U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday promised to provide tanks and artillery systems to Ukraine, amid renewed missile attacks by Moscow targeting the Ukrainian capital and other cities in the nearly year-long war.
Sunak made the pledge to provide Challenger 2 tanks and other artillery systems after speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, the British leader’s Downing Street office said in a statement.
It didn’t say when the tanks would be delivered or how many. British media have reported that four British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks will be sent to Eastern Europe immediately, with eight more to follow shortly after, without citing sources.
Zelenskyy tweeted his thanks to Sunak on Saturday “for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
Ukraine has for months sought to be supplied with heavier tanks, including the U.S. Abrams and the German Leopard 2 tanks, but Western leaders have been treading carefully.
The Czech Republic and Poland have provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces. Poland has also expressed readiness to provide a company of Leopard tanks, but President Andrzej Duda stressed during his recent visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that the move would be possible only as an element in a larger international coalition of tank aid to Kyiv.
Earlier this month, France said it would send AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles to Ukraine, designated “light tanks” in French. The U.S. and Germany announced the same week that they would send Bradley fighting vehicles and Marder armored personnel carriers, respectively, for the first time.
Sunak’s announcement came as air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine in the anticipation of further attacks, and regional officials urged local residents not to ignore alarms and seek shelter.
Air defense systems were activated on Saturday afternoon in the southern Mykolaiv region, Gov. Vitali Kim said on Telegram and hinted that some missiles have already been intercepted.
Ukraine’s Operational Command South reported that five Russian missile carriers were spotted in the Black Sea on Saturday afternoon, capable of launching a total of 36 Kalibr cruise missiles.
In the morning, a series of explosions rocked Kyiv. An infrastructure target was hit in what Ukrainian officials said was a missile attack.
Explosions were heard in the Dniprovskyi district, a residential area on the left bank of the Dnieper River, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. Klitschko also said that fragments of a missile fell on a nonresidential area in the Holosiivskyi district on the right bank, and a fire briefly broke out in a building there. No casualties have been reported so far.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether several facilities in Kyiv were targeted or just the one that was reported hit. The Ukrainian capital hasn’t been attacked by missiles since Jan. 1.
In the outlying Kyiv region, a residential building in the village of Kopyliv was hit, and windows of the houses nearby were blown out, Tymoshenko said.
A total of 18 private houses were damaged in the region, according to regional Gov. Oleksii Kuleba. “There are damaged roofs and windows,” but no casualties, Kuleba said in a Telegram post. He added that a fire has been contained at a “critical infrastructure facility” in the region.
Earlier on Saturday, two Russian missiles hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the governor of the Kharkiv region reported.
Oleh Syniehubov said Russian forces fired two S-300 missiles at the industrial district of Kharkiv. The strikes targeted “energy and industrial objects of Kharkiv and the (outlying) region,” Syniehubov said. No casualties have been reported, but emergency power cuts in the city and other settlements of the region were possible, the official said.
The attacks follow conflicting reports on the fate of the fiercely contested salt mining town of Soledar, in Ukraine’s embattled east. Russia claims that its forces have captured the town, a development that would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield.
Ukrainian authorities and Zelenskyy insist the fight for Soledar continues.
Moscow has painted the battle for the town and the nearby city of Bakhmut as key to capturing the eastern region of the Donbas, which comprises of partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and as a way to grind down the best Ukrainian forces and prevent them from launching counterattacks elsewhere.
But that cuts both ways, as Ukraine says its fierce defense of the eastern strongholds has helped tie up Russian forces. Western officials and analysts say the two towns’ importance is more symbolic than strategic.