Zelenskyy meets with high-level US delegation and secures pledges of aid

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. secretaries of state and defense met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday evening during the highest-level visit by a U.S. delegation to the country’s capital since the invasion began Russian.

The secret meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin came as Ukraine pressured the West for stronger weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region , in eastern Ukraine.where forces from Moscow sought to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the devastated port of Mariupol.

Blinken and Austin told Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy and his advisers that the United States would provide more than $300 million in foreign military funding and had approved a $165 million ammunition sale.

They also said that US President Joe Biden would soon announce his candidate for ambassador to Ukraine and that US diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country next week.

Reporters who accompanied Austin and Blinken to Poland were prevented by Pentagon and State Department officials from reporting on the visit from Kyiv until the two men physically left Ukraine. US officials have cited security concerns.

Before the session with Blinken and Austin, Zelenskyy said he was looking for the Americans produce 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.

Zelenskyy’s last face-to-face meeting with a senior US official was on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris, five days before the Russian invasion. As the West has funneled military hardware to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that his country needs more heavy weaponry, including long-range air defense systems and fighter jets.

In an apparent boost for Ukraine, polling agencies said French President Emmanuel Macron would be re-elected over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.who was questioned about her ties to Moscow.

The result was hailed by France’s allies within the European Union as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to sanction Russia and provides weapons systems to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy’s meeting with US officials came as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. Speaking from the old Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, stressed his importance to 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.

Yet the war cast a shadow over the holidays. 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 cannot forget how we lived.

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.

Since failing to capture kyiv, the Russians have sought to take full control of the industrial heartland in the East, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled territory before the war.

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, if not occupied by the Russians.

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.

Arestovych, Zelenskyy’s adviser, said Ukraine had offered to hold talks with Russia next to the sprawling steel plant. Arestovych said on the Telegram messaging app that Russia had not responded to the proposal which would include establishing humanitarian corridors and exchanging Russian prisoners of war for the fighters still at the factory.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is due to travel to Turkey on Monday, then to Moscow and kyiv. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to travel 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 endured 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 west and east of Mariupol.

Children in an underground bunker were seen receiving Easter gifts in a video released on Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, which is part of the Ukrainian forces at the Mariupol steelworks. The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, said the video was shot at the factory.

A toddler is seen wearing homemade cellophane diapers and people are seen hanging laundry on makeshift hangers.

“Please help us,” a woman in the video said through tears, calling on world leaders. “We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombardments, constant airstrikes on our lands. How long will this continue?

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

Over the weekend, Zelensky accused the Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians and setting up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for people trying to leave the city. He said 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.

Zelenskyy pointed to the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile strike on the Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday. 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, 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? They are filthy scum; 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”.

A fire broke out early Monday at an oil depot in Russia near its border with Ukraine, but Russia’s Tass news agency gave no immediate cause for the burning of the oil storage tanks.

NASA satellites tracking the fires showed something burning at coordinates matching a Rosneft facility about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. Moscow has previously accused Ukraine of attacking the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.

The Spiritual Leaders of the World’s Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics on Sunday appealed for help for the suffering people of Ukraine.

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Associated Press journalists 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

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