Ukraine reported sustained Russian attacks on the key city of Bakhmut

(Reuters) – The Russian army on Thursday continued relentless attacks on the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, as well as shelling the southern city of Kherson, Kiev officials said.

The Kremlin sees Bakhmut as central to its slow advance across eastern Ukraine, more than a year after it invaded its neighbor.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said in a Telegram that heavy fighting had broken out all over the eastern front. It said that forces loyal to Kiev repelled attacks in most areas.

“Most of the enemy’s offensive efforts are taking place in the Bakhmut sector,” it wrote, adding that Russian commanders had redirected forces there from other areas.

He added, “The enemy uses its most professional units there and resorts to a large amount of artillery and aviation. Every day, the enemy carries out 40 to 50 incursions and 500 bombing rings in Bakhmut.”

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said this week that his forces control 80% of Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian military said that figure was exaggerated.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials are pressing allies for more weapons that Kiev hopes will enable it to launch a major counteroffensive later this year.

“We are preparing our boys,” Zelensky said in a video address late Thursday. “We look forward to the delivery of the weapons promised by our partners. We are bringing victory as close as possible.”

Officials said two people were killed in Russian bombing of the southern city of Kherson.

Away from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials are focusing on the massive rebuilding effort that will be required as well as pressure from allies to show progress in tackling corruption.

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Prime Minister Dennis Shmyhal, who held talks in Washington, promised to count every dollar of US aid and said reconstruction work should begin this year.

He welcomed what he called the “unprecedented and unwavering continued support” of the United States.

Speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Shmyhal said Kiev had identified a priority financing gap of $14 billion needed this year.

He said Ukraine implemented measures to account for all the aid it received and made more anti-corruption reforms last year than in many previous years combined.

Ukrainian officials are also pushing for membership in NATO – a move Moscow has made clear it will not accept.

He said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov at a security conference in the Black Sea: “There is no alternative to Ukraine’s accession to NATO.”

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovich) Editing by Tom Palmforth and Jonathan Otis

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