Russia hits Ukraine with drones, missiles after solidarity visit from Xi
Russia blasted an apartment block in Ukraine with missiles on Wednesday after launching a swarm of drones at cities overnight, a deadly display of force following a solidarity visit by China's leader Xi Jinping.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted security camera video of a residential apartment block in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia exploding as it was struck with a missile in broad daylight.
Reuters verified the footage and witnessed the aftermath: firefighters struggling to put out flames engulfing the wreckage. Regional authorities said at least one person was confirmed dead and 25 wounded in the strike.
"Right now, residential areas where ordinary people and children live are being fired at," Zelenskiy wrote. "This must not become 'just another day' in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives."
In Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of the capital, at least four people were killed and others buried under the rubble when two dormitories at a college were struck by a drone. More than 100 workers and 28 vehicles were deployed to the scene, and the search for survivors was continuing, authorities said.
Sirens blared across the capital and swathes of northern Ukraine, and the military said it had shot down 16 of 21 Iranian-made Shahed suicide drones.
In an apparent reference to the Chinese president's visit to the Russian capital, Zelenskiy tweeted: "Every time someone tries to hear the word 'peace' in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes."
Zelenskiy visited troops near the front line on Wednesday. His office released video of him handing out medals to soldiers, which it said was filmed near Bakhmut, the eastern city where Ukrainian forces are mounting a defense in what has become Europe's deadliest infantry battle since World War Two.
Hosting Xi in Moscow this week was Russian President Vladimir Putin's grandest diplomatic gesture since he launched the war a year ago and became a pariah in the West. The two men referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation, condemned the West and described their countries' relations as the best they have ever been.
They "shared the view that this relationship has gone far beyond the bilateral scope and acquired critical importance for the global landscape and the future of humanity," said a statement released by China.
Xi departed telling Putin: "Now there are changes that haven't happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes."
"I agree," Putin said, to which Xi responded: "Take care of yourself dear friend, please."
But the public remarks were notably short of specifics, and during the visit Xi had almost nothing to say about the Ukraine war, beyond that China's position was "impartial".
The White House urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. Washington also criticised the timing of the trip, just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges, which Beijing has joined Moscow in rejecting.
China under Xi has promoted itself as a neutral peacemaker, proposing a peace plan for Ukraine last month which the West largely dismissed as vague at best, and at worst a ploy to buy time for Putin to regroup his forces.
"A ceasefire right now, freezing the lines where they are, basically gives him the time and space he needs to try to re-equip, to re-man, to make up for that resource expenditure," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
Putin praised Xi for the plan, and blamed Kyiv and the West for rejecting it. Kyiv, for its part, has cautiously welcomed the Chinese proposal while urging Beijing to consider Ukraine's own peace plan. Zelenskiy has called on Xi to speak to him.
Ukraine says there can be no peace unless Russia withdraws from occupied land. Moscow says Kyiv must recognise territorial "realities", referring to Russia's claim to have annexed a fifth of Ukraine.
After Ukraine recaptured territory throughout the second half of 2022, Moscow launched a massive winter offensive using hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited as mercenaries from jail.
Despite the bloodiest fighting of the war, which both sides describe as a meat grinder, the front line has barely moved for four months.
Russia's only notable gains have been around the small city of Bakhmut in the east, but Kyiv has decided in recent weeks not to withdraw there, saying its defenders were inflicting enough losses on the Russian attackers to justify holding out.
In an intelligence update, Britain's ministry of defence said Moscow's Bakhmut assault could be running out of steam. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days west of Bakhmut was likely to relieve pressure on the threatened supply route to the city, the Wednesday update said.
There was still a risk the Ukrainian garrison could be surrounded, but there was now "a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained".
Britain also rejected accusations from Moscow that supplying Ukraine with ammunition made from depleted uranium created a risk of "nuclear collision". Britain on Monday confirmed it was supplying Ukraine with such shells, used by many militaries to penetrate armour due to the metal's high density.
"There is no threat to Russia, this is purely about helping Ukraine defend itself," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.