The European Union signalled its long-term support for Ukraine on Monday as its foreign ministers convened in Kyiv for a historic first gathering beyond the bloc's borders.

The meeting came as disagreements grow among EU members over support for Ukraine and as Kyiv's forces make limited gains in a high-stakes counteroffensive against Russian troops in the south and east of the country.

"We are convening in a historic meeting of the EU foreign ministers here in Ukraine, candidate country and future member of the EU," the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The purpose of the meeting was to "express our solidarity and support to the Ukrainian people", he said, acknowledging that the gathering "does not have the aim of reaching concrete conclusions and decisions".

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President Volodymyr Zelensky told the ministers that the length of the war, now in its twentieth month, will depend entirely on support Ukraine receives from its allies.

"Our victory directly depends on our cooperation: the more strong and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end," Zelensky said in a statement.

To bring about a speedy end to fighting, he urged the EU to expand its sanctions regime on Russia and Iran, which has supplied attack drones for Russian forces.

And he also called for the "acceleration" of work by the bloc to direct "frozen Russian assets to finance the restoration of war-torn Ukraine."

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The EU's 27 nations have remained broadly united through the war on their support for Ukraine, hitting Russia with 11 rounds of sanctions and spending billions of euros on arms for Kyiv.

But there are growing fears of cracks appearing within the bloc as concern also rises over the support of key backer the United States, where a deal this weekend left out fresh funding for Ukraine due to opposition from hardline Republicans.

Hungary, Russia's closest ally in the EU, could now be joined by Slovakia as a potential block to more backing as populist Robert Fico pushes for power in Bratislava after winning elections this weekend.

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There have also been tensions between Kyiv and some of its most strident backers – most notably Poland – over the influx of Ukrainian grain onto their markets.

France's top diplomat Catherine Colonna appeared to address the concerns, saying the meeting was a signal to Moscow of the bloc's "lasting support for Ukraine, until it can win".

"It is also a message to Russia that it should not count on our fatigue. We will be there for a long time to come."

The Kremlin, which anticipated a lightning-fast takeover of Ukraine, is counting on Western countries tiring in their support for Kyiv, and said Monday that fatigue over Ukraine "will grow". 

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meanwhile called for a strategy to limit the fallout from a feared campaign of Russian strikes on Ukraine's energy grid in the coming months as temperatures drop.

"Ukraine needs a winter protection plan of air defence, generators and a strengthening of the energy supply," she said. "We saw last winter the brutal way in which the Russian president wages this war."

Ukrainian authorities say Russia has launched systemic aerial attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, a strategy that last year left millions without heating or water.

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Foreign ministers from Hungary, Poland and Latvia did not attend the summit, a Ukrainian government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Polish and Latvian representatives were ill, the official said. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine in February 2022 and his army swept quickly through large swathes of the south and east of the country but were beaten back from the north.

In June, Kyiv launched a long-awaited counteroffensive but has acknowledged slow progress as its forces encounter deep lines of heavily fortified Russian defences.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said Monday that Russia had shelled the city of Kherson in the south, critically wounding a civilian and two police.

One of the policemen later died.

Officials also said a civilian was killed by Russian fire in the nearly encircled town of Avdiivka in the war-battered Donetsk region in the east. Another civilian was killed in the eastern village of Torske.

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