Russia kept up the pressure on the eastern city of Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said on May 17, as Moscow’s artillery pounded civilian objectives in the south a day after one of its heaviest wave of air attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
Russian forces launched 55 attacks on Ukrainian positions on Bakhmut over the past day, the General Staff said in its daily bulletin, adding that the heaviest fighting continues on the Bakhmut-Avdiyivka-Maryinka front line — the epicenter of Russia’s military push in eastern Ukraine.
Russia targeted both Ukrainian military positions and civilian objectives with 57 air strikes and launched 96 salvoes from rocket systems over the same period of time, the military said, adding that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 Iranian-made attack drones and six reconnaissance drones.
A U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system being used by Ukraine likely suffered some damage from a Russian strike, two U.S. officials said on May 16, adding that it did not appear to have been destroyed.
The Patriot system is one of an array of sophisticated air-defense units supplied by the West to help Ukraine repel Russia’s campaign of air strikes that has targeted critical infrastructure, power facilities, and other sites.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing initial information, said Washington and Kyiv were already talking about the best way to repair the system.
Russians also shelled the southern city of Mykolayiv, wounding one person, Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych said on May 17. A woman was wounded by shrapnel, while civilian and industrial objectives were damaged, Syenkevych said.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar on May 16 said Ukraine had recaptured some 20 square kilometers from Russian forces on the flanks of Bakhmut but had ceded more ground in the center of the city.
“At the same time, the enemy is advancing to some degree inside Bakhmut itself and is utterly destroying the city with artillery,” Malyar said on social media.
Malyar’s claims could not be independently verified.
In eastern Ukraine, the head of Russia’s private Wagner mercenary group on May 16 said a U.S. volunteer had died fighting alongside Ukrainian troops.
In a video shared by Russian military bloggers, Yevgeny Prigozhin showed the body of what he said was an American laying in the rubble of a building.
The clip shows the Wagner chief walking with his men at night, and explosions can be heard — but it is not clear where or when it was filmed. Prigozhin shows the camera what appears to be the soldier’s identity documents, without giving a full name.
The latest fighting came as Chinese envoy Li Hui, the most senior Chinese official to visit Ukraine, reportedly arrived on a two-day visit to Kyiv. Beijing said Li’s trip was aimed at discussing a “political settlement” to the Ukraine crisis.
Li, a former ambassador to Russia, will also visit Poland, France, Germany on the multiday trip, China’s Foreign Ministry said, without providing a detailed schedule.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries — South Africa, Zambia, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Egypt — to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said on May 16.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskiy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders’ peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.
“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said.
Meanwhile, South Korea signed an agreement with Ukraine on May 17 on its plan to provide a $130 million financial aid package, a day after visiting first lady Olena Zelenska asked for military assistance.
South Korea’s Finance Ministry said Minister Choo Kyung-ho and Ukrainian Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko, in Seoul to attend a conference, signed the agreement on the package, which will consist of donations and aid loans.
South Korea, a major producer of artillery shells, has said it was not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, citing its relations with Russia.