Ukraine says it's gaining ground in eastern stronghold

Ukrainian forces say their counteroffensive against Russian invaders is moving ahead in the eastern part of the country.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar wrote in a social media post on Saturday that Ukrainian forces are gradually advancing on two fronts in the suburbs of Bakhmut.

She added that they overcame the enemy and captured many of them.

The Russian defense ministry said that Ukrainian air raids were carried out on Friday on the eastern city of Luhansk. Pro-Russian groups effectively control the area.

Russia says the Storm Shadow cruise missiles provided by Britain were used in the attack.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that a Russian fighter jet, a fighter bomber and two helicopters crashed on Saturday in the Bryansk region of Russia, which borders Ukraine.

The newspaper cited experts' opinions that the aircraft are likely to have been downed by enemy fire.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday and asked for his support to achieve peace.

It was his first meeting with the pontiff since the Russian invasion began more than a year ago.

The Vatican said in a statement that the two agreed on the need to continue humanitarian support for Ukraine.

Also on Saturday, the German defense ministry announced additional military aid of 2.7 billion euros, or about three billion dollars, doubling the country's military support to Ukraine.

German media reported that the package includes 30 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and air defense systems.