Top American politician Pelosi hails Ukrainian leader Zelensky during Kyiv visit

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Top American politician Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to the leadership of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in the latest show of international unity with the country in its war with Russia.

For security reasons, details of Saturday's trip to Kyiv emerged on Sunday and came less than 24 hours after the French president Emmanuel Macron promised to send more arms and humanitarian assistance to Zelensky during an hour-long phone call.

Pelosi, who is the Speaker of the House of Representatives – the lower house of parliament in the United States – is the highest-ranking American leader to visit Ukraine since the start of the conflict on 24 February when the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his country's armed forces into Ukraine.

She was accompanied by a heavyweight team of US politicians specialising in security issues and humanitarian assistance.

Following the visit, Pelosi stopped in Poland to thank the government of Mateusz Morawiecki for its swift humanitarian response to thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

She and members of her delegation also fleshed out details of the American pledges for more humanitarian aid as well as help for post-war reconstruction.

Pelosi added: "We were proud to convey to President Zelensky a message of unity from the Congress of the United States, a message of appreciation from the American people for his leadership and admiration for the people of Ukraine for their courage."

The delegation's trip came just as around 20 women and children who had been sheltering underneath the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were evacuated from the zone during a brief ceasefire on Saturday night.

Another 80 were allowed to leave on Sunday as part of an exercise coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ukraine and Russia.

Zelensky said that evacuations from Mariupol might continue on Monday.

"We will continue to do everything to evacuate our people from Azovstal, from Mariupol in general," he added.

"The organisation of such humanitarian corridors is one of the elements of the ongoing negotiation process. It is very complex. "

Civilians and soldiers retreated to the iron and steel works two weeks ago as Russian forces launched airstrikes on the port city.

On 21 April, Putin said that his troops would not storm the works but instead blockade it.

Remaining forces

It is believed around 1,000 Ukrainian troops – many of them injured – remain in the complex.

The United Nations has been working to broker evacuation deals to free those trapped in the labyrinth of underground passages.

Controlling Mariupol would assist Russia's strategic plan to seize the entire south coast of Ukraine.

That would unite pro-Russia separatist regions such as Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine with Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

It would also increase access to the pro-Russia Transnistria area across Ukraine's western border in Moldova.

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