Kyiv to seek arms from US officials
Ukraine will ask US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin for more powerful weapons during an expected visit by the officials to Kyiv on Sunday, seeking to build the country’s defences against the Russian invasion.
The trip by Blinken and Austin, announced earlier by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, would be the highest-level visit to Ukraine by US officials since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the country two months ago.
The White House has not confirmed any visit by Blinken and Austin. The state department and Pentagon declined to comment.
“We are inspired by the resilience of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine in the face of President Putin’s brutal war of aggression,” Blinken said on Twitter. “We are continuing to support them and, today, we wish them and all others celebrating Easter hope and a swift return to peace.”
After Ukrainian defence forced a Russian retreat from around Kyiv, Moscow’s assault is now focused on the eastern Donbas region and the south of the country. With a semblance of normal life returning to the capital, several countries have reopened embassies in recent days and some residents who fled the fighting returned for Easter.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region in the Donbas, said an unspecified number of civilians had been killed by Russian shelling.
Ukrainian officials plan to tell Blinken and Austin of the immediate need for more weapons, including anti-missile systems, anti-aircraft systems, armoured vehicles and tanks, Zelensky aide Igor Zhovkva told NBC News on Sunday.
The US and Nato allies have shown growing readiness to supply heavier equipment and more advanced weapons systems. Britain has promised to send military vehicles and is considering supplying British tanks to Poland to free up Warsaw’s Russian-designed T-72s for Ukraine.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said after talks over phone with Zelensky that Ankara was ready to assist in negotiations with Russia. Zelensky said he discussed with Erdogan the need for the immediate evacuation of civilians from the southern city of Mariupol, the site of biggest battle of the conflict.
Russian forces are attempting to storm the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol by land, backed up by aerial and artillery bombardment, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said. “Russian troops are trying to finish off the defenders of Azovstal and more than 1,000 civilians who are hiding at the plant,” Arestovych wrote on Facebook.
Ukraine proposed on Sunday a “special” round of negotiations with Russia to be held in the shadow of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant to discuss the fate of the civilians and Ukrainian troops still trapped in the city, Arestovych said later.
The talks would aim to establish an immediate ceasefire in Mariupol, “multi-day” humanitarian corridors, and the freeing or swapping of Ukrainian fighters trapped in the Azovstal plant, he said in a video address.
The governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said two children were killed by shelling in his area on Sunday.
Ukraine said its forces repulsed 12 attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk a day earlier, destroying four tanks, 15 armoured equipment units and five artillery systems.
Russia said on Sunday its missiles hit eight military targets overnight, including four arms depots in the Kharkiv region and one facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region producing explosives for the Ukrainian army.
Zelensky said eight people, including a 3-month-old child, were killed in a strike in Odesa.