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bombed Ukrainian steel production; Zelenski will meet with US officials

Kyiv “Russian forces have called for air strikes on the besieged steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol to try to displace the last Ukrainian troops staying in the strategic port,” Ukrainian authorities said Sunday, while President Vladimir Zelensky said he would meet in Kyiv with two senior American officials.

Zelensky gave little details on the logistics of his planned talks with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the 60th day since Russia invaded Ukraine. But he told reporters he expected Americans to come with “not just gifts or cakes, we expect concrete things and concrete weapons.”

The visit will be the first in the Ukrainian capital of high-ranking American officials since the beginning of the invasion on February 24. While visiting Poland in March, Blinken briefly marched on Ukrainian soil to meet with the country’s foreign minister. Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with the US leader was on February 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.

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The meeting was to take place while Ukrainians and Russians celebrate Orthodox Easter, and Zelensky highlighted the allegorical significance of a nation plagued by nearly two months of war.

“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will defeat darkness, good will defeat evil, life will defeat death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win,” he said, speaking Sunday at the ancient Hagia Sophia.

Russia has been trying to take Mariupol for nearly two months, and the city on the Sea of ​​Azov has experienced some of the worst hardships of the war. Its capture will deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and create a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula that Moscow captured in 2014.

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About 2,000 troops are fighting hard to hold the last remaining Ukrainian post in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which also has civilians taking refuge in its labyrinthine tunnel system.

Russian forces continue to strike at the plant, using air strikes, including long-range aircraft, Alexander Stupun, a spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on Sunday.

Mariupol was blocked for most of the war. Ukrainian authorities say they expect to find thousands of civilian casualties and evidence of war crimes there when the fighting ends. Satellite images show what appear to be mass graves excavated in cities west and east of Mariupol.

On the last day, Russia also pushed back attacks elsewhere in the eastern region of Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some pre-war territories and the Russians are seeking full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial center.

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Stupun said Russian forces had stepped up their assault operations on the cities of Popasna and Severodonetsk in Luhansk and Kurakhov in Donetsk. Luhansk Governor Sergei Haidai said on Sunday that eight people had been killed and two others injured in a Russian shelling on Saturday.

The Russians also fired on the Dnieper region west of Donbass, where at least one person was killed by a Russian missile, according to regional governor Valentin Reznichenko.

Russia has withdrawn troops from Kyiv and the north to fuel the Donbass offensive, but the British Defense Ministry said Sunday that Ukrainian forces have repulsed numerous attacks in the past week.

“Although Russia has made some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong on all fronts and has caused significant costs to Russian forces,” the ministry’s intelligence update said.

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

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During attacks on Orthodox Easter, Russian forces raided cities in southern and eastern Ukraine. A 3-month-old baby was among eight killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odessa, officials said. Zelenski said 18 more were injured.

“The war started when this baby was one month old. Can you imagine what’s going on? “Zelenski said.” They’re just bastards. … I have no other words for that, just bastards. ”

The Ukrainian military announced on Saturday that it had destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that had fallen from Russian forces at the start of the war.

A command post was struck on Friday, killing two generals and seriously injuring another, according to a statement from Ukrainian military intelligence. The Russian military did not comment on the allegation, which could not be confirmed.

If true, at least nine Russian generals have been killed since the invasion, according to Ukrainian reports.

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On Saturday, the Azov Regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine, which has members hiding in the Mariupol steel plant, released a video of about two dozen women and children taking shelter there. Its contents cannot be independently verified, but if it is authentic, this will be the first video testimony to what life was like for civilians trapped underground.

The video shows soldiers giving sweets to children who respond with punches. One young girl said she and her relatives “have seen neither the sky nor the sun” since leaving home on February 27.

Regiment Deputy Commander Svyatoslav Palamar told the AP that the video was shot on Thursday. The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed by far-right activists in 2014 at the beginning of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and has drawn criticism for some of its tactics.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 people – less than the pre-war population of about 430,000 – remain in Mariupol with scarce food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city.

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Another attempt to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Mariupol failed on Saturday. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Russian forces had not allowed Ukrainian-organized buses to take residents to Zaporozhye, a city 227 kilometers (141 miles) northwest.

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Fish reported from Slavyansk, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Mstislav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkov, Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Inna Varenitsa in Kvov and Associated Press staff from around the world contributed to this story.

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Follow the coverage of the war by the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

bombed Ukrainian steel production; Zelenski will meet with US officials

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