British Defense Minister Ben Wallace met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, during a surprise visit to Kyiv on May 24, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced.
The visit comes a day ahead of a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), which consists of dozens of countries that have supported Kyiv in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
“We talked about the ongoing training of our servicemen on British territory, about the main priorities and importance of this training. We had the opportunity to shake hands with pilots who trained in Britain and are already successfully using the Storm Shadow weapon,” Reznikov said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
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Wallace noted that the long-range Storm Shadow missiles supplied by Britain to Ukraine were the first of this type, the statement said.
“We provided this kind of weapon because of Russia’s continued use of its long-range missiles, which it uses to harm civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” Wallace was quoted as saying.
Reznikov on May 23 held a phone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who provided his Ukrainian counterpart with an update on recent U.S. security assistance efforts for Ukraine.
The UDCG virtual meeting is to discuss ways to sustain Ukraine’s armored maneuver capabilities and bolster its air defenses against Russia’s continued attacks, the Pentagon said.
Meanwhile, Russian shelling of Ukraine’s Kherson region has killed two civilians and wounded three others, a regional official said on May 24.
“Russia targeted residential quarters of civilian-populated areas, and infrastructure objectives in [Kherson’s] Beryslav district,” the head of Kherson’s regional military administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on Telegram.
Prokudin said Russian forces carried out 64 shellings of the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government in Kherson, using heavy artillery, Grad missiles, tanks, and drones.
After Ukraine recaptured parts of the Kherson region last fall, Russian forces have been shelling the region and the city of Kherson almost daily from across the Dnieper River.
In eastern Ukraine, fighting for control of Bakhmut and its surroundings is still under way, with Ukrainian defenders repelling 26 assaults by Russian forces over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s General Staff reported on May 24.
Russia’s main directions of attack concentrate around the Bakhmut-Avdiyivka-Maryinka front line, which remains at the epicenter of hostilities in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.
Russian forces have also been launching attacks on Lyman, north of Bakhmut, and Kupyansk, in the Kharkiv region, the military said in its daily report from the front.
Both Russia and Ukraine have recently claimed success in Bakhmut.
Russia claims it has the city under its control after months of fighting that is estimated to have claimed thousands of casualties, but the Ukrainian military says it has been advancing on the northern and southern flanks of the city, aiming to encircle it.
WATCH: A Ukrainian spokesman said on May 22 that Russian forces walked straight into a “trap” in Bakhmut, with Ukrainian troops advancing on the flanks of the town poised to encircle them.
Meanwhile, fighting appeared to cease around Russia’s Belgorod region a day after armed fighters allegedly coming from inside Ukraine launched one of the largest cross-border incursions since the start of the war.
Pictures purporting to show abandoned or damaged Western military vehicles, including U.S.-made Humvees, have circulated on social media.
The Ukrainian government has denied any role in the events, while the U.S. State Department voiced skepticism about Russian claims that U.S. military equipment had been used in the alleged incursion.
“We’ve seen some of the reports circulating on social media and elsewhere making claims that U.S.-supplied weapons were used in these attacks. I will say that we’re skeptical at this time of the veracity of these reports,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told a media briefing on May 23.
“As a more general principle, as we’ve said, as I’ve said yesterday, we do not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia, and we’ve made that clear. But as we’ve also said it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war,” Miller added.
The Russian Defense Ministry on May 23 claimed that its troops had surrounded enemy fighters and used “air strikes, artillery fire, and active action by border units” to push back the forces, killing many of them.
It was not possible to independently confirm the claims, but the governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said so-called anti-terrorism measures introduced earlier had been called off.
WATCH: A Ukrainian reserve colonel says that fighting in Russia’s Belgorod region was a “combat reconnaissance mission” launched by units of Russian citizens that have been fighting on Kyiv’s side since 2014.
However, Gladkov on May 24 claimed in a message on Telegram that the situation was “still dangerous.”
Two groups — the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Free Russia Legion — claimed responsibility for the incursion that shocked local residents and Russian authorities. They said they were anti-Kremlin Russian fighters seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters