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KYIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv on Sunday to discuss Ukraine’s call for more powerful weapons, two months after Russia’s invasion.
The trip, announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday, would be the highest-level by US officials since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on February 24. The White House has not confirmed any visit by the US officials.
As Ukraine celebrated 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. Ukraine said two children were among those killed in shelling on Sunday.
“Usually we would come to our churches with Easter baskets. But now this is impossible,” Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram, saying seven churches in the Luhansk region had been “mutilated by Russian artillery.”
“We are all convinced that we will not be destroyed by any horde or wickedness,” Zelenskiy said in an Easter video message from the 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, praying God would “give endurance to those who, unfortunately, would not see the return of their child from the front.”
He said that talks with his US visitors would cover the “powerful, heavy weapons” Ukraine needed and the pace of supplies that he said would be used to retake territory. He did not specify what equipment he would ask for.
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.
Ukraine said on Sunday that Russian forces were bombarding the steel works in Mariupol where Ukrainian defenders were holding out, days after Moscow declared victory in the southern port city.
“The place where our civilians and military are located is shelled with heavy air bombs and artillery,” senior Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, calling for “a real Easter truce in Mariupol”.
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.
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were continuing their offensive in the east of the country to try to establish full control over Donetsk and Luhansk with attacks on both military and civilian infrastructure.
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 northeast Kharkiv region and one facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region producing explosives for the Ukrainian army.
On Saturday, Moscow said its missiles destroyed a logistics terminal in the southern city of Odesa containing weapons supplied by the United States and European states. Zelenskiy said eight people, including a 3-month-old child, were killed in the Odesa strike