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Home World News Washington Post World News Blinken and Austin visit war-ravaged Ukraine, says Zelensky

Blinken and Austin visit war-ravaged Ukraine, says Zelensky

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MUKACHEVO, Ukraine – United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, during what would be the first high-level visit by officials of the Biden government since the start of the Russian invasion.

Such a trip would underscore the government’s wanton approach to Ukraine in recent weeks, as President Biden has pledged billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment to the Ukrainian military. The Pentagon has also announced training exercises for selected groups of Ukrainian officers on US-made weapons systems.

It also points to the ongoing disconnection, with Ukraine continuing to ramp up demand for more military and financial aid and pledges from the West. “They shouldn’t come here empty-handed,” Zelensky warned, speaking from… an underground metro station in Kiev. “We expect specific things and specific weapons.”

‘Come to us, we look forward to seeing you. But please bring us the aid we discussed,” the Ukrainian president added. “That’s why the visit from the US is very important.”

Heavy bombardment continued in several Ukrainian cities in the east of the country over the weekend, as fighting appears poised to rage right through Orthodox Easter Sunday celebrations, despite international calls for a ceasefire over the holiday.

On Saturday, a Russian missile hit Odessa, a strategic southwestern port city that has seen fewer attacks during the war. at least eight people were killed, including a 3-month-old baby, Ukrainian officials said.

The attacks hit two residential buildings and a military facility, the Ukrainian Air Force said, which rocked a city where life had largely returned to normal after Russia narrowed its military campaign in recent weeks to focus on the eastern regions, where Russian-backed separatists have fought. Ukraine for several years.

Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app that the number of victims of Saturday’s barrage in Odessa is likely to rise. Zelensky later told reporters that Russian troops were “dirty bastards” for carrying it out.

“The child was a month old when the war started,” he said. “What’s actually going on here?”

Two people were rescued from the rubble and 86 were evacuated from a 16-storey apartment building that was hit, Ukraine’s national emergency services said. A video of the aftermath, shared on social media and verified by The Washington Post, showed large plumes of black smoke billowing from a tall building near a grassy field.

The Russian defense ministry claimed its missile strikes destroyed a logistics terminal in the city where foreign weapons were stored. The Post was unable to independently verify that claim.

The strikes were an ominous reminder of a recent warning by a top Russian commander that the armed forces plan to take “complete control” of all of Ukraine’s southern ports so that Russia could have a path to the western landlocked neighbor of Moldova, which aligns its own breakaway region, Transnistria, with Russia. His comments were condemned by Moldova, where residents have worried since the start of the war that they could be next in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

The United States has allocated about $3.4 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the war started in February and has been stepping up supplies of weapons and equipment to the country over the past two weeks.

The donations include thousands of missiles that can be used against Russian military aircraft and artillery, long-range artillery guns, helicopters, armored vehicles, radar defense systems, drones and anti-personnel mines, among other equipment.

The latest $800 million aid package, announced Thursday, includes two drone systems.

But the Pentagon has been tight-lipped about the timing and locations of its deliveries and has said the Ukrainians will check the destination of the weapons as soon as they enter the country.

More than two dozen countries have joined the effort to funnel military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February.

Numerous foreign dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have visited Kiev in recent months to show their support for Zelensky’s government. He announced Saturday that Britain would reopen its embassy in Kiev, which diplomats had evacuated at the start of the invasion.

Biden traveled to Poland last month and visited Ukrainian refugees and US military personnel stationed there.

Austin will also host a summit in Germany in the coming days to build support for Ukraine’s defense and security needs, top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.

The “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group,” meeting Tuesday at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, will focus not only on Ukraine’s short-term military assistance needs and the latest battlefield assessments, but also “a longer, broader view.” on the defense of Ukraine”. needs, go beyond the war they now face,” Kirby said.

More than 20 countries have agreed to participate in that meeting, Kirby said Friday.

But as countries, including the United States, deploy heavy weapons, cracks are emerging in the coalition of allies. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that it was a “top priority” for NATO to avoid “a direct military confrontation between NATO and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power”.

