KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – US Secretary of State Defense and Defense met on Sunday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on a high-profile visit to the country’s capital by a US delegation since the beginning of Russia’s invasion.
The meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, which was confirmed by a senior Ukrainian official, came as Ukraine pressed the West for stronger weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces were searching. to expel the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol.
“Yes, they are meeting with the president. Let’s hope that some further help will be decided,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told Russian lawyer and activist Mark Feygin on his YouTube show “Feygin Live”. commented.
Before the session with Blinken and Austin, Zelenskyy said he was looking for the Americans to create results, both in terms of weapons and security guarantees.
“You can not come empty-handed to us today, and we do not just expect gifts or some kind of cakes, we expect specific things and specific weapons,” he said.
Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with a top US official was on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris, five days before Russia’s invasion. While the West has channeled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that his country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems and warplanes.
As an apparent boost for Ukraine, polling stations said French President Emmanuel Macron would win re-election over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The result was hailed by France’s allies in the EU as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and supply weapons systems to Ukraine.
Zelensky’s meeting with U.S. officials took place as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. In a speech from Kiev’s old St. Sophia Cathedral highlighted Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, its importance to a nation plagued by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will certainly win!” he said.
Yet the war cast a shadow over the festivities. In the northern village of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks were still filled with roads, Olena Koptyl said, “the Easter holiday does not bring any joy. I cry a lot. We can not forget how we lived.”
The Russian military reportedly hit 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while its warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.
Since the Russians failed to conquer Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control of the eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled an area before the war.
Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a Mariupol steel plant, where an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltered along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal steelworks, where the defenders are hollowed out, is the last corner of resistance in the city, otherwise occupied by the Russians.
Zelenskyy said he stressed the need to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including from the steelworks, in a Sunday call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is scheduled to speak later with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Arestovych, Zelenskyy’s adviser, said Ukraine had proposed talks with Russia alongside the sprawling steelworks. Arestovych said on the Telegram messaging app that Russia has not responded to the proposal, which will include the establishment of humanitarian corridors and the exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the fighters still in the facility.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Monday, followed by Moscow and Kiev. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.
“Why? To hand over signals from Russia? What should we look for?” Zelenskyy said on Saturday, “There are no corpses scattered on the Kutuzovsky prospectus,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s highways.
Mariupol has endured fierce fighting since the beginning of the war due to its location on the Sea of Azov. Its conquest would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, release Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it conquered from Ukraine in 2014.
More than 100,000 people – down from a pre-war population of around 430,000 – are believed to be staying in Mariupol with little food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves west and east of Mariupol.
Children in an underground bunker were seen receiving Easter presents in a video released Sunday by the far-right Azov battalion, which is among the Ukrainian forces at the Mariupol steel plant. The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, said the video was recorded at the factory.
A toddler has been seen wearing homemade diapers made of cellophane, and people are seen hanging laundry on makeshift hangers.
“Please help us,” one woman said in the video through tears, appealing to world leaders. “We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant air raids on our country. How long will it continue? “
Mykhailo Podolyak, another presidential adviser, tweeted that the Russian military was attacking the facility with heavy bombs and artillery while gathering forces and equipment for a direct attack.
Zelenskyy on Saturday accused Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians and of setting up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for people trying to leave the city. He said the Ukrainians – many of them children – were then sent to areas under Russian occupation or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East.
The allegations could not be independently verified. But they were repeated by Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniya Kravchuk on ABC’s “This Week”.
“They have pulled these people from Mariupol – they are being put in filtration camps … that’s kind of something that can not happen in the 21st century,” Kravchuk said.
Zelenskyy also claimed that intercepted communications occupied Russian troops discussing “how to hide the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol.
And he highlighted the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile attack on Saturday at the Black Sea port of Odesa. The baby was among eight people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at Odesa, Ukrainian officials said.
The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, which quoted social media, reported that the infant’s mother, Valeria Glodan, and grandmother also died when a missile hit a residential area. Zelenskyy promised to find and punish those responsible.
“The war started when this baby was 1 month old,” Zelenskyy said. “Can you imagine what’s going on? They’re dirty scum; there are no other words for it.”
For the Donbas offensive, Russia has gathered troops fighting around Kiev and in northern Ukraine again. The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had repulsed several attacks in the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces.”
The spiritual leaders of the world Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics appealed for relief to Ukraine’s suffering population.
From Istanbul, the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I said a “human tragedy” was unfolding. Bartholomew, considered the first among his Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, quoted in particular “the thousands of people surrounded in Mariupol, civilians, among them the wounded, the elderly, women and many children.”
Pope Francis spoke from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and renewed his call for an Easter truce, calling it “a minimal and tangible sign of a desire for peace.”
Associated Press journalists Yesica Fisch in Sloviansk, Ukraine, Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Cara Anna, Inna Varenytsia and Oleksandr Stashevskyi in Kviv and AP staff around the world contributed.