Zelenskyy postpones foreign trips amid Russian offensive

Kyiv: Russia’s Defence Ministry said that air defences shot down 10 US-supplied Ukrainian missiles targeting the Crimean Peninsula early Wednesday, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent a second day visiting Kyiv, and Ukraine’s army battled to contain a front-line push by the Kremlin’s forces.

The ATACMS long-range ballistic missiles were destroyed over the Black Sea, the ministry said. The US included the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, in a military aid package in March.

The Ukrainian attack came as Russian troops pressed their offensive in northeast Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that began last week, marking the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began and forcing almost 8,000 local people to flee their homes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on Wednesday that he has postponed all his upcoming foreign visits amid a new Russian offensive.

Zelenskyy cancelled all foreign visits “that were planned for the coming days,” his office said Wednesday on Telegram.

The head of state instructed his team to reschedule the visits. “We are grateful to our partners for understanding,” the announcement said.

Zelenskyy had been expected to visit Spain, and perhaps Portugal, later this week. Together with Moscow’s weekslong effort to build on its recent gains in the eastern Donetsk region, the more than two-year war has entered a critical stage for Ukraine’s depleted army.

Against that grim backdrop, with thousands of Ukrainian troops locked in fierce battles in towns and villages, Blinken on Tuesday pledged unceasing US support for the country, during and beyond the war. He also tried to lift spirits in Kyiv, performing on guitar with a band at a city bar and eating pizza at a veteran-run restaurant.

Russia is opening new fronts in order to stretch Ukraine’s army, which is short of ammunition and manpower, along the about 1,000-kilometre front line, hoping defences will crumble. Russian artillery and sabotage raids have also been menacing Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv and Sumy regions. Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Tuesday that the army has sent reinforcements to the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

“It is too early to draw conclusions, but the situation is under control,” he said. Even so, Zelenskyy cancelled a planned trip to Spain later this week, according to the Spanish government. It gave no reason for the cancellation. The pace of Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv border region, where it launched an offensive late last week and has made significant progress, has slowed, the Institute for the Study of War said late Tuesday.

The Washington-based think tank said Moscow’s main aim there is to create a “buffer zone” that will prevent Ukrainian cross-border strikes on Russia’s Belgorod region.

Blinken on Wednesday visited a drone manufacturer on the outskirts of Kyiv and toured a grain transshipment facility where Ukrainian grain is loaded into containers for export by rail.

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