US officials pledge more aid to Ukraine against Russian invasion
The US has pledged to send more aid to Ukraine after meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as part of the high-level visit to the country since the Russian invasion began in February.
At meetings with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, 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, as well as more than $300 million in foreign military financing .
The pledges came on Sunday, the 60th day since the invasion began, as Ukraine urged the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces were attempting to contain the last Ukrainian troops in the stricken port of Russia to expel Mariupol.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that Ukrainian troops holed up at a steelworks in the strategically important city would tie down Russian forces and prevent them from going on the offensive elsewhere in the Donbass.
“Many Russian units remain stationed in the city and cannot be redeployed,” the ministry said in a statement published on Twitter. “The Ukrainian defense of Mariupol also exhausted many Russian units and reduced their combat effectiveness.”
The ministry added that so far Russia has made only “minor progress in some areas since shifting its focus to full occupation of Donbass”.
“Without adequate logistics and combat support, Russia has yet to make a significant breakthrough,” the ministry said.
On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due to travel to Turkey on Monday, and then to Moscow and Kyiv. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.
“Why that? To pass signals from Russia? What should we look for?” Zelenskyy said Saturday. “There are no bodies scattered on Kutuzovsky Prospect,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main streets.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who bolstered support for Ukraine, easily won a second term on Sunday against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, who had promised to dilute France’s ties with the European Union and NATO. Le Pen had also opposed EU sanctions on Russian energy and had come under scrutiny during the campaign for her past friendliness with the Kremlin.
Macron’s victory was welcomed by France’s EU allies as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France is playing a leading role in international efforts to impose sanctions on Russia and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.
“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine is a reminder that we are going through tragic times when France must make its voice heard,” Macron told a cheering crowd in his victory speech.
Zelensky’s meeting with US officials, his first face-to-face meeting with a senior US official since meeting Vice President Kamala Harris in Munich on February 19, came as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, spoke of Kiev’s ancient St. Sophia Cathedral, stressing its importance to a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday 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 surely win!” he said.
In northern Ukraine on the Russian side of the border, a fire broke out at an oil storage facility early Monday, but no immediate cause of the fire in oil storage tanks was given.
NASA satellites tracking fires showed something burning at coordinates corresponding to a Rosneft facility about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. Moscow has previously blamed Ukraine for attacks on Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine.
Since the Russians failed to capture Kyiv, the Russians have sought full control of the Donbass, the eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some areas before the war.
For the Donbass offensive, Russia has regrouped troops that fought around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous attacks over the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces”.
In southern Donbass, in the strategically important port city of Mariupol, a small group of Ukrainian troops continue to hold out against Russian forces at the Azovstal Steel Works, a sprawling waterfront facility.
Because of its location on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol has endured heavy fighting since the beginning of the war. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it captured from Ukraine in 2014.
Over the weekend, Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on the steelworks to evict the estimated 2,000 fighters inside. An estimated 1,000 civilians are also housed in the building.
New satellite images from Planet Labs PBC taken on Sunday show destroyed buildings across from the steel mill and smoke billowing from part of the facility. roofs have gaping holes; A soccer field is cratered by incoming fire.
More than 100,000 people are believed to remain in Mariupol, up from a pre-war population of about 430,000, with scarce food, water or warmth. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians were killed. Recent satellite imagery appeared to show mass graves west and east of Mariupol.
In a video released on Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, part of Ukraine’s armed forces at the Mariupol Steel Plant, children were seen in an underground bunker receiving Easter gifts. The group’s deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, said the video was shot at the facility.
A toddler wears homemade cellophane diapers and people hang laundry on makeshift hangers.
“Please help us,” a woman tearfully said in the video, appealing to world leaders. “We want to live in our city, in our country. We are fed up with these bombing raids, the constant air raids on our country. How long will this go on?”