Ukrainian National Guard servicemen take part in military exercises outside Kyiv
Ukrainian National Guard servicemen take part in military exercises outside Kyiv AFP

Ukraine said on Tuesday it had downed an entire barrage of Russian drones and missiles overnight -- including six advanced Kinzhal missiles -- hours ahead of a visit from a special envoy dispatched by China.

The wave of strikes came just over a week after Kyiv announced it had shot down a Kinzhal missile for the first time, using US-supplied Patriot systems.

Ukraine's mounting success in taking out dozens of Russian drones and missiles illustrates its bolstered air defences, after a winter of systemic strikes on key infrastructure.

"Another unbelievable success for the Ukrainian Air Forces!" Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in a Twitter post.

The defence ministry said Ukrainian air defence systems had knocked out a total of 18 missiles, including types the Kremlin had touted as "ideal", as well as nine drones.

Beijing's special envoy, high-ranking diplomat Li Hui, is expected to arrive in Kyiv for a two-day visit, as part of a European tour to promote Beijing-led peace negotiations on the war in Ukraine.

"He's expected to meet the FM (foreign minister) and other high-ranking officials," a Ukraine government source told AFP without giving details.

Li will become the highest-ranking Chinese diplomat to visit the war-torn country since Moscow's invasion last year and his trip comes three weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by telephone to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Beijing has said the aim of the tour is to "communicate with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis".

Xi, who has aimed to position China as neutral and a would-be mediator, visited Moscow in March and has been criticised for refusing to condemn the Kremlin's war on its neighbour.

Li's visit also comes after Zelensky wrapped up a whirlwind tour of major European capitals to urge Ukraine's allies to increase military support.

His tour to shore up military assistance to help make his troops more battle ready began in Italy, with weekend visits to France and Germany, followed by a stop in the UK.

But Zelensky has yet to succeed in his coveted goal of enlisting Western fighter jets to seize command of the skies, although UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Monday preparations to open a flight school to train Ukrainian pilots.

France, too, has offered to train Ukrainian fighter pilots, although President Emmanuel Macron ruled out sending warplanes to Kyiv.

Nevertheless, Zelensky said late on Monday he was "returning home with new defence packages".

On the front line, fighting has picked up in the eastern Donetsk region, in particular for the battle-scarred city of Bakhmut.

Ukraine has been posting its first gains around the city in weeks over recent days and the head of Russia's Wagner paramilitary group has blasted Moscow's performance around the key city.

The commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Tuesday he had visited Bakhmut to hand out awards to troops fighting in the longest battle of the invasion.

"Wagner's men went into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap," he said.

"Using the principle of active defence, we are using counter-offensive actions in some areas near Bakhmut," he added.

The head of the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, announced on Tuesday that five civilians had been killed and four more injured in fighting in the previous 24 hours.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Britain on Monday
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Britain on Monday AFP