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Zelenskyy fights for aid in Washington as Russia appears to step up its offensive

A U.S. aid deal has stalled amid disagreements over immigration policies and growing Republican skepticism about providing Ukraine with more military help.
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As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleads with reluctant senators in Washington to greenlight military aid this week, Russia is raining ballistic missiles on Kyiv in what appears to be an intensifying campaign. 

In the first major attack on the Ukrainian capital in months, Kyiv officials said Russia used “ballistic type” missiles early Monday. Ukraine’s air force later said eight ballistic missiles were shot down over Kyiv, but city officials said debris fell on buildings in several districts, causing injuries.

The NBC News team on the ground heard loud explosions several minutes ahead of the air raid siren. While the Ukrainian capital is well-guarded with air defense systems supplied by the West, the speed of ballistic missiles makes them harder to intercept.

The attack led to power outages in some parts of Kyiv after power stations were damaged. This raised fears that Russia was ramping up its attack on the country's power grid in a repeat of last year’s campaign, which frequently left millions without power in the midst of freezing winter weather. Late last month, Ukraine’s capital suffered what officials said was Russia’s largest drone attack of the war so far.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in United States
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Washington on Monday. Anadolu via Getty Images

The apparent intensification comes after Ukraine's vaulted counteroffensive earlier this year failed to recapture significant amounts of occupied territory, and during Zelenskyy's hurriedly-organized visit to Washington, where he was meeting with President Joe Biden and hoping to convince Congress to greenlight the $61 billion military aid package.

The aid deal has stalled amid disagreements over U.S. immigration policies and growing Republican skepticism about providing Ukraine with more military help. Washington has committed far more military aid to Ukraine than any other country.

Around the same time last year, Zelenskyy received a hero's welcome as he addressed Congress on his first trip outside wartime Ukraine as Republicans were preparing to take control of the House.

One of Zelenskyy’s top aides said last week that if the United States postpones aid to Ukraine, there is a “big risk” the country could lose the war. The White House has also warned that the lack of aid would not only “kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield,” but also increase the likelihood of Russian military victories.

The Western-supplied weapons and ammunition have helped Ukraine stand its ground across a front line that stretches for hundreds of miles, but they have not made major gains against Russian forces.

And with global attention increasingly diverted toward the war in Gaza, Ukraine has been struggling to maintain its place in international headlines — something that Zelenskyy said could be lethal for his country’s ability to get more aid and, ultimately, its very survival.

"The world’s focus of attention is moving due to events in the East," Zelenskyy said in a briefing with reporters last month. "We have no right to make a mistake, it will be lethal for us."

The Kremlin, meanwhile, dismissed Zelenskyy's efforts in Washington.

Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a daily briefing that Zelenskyy's meeting with Biden wouldn't change the course of the war. Any new funds for Kyiv would meet the same fate as the “tens of billions of dollars pumped into Ukraine” already that “did not help it gain any success on the battlefield,” he said, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.

In fact, Ukrainian forces prompted surprise around the world when they successfully faced down the far larger and more powerful Russian military after the February 2022 invasion.

A man inspects a destroyed house that was damaged as a
A Russian missile attack on a house in Kyiv on Monday.Sergei Chuzavkov / SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images

But recent Russian advances have spooked Ukrainian officials and the country's allies.

For weeks, Ukraine’s army command has been warning that Russian troops are trying to surround the town of Avdiivka to expand Moscow's partial control over the eastern Donbas region. And on Tuesday, the Russian-installed head of the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, where Ukraine focused its initial counteroffensive push this summer, said that Russian troops were on the offensive near the village of Novopokrovka, and that Ukraine was suffering heavy losses. Both Russia and Ukraine claim high personnel losses on the other side, but have not reported their own casualties.

“The situation is consistently tense, but our guys continue to not only hold the line, but also steadily move forward,” Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-proxy governor of the region which was partially annexed by Russia last year, said on the Telegram app.

Ukraine said early Tuesday that it was deflecting Russian attacks in the area.