Ukraine on Tuesday said it downed an entire barrage of Russian drones and missiles overnight — including six advanced Kinzhal missiles — hours ahead of a visit by a special envoy sent by China.
The spate of attacks came just over a week after Kiev announced it had shot down a Kinzhal missile using US-supplied Patriot systems for the first time.
Ukraine’s mounting success in knocking out dozens of Russian drones and missiles illustrates its beefed-up air defenses after a winter of systematic attacks on key infrastructure.
“Another incredible success for the Ukrainian Air Force!” So said Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in a Twitter message.
The defense ministry said Ukrainian air defense systems had disabled a total of 18 missiles, including types the Kremlin had touted as “ideal”, as well as nine drones.
Beijing’s special envoy, senior diplomat Li Hui, is expected to arrive in Kiev for a two-day visit, as part of a European tour to promote Beijing-led peace negotiations over the war in Ukraine.
“He is expected to meet with FM (foreign minister) and other senior officials,” a Ukrainian government source told AFP without giving details.
Li Hui becomes the top Chinese diplomat to visit the war-torn country since last year’s invasion of Moscow and his trip comes three weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by phone to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Beijing has said the purpose of the tour is to “communicate with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis”.
Xi Jinping, who strove to position China as a neutral and would-be mediator, visited Moscow in March and was criticized for refusing to condemn the Kremlin’s war against its neighbour.
Li Hui’s visit also comes after Volodymyr Zelensky completed a whirlwind tour of major European capitals to urge Ukraine’s allies to increase military support.
‘Like rats in a mousetrap’
His journey to provide military aid to make his troops more combative began in Italy, with weekend visits to France and Germany followed by a stopover in the UK.
But President Zelensky has yet to succeed in his coveted goal of enlisting Western fighter jets to take command of the skies, even though British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced preparations to open a flight school to train Ukrainian pilots on Monday.
France has also offered to train Ukrainian fighter pilots, though President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out sending fighter jets to Kiev.
Nevertheless, President Zelensky said late Monday that he was “returning home with new defense packages”.
On the front lines, fighting has picked up in the eastern Donetsk region, particularly over the battle-ravaged city of Bakhmut.
Ukraine has posted its first gains around the city in weeks in recent days, and the head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner has blasted Moscow’s achievements around the key city.
Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Tuesday he had visited Bakhmut to present awards to troops fighting in the invasion’s longest battle.
“Wagner’s men entered Bakhmut like rats in a mousetrap,” he said.
“Using the principle of active defense, we are using counter-offensive actions in some areas near Bakhmut,” he added.
The head of the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, announced on Tuesday that five civilians had been killed and four injured in fighting in the past 24 hours.
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