Ukrainian servicemen ride infantry combat vehicles driving down an icy road in the Donetsk region

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukraine said Tuesday it was expecting up to 140 modern tanks from its Western allies, as Russian forces claimed new ground close to the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut.

Kyiv said a 12-year-old boy and 70-year-old man were killed during Russia’s latest barrage of the town, which is now the longest-running battle of the Kremlin’s invasion launched last February.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gave the estimate that a dozen countries had promised more than one hundred tanks after Germany and Washington signed off on the deliveries last week.

“Ukraine’s armed forces will receive between 120 and 140 modern Western tanks,” Kuleba said, describing the figure as the “first wave of contributions”.

War in Ukraine

“These are Leopard 2, Challenger 2, M1 Abrams,” added the foreign minister without specifying a timeline for the deliveries.

Kuleba noted too that Kyiv was “very much counting on” France to pass over to the Ukrainian military its Leclerc battle tank.

The decision to supply the weapons came after weeks of diplomatic wrangling and was seen as a breakthrough in the West’s backing for Ukraine in its fight to win back territory from Russian forces.

Now Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging the West to supply fighter jets and long-range missiles.

US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he will be discussing the new requests for advanced weaponry with Zelensky.

“We’re going to talk,” Biden told reporters, speaking the morning after he answered with an emphatic “no” when asked at the White House whether he favoured sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

- ‘Razing Bakhmut’ -

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu meanwhile announced that his country would send 12 more Caesar truck-mounted howitzers to Ukraine.

Alongside other Western-supplied mobile cannons, the Caesar was credited last year with helping Ukraine strike targets deep behind Russian lines, undermining Moscow’s offensive.

Ukrainian servicemen carry a coffin bearing the body of a commander of the Azov regiment

Despite the flows of Western weapons, Russia has recently claimed gains in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine.

On Tuesday the defence ministry announced it had “liberated” the village of Blagodatne north of Bakhmut.

Blagodatne lies on a highway leading towards Bakhmut, and its announced capture comes not long after Ukraine conceded it had given up the nearby salt-mining town of Soledar.

AFP journalists around 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Bakhmut heard sporadic shelling coming from Vugledar, which both Moscow and Kyiv have said is seeing an uptick in fighting.

“It’s very tense, the more time passes the worse, worse and worse it gets,” said Oleksandr, a 45-year-old Ukrainian serviceman operating a mortar near Vugledar.

In the mostly destroyed village of Bogoyavlenka, the journalists said there was no running water or electricity and its streets were deserted apart from Ukrainian servicemen.

Russia has been seeking to seize Bakhmut for months in some of the heaviest fighting since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine in February last year.

Regional prosecutors said Russian shelling in Bakhmut had also wounded five people.

“The Russians are razing Bakhmut to the ground, killing everyone they can get their hands on,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko the region’s governor.

Over the weekend Russia’s private military group Wagner claimed its units were in control of Blagodatne. Kyiv denied the claim at the time, saying it repelled Russian attacks on the settlement.