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Delays in promised Western military aid to Ukraine are costing lives, the defense minister says

Dozens of buildings in Kostiantynivka, a Ukrainian city in the Donetsk district, were damaged after heavy Russian shelling on Sunday, Feb. 25, according to Ukrainian officials. (Feb. 26) (AP video: Alex Babenko, Volodymyr Yurchuk)

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) 鈥 Half of all Western military support promised to Ukraine fails to arrive on time, complicating the task of military planners and ultimately costing the lives of soldiers in Russia鈥檚 war, Ukraine鈥檚 defense minister said Sunday.

Rustan Umerov, speaking at the 鈥淯kraine. Year 2024鈥 forum in Kyiv, said each delayed aid shipment means Ukrainian troop losses and underscored Russia鈥檚 superior military might.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later told attendees at the event that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. It was the first time that Kyiv has confirmed the number of its losses.

Commemorations to mark the second anniversary of the war on Saturday brought expressions of continued support, new bilateral security agreements and new aid commitments from Ukraine鈥檚 Western allies. But Umerov said that they still needed to deliver on their commitments if Ukraine is to have any chance of holding out against Russia.

鈥淲e look to the enemy: their economy is almost $2 trillion,鈥 he said, adding that they use up to 15% of official and nonofficial budget funds for the war, which constitutes more than $150 billion. He said that whenever a commitment doesn鈥檛 arrive on time, 鈥渨e lose people, we lose territories.鈥

During a press conference after the forum Sunday, Zelenskyy said four brigades did not take part in the country鈥檚 counteroffensive against Russian forces because they hadn鈥檛 received the equipment they were expecting.

鈥淐an you imagine the numbers of guys who would have fought, who couldn鈥檛? The ones that had to sit and wait for the equipment they never received?鈥

The Ukrainian leader also confirmed plans for an international peace summit to tackle issues exacerbated by the war, such as nuclear or food security, in Switzerland in 2024. That would be followed by a potential invitation to Russian representatives to attend a second summit later in the year. However, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would not submit to a peace plan that did not serve its interests, and discarded the idea of direct negotiations.

鈥淚s it possible to talk to a man who kills his opponents?鈥 Zelenskyy said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 鈥淲e will offer a platform where he can agree that he has lost this war and that it was a mistake.鈥

Zelenskyy also spoke about ongoing fighting in northeastern Ukraine, where front-line conflict has intensified in recent months leading to the capture of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. He said that Moscow was using heavy artillery fire to put pressure on Ukrainian forces in the directions of Kharkiv and Kupiansk.

However, his speech remained defiant. 鈥淲ill Ukraine lose in this war? I am sure that it won鈥檛. Our most difficult moment was on Feb. 24 two years ago. We have no alternative but to win. (...) If Ukraine loses, then we will not exist. We do not want such an ending to this fight for our lives.鈥

Russian forces on Sunday appeared to be pressing on west of Avdiivka, the strategic city whose capture this month handed Moscow a major victory as fierce fighting rages on in eastern Ukraine.

Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who leads Ukrainian forces fighting in the area, said Sunday that his troops had retreated from much of Lastochkyne, a western suburb of Avdiivka. Some Ukrainian media on Saturday reported that Russian troops had taken Lastochkyne, but there was no official confirmation from Kyiv and the battlefield situation appeared fluid.

Jake Sullivan, U.S. President Joe Biden鈥檚 national security adviser, on Sunday asserted that he believes Kyiv has a path to victory, as long as Western allies deliver 鈥渢he tools that it needs.鈥

Speaking to NBC in Washington, Sullivan acknowledged that Ukrainian forces lost Avdiivka because of a shortage of ammunition, calling on U.S. Congress to 鈥渟tep up鈥 and pass the additional $60 billion in security assistance requested by the Biden administration.

鈥淚 think it鈥檚 important to take a step back and remember that two years ago, everyone was predicting that Ukraine was going to fall,鈥 Sullivan said, adding that Moscow has already 鈥渇ailed in its fundamental objective鈥 to 鈥渟ubjugate鈥 its neighbor.

鈥淭he reality is that Putin gains every day that Ukraine does not get the resources it needs, and Ukraine suffers,鈥 Sullivan added.

Also on Sunday, Germany鈥檚 top diplomat announced during a visit to southern Ukraine that Berlin would send Kyiv an extra 100 million euros ($108 million) in humanitarian aid, according to Germany鈥檚 dpa agency.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock then had to abort a visit to a water supply station in the city of Mykolaiv after a Russian drone was spotted in the area, dpa reported. Baerbock and her delegation rushed back into their armored vehicles, and the drone briefly followed the convoy before veering off, the agency said.

Russian shelling and rocket strikes on Sunday continued to pummel Ukraine鈥檚 south and east, as local Ukrainian officials reported that at least two civilians were killed and eight others were wounded in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces.

A woman was wounded and a railway station turned into a smoldering ruin amid heavy shelling in the eastern city of Kostiantynivka, according to the head of the municipal military administration. Ukraine鈥檚 public broadcaster, Suspilne, cited local police as saying that the strikes also damaged an Orthodox church, more than a dozen residential buildings and dozens of shops, a post office, schools and local government offices.

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This story has been corrected to show that the monetary figure in the quote from Ukraine鈥檚 defense minister is $150 billion, not $100 billion.

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Follow the AP鈥檚 coverage of the war at /hub/russia-ukraine

Kullab is an Associarted Press reporter covering Ukraine since June 2023. Before that, she covered Iraq and the wider Middle East from her base in Baghdad since joining the AP in 2019.