Russian missile strike kills four in Ukraine as Zelensky visits UK

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) greets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky at Chequers, the prime minister's official country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London, on May 15, 2023. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Britain on Monday to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who pledged "hundreds" of both air-defence missiles and long-range attack drones to fend off Russia's invasion.

A Russian missile strike killed four people and hit a hospital in eastern Ukraine, officials said Monday, as President Volodymyr Zelensky won the promise of "hundreds" more missiles and drones on a visit to Britain.

The attack on the front-line city of Avdiivka was one of a wave of strikes that damaged 57 residential buildings in 13 localities, Ukraine's national police force said.

"Four people died as a result of a missile attack on Avdiivka. Russians attacked the city with missiles this morning, hitting a hospital," Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

But elsewhere, Ukraine claimed advances around Bakhmut, as its armed forces prepare for a counter-offensive over a year on from the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2022.

While Russia's ally China vies to act as peace broker, sending an envoy to Kyiv this week, Zelensky drummed up hefty new packages of military aid on weekend visits to France and Germany.

He proceeded Monday to Britain for talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who pledged air-defence missiles and long-range attack drones for Ukraine, both numbering in the hundreds.

The Kremlin said the new UK weapons would only cause "further destruction".

Sunak noted that the meeting at the prime minister's country estate of Chequers was taking place in the buildup to a Council of Europe leaders' meeting in Iceland and a G7 summit in Japan.

"The front lines of Putin's war of aggression may be in Ukraine but the fault lines stretch all over the world," he said, vowing: "We must not let them down."

Sunak hosted Zelensky in the same Chequers room used by Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill to broadcast defiant speeches vowing victory over the Nazis.

"And the same way today, your leadership, your country's bravery and fortitude are an inspiration to us all," he told Zelensky.

European ideals

Dressed in his trademark fatigues, Zelensky gave a bear hug to Sunak after disembarking from a military helicopter, and thanked him for the latest UK aid.

He said the crisis was a matter of "security not only for Ukraine, it is important for all of Europe".

"We are thankful from all our hearts, from Ukrainians, from our soldiers, we are thankful," he told Sunak.

The timing and focus of Ukraine's high-stakes fightback are unclear, but Zelensky's tour of European capitals underscored the importance of securing Western heavy weapons and ammunition to press the fight.

France offered dozens more light tanks and armoured vehicles, while Germany said it was preparing a new military package worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) -- its biggest yet for Ukraine.

It was his first trip to Germany since Russia invaded, and Zelensky was presented the Charlemagne Prize for defending European freedom and values.

"Ukraine incarnates everything the European idea is living for: the courage of convictions, the fight for values and freedom, the commitment to peace and unity," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said at the award ceremony in Aachen.

The British attack drones have a range of more than 200 kilometres (125 miles), according to the UK government, which last week became the first Western country to offer long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine.

As the fighting appears poised to increase after months of stalemate, high-ranking Chinese diplomat Li Hui will start a two-day visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, a Ukrainian government official told AFP.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow in March and has been criticised for refusing to condemn Putin's war.

On the front line, Kyiv said Ukrainian forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut, where a fierce battle for control began nearly a year ago.

Russia said two of its military commanders had been killed in combat near the town, where fighting has been raging for days.

The head of Russia's private Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin again accused the Russian army of inaction around Bakhmut.