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Ukraine seeks arms from NATO as fight looms on eastern front


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(NewsNation) ⁠— Ukraine told residents of its industrial heartland to leave while they still can and urged Western nations to send “weapons, weapons, weapons” Thursday after Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv to regroup for an offensive in the country’s east.

After seven weeks of a failed attempt to take Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, now Russia’s focus is on Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine. In Brussels, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged NATO to provide more weapons for his war-torn country to help prevent further atrocities like those reported on Kyiv’s northern outskirts.

Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of least 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv. Authorities are working to identify hundreds of bodies they say were found in Bucha and other towns after Russian troops withdrew and to document what they say were war crimes. Russia has denied those accusations.

“My agenda is very simple… it’s weapons, weapons and weapons,” Kuleba said as he arrived at NATO headquarters for talks with the military organization’s foreign minister. “The more weapons we get and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved.”

Some NATO nations worry they may be Russia’s next target, but the alliance is striving to avoid actions that might pull any of its 30 members directly into the war. Still, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged member nations to send Ukraine more weapons, and not just defensive arms.

“Ukraine is fighting a defensive war, so this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons doesn’t actually have any real meaning,” he said.

Western countries have provided Ukraine with portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, but they have been reluctant to supply aircraft, tanks or any equipment that Ukrainian troops would have to be trained to use.

In response to the atrocities, the United States sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters, Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova, on Wednesday, on top of tightening penalties on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank, and several critical state-owned enterprises.

“We’ve seen a pattern, over time, of president Putin and Russian oligarchs stash assets and resources in the bank accounts and of their family members, and so, this was an effort to get at those assets,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon says U.S. troops are training a small number of Ukrainians on switchblade drones as fighting continues. They are single-use weapons that fly into a target and detonate on impact.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine and Russian officials agreed to establish 10 civilian evacuation routes from Donetsk, Luhansk and the Zaporizhzhia region. She said residents would be able to seek safety in the cities of Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine and Bakhmut in the east.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said at least five civilians were killed and another eight were wounded by Russian shelling on Wednesday. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it struck fuel storage sites around the cities of Mykolaiv, Zaporozhe, Kharkiv and Chuguev overnight using cruise missiles fired from ships in the Black Sea.

A Ukrainian naval vessel caught fire under unclear circumstances in the besieged port city of Mariupol, satellite photos show. The images from Planet Labs PBC appear to show the Ukrainian command ship Donbas burning at the Sea of Azov port on Wednesday afternoon as a nearby building also burned.

Ukrainian forces in the city also could be trying to scuttle the vessel so it doesn’t fall into Russian hands. Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine had accused Ukrainian forces of setting fire to the vessel as a “provocation” to “discredit the Russian military.”

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said more than 5,000 civilians have been killed during weeks of Russian bombardment, including 210 children. The attacks have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine. British defense officials said 160,000 people remained trapped in the city, which had a prewar population of 430,000.

The U.S. Senate planned to take up legislation Thursday to end normal trade relations with Russia, paving the way for higher tariffs on some imports, and to codify Biden’s executive action banning imports of Russian oil. The European Union is also expected to take additional punitive measures, including an embargo on Russian coal.

Zelenskyy said the sanctions would not be effective unless they included a ban on Russian oil, on which Europe relies heavily. He said the West’s sanctions on Russia so far “can’t be called commensurate to the evil the world saw in Bucha” and elsewhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.