The Russian military on Thursday continued to launch relentless attacks on the shattered city of Bakhmut on the eastern front and shelled Kherson, officials in Kiev said.

The Kremlin sees Bakhmut as a key target in the slow advance of its forces in the Donbas more than a year after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hania Maliar spoke via Telegram of heavy fighting along the entire contact line on the eastern front. He assured that Kiev troops repelled attacks in most areas.

The “most” attacks are being launched “in the Bakhmut sector”, he noted and estimated that Russian commanders were moving troops into the city from elsewhere.

“The enemy uses their most professional units there and relies heavily on artillery and air force. “Every day, the enemy conducts 40 to 50 raids and 500 artillery bombardments in Bahmut,” he said.

Earlier this week, the head of the Wagner mercenary company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his forces controlled 80% of Bakhmut, which Kiev denied.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials are pressing Kiev’s allies to send more weapons ahead of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive said to be launched within months.

“We are preparing our boys,” Mr. Zelensky said late last night. “We are looking forward to the delivery of the weapons promised by our partners. We bring victory as close as possible.”

Two people were killed in a Russian bombardment in Kherson.

In Washington, Prime Minister Dennis Schmihal yesterday held talks on post-war reconstruction and tried to convince that progress is being made in fighting corruption by implementing reforms. He promised that every dollar allocated would be accounted for, and estimated that rebuilding would begin later this year. He praised the US’s “sustained, steely and unprecedented” support.

Speaking with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at his side, Mr Schmihal said a $4 billion funding gap had been identified that needed to be filled this year.

The Ukrainian government also continues to press for the country to become a member of NATO. “There is no alternative path beyond Ukraine’s accession to NATO,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov insisted yesterday, speaking at a conference on Black Sea security.

The inclusion of Kiev in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a red line for Russia.