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Ukrainian officials were hailing the formation of a new “international jet coalition” to provide advanced F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy held bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

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It “looks like Santa Claus does exist,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov posted on Twitter on May 20.

“A new jet coalition was born today,” he wrote. “F-16 were crafted to beat the bad guys. Their time is now!”

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, claimed that Russian fighters had taken full control of the Donetsk regional city of Bakhmut, focal point of brutal fighting over recent months. The report could not be independently confirmed, and Prigozhin has made similar claims in the past only to backtrack later. Ukrainian officials quickly denied the report.

Zelenskiy arrived in Japan for talks aimed at boosting international support for Ukraine’s effort to fend off Russia’s 15-month-old invasion, with the particular goal of securing F-16s.

The same day, the G7 issued a statement pledging to take “new steps to ensure that Russia’s illegal aggression against the sovereign state of Ukraine fails and to support the Ukrainian people in their quest for a just peace rooted in respect for international law.”

Zelenskiy met with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, after which he posted on Telegram that he had thanked Sunak for “the leadership of the United Kingdom in the international jet-fighter coalition.”

Late on May 19, the United States said it would facilitate the transfer of F-16s from allies to Ukraine and allow the training of Ukrainian pilots. Immediately after the U.S. announcement, Sunak said Britain would “work together with the U.S.A. and the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko was quoted on May 20 as saying the West would run “colossal risks” by providing F-16s, which are far more capable than the Soviet-era fighters Ukraine currently deploys.

Grushko accused the West of “still adhering to the escalation scenario” in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy also met face-to-face for the first time since Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram that the two leaders discussed demining efforts in Ukraine and Kyiv’s need for mobile hospitals.

Zelenskiy also met with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

The Ukrainian president will participate in a session of the G7 summit on May 21.

A U.S. Air Force F-16

A U.S. Air Force F-16

On the battlefield, Russian air strikes hit several locations in Ukraine overnight, including the capital, Kyiv.

Ukrainian military authorities said the country had weathered more than 60 air strikes over the last 24 hours, as well as dozens of attacks on its troop positions. Eighteen drones were shot down over the capital during the night, Ukrainian officials said.

“Overnight, the aggressor again carried out a massive drone strike,” wrote Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, in a post on Telegram. “All detected air targets were destroyed by…our air defense.”

Falling debris caused a fire in a residential building, but no casualties were reported.

Explosions also rocked the city of Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv.

At the site of one of the longest battles of the war, mercenary leader Prigozhin said that “today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken.”

He said his fighters would pull out of the city starting on May 25 and turn the area over to regular Russian troops.

However, Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told Reuters that “this is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”

The Ukrainian military did report fresh Russian attacks in the area around the city.

“Over the past 24 hours, there have been more than 80 combat clashes on…the front,” the military said in its daily briefing. “The hottest battles were fought in Bakhmut and Maryinka, as well as in the areas of Avdiyivka, Stepove, and Novomykhailivka.”

RFE/RL could not independently verify battlefield reports.

Several explosions were reported in the Russian-occupied Azov Sea port city of Mariupol. Russian media reported that the blasts hit the city’s airport.

The Mariupol blasts came on the first anniversary of Russia’s seizure of the city following months of heavy fighting that caused massive damage and loss of life.

On March 16, 2022, Russia bombed a theater in which hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, were sheltering. Ukrainian officials said at the time that about 300 people were killed in the incident.

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