Senior US Officials Meet Zelensky in Ukraine as Russia Continues to Hit Targets

US Secretaries of State and Defense met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday night in the highest-level visit to the war-torn country’s capital by an American delegation since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was confirmed by Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych in an interview on Ukrainian television.

It came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces were seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol.

“Yes, they are going to meet with the president. Hopefully something will be decided on further aid,” Arestovych said in an interview on Ukrainian television.

Before the session, Zelensky said that he wanted the Americans to produce results, both in weapons and security guarantees.

“You can’t come to us 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.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, here in September 2021, met Sunday night with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the adviser to the president. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/The Associated Press)

Children among civilians in bunker, suggests new video

The meeting came as a recently released video surfaced showing Ukrainian children in an underground bunker in Mariupol receiving Easter gifts.

The video was released on Sunday by the far-right Azov battalion, now part of Ukraine’s National Guard, and is among Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steel mill, where soldiers and civilians took refuge under Russian attack.

The deputy commander of the group, Sviatoslav Palamar, said that the video was shot on Sunday at the plant.

A small child is seen wearing homemade diapers made from cellophane. People hang clothes on makeshift hangers.

This image provided by a far-right armed group that has been incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard appears to show civilians gathering on Orthodox Easter Sunday at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. (Azov Regiment Press Service/Handout/Reuters)

One of the women in the video appeals to world leaders for help, saying she and others trapped under the plant are tired of the bombing and desperate for their freedom.

“We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant air raids on our land. How long will this continue?” she says through tears.

“Children constantly cry here, they want to play and live,” he adds. “Stop this aggression. I ask everyone, please help us, free us!”

Another woman said that there are 600 civilian refugees under the plant, without food or water.

No relaxation of the bombing on Easter Sunday

Earlier, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces continued their attacks in the east on Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Sunday that the Russians fired on Ukrainian positions along the entire line of contact on the 60th day of the war.

He also said that the Russian army has intensified its offensive and assault operations in the Siverodonetsk, Kurakhiv and Popasna directions.

The General Staff added that Russian forces also continued to hit the besieged Azovstal steel plant, hitting it with airstrikes, including long-range aircraft.

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 the Russian invasion. While the West has funneled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelensky has repeatedly stressed that his country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems and fighter jets.

In an apparent boost for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron won re-election over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The result was hailed by France’s allies in the European Union 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 is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.

Russia says it hit Ukrainian explosives factory

The Russians continue to press their offensive in a bid to gain full control of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which is partly in the hands of Moscow-backed separatists.

The Russian military says it has struck a Ukrainian explosives factory, several artillery depots and hundreds of other targets.

The spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that the Russian military used precision-guided missiles to destroy a gunpowder and explosives factory near Pavlohrad in the Dnipro region of central Ukraine: At least one person was killed by a Russian missile in Dnipro, according to his regional governor.

Konashenkov also said that Russian forces also attacked several depots with artillery and rocket ammunition in Barvinkove, Nova Dmytrivka, Ivanivka, Husarivka and Velyka Komyshuvakha in the Kharkiv region.

It added that Russian artillery hit 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while Russian warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military targets.

A boy stands next to a wrecked vehicle in front of a damaged apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol on Sunday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Easter calls for peace

Zelensky spoke of hope and victory for his nation during an Easter Sunday address.

Speaking from the former Saint Sophia Cathedral, he said that “today’s great feast gives us great hope and unshakeable faith that light will conquer darkness, good will conquer evil, life will conquer death and Therefore, Ukraine will surely win!”

He said that “the Lord and the holy heavenly light are on our side”, adding: “We are going through very difficult tests. Let us reach a fair end on this path – the beginning of a happy life and prosperity of Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen at Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv in this photo released on Saturday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

Zelensky said that “on Easter, we ask God for a great grace to make our dream come true, this is another great day, the day when a great peace will come to Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders call for peace.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, called on Saturday for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, saying a “human tragedy” was unfolding in the country.

PHOTOS | Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Easter under the shadow of war:

“Let us ask the Risen Redeemer that this year, (Easter) be the impetus to open humanitarian corridors, safe passages to truly safe areas for the thousands of people surrounded in Mariupol, civilians, including the wounded, the elderly, women and many children”, Bartholomew during midnight mass in Istanbul “The same applies to all other regions of Ukraine, where an unspeakable human tragedy is unfolding.”

Pope Francis renewed his call for an Easter truce.

Without naming countries, Francis urged the aggressors to “stop the attack to help the suffering of the exhausted people.”

Francis told a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square that two months had passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying “instead of stopping, the war got worse. It is sad that on these days which are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians.” , the deadly clamor of weapons is louder than the sound of the bells announcing the Resurrection”.

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