Russian shelling has ravaged infrastructure, forcing people to use firewood for heating and cooking

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukraine’s prime minister announced that a summit with the European Union will take place in Kyiv on Friday that would send a “powerful signal” to Moscow and the world, almost a year after Russia launched its invasion.

Also on Tuesday, Ukraine said 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.

“The Ukraine-EU summit will be held in Kyiv on February 3,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told a government meeting, calling the event “extremely important” for Kyiv’s bid to join the European bloc.

“The fact that this summit will be held in Kyiv is a powerful signal to both partners and enemies.”

No details were provided on who would be attending on the European Union side.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 last year, and his forces have repeatedly targeted civilian infrastructure including in the capital Kyiv.

The Ukrainian prime minister also said that another key event will take place on Thursday, when consultations between the government of Ukraine and the European Commission will take place “for the first time in our history.”

Ukraine gained EU candidacy status in June last year.

- Weapons ‘breakthough’ -

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

War in Ukraine

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

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.

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 adjust a 60mm mortar tube near the frontline in the Donetsk region

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

Its 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.

On Tuesday Kyiv said a 12-year-old boy and 70-year-old man were killed during Russia’s latest barrage.

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

- ‘Razing Bakhmut’ -

“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, 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 Putin sent troops to Ukraine.

“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.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Ukraine of using banned anti-personnel landmines against invading Russian forces, saying almost 50 civilians, including five children, had been wounded.

Ukraine’s defence ministry insisted the army upholds its treaty obligations against mines, but will not comment on the types of weapons used until the war ends.