- The United States has not confirmed visits from Blinken, Austin
- The West has been sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine
- Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter in Ukraine amid conflict
- Ukraine says destruction of churches disrupts celebrations
- Moscow says military sites were hit, kyiv says children were killed
KYIV, April 24 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit kyiv on Sunday to discuss Ukraine’s request for more powerful weapons, two months after the start of the invasion of Russia.
The trip, announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday, would be the highest-profile trip by US officials since Russian tanks entered Ukraine on February 24.
The White House has not confirmed any visits from Blinken and Austin. The State Department and the Pentagon declined to comment.
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As Christians in Ukraine celebrated Orthodox Easter on Sunday, there was no end in sight to a war that has killed thousands, uprooted millions more and reduced cities to rubble. Ukraine said two children were among those killed in Sunday’s bombing. read more
“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 that seven churches in the Luhansk region had been “mutilated by the Russian artillery.
Reuters was unable to independently verify their report.
“We are all convinced that we will not be destroyed by any horde or evil,” Zelenskiy said in an Easter video message from the 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv, praying that God “would give resistance to those who, Unfortunately, he would not see his son return from the front lines.” read more
He said on Saturday that talks with his American visitors would cover the “heavy and powerful weapons” Ukraine needed and the pace of supplies he said would be used to retake the territory. He did not specify which team he would order. read more
US and NATO allies have shown a growing willingness 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 Russian-designed T-72s from Warsaw for Ukraine.
Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation,” denies targeting civilians and rejects what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities, saying kyiv organized them.
Ukraine said on Sunday that Russian forces were shelling the steel mill in Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders were holding out, days after Moscow declared victory in the southern port city and said it did not need to take the plant.
“The place where our civilians and military are located is bombarded with heavy air bombs and artillery,” Ukraine’s top presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, calling for “a real Easter truce in Mariupol.”
Fighting in Mariupol, the biggest battle in the conflict, has been going on for weeks. Capturing the city would link pro-Russian separatists who control parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas with the southern Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014.
Ukraine estimates that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Mariupol and says that 100,000 civilians are still in the city. The United Nations and the Red Cross say the number of civilian casualties is at least in the thousands.
Oleksiy Arestovych, Zelenskiy’s adviser, said troops at the giant Mariupol steel complex were attempting counterattacks. More than 1,000 civilians are also at the plant, Ukraine says.
A new attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed on Saturday, an aide to the city’s mayor said.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, called for humanitarian corridors in Mariupol and other areas of Ukraine, where he said “an unspeakable human tragedy is unfolding.” read more
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 military and civilian infrastructure.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said two children were killed by shelling in his area on Sunday.
Ukraine said its forces repulsed 12 attacks in Donetsk and Lugansk the day before, destroying four tanks, 15 units of armored equipment and five artillery systems.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the reports.
British military intelligence said Ukrainian resistance had been strong, especially in Donbas, despite some Russian gains.
“Low Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely to hamper Russian combat effectiveness,” he said. read more
Russia said on Sunday that its missiles hit eight military targets overnight, including four weapons depots in the northeastern Kharkiv region and a facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region that produces explosives for the Ukrainian military.
Moscow had said on Saturday that its missiles had destroyed a logistics terminal in the southern city of Odessa that contained weapons supplied by the United States and European states.
Zelenskiy said eight people, including a 3-month-old boy, were killed in the Odessa attack.
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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and other Reuters journalists Writing by Kim Coghill and Edmund Blair Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Frank Jack Daniel
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