US Secretaries of State and Defense met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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 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.
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“Yes, they are going to meet with the president. Let’s hope that something will be decided on further aid,” Arestovych said in an interview on Ukrainian television.
Before the session, Zelenskyy said 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.
The visit would be the first by top US officials since Russia invaded 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. Zelenskyy’s last face-to-face meeting with a top US official was on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.
While the West has funneled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that it needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems, as well as fighter jets.
In an apparent boost for Ukraine, polling agencies 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 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.
Zelenskyy’s meeting with US officials was timed for Ukrainians and Russians to observe Orthodox Easter, when worshipers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Speaking from kyiv’s former Saint Sophia Cathedral, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, stressed his importance to a nation devastated by nearly two months of war.
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“Today’s big holiday gives us great hope and unshakeable faith that light will defeat darkness, good will defeat evil, life will defeat death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said.
Still, the war overshadowed the celebrations. In the northern town of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks still lined the roads, Olena Koptyl said “Easter holidays don’t bring any joy. I’m crying a lot. We cannot forget how we lived.”
kyiv’s Victor Lobush said Ukraine needs more arms and financial support, and Western nations “don’t buy a drop of Russian oil.”
“Actions are needed, not words,” he said at the Plaza de la Independencia.
The Russian military reported hitting 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.
Most of Sunday’s fighting was centered in the Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and where Moscow-backed separatists controlled part of the territory before the war. Since they failed to capture kyiv, the Russians intend to gain full control over the industrial heartland to the east.
Ukraine’s national police said two girls, ages 5 and 14, were killed in a shelling in the town of Ocheretyne, part of the industrial region.
Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a Mariupol steel plant, where some 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal steelworks, where the defenders are hiding, is the last corner of resistance in the city, which the Russians have otherwise occupied.
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Zelenskyy said he emphasized the need to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including from the steel plant, in a call Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is scheduled to speak later with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Zelenskyy’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said Ukraine has proposed talks with Russia over the expanding steel plant. Arestovych said on the Telegram messaging app that Russia has not responded to the proposal that would include the establishment of humanitarian corridors and the exchange of Russian prisoners of war for fighters still at the plant.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Guterres is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Monday and then to Moscow and kyiv. Zelenskyy it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.
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“Why? To deliver signals from Russia? What should we look for?” Zelenskyy said on Saturday. “There are no corpses scattered on Kutuzovsky Prospect,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main avenues.
Mariupol has seen fierce 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 Ukraine seized in 2014.
More than 100,000 people _ down from the prewar population of about 430,000 _ are believed to remain in Mariupol with little food, water or heating. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves to the west and east of Mariupol.
Mykhailo Podolyak, another presidential adviser, tweeted that the Russian military was attacking the plant with heavy bombs and artillery while amassing forces and equipment for a direct attack.
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During a Saturday 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 those trying to leave the city. He said the Ukrainians, many of them children, are then sent to areas under Russian occupation or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East.
The claims could not be independently verified. But they were echoed by Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniya Kravchuk on ABC’s “This Week.”
“They have taken these people out of Mariupol, they put them in filtration camps… it is something that cannot be happening in the 21st century,” Kravchuk said.
Zelenskyy claimed that the intercepted communications recorded Russian troops discussing “how they hide the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol. He also highlighted the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile attack on the Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday.
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In Saturday’s attacks, Russian forces targeted cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. The baby was among eight people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukrainian officials said.
The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, citing social media, reported that the baby’s mother, Valeria Glodan, and grandmother were also killed 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? They are filthy scum, there are no other words for that.”
For the Donbas offensive, Russia has reassembled troops that fought around kyiv and in northern Ukraine. The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous attacks in the past week and “inflicted a significant cost on Russian forces.”
“Low Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely to hamper Russian combat effectiveness,” the ministry said.
The spiritual leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics called for relief for the suffering population of Ukraine.
From Istanbul, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said a “human tragedy” was unfolding. Bartholomew, considered the first among his equal Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, cited in particular “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.”
Associated Press writers 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.