukraine's allies could do more to fend off Russian bombardments.

 'Cannot wait' 

 Casting a bleak picture of his forces' ability to hold off Russian attacks on the ground, Zelensky said Ukraine could not defend itself without Western support.

"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 told the NATO ministers.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the bloc had agreed to give Ukraine more weapons including air defenses.

"NATO has mapped out existing capabilities across the alliance and there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine," he said.

"So I expect new announcements on air defense capabilities for Ukraine soon."

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

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

The aid has been delayed since last year amid political infighting in the Republican Party and Zelensky on Friday urged Ukraine's allies to make speedier decisions on support.

"This year, we can't wait for decisions to be made," he said.

"We need seven more Patriots or similar air defense systems -- and it's a minimum number. They can save many lives and change the situation," Zelensky said.

He addressed the NATO ministers after visiting Ukrainian troops on the front line and inspecting new defensive lines dug in the war-battered Donetsk region.

 Two children killed  

 The Russian missile attacks on Dnipropetrovsk hit housing blocks, strewed debris, and sparked a fire in a multi-story 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 left two people dead, 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. They said the pilots ejected but that at least one member of the crew had died.

The Russian defence ministry blamed a technical error, according to comments distributed by state-run news agencies.

Stavropol governor Vladimir Vladimirov said two crew members had been taken to a local medical centre.

"The search for the fourth pilot is continuing," he added.

The plane crashed in the region's Krasnogvardeysky district, the governor said -- 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."


AFP


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