LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine reaches its 60th day.
- A Mariupol steel plant is under siege — the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city,
- President Zelenskyy’s met with two top U.S. officials in Kyiv, an adviser says.
- Ukrainians mark Orthodox Easter with prayers for those trapped.
- The Ukrainian military said Saturday it destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson.
- Five people, including a three-month-old infant, were killed in an attack in the port city of Odesa.
- Russian forces are continuing “offensive operations” in eastern Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine (NewsNation) — Ukraine accused Russian forces of calling an airstrike on a steel factory in the besieged city of Mariupol on Sunday in an attempt to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops. This comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met in Kyiv with two top American officials.
The visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin marks the highest-level visit to Ukraine’s capital by American delegation since the beginning of Russia’s invasion.
The meeting between Zelenskyy and secretaries Blinken and Austin, on the 60th day since Russia invaded Ukraine, came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons. While appearing on the YouTube show “Feygin Live,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych confirmed the visit.
“Yes, they’re meeting with the president. Let’s hope something will be decided on further help,” Arestovych told Russian lawyer and activist Mark Feygin on the YouTube show.
Ahead of the session, Zelenskyy told reporters he expected the Americans to come bringing “not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”
While the West has funneled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has stressed repeatedly that the country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems, as well as warplanes.
The meeting took place as Ukrainians and Russians observed Orthodox Easter, an occasion Zelenskyy said highlighted the allegorical significance of to a nation wracked by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said, speaking Sunday from the ancient St. Sophia Cathedral.
Prior to the meeting with Blinken and Austin, Zelenskyy’s last face-to-face meeting with a top U.S. official was on Feb. 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris, just five days before Russia’s invasion.
Russia has been trying to control Mariupol for nearly two months, and the city on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the war’s worst deprivations. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.
At least 2,000 troops have been fighting tenaciously to hold on to the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which also has civilians taking refuge in its labyrinthine tunnel system.
Russian forces have continued to pummel the plant, hitting it with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft, Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, said Sunday.
Mariupol has been blockaded for most of the war. Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find thousands of dead civilians and evidence of war crimes there when the fighting ends. Satellite images have shown what appear to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.
In the last day, Russia also pressed its attacks elsewhere in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war and the Russians are aiming to gain full control.
Shtupun said Russian forces intensified their assault operations toward the cities of Popasna and Siverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kurakhiv in Donetsk. Luhansk regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Sunday that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage Saturday.
The Russians also have shelled the Dnipro region west of Donbas; at least one person was killed there by a Russian missile, according to regional Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko.
Russia has pulled back forces from Kyiv, and the north of the country to feed into the Donbas offensive, but the British Ministry of Defense said Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous assaults in the past week.
“Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness,” it said.
In attacks on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Russian forces pounded cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. A 3-month-old baby was among eight people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa, officials said. Zelenskyy said 18 more were wounded.
The Ukrainian military said Saturday that it destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.
The command post was hit Friday, killing two generals and critically wounding another, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency 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 start of the invasion, according to Ukrainian reports.
On Saturday, the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, which has members holed up in the Mariupol steel plant, released a video of around two dozen women and children sheltering there. Its contents could not be independently verified, but if authentic, it would be the first video testimony of what life has been like for civilians trapped underground there.
The video shows soldiers giving sweets to children who respond with fist-bumps. One young girl said she and her relatives had “seen neither the sky nor the sun” since they left home Feb. 27.
The regiment’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, told the AP the video was shot Thursday. The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed by far-right activists in 2014 at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and has elicited criticism for some of its tactics.
More than 100,000 people, down from a prewar population of about 430,000, are believed to remain in Mariupol with scant food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city.
Yet another attempt to evacuate women, children and older adults from Mariupol failed Saturday. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said Russian forces did not allow Ukrainian-organized buses to take residents to Zaporizhzhia, a city 141 miles to the northwest.