Zelenskyy: ‘There Is No Alternative to Ukrainian Victory’

"There is no alternative to Ukrainian victory," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said via video link Friday to the Munich Security Conference. "We have to liberate Ukraine — and Europe. Because when the Russian weapon shoots at us, it is already pointed at our neighbors."

Also attending the gathering was a delegation of about 50 U.S. lawmakers to affirm bipartisan support for U.S. aid to Ukraine. Four delegations of Democratic and Republican leaders and members of the Senate and House joined hundreds of politicians, military officers, and diplomats from around the world at the event.

A woman crosses a makeshift pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of a destroyed road bridge in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2023. A woman crosses a makeshift pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of a destroyed road bridge in Staryi Saltiv, Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2023.

Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 18

The U.S. delegation is one of the largest since the creation of the conference in 1963, U.S. officials said. The Russian invasion on Ukraine has fortified the NATO alliance and the European Union, and it has unified members of the U.S. Congress.

’We are here to send a clear message to this conference and everyone around the world: the U.S. is on a bipartisan basis totally behind the effort of help Ukraine,’ Mitch McConnell, the Democratic-controlled Senate’s Republican minority leader, told Reuters after meeting with conservative German politicians.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing President Joe Biden directly to send F-16 warplanes to Ukraine. Five House members argued in a letter sent Thursday to Biden and obtained by Politico that modern jets that Kyiv has sought, but the administration has so far not agreed to, ‘could prove decisive for control of Ukrainian airspace this year.’

’The provision of such aircraft is necessary to help Ukraine protect its airspace, particularly in light of renewed Russian offensives and considering the expected increase in large-scale combat operations,’ the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was composed by Maine Democrat Jared Golden. Also signing on were Democrats Jason Crow of Colorado and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, and Republicans Tony Gonzales of Texas and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

The lawmakers contend that either the Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-16 or something similar would give Ukrainian forces greater capability than ground-based artillery provided by the U.S. and other nations.

Ukrainian air force spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ignat told VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze that ‘modern multipurpose fighter jets are urgently needed to obtain advantages in the air and land fire support of Ukraine’s troops.

"Given that the F-16 is one of the most common multirole aircraft in the world, which can engage both ground and air targets with a wide range of weapons, this aircraft is the most likely candidate for the progressive rearmament of the air force of Ukraine to this type of fighter,’ he said.

Ignat added that these aircraft would become part of Ukraine’s air defense, as they are capable of effectively destroying enemy cruise missiles and Iranian attack drones.

’We have dozens of pilots with the appropriate level of training and knowledge of the English language,’ he said.

Bakhmut offensive

Ukrainian soldiers are pleading for more weapons as they fight to hold off a Russian offensive on the small eastern city of Bakhmut. Russian rockets and artillery pummeled a residential district in the city on Thursday, killing three men and two women and wounding nine, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said, adding it was being investigated as a war crime.

Nearly one year into the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are intensifying assaults in the east. The Ukrainian government has urged all remaining residents in the city to leave, as heavy fighting is expected to continue.

Russian troops have been trying to take Bakhmut for months, and the city, which once had 70,000 inhabitants, is under virtually constant shelling.

’If you are rational, law-abiding and patriotic citizens, you should leave the city immediately,’ said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She made the appeal via the Telegram messaging app Friday, to what is believed to be about 6,000 people still in the city, in the Donetsk region.

Vereshchuk said those who stay would endanger themselves and their families, but also hinder the work of those who are trying to help them, such as defense and security forces or volunteers.

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence update about Ukraine that it has become "increasingly difficult" for the Kremlin to insulate the Russian population from the war in Ukraine.

"A December 2022 Russian poll reported that 52% had either a friend or relative who had served in the so-called Special Military Operation," the ministry said.