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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced $2bn in additional military aid for Ukraine as he visits the country at a crucial phase in the war, with Russia striking deeper into Ukrainian territory and claiming to have seized three more settlements.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Kyiv alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday, Blinken said the support, which comes on top of $61bn in US support approved by Congress last month, would be aimed at investing in Ukraine’s industrial base.

He announced that the United States and Ukraine had already done the “heavy lifting” on a bilateral security agreement, which could be signed within weeks. He said the US was rushing ammunition, armoured vehicles, missiles and air defences to Ukraine in order to ensure their speedy delivery to the front line.

His remarks came as Ukrainian forces are being stretched across the long front line, struggling to fend off a renewed Russian offensive. On  Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Defence said Russian forces had taken control of the settlements of Hlyboke and Lukyantsi in the northeastern Kharkiv region, and Robotyne in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, the latest in a run of incremental gains that have alarmed Kyiv.

Ukraine said that it had pulled back some troops in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops launched a surprise offensive earlier this month, pounding settlements along the border.

“In certain spots in Lukyantsi and Vovchansk areas, due to the fire impact and assault actions of the enemy, manoeuvres were carried out in order to save the lives of our soldiers, units were removed to advantageous positions,” a military spokesman said on state television.

Ukrainian officials have said that more than 30,000 Russian forces have been deployed to the northeastern region. Emergency services have evacuated about 8,000 people, most of them women, elderly people, people with reduced mobility, and people with disabilities and children.

In central Ukraine, at least two people were killed in a Russian air attack on the city of Dnipro, according to the regional governor.

“Putin is ramping up yet another offensive against Ukraine in Kharkiv and across the east, sending wave after wave of Russian soldiers, Iranian drones, North Korean artillery, and tanks, missiles and fighter jets built with machines and parts supplied by China,” Blinken said in a speech on Wednesday at the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

“We are with you today. And we will stay by your side until Ukraine’s security, sovereignty, its ability to choose its own path is guaranteed,” he said.

Growing ‘alarm’

As Russia intensifies its attacks, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s press secretary announced the leader had postponed all upcoming foreign visits. The president had earlier cancelled a visit to Spain and Portugal.

Speaking at a news briefing in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, said Blinken’s visit to Kyiv looked like a sign of Washington’s growing alarm over the front-line situation.

“It is obvious that the situation on the front and the military failures of the Ukrainian armed forces are causing increasing alarm in the Biden administration,” Zakharova said.

“No amount of armaments will save Zelenskyy’s criminal regime from collapse. All military equipment supplied to Ukraine will be destroyed,” she said.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that its aerial defence systems had intercepted and destroyed 17 drones across several border areas, as well as 10 ATACMS missiles over the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Ukrainian drone attacks also forced the closure of two airports in the region of Tatarstan, some 1,000km (620 miles) inside Russian territory.



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