The United States announced details Friday of $820 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, including new surface-to-air missile systems and counter-artillery radar.
The latest aid package is designed to help Ukraine counter Russia’s use of long-range missiles and follows calls by Ukrainian officials for Western countries to send more advanced weapons systems that can better match Moscow’s equipment.
The Pentagon said Friday the Biden administration has now sent $7.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including nearly $7 billion since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
U.S. President Joe Biden said at a news conference during this week’s NATO summit in Madrid that the United States is “going to support Ukraine as long as it takes.”
The 14th U.S. package of military aid for Ukraine include two air defense systems, known as NASAMS, which can help Ukrainian forces defend against cruise missiles and aircraft.
A senior U.S. official said the systems are NATO-standard defense systems and are part of an effort to update Ukraine’s air defenses from a Soviet-era system to a modern one.
“The Ukrainians are doing a magnificent job of employing their existing air defense systems, but we all know that Soviet-type systems means that it’s Russian made … so over time it will be harder to sustain with the spare parts,” the official said.
The latest military aid package also provides Ukrainians with up to 150,000 rounds of 155-millimeter artillery ammunition as well as additional ammunition for medium-range rocket systems the United States provided Ukraine in June.
On the battlefront Friday, at least 21 people were killed and dozens injured in Russian missile strikes in Ukraine’s Odesa region. At least one of the sites that were hit was a residential building. Ukrainian military officials said two children were among the dead, and the search for survivors is ongoing.
The missile struck the nine-story building in the town of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, according to a Ukraine Defense Ministry statement.
Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa regional administration, said on Ukrainian state television that a rescue operation continues to free people buried under the rubble after a section of the building collapsed. Another missile hit a resort facility, Bratchuk said, wounding several people.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in the attack.
“I would like to remind you of the president’s words that the Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff accused Russia of waging a war on civilians.
In his nightly video address Friday, Zelenskyy called the strikes “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike.”
Friday’s missile attack in Odesa came hours after Russia said it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island on Thursday. The strategic island had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since Moscow’s invasion four months ago.
Russia had used the Black Sea island near Odesa as a staging ground after seizing it in the early stages of the war, launching attacks on Ukraine from it and monitoring shipments from Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine confirmed Russian forces had pulled out after Ukrainian forces hit the island with missile and artillery strikes overnight, leaving the remaining Russian forces to escape in two speedboats.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed it had left the small island “as a symbol of goodwill” after completing its mission there.
A senior U.S. official said the United States does “not believe there is any credence to what Russia is saying, that this is a gesture of goodwill.” The official said the retreat was more about Ukraine’s efforts to defend the island and Kyiv’s use of weapons like harpoon missiles.
“The Ukrainians made it very hard for the Russians to sustain their operations there, made them very vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes,” the official said.
In other developments, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Ukraine’s parliament that EU membership was “within reach” but urged them to press forward with anti-corruption reforms.
“You have created an impressive anti-corruption machine,” she told the lawmakers by video link Friday. Von der Leyen stressed that Brussels and the EU member states were firmly behind Ukraine in both its battle with the ongoing Russian invasion and the quest to be “reunited with our European family.”
For his part Zelenskyy said Ukraine and the European Union were starting a new chapter of their history after Brussels formally accepted Ukraine’s candidacy to join the 27-nation bloc.
“We made a journey of 115 days to candidate status and our journey to membership shouldn’t take decades. We should make it down this road quickly,” Zelenskyy said.
At the NATO meeting in Madrid, Western leaders, including Biden, proclaimed their continued military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Norway announced $1 billion in aid to Ukraine over two years, as Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store visited the country.
The fund is for “humanitarian aid, reconstruction of the country, weapons and operational support to the (Ukrainian) authorities,” the Norwegian government said in a statement Friday.
“We stand together with the Ukrainian people,” Store said in the statement.
“We help support the Ukrainians’ struggle for freedom. They are fighting for their country, but also for our democratic values.”
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.