Agenda For Contact Group Meeting Agreed As Ukrainian Forces Claim Successful Use Of HIMARS

Ukrainian and U.S. defense officials have discussed the situation on the ground ahead of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group scheduled to take place later this week.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a telephone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the framework of the upcoming meeting.

"We agreed on the agenda, shared information on the control of arms arriving to Ukraine etc. Also, @SecDef (Austin) has some very good news, but details will come a little later," Reznikov said.

The next meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group will take place on July 20. At the group's last meeting in May, a total of 47 countries took part and 20 of them announced security assistance packages for Ukraine.

Russian shelling of a town in eastern Ukraine early on July 18 killed six people, according to emergency services in the town. Rescue workers dug through debris and cleared rubble from a collapsed two-story building in the town of Toretsk that was struck by Russian artillery.

Toretsk, a town with an estimated population of 30,000 people, is located some 50 kilometers south of Kramatorsk, one of the last Ukrainian-controlled towns in the industrial east.

The head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, said last week that ammunition depots and armored vehicles had been placed at a school in Toretsk, according to TASS.

Moscow-backed separatists claimed later on July 18 that Siversk, a town about 8 kilometers west of the front line, was under their control.

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, said earlier that his forces managed to stabilize the situation along the front line.

Zaluzhniy said on Facebook that in a conversation with U.S. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he explained that the timely arrival of U.S.-supplied high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) had been a factor in Ukrainian forces maintaining their defensive lines.

"We managed to stabilize the situation. It is complex, intense, but completely controlled," Zaluzhniy said on Facebook.

"The HIMARS delivered targeted strikes on enemy control points, ammunition, and fuel-storage warehouses," Zaluzhniy wrote.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, announced in his nightly video message that 1,028 settlements in Ukraine had been liberated from Russian forces, and another 2,621 were still under Russian control.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces "have been able to inflict significant logistical losses on the occupiers," making it increasingly difficult for the Russian army to hold positions on captured territory.

"Step by step, we advance, disrupt supplies for the occupiers, identify and neutralize collaborators. The prospect is obvious: the Ukrainian flag will be in all our towns and villages. The only question is time," he said.

Neither side's claims could not be independently verified.

A Ukrainian military official said on July 17 that Russia was preparing for the next stage of its offensive in Ukraine following orders from Moscow to step up military operations with the goal of fully capturing Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which make up the Donbas, but with attacks in the central, northeast, and south of Ukraine as well.

"It is not only missile strikes from the air and sea," said Vadym Skibitskiy, a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence. "We can see shelling along the entire line of contact, along the entire front line."

Preparations are clearly under way for the next stage of the offensive, Skibitskiy said.

Kyiv has said in recent days that its forces are themselves preparing for a massive counteroffensive to reclaim land previously lost, especially in the south.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and TASS