KRAKOW, Poland — Ukrainian troops, emboldened by sophisticated weapons and long-range artillery supplied by the West, went on the offensive Friday against Russian forces in the northeast, seeking to drive them back from two key cities as the war plunged more deeply into a grinding, town-for-town battle.
After weeks of intense fighting, neither side has been able to achieve a major breakthrough, with one army taking a few villages one day, only to lose just as many in the following days. In its latest effort to reclaim territory, the Ukrainian military said that “fierce battles” were being waged as it fought to retake Russia-controlled areas around Kharkiv in the northeast and Izyum in the east.
The stepped-up combat came as the White House announced Friday that President Joe Biden would meet virtually Sunday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and the leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations. Additionally, Biden is sending a new security package to Ukraine worth $150 million, according to an administration official, who said it will include 25,000 artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, jamming equipment and other field equipment.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that the leaders would convene as President Vladimir Putin of Russia prepares to celebrate the annual holiday of Victory Day on Monday with military parades and speeches commemorating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.
The holiday has intensified fears that Putin could exploit the occasion to expand his Feb. 24 invasion, after his initial drive failed to rout the Ukrainian military and topple the government.
Fears that Russia could intensify its assault came as the U.N. Security Council adopted a statement Friday supporting efforts by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to broker a diplomatic resolution to the war.
Zelenskyy insisted Friday that peace talks cannot resume until Russian forces pull back to where they were before the invasion. Still, he did not foreclose the possibility of a negotiated settlement.
“Not all the bridges are destroyed,” he said.
Alexey Zaitsev, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Friday that talks between Russia and Ukraine were “in a state of stagnation,” Russian state media reported.
On Friday, about 50 women, children and elderly people who had been trapped beneath the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol were evacuated, according to a Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She said the evacuation had been “extremely slow” because Russian troops violated a cease-fire.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.