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Ukraine war: emotional Zelensky asks Europe for more help as Russian strike kills dozens amid US funding worries mount


President Volodymyr Zelensky told more than 40 European leaders gathered in Spain he was confident of America’s continued support, and asked for their continued help and more arms to help him fight against Russian aggression, which included an attack on a cafe that killed dozens.

In an emotional speech, Zelensky said schoolchildren in Kharkiv in east Ukraine were learning remotely or attending classes underground in subway stations because of air raids.

“Until there is a fully effective air defence system, children cannot attend school,” he told the European Political Community summit hosted in Spain’s Granada, some 4,000 kilometres west from Kharkiv.

He voiced confidence in continued US support despite what he called a “political storm” there recently after aid to Ukraine did not make the cut for a last-minute Congress deal to avoid a government shutdown.

Future of US aid for Ukraine hangs in balance after shutdown deal

“I am confident in America. They are strong people with strong institutions, and a strong democracy,” he said.

“Of course it’s a difficult election period for the United States, different voices, some of the voices are very strange,” Zelenksy told reporters.

There is a growing apprehension in Ukraine’s political circles that the infighting in Washington may disrupt the steady stream of economic aid.

The US has stripped out funding for Ukraine in a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, at a critical stage for Kyiv’s counteroffensive. European backing for Ukraine faces a new challenge after Robert Fico, a candidate sympathetic to Russia, won Slovakia’s election on Saturday.

Volodymyr Zelensky attends the European Political Community Summit in Spain on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Zelensky said President Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to strengthen his military or else Russia could attack beyond Ukraine by 2028.

“Let only Putin’s ambitions be a ruin, not our countries, not our cities. Children of every country deserve to be safe. Everywhere in the country, not just in the subway, not just in underground shelters, but everywhere. We must make it possible. We must ensure that Ukraine wins.”

He said that victory or defeat in Ukraine would determine Europe’s fate.

“We must not allow Putin to destabilise any other parts of the world and our partners in order to ruin Europe’s power,” Zelensky said.

“The presence of Russia, its military or proxies in the territory of any other country is a threat to all of us. We must work together to push Russia out of the territory of other countries.”

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Russian attacks continue

Zelensky’s push for additional funding came as Russia targeted Ukraine with drones in another major attack early on Thursday.

He said a Russian strike on a grocery store in the eastern Ukraine region of Kharkiv had killed at least 51 people.

“The brutal Russian crime of hitting an ordinary grocery store with a rocket is a completely deliberate terrorist attack,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media.

Ukraine’s air force said that the country’s air defences intercepted 24 out of 29 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at the southern Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kirovohrad regions.

Winter challenges

Challenges are piling up for Ukraine as winter nears. Its counteroffensive slowed over the past weeks, with soldiers fighting against deeply entrenched Russian forces with heavy casualties. The steady stream of refugees isn’t helping the economy either as the central bank is burning through cash to prop up the freshly unpegged national currency.

The country is also preparing for renewed Russian attacks against its energy infrastructure once colder weather sets in.

Last winter, Russia targeted Ukraine’s energy system and other vital infrastructure in a steady barrage of missile and drone attacks, triggering continuous power outages across the country. Ukraine’s power system has shown a high degree of resilience and flexibility, helping alleviate the damage, but there have been concerns that Russia will again ramp up its strikes on power facilities as winter draws nearer.

Meanwhile, cases of corruption in Ukraine are fuelling concern among Kyiv’s allies.

Ukraine may run out of money to purchase weapons from US stockpiles within the next month and a half if the US doesn’t approve a new defence package, Oleksandra Ustinova, the head of a parliamentary commission tracking foreign weapons supply and usage, said on local TV.

Reporting by Reuters, Bloomberg, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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