Top US officials meet Zelensky in Kyiv as Ukraine calls for heavy weapons to defeat Putin’s forces

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Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a press conference in an underground metro station in Kyiv  (AFP via Getty Images)
Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a press conference in an underground metro station in Kyiv (AFP via Getty Images)

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday night that the U.S. secretaries of state and defense secretary were meeting with the Ukrainian leader in the highest-level visit to Kyiv by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.

The adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview on Ukrainian TV late Sunday that the talks are going on “right now.”

Zelenskyy’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons in its fight against the Russian invasion, which began 60 days ago.

The White House has not confirmed the visit.

As Christians in Ukraine marked Orthodox Easter on Sunday, there was no end in sight to a war that has killed thousands of people, uprooted millions more and reduced cities to rubble.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region, said Easter celebrations had been shattered by the conflict. He said with seven churches in his region had been “mutilated by Russian artillery”. The Standards has been unable to independently verify the report.

Pope Francis called for an Easter truce. “Stop the attacks in order to help the exhausted population. Stop,” he said.

Russian military vehicles move in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol (AP)
Russian military vehicles move in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol (AP)

Mr Zelensky said in an Easter video message from Kyiv’s 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral that Ukraine would not be defeated by “wickedness” and prayed that God returns happiness to children and brings solace to grieving mothers.

He had earlier said talks with his US visitors would cover the “powerful, heavy weapons” Ukraine needed to retake territory and the pace of deliveries.

The United States and NATO allies have shown growing readiness to supply heavier equipment and more advanced weapons systems.

Britain has promised to send military vehicles and said it was considering supplying British tanks to Poland to free up Warsaw’s Russian-designed T-72s for Ukraine.

A Ukrainian soldier lights candles at the Volodymysky Cathedral during Easter celebration in Kyiv (AP)
A Ukrainian soldier lights candles at the Volodymysky Cathedral during Easter celebration in Kyiv (AP)

Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation”, denies targeting civilians and rejects what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities, saying Kyiv staged them to undermine peace talks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said after talks by phone with Mr Zelensky that Ankara was ready to assist in negotiations with Russia.

Mr Zelensky said he discussed with Mr Erdogan the need for the immediate evacuation of civilians from the southern city of Mariupol and an exchange of troops.

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. He said on Saturday that troops in the steel complex were attempting counterattacks.

Moscow has previously declared victory in the city and said it did not need to take the plant.

Irina Tromsa, 50,  who said her son Bohdan Tromsa, 25, a territorial defence member, was killed by Russian troops on the frontline near Sumy,   wipes her tears as she mourns by his grave after his burial at the cemetery in Bucha (REUTERS)
Irina Tromsa, 50, who said her son Bohdan Tromsa, 25, a territorial defence member, was killed by Russian troops on the frontline near Sumy, wipes her tears as she mourns by his grave after his burial at the cemetery in Bucha (REUTERS)

Capturing Mariupol, the site of biggest battle of the conflict, would link up pro-Russian separatists who control parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that make up the Donbas with the southern Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014.

Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Mariupol and says 100,000 civilians are still in the city. The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian toll is at least in the thousands.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, called for humanitarian corridors in Mariupol and other areas of Ukraine, where he said “an indescribable human tragedy is unfolding”.

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.

UK military intelligence said Ukrainian resistance had been strong, especially in Donbas, despite some Russian gains.

“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganise forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness,” defence chiefs said on Sunday.

Russia said on Sunday its missiles hit eight military targets overnight, including four arms depots in the northeast Kharkiv region and one facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region producing explosives for the Ukrainian army.

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