President Volodymyr Zelensky denied on Saturday that Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russian forces had hit a stalemate, as hours later Kyiv said it had struck a shipyard in the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

The sprawling frontline between the two warring sides has barely moved in almost a year, with one senior Ukrainian official warning this week that the conflict was deadlocked.

"Time has passed, people are tired... But this is not a stalemate," Zelensky told a press conference in Kyiv with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The Ukrainian leader also denied that Western countries were putting pressure on Kyiv to enter negotiations with Russia, amid reports US and EU officials had discussed what such talks might entail.

"No one among our partners is pressuring us to sit down with Russia, talk to it, and give it something," he said.

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- Strike on Kerch -

Zelensky was speaking just hours before Kyiv claimed a strike on a shipyard in Kerch, on the east coast of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Since launching its counteroffensive against Moscow's forces this summer, Kyiv has ramped up attacks on the Black Sea peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.

Ukraine did not provide further detail, and AFP was not able to immediately verify Ukraine's account.

Ukrainian air force commander Mykola Oleschuk wrote on Telegram that the shipyard was "where one of the most modern ships of the Russian Navy was stationed", capable of carrying powerful supersonic Kalibr missiles.

Ukrainians Capture Russia’s Multi-Million Dollar T-90 Tank in Eastern Sector
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Ukrainians Capture Russia’s Multi-Million Dollar T-90 Tank in Eastern Sector

The Russian T-90 crew abandoned the tank, “a hi-tech weapon system based on a century-long experience” which Putin considers the Kremlin’s most advanced, and then fled the battlefield.

Crimea's Russian-installed governor Sergei Aksyonov said Ukraine had fired missiles at a shipyard in Kerch earlier, but that they had been shot down.

"Some of the debris from the downed missiles fell on the territory of one of the dry docks. There are no casualties," he said on social media.

The nearby Crimean bridge to the Russian mainland, which has been targeted by Ukrainian forces before, was briefly shut on Saturday for undisclosed reasons.

Ukrainian and Russian attacks in and around the Black Sea have intensified since Moscow's withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, which aimed to ensure safe passage to cargo ships.

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With the war now in its 20th month and Ukraine struggling to gain ground in its counteroffensive, Zelensky has regularly met Western leaders to try to stave off fatigue with the conflict.

- 'Existential war' -

Zelensky's comments came as EU Commission chief von der Leyen visited Kyiv to discuss Ukraine's progress toward joining the 27-member bloc.

Kyiv received EU candidacy status several months after Russia invaded last year, but analysts have warned it faces a long and difficult path to membership.

"You have reached many milestones," von der Leyen told Zelensky.

"Reforming your justice system. Curbing the oligarchs grip. Tackling money laundering and much more," she said.

"We should never forget you are fighting an existential war, and at the same time you're deeply reforming your country," she added.

Later, she posted on X, formerly Twitter: "We will continue to support and promote a just and lasting peace for Ukraine.

"Our support is unshakable."

At the news conference, she also said she was "confident" Ukraine would progress with the accession process when these reforms were implemented.

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The EU Commission has proposed an additional 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in funding for Ukraine until 2027, von der Leyen said.

Ukraine's backers, including the United States, have maintained they are ready to support Kyiv with military and financial support for as long as it takes to defeat Russia.

- 'Good signals' -

"Ukraine has come a long way," Zelensky said in his evening address, noting that many had not believed the country could so quickly win EU candidate status while at war.

The country was pressing ahead with measures to strengthen anti-corruption prosecutions and to better regulate lobbying, he added.

And he had heard "good signals" from von der Leyen on Ukraine's progress towards talks on EU membership, he said.

Almost all EU member states back further long-term aid for Kyiv, with only Hungary and Slovakia holding out.

The Commission now has until November 8 to submit a report on how much progress Ukraine and other EU hopefuls Moldova and Georgia have made ahead of a summit of the bloc in December.

Local officials said Russian shelling had killed two people Saturday, a woman in the central Poltava region and a man in the southern Kherson.

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