NATO Chief Says Ukraine 'Gradually Gaining Ground' As Kyiv Repels Massive Russian Drone Barrage

Ukrainian forces were "gradually gaining ground" in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a previously unannounced visit to Kyiv on September 28, hours after the Ukrainian military said it had repelled a massive wave of Russian drone attacks on southern Ukraine.

"(Ukrainian troops) face fierce fighting, but they are gradually gaining ground, Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"Every meter that Ukrainian forces regain is a meter that Russia loses.... Moscow is fighting for imperialist delusions," Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief also announced that the alliance has framework contracts in place for 2.4 billion euros ($2.53 billion) of key ammunition for Kyiv, including 1 billion euros in firm orders.

Stoltenberg said Ukraine's ties with the 30-member alliance had never been so close. "Ukraine is now closer to NATO than ever before," he said.

"We are doing everything to bring this time closer," Zelensky said.

At a crucial summit in July, NATO leaders said in a statement that Ukraine's future is inside the alliance, but the bloc will extend an invitation to Kyiv only when "members agree and conditions are met."

The Ukrainian president also called on the alliance to beef up Kyiv's air-defense systems ahead of expected Russian strikes on Ukraine's energy facilities as the cold season approaches.

"The Secretary-General agreed to undertake efforts to help and to support us in this matter, to mobilize the member states of the alliance," Zelensky said, adding, "We need to get through this winter together, to protect our energy infrastructure and people's lives."

Zelenskiy's appeal came just hours after Ukraine's air defense said it had destroyed 34 out of the 44 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia early on September 28.

"Fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile units and mobile fire groups were involved in repelling the attack," the air defense said in a message, adding that six Russian reconnaissance drones had also been downed overnight.

Earlier on September 28, Ukrainian military spokeswoman Nataliya Humenyuk said Russia launched a wave of drone attacks along the entire southern Ukraine.

"Several groups of strike UAVs were launched.... Air defense worked along almost the entire southern direction in the Odesa, Mykolayiv regions. Also, much higher north -- the enemy aimed its attacks at central Ukraine," Humenyuk said.

WATCH: Amid their grinding counteroffensive, Ukrainian troops are training on donated German mobile-bridge equipment that could help them cross rivers and defensive Russian anti-tank ditches.

Russia "does not stop the pressure and searching for new tactics, namely with the use of mass attacks," Humenyuk said on Telegram.

The latest attack came after the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson came under Russian shelling late on September 27.

Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the regional military administration, announced around 10 p.m. local time that Kherson was under massive shelling. Russia has regularly shelled the Ukrainian-controlled part of Kherson since Moscow withdrew from the regional capital last year.

Russian drone attacks and shelling on September 26 briefly disrupted the rail link between Kherson and the city of Mykolayiv, which was also under air alert on September 27.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 26 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours, repelling several waves of Russian attacks against their positions in the eastern region of Donetsk, mainly in the Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Mariynka areas, while consolidating their hold on the village of Robotyne in the south in the face of Russian attempts to retake it, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said in it daily report on September 28.

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Key Words: Russia, Ukraine, Russo-Ukrainian War, NATO, Counteroffensive

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