Ukraine is ready for ‘hard battle’ with Russia in eastern regions: Zelenskyy

Click to play video: 'Zelenskyy calls for support as Ukraine prepares for “hard battle” in the east' Zelenskyy calls for support as Ukraine prepares for “hard battle” in the east
WATCH: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his country is prepared for a “hard battle” against Russian troops in the east. But, in order to win he needs greater support from the international community. The urgency is increasing for immediate help on the ground as Russia escalates its aggression and Ukrainians evacuate the region. Caryn Lieberman reports – Apr 9, 2022

Ukraine is ready for a tough battle with Russian forces amassing in the east of the country, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered fresh financial and military support during a surprise visit.

At a meeting in Kyiv, Johnson told Zelenskyy that Britain would provide armored vehicles and anti-ship missile systems, along with additional support for World Bank loans.

Britain also will continue to ratchet up its sanctions on Russia and move away from using Russian hydrocarbons, he said.

The support aims to ensure that “Ukraine can never be bullied again, never will be blackmailed again, never will be threatened in the same way again,” Johnson said.

Johnson was the latest foreign leader to visit Kyiv after Russian forces pulled back from areas around the capital just over a week ago.

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Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian leader met Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Kyiv, warning in a joint news conference that while the threat to the capital had receded, it was rising in the east.

“This will be a hard battle, we believe in this fight and our victory. We are ready to simultaneously fight and look for diplomatic ways to put an end to this war,” Zelenskiy said.

Air-raid sirens sounded in cities across eastern Ukraine, which has become the focus of Russian military action following a withdrawal from areas close to the capital, Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials have urged civilians in the east to flee. On Friday, officials said more than 50 people were killed in a missile strike on a train station in city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, where thousands of people had gathered to evacuate.

Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb. 24, has forced around a quarter of the population of 44 million to leave their homes, turned cities into rubble and killed or injured thousands.

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The civilian casualties have triggered a wave of international condemnation, in particular over deaths in the town of Bucha, a town to the northwest of Kyiv that until last week was occupied by Russian forces.

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“We will never forget everything we saw here, this will stay with us for our whole lives,” said Bohdan Zubchuk, a community policeman in the town, describing his life before and after the war.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its southern neighbor. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

Fifty-two die at station

Friday’s missile attack on the train station in Kramatorsk, a hub for civilians fleeing the east, left shreds of blood-stained clothes, toys and damaged luggage strewn across the station’s platform.

City Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko, who estimated 4,000 people were gathered there at the time, said on Saturday that the death toll had risen to least 52.

Russia’s defense ministry denied responsibility, saying in a statement the missiles that struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.

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Russian state television described the attack as a “bloody provocation” by Ukraine.

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In Washington, a senior defense official said the United States did not accept the Russian denial and believed Russian forces had fired a short-range ballistic missile in the attack. Read full story

Reuters was unable to verify the details of attack.

Honcharenko said he expected just 50,000-60,000 of Kramatorsk’s population of 220,000 population to remain within a week or two as people flee the violence.

The Ukrainian military says Moscow is preparing for a thrust to try to gain full control of the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

Air attacks are likely to increase in the south and east as Russia seeks to establish a land bridge between Crimea – which Moscow annexed in 2014 – and the Donbas but Ukrainian forces are thwarting the advance, the British Defence Ministry said in an intelligence update.

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Russia’s military said on Saturday it had destroyed an ammunition depot at the Myrhorod Air Base in central-eastern Ukraine.

Foreign leaders visit

EU chief von der Leyen said on Saturday Russian forces appeared to have committed war crimes by targeting civilians in Ukraine, but she said lawyers must investigate the alleged incidents.

She said she had seen with her own eyes on Friday the destruction in the town of Bucha near Kyiv. A forensics team began exhuming a mass grave on Friday containing the bodies of civilians who local officials say were killed while Russians occupied the town.

“My instinct says: If this is not a war crime, what is a war crime, but I am a medical doctor by training and lawyers have to investigate carefully,” von der Leyen told reporters on board a train leaving Ukraine.

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The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations it has committed war crimes and has called allegations that its forces executed civilians in Bucha a “monstrous forgery.”

The visits by foreign leaders and Italy’s announcement on Saturday that it intends to re-open its embassy in Kyiv later this month marked a fresh sign that the city is returning to some degree of normality after Russian forces pulled out of areas to the north of the capital just over a week ago.

Some Ukrainians have also begun returning to the capital, with cafes and restaurants reopening.

Read more: More civilians flee east Ukraine after Kramatorsk train station attack

The EU on Friday overcame some divisions to adopt new sweeping sanctions against Russia, including bans on the import of coal, wood, chemicals and other products. Oil and gas imports from Russia so far remain untouched.

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Zelenskiy urged the West on Friday to do more. On Saturday, he said he understood the sanctions could cause financial losses for the countries imposing them.

“Nevertheless, there are countries which aren’t afraid of those important decisions. I am aware of Austria’s support in this issue,” he said, again calling for weapons from “our partners.”

— Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Cherkasy, Ukraine, James Mackenzie in Yahidne, Ukraine, Janis Laizans in Poland and Reuters bureausWriting by Michael Perry, Conor Humphries and Paul Carrel

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