Kyiv, Ukraine (AP)
Ukraine’s leader has called for more powerful Western weapons as he prepares to meet with senior US officials in the war-torn capital on Sunday, and Russian forces have focused their attacks on the east, including trying to drive out the last Ukrainian troops in the devastated port city. Mariupol town.
President Vladimir Zelensky announced a planned visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a lengthy press conference on Saturday night at the Kiev metro station. The White House does not comment.
Zelensky said he was looking for Americans to achieve results, both in terms of armaments and security guarantees. “You will not come to us empty-handed today, and we are not just waiting for gifts or cakes, we are waiting for concrete things and concrete weapons,” he said.
This visit will be the first high-ranking US official since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 60 days ago. Blinken briefly set foot on Ukrainian soil in March to meet with the country’s foreign minister during a visit to Poland. Zelensky’s last personal meeting with the US leader took place on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The meeting was to take place at a time when Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is considered the happiest holiday in the Christian calendar.
Speaking Sunday from the ancient Hagia Sophia, Zelensky, a Jew, stressed the allegorical significance of the event for a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will defeat evil, life will defeat death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said.
Earlier, during a night address to the people, Zelensky claimed that the intercepted communications recorded how the Russian military was discussing “how they are hiding traces of their crimes” in Mariupol. The President also drew attention to the death of a 3-month-old girl as a result of a Russian missile strike on Saturday on the Black Sea port of Odessa.
Zelensky said equipment from Western supporters had so far been of great help, but he also stressed that Ukraine needed heavier weapons, including long-range air defense systems, as well as military aircraft to repel Russian attacks.
The Russian military said it had struck 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while Russian warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military targets, including an explosives plant and several artillery depots.
Most of the fighting on Sunday was concentrated in the eastern Donbass, where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and where Moscow-backed separatists controlled a certain area before the war. As the Russians failed to capture Kyiv, the Russians are seeking full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial center.
Russian troops have carried out new air strikes on the Mariupol steel plant, which is estimated to be home to about 1,000 civilians along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal metallurgical plant, where the defenders are hiding, is the last corner of the resistance in the city, which was otherwise occupied by the Russians.
Adviser to the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podalak called for a localized Easter truce. He called on Russia to allow civilians to leave the plant and offered to negotiate the withdrawal of Ukrainian soldiers.
Podalak wrote on Twitter that the Russian military attacked the plant with heavy bombs and artillery, accumulating forces and equipment for direct assault.
Mariupol has been the site of fierce fighting since the beginning of the war due to its location on the Sea of Azov. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of an important port, free Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to create a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 people – compared to the pre-war population – about 430,000 – remain in Mariupol without food, water and heat. According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 20,000 civilians were killed.
Satellite images published this week show what appear to be mass graves excavated in cities west and east of Mariupol.
Zelensky accused the Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians, as well as setting up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for people caught trying to leave the city. From there, according to him, Ukrainians are sent to areas under Russian occupation, or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East. Many of them, he said, are children.
An independent verification of the claims failed.
During the attacks on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Russian troops attacked cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. A 3-month-old baby was among eight people killed when Russia shelled Odessa with cruise missiles, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian news agency UNIAN with reference to messages on social networks reports that the baby’s mother Valeria Glodan and grandmother also died as a result of a rocket strike in a residential area. Zelensky promised to find and punish those responsible for the strike.
“The war started when this child was a month old,” he said. Can you imagine what’s going on? “They’re dirty bastards, no other words for that.”
To attack the Donbass, Russia again gathered troops who had previously fought near Kiev and northern Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repulsed numerous attacks over the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces”.
“The poor morale of the Russians and the limited time to rebuild, re-equip and reorganize forces after previous attacks are likely to hamper the fighting capacity of the Russians,” the ministry said.
The Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that had died in the war.
A command post was lined up on Friday, killing two generals and seriously injuring another, according to a statement from Ukrainian military intelligence. The Russian military has not commented on the statement, which it has not been able to confirm.
If true, then, according to Ukrainian data, at least nine Russian generals have been killed since the invasion.
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