President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukrainian forces are facing a “difficult” situation as they defend against attempted Russian advances in several regions, while NATO members promised more weapons to the war-hit country and equipment to help restore electricity infrastructure damaged by Russian attacks.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Wednesday its forces had repelled six Russian attacks in the past 24 hours in the eastern Donbas region, while Russian artillery had relentlessly shelled the right bank of the Dnieper River and Kherson city further south.
Ukrainians on Tuesday fled for bomb shelters after air raid warning sirens in a number of cities, although the all-clear later sounded across the country. In the eastern Donetsk region, Russian forces pounded Ukrainian targets with artillery, mortar and tank fire.
Separately, Zelenskyy said the Russian military was also attacking Luhansk, in the east, and Kharkiv, in the northeast, the latter an area Ukraine recaptured in September.
“The situation at the front is difficult,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “Despite extremely large losses, the occupiers are still trying to advance” in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv. And “they are planning something in the south”, he said.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
They came as ministers from the NATO alliance are in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, for a two-day meeting.
United States and European officials said ministers would focus in their talks on non-lethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance. The US said it would provide $53m to buy power grid equipment.
US President Joe Biden said providing more military assistance for Ukraine was a priority, but Republicans, who take control of the House of Representatives in January, have talked about pausing the funding, which has surpassed $18bn.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “trying to use winter as a weapon of war” after a series of battlefield defeats.
Russia says hurting civilians is not its aim but that their suffering will end only if Kyiv accepts its demands, which it has not spelled out.
Since October, it has launched relentless attacks on Ukraine’s electricity transmission and heating infrastructure, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime.
“The situation right now in the whole of Ukraine, and also the capital, is critical because after the latest attacks … our infrastructure had huge damages,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Al Jazeera.
“We are trying 24 hours [a day] to bring the water and heating back to apartments, to the homes of our citizens.”
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country needed “air defence, – IRIS, Hawks, Patriots – and we need transformers (for our energy needs)”.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriot missile defence systems and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a “criminal entity” for delivering arms to what he called “Ukrainian fanatics”.
Reporting from Bucharest on Wednesday, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons said the issue of providing the US-made Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine was largely dominating discussions on the sidelines of the summit.
“No agreements on that yet but passible developments ahead,” he added.
In Kyiv, snow fell and temperatures were hovering around freezing as millions in and around the capital struggled to heat their homes. An official with the power company said on Facebook that 985,500 customers in Kyiv were without power, and another electricity provider said the city would have emergency power cuts on Wednesday.
In a brief posting on Telegram, Kherson region Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Tuesday electricity had been restored to half of the city of Kherson, which Ukraine regained this month.
Ukrainian forces struck a power plant in Russia’s Kursk region on Tuesday, causing some electricity outages, Roman Starovoyt, the governor of the region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Early on Wednesday, a large oil storage tank was on fire in Russia’s Bryansk region bordering Ukraine’s northeast, a local governor said. There were no reported casualties, he added, without commenting on the cause of the blaze.