Alexei Alexandrov / AP
KYIV, Ukraine – Top US officials promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hundreds of millions of dollars in new aid during the highest US visit to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion two months earlier, while Britain said Monday that Moscow has not yet achieved a significant breakthrough in its offensive in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
In meetings with Zelenskyy in Kiev, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States had approved a $ 165 million sale of ammunition for Ukraine’s war effort along with more than $ 300 million in foreign military funding.
The promises came on Sunday, the 60th day since the beginning of the invasion, when Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces tried to drive out the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukrainian troops, hollowed out at a steelworks in the strategic city, tied up Russian forces and prevented them from being added to the offensive elsewhere in the Donbas.
“Many Russian units remain permanent in the city and cannot be relocated,” the ministry said in a statement on Twitter. “Ukraine’s defense of Mariupol has also exhausted many Russian units and reduced their combat efficiency.”
The ministry added that Russia has so far made only “minor progress in some areas since it shifted its focus to fully occupying the Donbas”.
“Without adequate logistical and combat support resources in place, Russia has not yet achieved a significant breakthrough,” the ministry said.
On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was scheduled to travel to Turkey on Monday and then to Moscow and Kiev. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.
“Why? Handing over signals from Russia? What should we look for?” Zelenskyy said Saturday. “There are no corpses scattered on the Kutuzovsky prospect,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main roads.
In a boost in support for Ukraine, French president Emmanuel Macron comfortably won another period on Sunday over the far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, who had promised to dilute France’s ties to the EU and NATO. Le Pen had also spoken out against EU sanctions against Russian energy and had been investigated during the campaign over her former friendliness with the Kremlin.
Macron’s victory was hailed by France’s allies in the EU as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and supply weapons systems to Ukraine.
Andriy Dubchak / AP
“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France has to make its voice heard,” Macron said to a jubilant crowd in his victory speech.
Zelensky’s meeting with US officials, his first face-to-face talks with a top US official since a February 19 meeting in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris, took place as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. In a speech from Kiev’s old St. Sophia Cathedral highlighted Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, its importance to a nation plagued by nearly two months of war.
“The great feast today gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will certainly win!” he said.
Towards the north of Ukraine on the Russian side of the border, a fire broke out in an oil depot early Monday, but no immediate cause was given for the fire in oil storage tanks.
NASA satellites tracking fires showed that something was burning at coordinates corresponding to a Rosneft plant about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. Moscow has previously blamed Ukraine for attacks on the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.
Since the Russians failed to conquer Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control of the Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists controlled an area before the war.
For the Donbas offensive, Russia has gathered troops fighting around Kiev and in northern Ukraine again. The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had repulsed several attacks in the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces.”
In the southern part of the Donbas, in the strategic port city of Mariupol, a small pocket of Ukrainian troops continues to withstand Russian forces in the Azovstal steel plant, an extensive waterfront facility.
Mariupol has been the scene of heavy fighting since the beginning of the war due to its location on the Azov Sea. Its conquest would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, release Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it conquered from Ukraine in 2014.
Over the weekend, Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on the steel plant in an attempt to disperse the estimated 2,000 fighter jets inside. It is estimated that 1,000 civilians are also housed in the building.
New satellite images of Planet Labs PBC, taken Sunday, show destroyed buildings across the steelworks and smoke rising from part of the facility. Roofs have gaping holes; a football field is cratered from incoming fire.
More than 100,000 people – down from a pre-war population of around 430,000 – are believed to be staying in Mariupol with little food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves west and east of Mariupol.
Children in an underground bunker were seen receiving Easter presents in a video released Sunday by the far-right Azov battalion, which is among the Ukrainian forces at the Mariupol steel plant. The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, said the video was recorded at the factory.
A toddler has been seen wearing homemade diapers made of cellophane, and people are seen hanging laundry on makeshift hangers.
“Please help us,” one woman said in the video through tears, appealing to world leaders. “We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant air raids on our country. How long will this continue?”
The United States promises new aid to Ukraine in the fight against Russia: NPR
Source link The United States promises new aid to Ukraine in the fight against Russia: NPR