Austin and Blinken set to make Easter visit to Ukraine: live updates

Ukrainians celebrated Orthodox Easter in the capital, Kyiv, on Sunday with prayers for those fighting on the front lines in the Donbass region and others trapped in cities like Mariupol.

But President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Ukrainians not to be overwhelmed by anger over the war.

“We all think our sunrise is coming soon,” he said.

The deputy commander of the nationalist Azov regiment, which has been fighting separatists in Donbass since 2014, recorded a video address blaming the Russian army for not observing the holy day.

“The enemy continues to drop air bombs, artillery fire from ships, shots are fired,” said Captain Sviatoslav Palamar.

Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis lamented the “barbarism” of war.

“It is sad that in these days, which are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians, we hear the deadly sound of arms rather than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection,” the pope said. instead of words. »

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Latest developments:

►Senior Biden administration officials are scheduled to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in the highest visit by a US delegation to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.

►Russian missile and artillery troops hit 423 targets in Ukraine overnight as part of the special military operation, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday. He said 26 Ukrainian command posts, 367 “gathering places for manpower and military equipment” and 25 firing lines were hit.

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it promised more defense weapons were on their way to Ukraine in a phone interview with Zelenskyy, the latest Western leader to pledge to supply artillery to help defend against Russian forces.

►The head of Turkish diplomacy declares that Ankara has closed Turkish airspace to Russian civil and military flights between Russia and Syria.

Blinken, Austin to meet Zelensky

Senior Biden administration officials are scheduled to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in the highest visit to Ukraine by a U.S. delegation since Russia began its invasion.

The trip of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was announced by Zelenskyy but not confirmed by US officials. Zelenskyy did not give details of the meeting but said he expected “not just gifts or some kind of cake, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”

Ukraine’s president has for weeks urged Western leaders to commit more arms and military aid.

More Western officials have visited Zelenskyy since Russian forces withdrew from the capital kyiv. The visit takes place on the same day as Orthodox Easter, in a country where around 78% of adults were Orthodox Christians in a 2015-16 Pew Research Center study. Russian adults were about 71% Orthodox Christians.

Ukrainian officials pointed to the brutality of Russian attacks on the eve of the holiday. At least six people were killed, including a baby, in a strike in Odessa on Saturday. “Nothing sacred,” said Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Zelenskyy.

British intelligence: strong Ukrainian resistance in the Donbass

Ukraine repelled numerous Russian assaults in Donbass last week, Britain’s Ministry of Defense reported on Sunday. Russia made some territorial gains, but Ukrainian resistance was strong “on all axes” and inflicted significant costs on Russian forces, according to the intelligence report.

“Poor Russian morale and the limited time to replenish, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely hampering Russia’s combat effectiveness,” the report said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has firmly asserted that the war is going according to plan.

Russia dismisses fears of using chemical and nuclear weapons

The United States is preparing to falsely accuse Russia of using chemical, biological or tactical nuclear weapons, a senior Russian military official has said. The head of Russia’s Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force, Igor Kirillov, said the alleged plan was a reaction to Russia’s success in its “special operation” in Ukraine – Russia declined to describe its invasion as a war. Western intelligence officials had warned that Russia could resort to internationally banned weapons if its invasion continued to suffer setbacks.

“In March-April of this year alone, leaders of Western countries regularly made provocative statements about the possibility of Russia using weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

A Ukrainian Orthodox priest blesses believers as they collect traditional cakes and painted eggs prepared for an Easter celebration during a religious service at a church in Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, on April 24, 2022.

Ukrainian village of Lukashivka faces churchless Easter after Russian invasion

A single metal cross remains inside the church of broken bricks and blackened stones in Lukashivka, Ukraine. Russian soldiers used the shrine to store ammunition, residents said, and Ukrainian forces shelled the building to drive the Russians out.

There will be no Orthodox Easter service here on Sunday in this small village in northern Ukraine. One of the church’s golden domes has been torn off. His golden cross leans against an exterior wall.

“It’s really a shame,” said resident Valentina Ivanivna, 70, standing with her bicycle on Orthodox Good Friday as men dismantled nearby abandoned Russian military vehicles.

The church in Lukashivka, a village near the town of Chernihiv, survived World War II and the most austere years of the Soviet Union, a time when authorities stripped it of its religious icons, said inhabitants. This time, locals believe it will take years for the church to regain its former beauty.

Ukrainian officials: 6 dead in Russian strike on Black Sea port city of Odessa

At least six people were killed, including a 3-month-old baby, in a Russian strike in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday.

“The war started when this baby was 1 month old. Can you imagine what is happening? said President Volodymyr Zelensky. “They’re just bastards. … I have no other words for it, just bastards.

Russia’s cruise missile strikes at the region took place on the eve of Orthodox Easter.

“Nothing sacred,” Andriy Yermak from the president’s office said on Telegram.

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Russian forces attempt to storm Mariupol steel plant

Russian forces in Ukraine attempted on Saturday to storm a steelworks housing soldiers and civilians in the southern city of Mariupol as they attempted to crush the last corner of resistance in a place of symbolic and strategic value deep for Moscow, Ukrainian officials said.

The reported assault on the eve of Orthodox Easter came after the Kremlin claimed its army had seized the entire destroyed city except for the Azovstal factory.

The fate of the Ukrainians at the sprawling seaside steelworks was not immediately clear. Earlier on Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video believed to have been taken two days earlier in which women and children locked underground, some for up to two months, said they yearned to see the sun.

“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe fresh air,” one woman said in the video. “You just have no idea what it means to us to just eat, drink sweet tea. For us, that’s already happiness.

Contributor: The Associated Press

Austin and Blinken set to make Easter visit to Ukraine: live updates

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