Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday asked the international community to cover an expected budget deficit of $38 billion next year for his war-torn country, with Moscow’s invasion also badly hitting the economy.
Fatal Russian shelling meanwhile was pummelling the eastern Donbas city of Bakhmut, where AFP journalists saw smoke rising from fierce battles between Moscow’s forces and Ukraine’s army trying to keep them at bay.
And pro-Russian authorities in the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol, now controlled by Moscow’s forces, said a car bomb had exploded near the offices of a local media outlet injuring five people.
At an international reconstruction conference for Ukraine in Berlin, Zelensky urged European leaders to offer greater financial support for his country more than eight months after Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine.
“At this very conference we need to make a decision on assistance to cover next year’s budget deficit for Ukraine,” Zelensky said via video-link. “It’s a very significant amount of money, a $38 billion deficit,” he added.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile said that rebuilding Ukraine would be a “generational task” that must start immediately, even as Russia’s invasion rages on.
“What is at stake here is nothing less than creating a new Marshall Plan for the 21st century — a generational task that must begin now,” Scholz said.
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‘I’m in shock’
Russian forces, after being pushed back from Kyiv early in the invasion and the northeastern Kharkiv region, have set their sight on wresting territory in Donbas, an eastern industrial zone.
In Bakhmut, a town Russians have been eyeing for weeks, an AFP journalist saw smoke rising despite heavy rain and a Ukrainian missile shooting down a Russian drone.
A 28-year-old soldier, who declined to give his name to AFP over security concerns, claimed Ukraine’s forces had made gains in the region overnight, but declined to give further details.
Seven civilians were killed and three injured the wine-making and salt-mining town a day earlier, the regional governor said Tuesday.
Three bodies of civilians killed earlier were also discovered in two places in the region, which has been at the centre of intense fighting with the Russian army for months, said Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
In a residential area of the Bakhmut, AFP journalists saw blood stains on the ground in the wake of what residents said was a fatal attack the day before.
“I found a body here without a head. I’m in shock,” said 58-year-old Sergii, adding: “It was a man. He was just walking on the street”.
Donetsk, the eastern region where Bakhmut is located, is one of the four Ukrainian regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin claims to have annexed, and where martial law has been imposed.
Ukrainian forces have however been largely holding back Moscow’s weeks-long push for Bakhmut and in the southern Kherson region are moving closer towards its main city there.
The Russian-backed authorities there said Tuesday that more than 22,000 residents had fled from the town and nearby settlements over to the left bank of the Dnipro river following calls to evade Ukraine’s advance.
Car blast in Russian-held city
On the road to Kherson from Ukraine-controlled territory, two old friends who worked as truck drivers before the war were sitting in a trench.
“We go up this road under fire and come back down this road under fire,” one of the men, a 51-year-old grumbled with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
The wilted sunflower fields around him offered nowhere to hide from the Russian bombs and missiles that the men were expecting to start falling any minute.
A 25-mile (40-kilometre) road running from government-held Mykolaiv to Russian-occupied Kherson will form the backbone of Ukraine’s push to regain access to the Sea of Azov and cut Russia’s land link with Crimea.
Further east, in Melitopol, Russian backed-authorities said the car bomb had left five injured near the offices of the ZaMedia group, with images showing a grey building block with windows ripped off and burning debris on the ground.
There was no confirmation or denial from Kyiv its forces were responsible for the explosion.
The exiled Ukrainian authorities in Melitopol said on social media that: “This is what the heating in the buildings of collaborators and propagandists should look like! And it will become hotter”.
Officials in Kyiv have taken to social media to hint at official Ukrainian backing for previous attacks in Moscow-controlled regions, including a blast earlier this month on the only bridge connecting Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula.