KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. secretaries of state and defense met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday evening during a top-level visit by a U.S. delegation to the country’s war-torn capital since the start of the Russian invasion.
The meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was confirmed by Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych in an interview with Ukrainian television.
It came as Ukraine pressured the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces were seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the devastated port of Mariupol.
“Yes, they have an appointment with the president. Hopefully something will be decided on additional help,” Arestovitch said in an interview with Ukrainian TV.
Ahead of the session, Zelenskyy said he expected Americans to deliver, 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. 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 Passover, when worshipers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. 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 celebrations. 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 can’t 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 full control of the industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war.
Two girls, aged 5 and 14, died in shelling in the town of Ocheretyne, which is part of the industrial region, the Ukrainian national police said.
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 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 Guterres is due to visit Turkey on Monday, then Moscow and kyiv. Zelenskyy it was a mistake for Guterres to go 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.
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.
Zelenskyy on Saturday 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. But they were repeated by Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniya Kravchuk on ABC’s “This Week” show.
“They pulled these people out of Mariupol — they’re put in filter camps… that’s kind of something that can’t happen in the 21st century,” Kravchuk said.
Zelenskyy also claimed that intercepted communications recorded Russian troops discussing “how they cover up the traces of their crimes” in Mariupol.
And he pointed to the death of a 3-month-old girl in a Russian missile strike Saturday on the Black Sea port of Odessa. 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? This is filthy garbage, 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”.
The spiritual leaders of Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics around the world have called for help for the suffering people of Ukraine.
From Istanbul, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said a “human tragedy” was unfolding. Bartholomew, considered the first among his equal Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, notably cited “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 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.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine