(RFE/RL) — Russia’s sustained offensive in the eastern Donetsk region has intensified, the Ukrainian military said on March 21, as Japan’s prime minister met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv in a show of support that coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said Russian assault groups have been attempting to advance toward the center of Bakhmut, the Donetsk region city that has been the focal point of a months-long raging battle that has prompted heavy losses to both sides.
“Attempts by enemy assault units are trying to advance from the outskirts to the center of [Bakhmut], but the Defense Forces are working to destroy them 24/7,” Syrskiy wrote on Telegram.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have invested heavily in the battle for Bakhmut, even though analysts say the city — which has been reduced to little more than rubble — carried little strategic value.
Ukrainian defenders repelled 120 attacks focused primarily on Bakhmut, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said earlier in its daily report, adding that Russians also attempted advances in the directions of Avdiyivka, Lyman, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said earlier that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would visit Kyiv for talks with Zelenskiy, with Japanese television showing the prime minister boarding a train at the Polish border town of Przemysl. His trip was kept secret until the last minute for security reasons.
Zelenskiy posted footage of him greeting Kishida, calling him “a truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine.”
Earlier, Kishida toured Bucha, a town outside Kyiv where the mayor has said 400 civilians were killed last year by Russian forces. Kishida laid a wreath outside a church before observing a moment of silence and bowing.
“The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago. I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here,” Kishida said, adding his condolences to all the victims. Japan will keep aiding Ukraine “with the greatest effort to regain peace,” he said.
Kishida’s meeting with Zelenskiy came as Japan prepares to host a Group of Seven (G7) summit in May that the Japanese leader has said should exude a strong signal that international order and the rule of law must be upheld in opposition to Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow launched in February of 2022.
Zelenskiy said he would join the G7 summit online following an invitation from Kishida.
Kishida’s visit to Ukraine coincided with Xi’s visit to Moscow to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has become increasingly isolated on the international stage because of the invasion.
As Kishida was beginning his visit, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on March 21 that two of its strategic bombers flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours.
The Tupolev Tu-95MS planes are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and Moscow regularly flies them over international waters in the Arctic, North Atlantic and Pacific as a show of strength.