In an interview with Der Spiegel published Friday, Scholz said it was “unjustifiable for Germany and NATO to become parties to the war in Ukraine”.

Scholz made the comments in response to several questions about the prospect of his country providing heavy weapons to help Ukraine fight Russian attacks. He noted that Germany had already provided 2 billion euros ($2.16 billion) and supplied Kiev with “defense weapons”, anti-tank mines and anti-aircraft equipment.

Horrors continue to crop up every day, especially from the bombed-out port city of Mariupol. Civilians evacuated from the city in recent days spoke of corpses in the streets and shelling so relentless that seeking water above ground was easily a death sentence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this week proclaimed Russia’s victory in the battle for Mariupol, while Ukraine said a contingent of about 1,000 Ukrainian fighters and civilians were still hiding in the steel mill. Putin said in a rare televised speech that he ordered his troops not to storm the steel mill, but to block it “so not even a fly can get through”.

Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said on Saturday that Russian forces have “thwarted” another coordinated attempt to evacuate civilians from the city.

Boychenko’s office wrote on Telegram that more than 200 people planned to board buses outside a city mall to evacuate to the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhya.

That plan collapsed, Boychenko claimed, after Russian troops told some of those in attendance that “there will be shelling,” and that buses would only run as far as Dokuchaevsk, a city currently under Russian control.

The Post was unable to independently verify this claim, or any other claim by Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman who this week said Russia had brought more than 300 Mariupol citizens, including 90 children, to Russia.

Evacuation plans and other attempts to establish humanitarian corridors in and out of Mariupol have routinely failed, amid relentless shelling and the Russian encirclement of the city, which has largely cut off residents as food, water and medical supplies have declined.

A video released Saturday by Ukrainian troops at their last stronghold at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant in Mariupol appears to show a large number of civilians living in cramped conditions in an underground bunker, including women and children.

The video, if confirmed, would be the most comprehensive footage yet of life at the factory, where an unspecified number of Ukrainian civilians and fighters would hold out against a much larger and better-equipped Russian forces. The video cannot be independently verified.

“We want to go home. We want to see the sun,” said one child in the video, standing in a cramped underground shelter with other women and children, where belongings were hung on lines above makeshift beds.

A woman in the video said her family had been hiding there since March 2. “My husband works here. So we came here with the whole family,” she said. “Grandma and grandpa stayed at home.”

Other cities in Ukraine also came under heavy fire. Three people were killed and more than 20 people injured in the city of Kharkov and the region as a result of more than 50 attacks by Russian troops on Saturday, a Ukrainian military governor said on Saturday. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv’s regional military administration, claimed that Russian troops “continue firing on the civilian infrastructure of Kharkiv and the region.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet this week described Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine as a “horror story of abuses committed against civilians” as the international human rights monitor has documented mounting evidence of war crimes, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians. civilian areas and summary executions.

As Russia has withdrawn from northern cities near Kiev, where previous bombings have been heavy, the UN said satellite images have confirmed the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure there. Nearly 80 percent of the village of Horenka appeared to have been destroyed, Bachelet said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will meet separately next week with both Putin and Zelensky in the latest diplomatic effort to mediate in ending the fighting.

Amid the ongoing siege, Zelensky said Ukraine had appealed to Pope Francis to try to help civilians stranded in Mariupol.

During Saturday’s press conference, Zelensky suggested the pope would assist in negotiations to try to “unblock humanitarian corridors to and from the city,” following a proposal for the pope to visit the war-torn country.

“It’s too early to say, but we’re waiting for him,” Zelensky told reporters. “We are waiting because he has a mission – a mission from God. He is trusted by a large number of people; I think this is important.”

Hauslohner and Bella reported from Washington and Francis from London. Vladyslav Maslov in Odessa; Amy Cheng in Seoul; Adela Suliman in London; and Karoun Demirjian, Marisa Iati and Meryl Kornfeld in Washington contributed to this report.

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