Zelensky says he will meet with US Secretaries of Defense
The reported assault on the eve of Orthodox Easter came after the Kremlin claimed its army had seized the entire destroyed city, except for the Azovstal factory, and Russian forces pounded other cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine.
A 3-month-old baby was among six people killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odessa, officials said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in kyiv on Sunday. He announced the visit at a press conference and did not immediately share further details. The White House declined to comment. The US State Department also declined to comment.
Zelenskyy has for weeks urged Western allies to send more weapons to Ukraine to counter the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy also lamented the death of the child in Odessa. “The war started when this baby was a month old. Can you imagine what is happening? he said. “They’re just bastards. …I have no other words for it, just bastards.”
The fate of the Ukrainians in the sprawling seaside resort of Mariupol was not immediately clear; Earlier on Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video believed to have been taken two days earlier in which women and children locked underground, some for two months, said they longed to see the sun.
“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe fresh air,” one woman said in the video. “You just have no idea what it means to us to just eat, drink sweet tea. For us, that’s already happiness.”
As the battle for the port continued, Russia claimed to have taken control of several villages elsewhere in the eastern Donbass region and destroyed 11 Ukrainian military targets overnight, including three artillery depots. Russian attacks also hit populated areas.
Associated Press reporters observed shelling in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; Regional Governor Oleh Sinehubov said three people were killed. In the Donbass region of Luhansk, Governor Serhiy Haidai said six people died in the shelling of a village, Gorskoi.
In Sloviansk, a city in northern Donbass, AP saw two soldiers arrive at the hospital, one of whom was fatally injured. Nearby, a small group of people gathered outside a church where a priest blessed them with water on Holy Saturday.
While British officials said Russian forces had not gained significant new ground, Ukrainian officials announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter Sunday, a sign of the disruption of the war and the threat to the whole country.
Mariupol has been a key Russian objective since the invasion began on February 24 and has taken on outsized importance in the war. Completing its capture would give Russia its biggest victory yet, after a nearly two-month siege reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin.
It would deprive Ukrainians of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014. Russian-backed separatists control parts of Donbass.
An adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Oleksiy Arestovich, told a briefing on Saturday that Russian forces had resumed airstrikes on the Azovstal factory and were trying to storm it. A direct attempt to take the plant would represent a reversal of an order Russian President Vladimir Putin had given two days earlier.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Thursday that all of Mariupol except Azovstal had been “liberated”. At the time, Putin ordered him not to send troops into the factory, but rather blockade it, an apparent attempt to starve those inside and force them to surrender.
Ukrainian officials estimated that around 2,000 of their soldiers were inside the plant, along with civilians sheltering in its underground tunnels. Arestovic said they were trying to counter new attacks.
Earlier Saturday, the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, which has members locked in the factory, released the video of around two dozen women and children. Its contents could not be independently verified, but if authentic, it would be the first video testimony of what life was like for civilians trapped underground.
The video shows soldiers giving candy to children who respond with punches. A young girl says she and her loved ones “have not seen the sky or the sun” since leaving home on February 27.
The regiment’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, told AP the video was shot on Thursday. The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and drew criticism for some of its tactics.
According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 100,000 people – compared to a pre-war population of around 430,000 – remain in Mariupol with little food, water or heating, according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate that more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the city during the Russian blockade.
Satellite images released this week showed what appeared to be a second mass grave near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to cover up the massacre taking place there. The Kremlin did not comment on the satellite images.
Ukrainian officials had said they would try again on Saturday to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Mariupol, but like previous plans to get civilians out of the city, that failed. Petro Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Russian forces had not allowed buses organized by Ukraine to take residents to Zaporizhzhia, a town 227 kilometers (141 miles) to the northwest.
“At 11 a.m., at least 200 residents of Mariupol gathered near the Port City shopping center, awaiting evacuation,” Andryushchenko said on the Telegram messaging app. “The Russian army drove up to the residents of Mariupol and ordered them to disperse, because now there will be shelling.”
At the same time, he said, Russian buses gathered about 200 meters away. Residents who boarded were told they were being taken to separatist-occupied territory and were not allowed to disembark, Andryushchenko said. His account could not be independently verified.
During the attack on Odessa, Russian troops fired at least six missiles, according to Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister. Defense forces repelled some of the rockets, but at least one hit, he said.
“City residents heard explosions in different areas,” Gerashchenko said via Telegram post. “Apartment buildings were hit. We already know a victim. He burned in his car in a courtyard of one of the buildings.”
Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak later reported that the 3-month-old baby was among five dead.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy lamented all casualties of war, noting that the Easter holiday commemorates the resurrection of Christ after his death by crucifixion.
“We believe in the victory of life over death,” he said. “No matter how fierce the fighting, there is no way death will destroy life. Everyone knows that. Every Christian knows that.”
Fisch reported from Sloviansk, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Inna Varenytsia in Kviv, and Associated Press staff around the world contributed to this story.
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