Ukrainian leader calls for more weapons; Visiting US officials

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Local residents walk near a damaged military vehicle in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

PA

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pressed the West for more powerful weapons as he prepares to meet top US officials in the country’s war-torn capital on Sunday, as Russian forces focus their attacks on the east, in particular by trying to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the beaten country. port of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy announced the planned visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a press conference on Saturday evening at a kyiv metro station. The White House had no comment.

Zelenskyy said he expected the Americans to deliver, both in terms of armaments and security guarantees. “You can’t come empty-handed today, and we’re not just expecting gifts or some kind of cake, we’re expecting specific things and specific weapons,” he said.

The visit would be the first by senior US officials since Russia invaded Ukraine 60 days ago. Blinken briefly visited Ukrainian soil in March to meet the country’s foreign minister during a visit to Poland. Zelenskyy’s last face-to-face with an American leader took place on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.

As the West has funneled military hardware to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that the country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems, as well as fighter jets .

His meeting with Austin and Blinken was to take place as Ukrainians and Russians observed the Orthodox Passover, when worshipers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Speaking from the old Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, underscored the significance of the occasion for a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.

“Today’s big holiday gives us great hope and unshakeable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and thus Ukraine will surely win!” he said.

Yet the war cast a shadow over the celebrations. In the northern village of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks still litter the roads, Olena Koptyl said “Easter holidays bring no joy. I cry a lot. We can’t forget how we lived “.

Victor Lobush, from kyiv, said Ukraine needed more weapons and financial support, and Western countries were “not buying even a drop of Russian oil”.

“Actions, not words, are needed,” he said in Independence Square.

The Russian military reported hitting 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while its fighter jets destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several storage depots. artillery.

Most of Sunday’s fighting focused on the eastern Donbass, where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war. Since failing to capture kyiv, the Russians have been aiming to take full control of the industrial heartland in the East.

Ukrainian national police said two girls, aged 5 and 14, died in shelling in the town of Ocheretyne, which is part of the industrial region.

Russian forces launched new airstrikes on a steel plant in Mariupol where around 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal steelworks where the defenders are entrenched is the last corner of resistance in the city, which the Russians have otherwise occupied.

Zelenskyy said he stressed the need to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including the steel plant, during a call on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is due to speak later with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Guterres is due to visit Turkey on Monday, then Moscow and kyiv. Zelenskyy it was a mistake for Guterres to go to Russia before Ukraine.

“Why? Transmit signals from Russia? What should we be looking for?” Zelenskyy said on Saturday. “There are no corpses strewn on Kutuzovsky Prospect,” he said, referring to the one of the main avenues of Moscow.

Mariupol has seen heavy fighting since the start of the war due to its location on the Sea of ​​Azov. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

It is believed that more than 100,000 people – against a pre-war population of around 430,000 – remained in Mariupol with little food, water or heating. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians were killed. Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves dug in towns west and east of Mariupol.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, called for a localized Easter truce. He urged Russia to allow civilians to leave the steel plant and suggested talks to broker an exit for Ukrainian soldiers.

Podolyak tweeted that the Russian military was attacking the factory with heavy bombs and artillery while accumulating forces and equipment for a direct assault.

During his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy accused the Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians, as well as setting up ‘filtration camps’ near Mariupol for people caught on trains to leave town.

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 says, are children.

The claims could not be independently verified. But they were repeated by Yevheniya Kravchuk, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, on ABC’s “This Week” show.

“They pulled these people out of Mariupol – they’re put in filter camps… that’s kind of something that can’t happen in the 21st century,” Kravchuk said.

Zelenskyy claimed that intercepted communications recorded Russian troops discussing “how they cover up the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol. He also highlighted the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile strike Saturday on the Black Sea port of Odessa.

In attacks on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Russian forces pounded towns and villages in southern and eastern Ukraine. The baby was among eight people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency, citing social media posts, reported that the child’s mother, Valeria Glodan, and her 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 is happening? This is filthy garbage, there are no other words for it.”

For the Donbass offensive, Russia gathered troops who fought around kyiv and in northern Ukraine. The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces repelled numerous assaults last week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces”.

“Poor Russian morale and the limited time to replenish, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely hampering Russia’s combat effectiveness,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.

The spiritual leaders of Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics around the world have called for help for the suffering people of Ukraine.

From Istanbul, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said a “human tragedy” was unfolding. Barthélemy, considered the first among his equal Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, notably cited “the thousands of people surrounded in Mariupol, civilians, including the wounded, the elderly, women and many children”.

Pope Francis, speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, renewed his call for an Easter truce, calling it “a minimal and tangible sign of a desire for peace”.

“The attacks must be stopped, to respond to the suffering of the exhausted population,” François said without naming the attacker.

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Associated Press reporters 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.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine