Russian missile strike on Ukrainian market kills 17 as Blinken announces new $1B aid package
By SAMYA KULLAB (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian missile tore through an outdoor market in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 17 people and wounding dozens, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the country with more than $1 billion in new American funding for Ukraine, including military and humanitarian aid.
Blinken’s fourth visit to the country was overshadowed by the strike in the city of Kostiantynivka, near the front line in the Donetsk region, that turned the marketplace into an inferno. It was one of the deadliest bombardments of civilians in the 18-month-old war. In addition to the dead, at least 32 people were wounded.
“Those who know this place are well aware that it is a civilian area,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a news conference with the Danish prime minister in Kyiv. “There aren’t any military units nearby. The strike was deliberate.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said such brutal Russian attacks underscore “the importance of continuing to support the people of Ukraine.”
Blinken’s visit was aimed at assessing Ukraine’s 3-month-old counteroffensive and signaling continued U.S. support as some Western allies express worries about Kyiv’s slow progress against invading Russian forces.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive but has what it needs for the long-term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Blinken said. “We’re also determined to continue to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy, strong democracy.”
About $175 million of the total is in the form of weaponry to be provided from Pentagon stockpiles and another $100 million is in the form of grants to allow the Ukrainians to purchase additional arms and equipment, according to the State Department.
Noting progress in the counteroffensive, Blinken said the new aid “will help sustain it and build further momentum.” He said the new military assistance would be bolstered by the arrival of U.S. Abrams tanks in the fall and the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets to complement training in Europe.
In addition to the military assistance, Blinken announced nearly $805 million in non-arms-related aid for Ukraine, including $300 million for law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian aid, $203 million to combat corruption and $90.5 million for removing mines, the State Department said.
The package also includes a previously announced $5.4 million transfer to Ukraine of frozen Russian oligarch assets.
The aid announced by Blinken comes from money previously approved by Congress. President Joe Biden has requested another $21 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine for the final months of 2023, but it’s not clear how much — if any — will be approved.
Many Republican lawmakers are wary of providing more aid, and the party’s presidential front-runner, former President Donald Trump, has criticized U.S. financial support. Opinion polls also have shown a decline in support for the war by the American public.
Biden and the Pentagon have said repeatedly they will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. As of Aug. 29, there was approximately $5.75 billion left in the already approved funding for weapons and equipment taken from existing Pentagon stocks.
Blinken was to discuss other issues, including support for Ukraine’s economy, building on his June announcement of $1.3 billion to help Kyiv rebuild, with a focus on modernizing its energy network, which was bombarded by Russia last winter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said U.S. assistance to Ukraine “can’t influence the course of the special military operation” — Moscow’s euphemism for the war.
Blinken arrived in Kyiv for an overnight visit hours after Russia launched a missile attack on the city.
On the train to Kyiv, Blinken met with the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, who was also on an official visit, and thanked her for Denmark’s leadership in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and for promising to donate the fighter jets to Ukraine, according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.
Washington officials said there will be discussions of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain following Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and its frequent attacks on port facilities in the Odesa region.
Those alternatives may include new overland routes or ships hugging coastlines to keep out of international waters where they could be targeted by Russia’s navy. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also mentioned the potential to develop the Danube River corridor for grain exports.
After arriving in Kyiv, Blinken laid a wreath at the city’s Berkovetske cemetery to commemorate Ukrainian troops killed defending the country.
In a meeting, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine is grateful the U.S. money is coming in the form of grants, not loans that would drive it into debt.
In other developments, Russia fired cruise missiles overnight at Kyiv in its first aerial attack on the capital since Aug. 30, according to Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv’s regional military administration. Debris from a downed missile caused a fire and damage but no casualties.
One person was killed in the Odesa region in a Russian missile and drone attack on the port of Izmail that damaged grain elevators, administrative buildings and agricultural enterprises, authorities said.
The trip was Blinken’s fourth to Ukraine since the war began, including one brief excursion over the Polish-Ukrainian border in March 2022, just a month after the Russian invasion. But it will be the first time America’s top diplomat spends the night in Kyiv since January 2022, before the invasion, in what U.S. officials called another sign of American support.
Blinken’s visit comes after some of Ukraine’s allies have privately expressed concern that Ukrainian troops may fail to reach their objectives.
While the U.S. has been concerned by some day-to-day battlefield setbacks, American officials said, they are still generally encouraged by Ukraine’s handling of the military situation, particularly its air defense capabilities in knocking down Russian drones aimed at Kyiv.
Western analysts and military officials caution that the counteroffensive’s success is far from certain and that it could take years to rid Ukraine of entrenched, powerfully armed and skilled Russian troops.
Both sides will have to assess their supply shortages, with more battles of attrition likely over the winter. A long war could stretch deep into next year and beyond, according to experts.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Lolita Baldor and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.
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