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Ukraine’s leader called for more powerful Western weapons as he prepared to meet with top US officials in the war – torn country’s capital on Sunday, and Russian forces concentrated their attacks on the east, including attempts to drive out the last Ukrainian troops to endure. the battered port city of Mariupol.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the planned visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a lengthy press conference Saturday night held at a subway station in Kiev. The White House has not commented.
Zelenskyy said he was looking for Americans to be able to produce 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.
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The visit would be the first by senior U.S. officials since Russia invaded Ukraine 60 days ago. Blinken briefly entered Ukrainian soil in March to meet with the country’s foreign minister during a visit to Poland. Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with a US leader was on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The meeting was to take place as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter, celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ and are considered the most joyous holiday on the Christian calendar.
In a Sunday speech from the old St. Sophia Cathedral highlighted Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, the allegorical significance of the event for 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.
Earlier, during his nightly speech to the nation, Zelenskyy claimed that intercepted communications occupied Russian troops discussing “how to hide the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol. The president also highlighted the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile attack on Saturday at the port of Odesa on the Black Sea.
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Zelenskyy said equipment from Western supporters has been a big help so far, but he has also stressed that Ukraine needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems and warplanes, to ward off Russian attacks.
The Russian military reportedly hit 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while Russian warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.
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Most of the fighting on Sunday focused on the eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war. Since the failure to conquer Kiev, the Russians aim to gain full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a steel plant in Mariupol, where an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltered along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighter jets. The Azovstal steelworks, where the defenders are hollowed out, is the last corner of resistance in the city that the Russians have otherwise occupied.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, called for a local Easter ceasefire. He called on Russia to allow civilians to leave the factory and proposed negotiations to negotiate an exit for the Ukrainian soldiers.
Podolyak tweeted that the Russian military was attacking the facility with heavy bombs and artillery while gathering forces and equipment for a direct attack.
Mariupol has been the focus of fierce fighting since the start 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.
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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.
Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be mass graves dug in cities west and east of Mariupol.
Zelenskyy accused the Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians, as well as of setting up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for people taken in attempting to leave the city. From there, he said, 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.
The allegations could not be independently verified.
In attacks on the eve of the Orthodox Easter, Russian forces beat cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. A 3-month-old 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 for the strike.
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“The war started when this baby was a month old,” he said. Can you imagine what happens? “They are dirty scum, there are no other words for it.”
For the Donbas offensive, Russia has regrouped troops that previously fought around Kiev and in northern Ukraine. The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repulsed several attacks in the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces.”
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstruct, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely an obstacle to Russian combat efficiency,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.
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The Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that had fallen to Russian forces early in the war.
The command post was hit on Friday, killing two generals and seriously injuring another, the Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement. The Russian military did not comment on the claim, which could not be confirmed.
If true, at least nine Russian generals have been killed since the beginning of the invasion, according to Ukrainian reports.