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West to beef up aid to Ukraine as Russian assault enters second month

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By John Chalmers and Pavel Polityuk

BRUSSELS/LEOPOLIS/MARIUPOL, Ukraine, March 24 (Reuters) – Western leaders meeting in Moscow agreed on Thursday to bolster their forces in eastern Europe, increase military aid to Ukraine and withstand sanctions on Russia, as the assault on his neighbor was entering his second month.

In a show of unity at an unprecedented triple summit of NATO, the G-7 and the European Union, the military alliance announced the creation of new battle groups in four Eastern European countries.

The United States and the United Kingdom expanded their sanctions blacklists, the countries announced new military and humanitarian aid packages and promises to host refugees, and the EU had to announce measures to disengage from Russian energy.

“We have agreed to strengthen our long-term deterrence and defense. We have also agreed to give further support to Ukraine and continue to impose costs on Russia,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after the leaders’ meeting at NATO headquarters. .

However, the promises fell short in the face of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s calls for an outright boycott of Russian energy products and an exclusion zone over airborne Ukraine, where thousands have died, millions have become refugees and cities they have been pulverized since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on February 24.

Unicef ​​said Thursday that more than half of Ukraine’s children have been driven from their homes.

In the besieged southern port of Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people have been holed up in basements without running water, food, medicine or electricity.

In a part of the city captured by Russian troops, a patch of grass between the charred remains of destroyed apartment buildings has become a makeshift graveyard, with freshly dug mounds marked with plastic flowers and crosses made from broken window frames. .

The sound of explosions could be heard in the distance when a Reuters team arrived there on Wednesday.

Viktoria was burying her stepfather Leonid, 73, who died when the car transporting him to a hospital was destroyed 12 days ago. He had taken his seat, she told Reuters, pointing to the wreckage of the wrecked vehicle.

“It could have been me,” she said between sobs.

Ukrainian authorities on Thursday accused Russia of having forcibly deported 15,000 people from the city to Russia. Moscow denies it.

RUINOUS COSTS

In a month of fighting, Ukraine has held out in the face of what many Western military analysts had predicted would be a swift Russian victory.

So far, Russia has failed to capture a single major city. Its armored columns have hardly moved in weeks and are stuck at the gates of the capital, kyiv, as they lay siege to eastern cities. They have suffered heavy casualties and are running low on supplies.

Ukrainian authorities say they are going on the offensive in much of the country and have pushed Russian forces back, including north of kyiv.

“In some sectors the enemy has moved back more than 70 kilometers, in others the enemy is 35 kilometers away,” Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksander Motuzyanyk told a briefing.

Ukraine said its forces had destroyed the Russian landing ship “Orsk” in the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk in the Sea of ​​Azov.

The video footage, which Reuters concluded was filmed from inside Berdyansk, showed a plume of smoke rising from a fire on a dock and the flash of an explosion. Russian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by a Reuters journalist in Mariúpol, Natalia Zinets in Lviv, John Chalmers in Brussels and Reuters offices; written by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff; edited in Spanish by José Muñoz and Carlos Serrano)

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