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Ukraine PM urges more military aid to counter Russia attacks

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s prime minister is appealing for Patriot missile batteries and other hi-tech air defense systems to counter Russian attacks, as more Russian shelling was reported on Monday in the eastern regions of Ukraine where Moscow is trying to make battlefield gains.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told French broadcaster LCI that Russia wants to swamp Europe with a new wave of Ukrainian refugees by its targeting of infrastructure in Ukraine that has caused electricity and water outages for millions during freezing winter weather.

The provision of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine would mark a major advance in the kinds of air defense systems the West is sending to help the war-torn country defend itself from Russian aerial attack. So far no country has offered them, although Germany has provided Patriot missiles to neighboring Poland, its NATO ally.

Millions of Ukrainians have already fled the country since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24, and there are fears that many more could leave their homes during winter. Thousands of people have died and dozens of cities and towns across Ukraine have been reduced to rubble during the more than nine months of the Russian onslaught.

Ukraine also needs resupplies of artillery shells and modern battle tanks, Shmyhal said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night ahead of meetings in Paris this week to raise and coordinate more international aid for Ukraine. The more than 1,000 Russian attacks on infrastructure since October are designed “to trigger another wave of migration toward Europe,” he insisted.

The Kremlin has said attacks on Ukraine’s energy supply system were a retaliation for what Moscow says was a Kyiv-orchestrated attack on the key, Russian-built bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the phone with U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday. Biden sought “to underscore ongoing U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense as Russia continues its assaults on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure,” the White House said.

Repeated Russian strikes on infrastructure have left millions of Ukrainians without power, heating or water throughout the country. Russian drone attacks near the Black Sea port of Odesa last weekend destroyed several energy facilities at once and left all customers except hospitals, maternity homes, boiler plants and pumping stations without power.

Ukraine’s power provider, Ukrenergo, on Monday said that the situation in the country’s energy system has remained difficult after Russian attacks, particularly in Odesa.

To defend against further strikes, Shmyhal reiterated previous Ukrainian calls for Patriot surface-to-air missiles — a highly sophisticated system that so far hasn’t been forthcoming. He also asked for more German and French air-defense systems that those countries have already supplied.

Ukraine needs large quantities of shells to respond like-for-like against Russian artillery, Shmyhal said. Russia fires 50,000 to 70,000 shells per day at Ukrainian targets and “we need at least one third of that quantity every day,” he added.

Organizers of the conference in France say they are expecting more than 45 nations and 20 international institutions to take part. A focus of the meeting will be rushing aid to Ukraine to meet its needs for water, power, food, health and transport during the tough winter months and sending a message to Moscow that the international community is sticking by Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign ministers on Monday also were gathering in Brussels to discuss fresh sanctions to further punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney sharply condemned “deliberate targeting by Russia of civilians in terms of inflicting suffering on a broad population. ” He described Russia’s actions as “a crime, in terms of both aggression and a crime against humanity.”

“This is one country invading another,” he said. “Brutalizing civilian populations in order to try and get its way, and I think the world has to try and take a stand against that.”

On Monday, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office said that two civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded in Russia’s shelling of the town of Hirnyk in the eastern, Donetsk region.

“It was yet another Russian attack against civilians,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on his messaging app channel.

The eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions together make up the Donbas, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia that Putin identified as a focus from the war’s outset and where Moscow-backed separatists have fought since 2014.

Russia in September unlawfully declared annexation of four Ukrainian regions — including Donbas — though it does not fully control them.

The latest fighting has focused in Donbas, particularly around the city of Bakhmut, after Ukrainian forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson nearly a month ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin is now seeking to make visible gains.

Russia has shelled Kostiantynivka, and fighting is going on around Avdiivka, Мarinka and Krasnohorivka in the same area, Ukrainian officials said.

The Ukrainian governor of the Russia-occupied Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said that a Ukrainian strike on Kadiivka on Sunday hit a hotel that served as headquarters for the Wagner group, a Russian military contractor. He claimed that hundreds of Russians were killed, a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.

Haidai also pointed to a difficult humanitarian situation in the village of Nevske, under Ukrainian control, where people live in basements following relentless Russian shelling.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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