British Defense Minister Ben Wallace met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, during a surprise visit to Kyiv on May 24, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called in a video address for allies to speed delivery of promised F-16 fighter jets.
The visit comes a day ahead of a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), which consists of dozens of countries that have supported Kyiv in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
“We talked about the ongoing training of our servicemen on British territory, about the main priorities and importance of this training. We had the opportunity to shake hands with pilots who trained in Britain and are already successfully using the Storm Shadow weapon,” Reznikov said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
Wallace noted that the long-range Storm Shadow missiles supplied by Britain to Ukraine were the first of this type, the statement said.
“We provided this kind of weapon because of Russia’s continued use of its long-range missiles, which it uses to harm civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” Wallace was quoted as saying.
Reznikov on May 23 held a phone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who provided his Ukrainian counterpart with an update on recent U.S. security assistance efforts for Ukraine.
The UDCG virtual meeting is to discuss ways to sustain Ukraine’s armored maneuver capabilities and bolster its air defenses against Russia’s continued attacks, the Pentagon said.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said the providing of U.S.-made F-16s to Kyiv is a clear sign that Russia is destined to lose the war in Ukraine.
“The very first Ukrainian F-16 will be one of the strongest signals from the world that Russia will only lose because of its aggression. It will be weaker and further isolated,” Zelenskiy said.
“The main thing is speed in training and in supply, meaning the time between decisions in real protection for our skies,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said three Ukrainian remote-controlled surface vessels had attempted to attack a Russian warship in the Black Sea.
The ministry said in a Telegram post that the Russian craft had been protecting the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines that transport gas from Russia to Turkey but that no damage was done to it and that all attacking vessels were destroyed.
Kyiv did not immediately comment on the claim, which could not independently be verified.
On the battlefield, Russian shelling of Ukraine’s Kherson region has killed two civilians and wounded three others, a regional official said on May 24.
“Russia targeted residential quarters of civilian-populated areas, and infrastructure objectives in [Kherson’s] Beryslav district,” the head of Kherson’s regional military administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on Telegram.
Prokudin said Russian forces carried out 64 shellings of the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government in Kherson, using heavy artillery, Grad missiles, tanks, and drones.
After Ukraine recaptured parts of the Kherson region last fall, Russian forces have been shelling the region and the city of Kherson almost daily from across the Dnieper River.
In eastern Ukraine, fighting for control of Bakhmut and its surroundings is still under way, with Ukrainian defenders repelling 26 assaults by Russian forces over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s General Staff reported on May 24.
Russia’s main directions of attack concentrate around the Bakhmut-Avdiyivka-Maryinka front line, which remains at the epicenter of hostilities in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.
Russian forces have also been launching attacks on Lyman, north of Bakhmut, and Kupyansk, in the Kharkiv region, the military said in its daily report from the front.
Both Russia and Ukraine have recently claimed success in Bakhmut.
Russia claims it has the city under its control after months of fighting that is estimated to have claimed thousands of casualties, but the Ukrainian military says it has been advancing on the northern and southern flanks of the city, aiming to encircle it.
Meanwhile, fighting appeared to cease around Russia’s Belgorod region a day after armed fighters allegedly coming from inside Ukraine launched one of the largest cross-border incursions since the start of the war.
Pictures purporting to show abandoned or damaged Western military vehicles, including U.S.-made Humvees, have circulated on social media.
The Ukrainian government has denied any role in the events, while the U.S. State Department voiced skepticism about Russian claims that U.S. military equipment had been used in the alleged incursion.
“We’ve seen some of the reports circulating on social media and elsewhere making claims that U.S.-supplied weapons were used in these attacks. I will say that we’re skeptical at this time of the veracity of these reports,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told a media briefing on May 23.
“As a more general principle, as we’ve said, as I’ve said yesterday, we do not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia, and we’ve made that clear. But as we’ve also said it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war,” Miller added.