U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Ukraine in Show of Support

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Monday, vowing support for its government at a time when progress in the war against Russia as well as U.S. military aid have both stalled.

Mr. Austin, who traveled overnight by train, met President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and other senior officials.

“I’m here today to deliver an important message — the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine in their fight for freedom against Russia’s aggression, both now and into the future,” Mr. Austin said. “We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defense requirements,” he added.

Mr. Zelensky said he had discussed the battlefield situation with Mr. Austin. The meeting was particularly important ahead of a videoconference of defense ministers to coordinate military aid to Ukraine that Mr. Austin will host later this week, Mr. Zelensky said in a post on Telegram.

Rallying international backing as well as military aid has been a priority for Mr. Zelensky since Russia’s invasion in February of last year. But the country has faced a difficult few months amid signs of wavering support among some allies and the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, begun in the summer, to achieve its main objectives.

Funding for Ukraine was omitted from a stopgap spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last week, raising concerns about continuing military aid from the United States, which is by far the biggest backer of Kyiv’s war effort.

Some Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, say that aid to Ukraine should be stopped. Mr. Zelensky’s office also said that he met Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of Fox Corporation and News Corp, on Monday. It was unclear whether the meeting was part of a broader effort by Ukraine’s government to bolster its influence in Republican circles.

Mr. Zelensky alluded to the issue of international support for Ukraine in a speech released overnight in which he reiterated his view that Ukraine’s struggle matters beyond his country’s own fate.

“The key thing now is to make sure that support for Ukraine will be sufficient next year as well,” he said. “This signal must be sent to Russia: No matter what they do, the world will not get tired of defending freedom and international order.”

The admission this month by Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, that the war had reached an effective stalemate has not signaled a pause in the fighting along front lines. Ukraine’s general staff said on Monday that its forces had repelled Russian attacks around the small northeastern city of Kupiansk, as well as around Bakhmut, an eastern city that Moscow seized in May after months of fighting that left the city in ruins.

Russian forces have also conducted 60 strikes in the past 24 hours against targets in the Zaporizhzhia region in the south of the country, the general staff said. Ukraine had hoped to cut through Russian lines in the region to retake the cities of Tokmak and eventually Melitopol, on a route to the Sea of Azov. But Russia’s defenses, including minefields, have thwarted that effort.

In recent weeks, however, Ukrainian forces have established a presence on the east bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, near the village of Krynky. The advance, which involved ferrying troops and equipment across the river — a perilous task for any military — could enable Ukraine to drive Russian artillery back from its positions near the river, from where they have relentlessly shelled civilian areas.

Krynky “no longer exists today, because the enemy is trying to destroy the footholds held by our marines,” a spokesman for Ukraine’s volunteer army, Serhiy Bratchuk, said on Ukrainian television on Monday. “Heavy fighting continues. The enemy is using everything it has for firepower, including air weapons, but our positions are being held.”

In the latest toll, Russian shelling killed two people in the Kherson region on Monday, according to a post on Facebook by the prosecutor’s office. Over the last 24 hours, Russia fired more than 300 shells at the region, wounding six people including a child, according to the head of the regional military administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, who wrote on the Telegram messaging app.