Leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that they would not back down from their support for Ukraine, as he claimed to have conquered the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Kyiv disputed.
The presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy aboard a French government jet to canvass for further support against Russia’s invasion energized the Group of Seven (G7) conference in the Japanese city of Hiroshima this weekend.
Zelenskiy told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that the battered eastern city of Bakhmut, the focus of fighting in recent months, was destroyed.
“It is tragedy,” Zelenskiy said. “There is nothing on this place” – what remained was “a lot of dead Russians.”
There was confusion over whether he had been asked if the city was still in Kyiv’s hands or Russian forces had taken Bakhmut, but a Zelenskiy spokesperson said the comments were a denial the city had fallen.
Zelenskiy later made his way to Hiroshima’s peace memorial, where he laid flowers at the cenotaph to victims of the world’s first nuclear bombing. He is also expected to give a speech in a nation that has seen an outpouring of support for Kyiv’s fight.
During the final day of the three-day G7 summit, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a $375 million package of military aid, including artillery and armored vehicles, for Ukraine.
He told Zelenskiy the United States was doing all it could to strengthen Ukraine’s defense against Russia.
“Together with the entire G7 we have Ukraine’s back and I promise we’re not going anywhere,” Biden said.
Putin hailed what he said was a victory for his forces, describing it as the “liberation” of Bakhmut in a statement on the Kremlin’s website.
The assault on the largely levelled city was led by troops from the Wagner Group of mercenaries, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said his troops had finally pushed the Ukrainians out of the last built-up area inside the city.