By SAMYA KULLAB (Associated Press)
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian missile destroyed an open-air market in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 17 people and injuring dozens, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the country with over $1 billion in new US funding for Ukraine. , including military and humanitarian aid.
Blinken’s fourth visit to the country was overshadowed by the strike in the town of Kostiantynivka, near the frontline in the Donetsk region, which turned the market into hell. This is one of the deadliest civilian bombings in this 18-month war. In addition to the dead, at least 32 people were injured.
“Those who know this place know well that it is a civilian area,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a press conference with the Danish Prime Minister in Kyiv. “There are no military units nearby. The strike was deliberate.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said such brutal Russian attacks underscore “the importance of continuing to support the Ukrainian people.”
Blinken’s visit was intended to assess Ukraine’s three-month-old counteroffensive and signal continued US support as some Western allies raise concerns about Kiev’s slow progress against invading Russian forces.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in its counter-offensive, but also what it needs in the long term, to ensure that it has a strong deterrent force” , Blinken said. “We are also committed to continuing to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy and a strong democracy. »
About $175 million of the total will be in weapons from Pentagon stockpiles and another $100 million will be in grants for Ukrainians to purchase additional weapons and equipment, according to the State Department.
Noting the progress made in the counteroffensive, Blinken said the new aid “will help keep it going and create new momentum.” He said the new military assistance would be bolstered by the arrival of US Abrams tanks in the fall and the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets to supplement training in Europe.
In addition to military assistance, Blinken announced nearly $805 million in non-arms-related assistance to Ukraine, including $300 million for law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian , $203 million to fight corruption and $90.5 million for mine clearance, the State Department said. said.
The package also includes a previously announced $5.4 million transfer to Ukraine of frozen assets of Russian oligarchs.
The aid announced by Blinken comes from funds previously approved by Congress. President Joe Biden has requested an additional $21 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine for the final months of 2023, but it’s unclear exactly how much — if any — will be approved.
Many Republican lawmakers are reluctant to provide more aid, and party frontrunner former President Donald Trump has criticized US financial support. Opinion polls also showed a decline in support for the war from the American public.
Biden and the Pentagon have repeatedly said they will support Ukraine for as long as necessary. As of August 29, there remained approximately $5.75 billion in previously approved funding for weapons and equipment taken from existing Pentagon stockpiles.
Blinken was expected to discuss other issues, including support for Ukraine’s economy, building on its June announcement of $1.3 billion to help Kyiv rebuild, with a focus on upgrading its network energy, which was bombed by Russia last winter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said US aid to Ukraine “cannot influence the course of the special military operation” – Moscow’s euphemism for the war.
Blinken arrived in kyiv for an overnight visit hours after Russia launched a missile attack on the city.
On the train to Kyiv, Blinken met Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who was also on an official visit, and thanked her for Denmark’s leadership in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and for promising to donate fighter jets to Ukraine. according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
Washington officials said there would be talks of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain following Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and its frequent attacks on port facilities in the region. from Odessa.
These alternatives could include new overland routes or ships skirting the coast to stay clear of international waters where they could be targeted by the Russian Navy. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also spoke about the development potential of the Danube Corridor for grain export.
After arriving in Kyiv, Blinken laid a wreath at the city’s Berkovetske Cemetery to commemorate Ukrainian troops killed defending the country.
At a meeting, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine was grateful that US money was coming in the form of grants and not loans that would drag it into debt.
Separately, Russia fired overnight cruise missiles at Kyiv in its first airstrike on the capital since Aug. 30, according to Serhii Popko, head of Kyiv’s regional military administration. Debris from a downed missile caused fire and damage, but no casualties.
One person was killed in the Odessa region in a Russian missile and drone attack on the port of Izmail that damaged grain silos, administrative buildings and agricultural businesses, authorities said.
It was Blinken’s fourth trip to Ukraine since the start of the war, including a brief excursion over the Polish-Ukrainian border in March 2022, just a month after the Russian invasion. But it will be the first time the top US diplomat has spent the night in Kiev since January 2022, before the invasion, in what US officials said was another sign of US support.
Blinken’s visit comes after some of Ukraine’s allies privately expressed concern that Ukrainian troops might not achieve their objectives.
While the US is concerned about some daily setbacks on the battlefield, US officials said, it remains generally encouraged by Ukraine’s handling of the military situation, particularly its air defense capabilities to shoot down Russian drones targeting Kiev.
Western analysts and military officials warn that the success of the counteroffensive is far from certain and that it may take years to rid Ukraine of entrenched, heavily armed and capable Russian troops.
Both sides will need to assess their supply shortages, with further attrition battles likely over the winter. A long war could stretch into next year and beyond, experts say.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita Baldor and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.
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