Multiple Russian Jets, Helicopters Reportedly Crash Near Ukrainian Border

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy received vocal backing from Italian leaders in Rome on May 13 as Germany announced a $3 billion military aid package for Kyiv — the biggest since the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion — ahead of a visit by the Ukrainian leader to Berlin.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella told Zelenskiy during his visit to Rome that “we are fully at your side.” Italian sources said Mattarella later assured the Ukrainian leader that Rome would continue to aid the country with military, economic, and humanitarian assistance.

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The Ukrainian leader later met with 86-year-old Pope Francis at the Vatican, where they discussed aid for the “innocent victims” of the Russian invasion.

Zelenskiy presented the pope with a bulletproof vest that had been used by a Ukrainian soldier and later painted with an image of the Madonna.

“The meeting — which lasted about 40 minutes — focused on the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine,” the Vatican press service said.

The pontiff last month told reporters that the Vatican was involved in a peace mission to try to end the conflict triggered by Russia’s invasion.

But when asked by Italian TV about the pope’s efforts, Zelenskiy said, “With all respect to the pope, the thing is that we don’t need mediators between Ukraine and the aggressor who has occupied our territories, but an action plan for a just peace in Ukraine.”

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also hosted Zelenskiy for a working lunch at her official residence at the Chigi Palace in Rome where he was received with military honors.

Speaking beside Zelenskiy, she said that “we are betting on Ukraine’s victory,” adding that Italy will support Kyiv “for as long as necessary” against Russia’s “brutal and unjust aggression.”

Zelenskiy’s trip came shortly after Russia launched another drone attack on Kyiv and shelled cities in central and southern Ukraine, causing material damage, amid reports of some Ukrainian gains in Bakhmut, where heavy fighting has been under way for months.

In Berlin, the German Defense Ministry announced a new package of military equipment for Ukraine worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), the biggest since Russia’s invasion.

“We all hope for a rapid end to this terrible war by Russia against the Ukrainian people, but unfortunately this is not in sight,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement.

The package includes 20 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 30 Leopard 1 tanks, 15 Gepard antiaircraft tanks, 200 reconnaissance drones, four additional Iris-T antiaircraft systems including ammunition, additional artillery ammunition and more than 200 armored combat and logistics vehicles.

Zelenskiy is scheduled to arrive in Berlin either late on May 13 or early May 14, according to German government sources.

He is expected to meet in the capital with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and also expected travel to the city of Aachen to receive a prestigious award.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a speedy delivery of the package as Kyiv is reparing for a long-anticipated counteroffensive.

Kuleba, speaking on May 13 on the sidelines of a meeting with his counterparts from EU countries in Sweden, said Ukraine always needed everything as quickly as possible.

Russia on May 13 claimed its forces had taken control of a section of northwestern Bakhmut amid earlier reports of gains by Ukrainian forces in and around the city — the scene of brutal fighting in recent months.

“In the Donetsk direction, assault detachments liberated a block in the northwestern part of the city of Artemovsk,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, using the Russian name for Bakhmut.

Conflicting battlefield claims around the eastern city have been difficult to independently confirm in recent days.

Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said earlier on social media that Ukrainian forces were advancing is sectors of the front line against Russian troops near Bakhmut.

“Our soldiers are moving forward in some areas of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” Syrskiy said, a day after Ukraine said it had recaptured some territory in the bitterly contested city.

Russia has acknowledged its forces retreated from positions north of Bakhmut, with Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov telling the media that Russian forces “occupied a new frontier” at the Berkhivske reservoir, some 2 kilometers from Bakhmut.

The gains, if confirmed, would be the biggest for Ukraine in six months.

It is unclear if the developments were part of a long-planned counteroffensive.

There also were reports of Ukrainian advances to the south, suggesting a coordinated push by Kyiv to encircle Russian forces in Bakhmut.

Overnight, Kyiv’s air defenses shot down all the drones launched by Russia overnight, the capital’s military administration reported on May 13, without specifying the number of drones.

There were no reports of damage or casualties, it said. It was the sixth drone attack on Kyiv this month.

In the central city of Khmelnytskiy, people were wounded and critical infrastructure was damaged by Russian shelling overnight, the region’s military administration reported early on May 13.

Khmelnytskiy Mayor Oleksandr Symchyshyn said schools, medical facilities, administrative buildings, industrial objectives, and high-rise residential buildings were damaged. “The number of wounded is currently being established,” he said.

The mayor of the southern city of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Syenkevych, said three people were wounded in overnight shelling that damaged a factory and several residential buildings.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Reuters, AFP, BBC, and dpa

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