Ukrainian leader demands 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)

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

Ukraine’s leader has called for stronger Western weapons as he prepares to meet senior US officials in the country’s war-torn capital on Sunday and Russian forces have focused their attacks on the east, including trying to dislodge the last remaining Ukrainian troops in the battered port city. from 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 at a kyiv metro station on Saturday evening. The White House had no comment.

Zelenskyy said he expected the Americans to deliver results, 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.

The meeting was to take place as Ukrainians and Russians observed the Orthodox Passover, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and considered the most joyous holiday in the Christian calendar.

Speaking Sunday from the ancient Saint Sophia Cathedral, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, underscored the allegorical significance of the occasion for a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.

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

Earlier, during his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy claimed that intercepted communications recorded Russian troops discussing “how they cover up the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol. The president also highlighted the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile strike on the Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday.

Zelenskyy said equipping Western partisans had been a big help so far, but he also pointed out that Ukraine needed more heavy weaponry, including long-range air defense systems , as well as combat aircraft to repel Russian attacks.

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

Most of Sunday’s fighting focused on the eastern region of 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 of eastern Ukraine.

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.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, called for a localized Easter truce. He urged Russia to allow civilians to leave the factory 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.

Mariupol has been at the center of 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 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.

Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be mass graves dug in towns west and east of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy accused the Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians, as well as setting up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for people caught leaving 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 says, are children.

The claims could not be independently verified.

In attacks on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Russian forces pounded towns and villages in southern and eastern Ukraine. The 3-month-old 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 for the strike.

“The war started when this baby was a month old,” he said. Can you imagine what is happening? “It’s filthy garbage, there are no other words for it.”

For the Donbass offensive, Russia gathered troops who fought around kyiv and in northern Ukraine earlier. The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous assaults in the past 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.

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday it had destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.

The command post was hit on Friday, killing two generals and seriously wounding another, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said in a statement. The Russian military did not comment on this claim, which could not be confirmed.

If true, at least nine Russian generals have been killed since the invasion began, according to Ukrainian reports.

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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 and Inna Varenytsia in Kviv, and Associated Press staff around the world contributed to this story.

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

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