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In this photo provided by the Ukrainian 10th Mountain Assault Brigade 'Edelweiss', a Ukrainian soldier holds an anti-drone gun on his position near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Nov. 23.Shandyba Mykyta/The Associated Press

Ukraine launched one of the biggest drone attacks on the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula since the full-scale war that started with Russia’s invasion 21 months ago, Russian officials said Friday. They did not mention any casualties or damage.

At the same time, Ukrainian officials reported that the Kremlin’s forces escalated their weekslong and costly attempt to storm Avdiivka, a strategically important city in eastern Ukraine.

The stepped-up efforts came as both sides are keen to show they are not deadlocked as the fighting approaches 2024. Neither side has gained much ground despite a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in June, and analysts predict the war will be a long one.

With winter weather setting in, bringing snow and freezing temperatures to the battlefield, Ukraine and Russia are looking to take ground that could provide platforms for future advances.

The Moscow-appointed governor for the Russian-occupied part of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said Ukraine launched a major drone attack on Crimea early Friday. He claimed that dozens of drones were shot down over the province and the northern part of Crimea.

Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world considered illegal, and has used it as a staging and supply point during the war.

The Russian Defense Ministry said air defences downed 13 Ukrainian drones over Crimea and three more over southern Russia’s Volgograd region.

Ukrainian officials did not comment on the Russian reports.

It was not possible to independently verify either side’s battlefield claims.

Russia has been trying to capture Avdiivka since Oct. 10, using heavy bombardments and reportedly taking heavy losses. The city is wrecked, and the battle has become reminiscent of the fight over the eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut, which was largely destroyed during nine months of fighting before Russian troops eventually captured it.

Avdiivka lies in the northern suburbs of Donetsk, a city in a region of the same name that Russian forces partially occupy. Avdiivka’s location grants Ukrainian forces artillery advantages over the city and could serve as a springboard for them to liberate Donetsk.

After intense artillery and aerial bombardments, Russian troops attacked the heavily fortified city from an additional direction and spread along the line of contact whereas before they attacked in columns, Vitalii Barabash, the head of Avdiivka’s military administration, said Friday.

The city is enduring up to 40 bombardments daily, he said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said Ukraine needed to secure three key “victories” abroad, including the approval of major aid packages from the U.S. Congress and European Union, and a formal start of accession talks to join the bloc.

Twenty months into Russia’s full-scale invasion, fatigue has crept into the West’s relations with Kyiv, which heavily relies on its allies for military, economic and humanitarian aid to battle on against the Kremlin’s troops.

“We need three victories. The first one is the victory with U.S. Congress. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy but Ukraine is doing everything,” Mr. Zelensky told a news conference in Kyiv.

U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve many billions of dollars in assistance for Ukraine last month, but Kyiv funding was omitted from a stop-gap spending bill passed last week, raising concerns it may not get through.

A vocal bloc of Republicans oppose sending more aid to Ukraine. Opponents of the aid have said U.S. taxpayer money should be spent at home, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support supplying aid.

Mr. Zelensky also zeroed in on a 50-billion-euro package from the European Union that was announced earlier for Ukraine, but has not yet been approved and is so far opposed by Hungary.

“The second is we need the help from the EU on the 50-billion-euro package,” the Ukrainian leader said. “And the third is to open a dialogue about our future membership.”

Kyiv hopes the European Union’s members will agree at a summit on Dec. 14-15 to formally launch the long process of talks for Kyiv to join the bloc, a move he said would be good for Ukrainian morale.

Mr. Zelensky made the comments at a joint news conference with Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics who said he was sure the EU aid package would pass, though he added that it could take longer than expected to do so.

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