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Blinken to Ukraine: US army aid 'on its way'

KYIV, May 15 ------ American military aid for Ukraine is "on its way," United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Kyiv, as Russia pressed on with a new offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.


Blinken's trip comes just weeks after the US Congress finally approved a $61-billion financial aid package for Ukraine after months of political wrangling, unlocking much-needed arms for the country's stretched troops. "In the near term, assistance is now on its way and that will make a real difference against the Russian aggression," he told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Blinken arrived by overnight train from Poland on his fourth visit to Kyiv since the start of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.


Zelensky thanked Washington for the aid, saying: "The decision on the package was crucial for us." He said the biggest deficit for Ukraine was air defense and asked for two Patriot batteries in Kharkiv, where Russian forces have been advancing and pounding villages along the border. At a checkpoint outside the city of Kharkiv, an official said Russian forces had entered Ukraine through "villages on the very border which were complicated for us to defend." "They are on high ground and are shelling us from there," said the official, Volodymyr Usov, head of the Kharkiv district military administration. The White House said on Monday it was doing "everything" possible to rush weapons to Ukraine. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters a new arms package would be announced "in the coming days."


'Intense enemy fire'

Sullivan's assurance came as a surprise Russian ground offensive in the Kharkiv region, which began last Friday, forced thousands to evacuate and pushed Kyiv to mobilize reinforcements. The Ukrainian army acknowledged that Russia was scoring "tactical success," but Zelenskyy said Kyiv had sent reinforcements to Kharkiv and that "our counterattacks are ongoing." "We are getting more and more results, destroying the occupier's infantry and machinery," he said in an evening address on Monday. "Our task is crystal clear: to thwart Russia's attempt to expand the war." Zelensky also said Kyiv had also noted strikes and "hostile activity" against Ukraine's northern Sumy and Chernihiv regions.


In the country's east, where several areas had been subject to "intense enemy fire," Ukrainian forces had changed their positions "to save the lives of our defenders" and were planning to regroup units, the army said on Monday night. Ukraine's security council chief Oleksandr Lytvynenko said Moscow had massively increased its troop deployment for the new offensive in Kharkiv. "There are a lot of Russians... About 50,000 were on the border. Now there are much more than 30,000 coming," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday. However, he said, "We don't see any threat of assault on the city of Kharkiv," about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the combat zone.


Russia's Defense Ministry said its troops had "improved [their] tactical position and dealt a blow to [Ukrainian] manpower" around border villages, including Lyptsi, and the town of Vovchansk. It also said air defenses had intercepted 25 Ukrainian rockets in the Belgorod region. Elsewhere, in the Volgograd region, freight train carriages were derailed in the Kotluban station due to the "intervention of unauthorized persons," Russian news agencies said on Tuesday.


No details were given about the incident or who caused it. Kyiv did not claim responsibility, but a Ukrainian adviser to the mayor of the city of Mariupol, which was seized by Russia in the spring of 2022, called it "good news." The adviser said the station had a branch line "leading to the arsenal of the main missile and artillery department of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense." Kotluban is about 300 km from the Ukrainian border, and Volgograd is sometimes the target of the Ukrainian army's drone attacks.



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