Chris Lange, FISM News
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv on Sunday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The trip, which had been kept under wraps over security concerns, marked the highest-level visit to the war-torn country by an American delegation since Russia invaded nearly nine weeks ago.
Ahead of the meeting, Zelenskyy pressed the U.S. for more powerful weapons to use against Moscow’s fierce campaign in the eastern Donbas region, where Russian forces continue efforts to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the besieged port of Mariupol. Zelenskyy said his country urgently needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems and warplanes.
“You can’t come to us empty-handed today, and we are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons,″ he said.
Blinken and Austin promised to deliver another military aid package of more than $300 million and sanctioned the sale of an additional $165 million in ammunition. Any additional aid will be in addition to the $3.7 billion already provided by the U.S. They also said that American diplomats who fled Ukraine ahead of the war would begin returning this week.
“The strategy that we’ve put in place — massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts — is having real results,” Blinken told reporters in Poland a day after the meeting took place.
“When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding. Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed,” Blinken continued.
Zelenskyy offers Easter message of hope to Ukrainians
Speaking from Kyiv’s ancient St. Sophia Cathedral Sunday, the day both Ukraine and Russia observe Orthodox Easter, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, offered suffering Ukrainians a message of encouragement.
“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said.
Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic leaders on Sunday appealed to the world to provide relief for Ukraine’s population Sunday.
Happy Easter to everyone celebrating today. Light will prevail over darkness. Life will prevail over death. Ukraine will prevail. Amen. pic.twitter.com/4mALEc5Iz5
— Ukraine / Україна (@Ukraine) April 24, 2022
Russia strikes hundreds of Ukrainian targets overnight
Russia’s military, meanwhile, reported striking over 400 Ukrainian targets overnight in the Donbas region and elsewhere, including several troop concentrations, artillery depots, and an explosives factory. Nonetheless, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said early Monday that Russia has only managed to make “minor advances in some areas since shifting its focus to fully occupying the Donbas.”
“Without sufficient logistical and combat support enablers in place, Russia has yet to achieve a significant breakthrough,” the Ministry said, adding that Ukrainian forces holed up in the nearly decimated Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol are continuing to put up fierce resistance against surrounding Russian forces.
Moscow launched additional airstrikes overnight on the plant currently housing around 2,000 Ukrainian forces and sheltering roughly 1,000 civilians.
Despite the overwhelming odds against the Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the plant, Pentagon reporter Jack Detsch says that their presence has “exhausted” Russian troops and prevented Putin from redeploying forces to other battle fronts.
NEW: Russia’s decision to besiege Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant will force Russian units in the city to stay put instead of redeploying to Donbas: UK Defense Intel
🇺🇦 defence of Mariupol has also “exhausted” 🇷🇺 troops, UK assesses. US believes 12 🇷🇺 BTGs are still in the city. pic.twitter.com/HIffpfRkEa
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) April 25, 2022
Some 100,000 residents have been trapped in the once-thriving city that had a prewar population of over 400,000. It is unclear how many of that number have managed to survive more than eight weeks of unrelenting attacks that have reduced the landscape to an apocalyptic wasteland. Moscow has not responded to a request to establish humanitarian corridors out of Mariupol in exchange for Russian war prisoners.
Children sheltering inside the Azovstal steel factory were filmed by the Azov Battalion in an underground bunker Sunday as they received small Easter gifts. According to the AP report, a toddler can be seen wearing makeshift diapers made of cellophane as a woman pleads for help through tears.
“Please help us,” she begged world leaders. “We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant air strikes on our land. How much longer will this continue?”
Since the war began, the Kremlin has prized Mariupol for its strategic location on the Sea of Azov. Its capture would provide Russia with a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile, accused Russians of committing war crimes by killing civilians and forcing people trying to escape the city into “filtration camps.” From these camps, they are said to be taken to areas under Russian occupation or into Russia itself, with many being sent as far away as Siberia or the Far East.
Infant among several killed in Odesa in Saturday missile strike
Elsewhere, a 3-month-old baby girl, her mother, and grandmother were killed, along with at least five other civilians, in a Russian missile strike on Saturday in the Black Sea port of Odesa, according to Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, as reported by the BBC.
Zelenskyy promised to track down and punish those responsible, according to the news service.
“The war started when this baby was 1 month old,″ a visibly-upset Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “Can you imagine what is happening? They are filthy scum; there are no other words for it.”