President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine traveled to the southern region of Kherson on Thursday in his second trip near the front line in two straight days, visiting areas ravaged by Russia’s campaign to destroy energy infrastructure.
Mr. Zelensky’s visit, which he chronicled on the Telegram messaging app, came a day after his trip to the contested eastern city of Bakhmut and as the World Bank released a report that put the cost of rebuilding Ukraine at $411 billion — a substantial increase from the $349 billion figure the bank released in September. The new number is likely to grow as the war continues, the bank said.
The bank’s report was released as European Union leaders began a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday to discuss Europe’s competitiveness in the global economy, along with aid to Ukraine. The leaders signed off on plans to provide the Ukrainian government with one million artillery shells over the next 12 months — a decision made amid Kyiv’s growing military demands in a war with no immediate end in sight.
Ukraine is burning through shells faster than the West can produce or supply them. Ukrainian officials say they urgently need the ammunition, which consists of 155-millimeter shells to be used in Western guns, as they try to hold off an intensified Russian assault in eastern Ukraine and prepare for an anticipated spring counteroffensive.
Mr. Zelensky joined the gathering of the 27 E.U. heads of state by video, pleading for more support. Speaking from a moving train car, he expressed gratitude for the aid delivered so far but made the case for more, and faster, assistance.
He urged the leaders to impose more sanctions on Russia, pushed them to speed up the process to allow his country to join their bloc and said Ukraine needed long-range missiles and modern fighter jets.
In a growing shift among NATO allies increasingly willing to arm Kyiv, Spain’s first shipment of modern battle tanks to Ukraine will be delivered next week, the Spanish Defense Ministry said on Thursday. The move came after the Polish president announced this month that his country would transfer four Soviet-designed MIG fighters to Ukraine.
The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has also agreed to travel next week to China for talks with the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, and said he intended to discuss Beijing’s framework for negotiating a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
The United States said on Tuesday that it would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine far more quickly than expected, by later this year. And on Thursday, Finland’s defense minister said the country had approved sending three more Leopard tanks to Kyiv and was looking into its request for Hornet fighter jets.
Slovakia’s Defense Ministry said that the first four of 13 Soviet-designed fighter jets promised to Ukraine had been delivered. That delivery is not expected to significantly change battlefield dynamics. The country’s defense minister, Jaroslav Nad, said the Slovak jets were in need of repair. They will most likely be used for spare parts for Ukraine’s Soviet-era jets. Kyiv’s troops are struggling with Soviet-era equipment, which needs frequent maintenance.
Mr. Zelensky’s trips to frontline areas came days after Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, visited the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been occupied by Russian forces since one of Moscow’s most brutal campaigns. Mr. Putin’s trip is believed to be the closest the Russian leader has come to the front line since the invasion.
The Ukrainian leader said on Thursday he had visited Posad-Pokrovske, a farming village that was largely destroyed during the fight for the city of Kherson and that is about 20 miles away. Though Ukraine recaptured the city in November in one of its most significant victories of the war, Moscow still controls territory in the wider Kherson Province.
Russian forces have used positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River to shell the city of Kherson on the opposite side. But Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Thursday that they were escalating artillery strikes against Russian positions east of the Dnipro.
“We are working to make the enemy feel our presence, our pressure,” Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, said on national television.
Over the winter, parts of the region endured weeks without electricity and water as Russian forces rained missiles, rockets and drones on energy infrastructure in an apparent effort to freeze residents.
“We have to ensure full restoration and protection of our energy sector!” Mr. Zelensky said in a post on Telegram on Thursday.
But Mr. Zelensky said he saw evidence of the rebuilding effort during his trip to Kherson. “The restoration of electricity and water supply is underway here, the medical clinic is being rebuilt, and people are returning,” he said on Telegram.
Destruction from the war and the loss of livelihoods have pushed more than seven million Ukrainians into poverty, undoing 15 years of development, according to the World Bank. The segment of the population living in poverty increased to 24.1 percent from 5.5 percent during the first year of war, the bank said.
High inflation is disproportionately affecting low-income households, the report said. In the Kherson region, the prices of food and nonalcoholic beverages increased 73.5 percent in December compared with prices a year earlier.
The most urgent needs for 2023 — including energy, housing, critical infrastructure and basic services — will cost $14 billion, the report estimated. This week, the International Monetary Fund said it had reached a preliminary agreement to provide Ukraine with a $15.6 billion loan over four years to help close a fiscal deficit and to pay for recovery efforts.
The two-day E.U. summit was taking place amid growing tensions with China as European leaders were grappling with the repercussions of a visit by Mr. Xi to Moscow this week. In a joint statement, they said the bloc “urges all countries not to provide material or other support for Russia’s war of aggression.”
The plans contain caveats but represent a significant step in military aid.
The European leaders also discussed setting aside an additional 3.5 billion euros ($3.8 billion) to reimburse member nations for providing military aid to Ukraine, but did not decide on any specifics.
At the end of the first day of the meeting, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, also told reporters that the bloc was organizing an international conference aimed at tracing Ukrainian children abducted by Russia. Ms. von der Leyen said the abductions were “a war crime” and “a horrible reminder of the darkest times of our history.”
As the war grinds past its first year, it is leading to “widespread destruction” of Ukraine’s health care services, according to another report released on Thursday, this one by Doctors Without Borders, which said the conflict was putting even people far from the front line directly at risk.
Chronic diseases have gone untreated, the report said. Villagers have not been allowed to leave their homes to obtain much-needed medicines. Some Ukrainians have taken perilous journeys through risky terrain to obtain care because their closest medical center was destroyed. And some hospitals abandoned by Russian troops had land mines planted inside.
The group, a nongovernmental organization that provides humanitarian medical care, said its teams had been working only in areas under Ukrainian control despite requesting to do the same in Russian-controlled areas.
It said its teams “discovered the presence of antipersonnel land mines inside functioning hospitals” on Oct. 8, 11 and 15 in areas previously under Russian occupation in the Kherson and Donetsk regions and in the northeastern city of Izium.
“The use of land mines is widespread in frontline areas,” Vincenzo Porpiglia, a project coordinator for the group in Donetsk, said in a statement. “But to see them placed in medical facilities is shocking — a remarkable act of inhumanity.”
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