All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.
Kyiv's counter-offensive is "gaining ground", says Stoltenberg
The Ukrainian counter-offensive against the Russian army is "gradually gaining ground", NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Kyiv on Thursday, as he denounced Moscow's "imperialist ravings".
"Today your forces are advancing. They are facing fierce fighting, but they are gradually gaining ground little by little," Stoltenberg said.
"Ukrainians are fighting for their families" and "their freedom" and "Moscow is fighting for its imperialist delusions", he added.
The remarks were made during a visit by the Secretary-General, who met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russian Aerospace Forces have lost around 90 aircraft, claims UK MoD
A report on developments in the war in Ukraine, released by the UK Ministry of Defence on Thursday, said that the Russian Aerospace Forces had lost around 90 fixed-wing aircraft in hostilities since February 2022.
The statement said that all aircraft have a life expectancy in flight hours, and because the country is using them more, it will exhaust the life expectancy of many of its airframes much faster than the Russian Aerospace Forces had planned.
Meanwhile, Russian military spending is set to rise by almost 70% by 2024, according to a Finance Ministry document published on Thursday – a surge that illustrates Moscow's determination to continue its military intervention in Ukraine despite the human and economic costs.
According to the document, defence spending will increase by 68% in 2024 compared to the previous year, reaching 10,800 billion roubles (€106 billion at today's exchange rate).
Pro-war reporters sent pig heads
At least three Russian journalists who have publicly supported Moscow's aggression in Ukraine have received decapitated pig heads.
State media columnist Timofey Sergeitsev was the latest to receive one, joining military expert Konstantin Sivkov and TASS news agency photojournalist Mikhail Tereshchenko, according to The Moscow Times.
Sergeitsev, who penned a controversial opinion piece calling for the murder of Ukrainian civilians last year, found the pig's head inside a black bag at his doorstep on Tuesday.
State-run news agency Rossiya Segodnya said a police investigation is underway to identify the senders, yet no suspects have been named yet.
All three journalists have also received death threats previously, asking to withdraw their support for the Ukraine invasion.
Bulgaria approves more military aid to Ukraine
Bulgaria’s parliament approved Wednesday the provision of additional military aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Lawmakers voted 141-40 behind closed doors, with three abstentions, in favour of supplying Ukraine with Soviet-era missiles, the state-run BTA news agency reported.
"These are defective surface-to-air missiles S-300 that Bulgaria cannot repair but can be used by the Ukrainian army," Bulgaria's Defense Commission President Hristo Gadjev said.
Experts say Ukraine should be able to repair or use them as spare parts.
Bulgaria has large weapon stocks and its factories have been producing at full capacity since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
A member of the EU and NATO, yet historically and culturally close to Moscow, Bulgaria refused for months to provide any military aid to Ukraine before changing course in June, under the impetus of a new pro-Western government.
The Balkan country has since decided to send around 100 armoured vehicles and will also supply ammunition for small arms from police stocks.
But the political class remains deeply divided on the subject.
The socialist opposition announced it had boycotted the vote, castigating a "national betrayal".
President Roumen Radev has repeatedly opposed any military aid for Ukraine, fearing escalation and angering the Kremlin. He accused the government and Parliament of behaving as "donors to foreign armies" after the vote.
Ukraine thwarts flurry of overnight drone attacks
Kyiv said its air defence systems destroyed more than 30 drones during a Russian attack in the southern regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.
Natalya Gumenyuk, spokesman for the Ukrainian army's southern command, referred to the incident as "a massive attack" on Telegram.
"However, our air defence's work has been quite effective," she added.
The Ukrainian General Staff said the attack involved Iranian-made Shahed (martyr) drones, a cheap but often effective weapon.
Russian forces regularly target Odesa, a southern region of Ukraine overlooking the Black Sea, where port infrastructure for maritime trade is located.
Attacks have multiplied since the abandonment of the grain deal in July, which allowed Ukraine to export its agricultural production freely.
Ukraine advances towards Bakhmut
Ukrainian forces made advances near the western Zaporizhia Oblast and fiercely contested city of Bakhmut, the Institute for Study of War said on Wednesday.
Analysis of recent geolocated footage indicates increased Ukrainian military presence, near Orikhovo-Vasylivka, just 10km northwest of Bakhmut.
The US-based think tank also said Russian forces likely no longer control a roughly one-kilometer-long trench line west of Verbove.
Further Ukrainian advances, as a result of the absence of Russian forces, can be expected as the “trench line is no longer a significant obstacle,” it added.
Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi said “there will be good news” soon, hinting at the “steady advancement” of the Ukrainian forces.
Bakhmut has witnessed one of the longest and deadliest battles in the Russian invasion, with both sides claiming control over the city multiple times.
Russian forces declared victory in the eastern city in May, after which the Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts ramped up.