The top American diplomat and head of defense is due to make her first visit to Kiev on Sunday since Russia invaded Ukraine two months ago, with fierce wars going on in the east of the country. Kyiv latest news
The journey of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin comes at a time when the war is entering its third month with thousands killed and millions displaced.
Many European leaders have already traveled to Kiev to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked for their support, but the United States – a leading donor of finance and weapons – has not yet sent a chief of staff.
In his daily video speech on Saturday night, Zelensky said he was preparing her for “tomorrow’s important talks with other Americans.” The State Department declined to comment on the sensitive path of the two top members of President Joe Biden’s government. Her visit comes at a time when Russian troops are showing no signs of slowing down their attacks and after a rocket strike in the southern city of Odessa, which, according to Ukraine, killed eight people, including a child.
“Among those killed was a three-month-old child. How did they threaten Russia? Killing children seems to be just a new national idea in the Russian Federation,” Zelenskyj said.
He also accused Russia of being a terrorist state and acting like the Nazis in the devastated port city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by weeks of heavy bombing. “New facts have been revealed about the crimes of the occupiers against our inhabitants of Mariupol. New graves of people killed by the occupiers have been found. We are talking about tens of thousands who have died. The inhabitants of Mariupol,” he said.
-Offer a meeting with Putin –
The last of several attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed on Saturday, and a combat unit of Ukrainian fighters hiding in tunnels beneath the wide steelworks showed even more desperate losses.
On Saturday, Zelensky also called for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, “to end the war.”
“I think anyone who started this war can end it,” Zelensky said, adding that he was not “afraid” to meet with a Russian leader who attended an Orthodox Easter service in Moscow. However, he reiterated that Kyiv would leave Moscow talks if its troops were killed in Mariupol.
Zelensky also criticized the decision of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to visit Moscow on Tuesday before traveling to Kiev.
“There is no justice or logic in this order,” he said.
“The war is in Ukraine, there are no bodies in the streets of Moscow. It makes sense to go to Ukraine first, to see the people there, the consequences of the work,” he said. As many as 200 residents gathered on Saturday at a designated evacuation site in Mariupol, but were “scattered” by Russian troops, City Hall official Petro Andryushchenko told the Telegram, adding: “The evacuation was prevented.”
He admitted that some had been told to take buses to areas controlled by Russia.
Mariupol, which the Kremlin claims to have “liberated” him, was at the heart of Russia’s war plans to build a land bridge to Russia – the occupied Crimea – and possibly further Moldova.
- “Our defenders continue” –
The US-based War Studies Institute states in its latest analysis that Russian troops have not stopped rebuilding or massaging their troops when they are deployed, and are likely to step up their offensives.
“Russian troops are likely to expand the scope of ground offensive operations in the coming days, but it is easy to say how quickly they will act or how many offensives,” he said.
Ukraine claims that hundreds of its soldiers and civilians are hiding inside the steel plant in Mariupol. Kyiv has repeatedly called for a ceasefire that would allow citizens – many barely able to survive with little or no access to food or water – to escape safely.
On Saturday, however, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said Russian troops were continuing an air strike on the factory.
“Our defenders persevere no matter how difficult the situation, and even carry out counterattacks,” he said.
- Missile attack in Odessa –
Further west, a rocket hit a residential building in the Black Sea port of Odessa, killing eight people and injuring at least 18, according to Zelensky, who said the historic city had been hit by five rockets.
“We recognize everyone who is responsible for this strike; those who are responsible for Russia’s missile terror,” he said. Russia’s Defense Ministry says it is targeting a large foreign weapons depot near Odessa, attacks that have angered peace in the city since the start of the war.
The ministry also accused Ukraine’s special services in Odessa of preparing a “call for the use of toxic chemicals” that Russia could be accused of.
Western powers have in the past accused Russia of such accusations as covering or deflecting attacks planned by its own forces.
The latest clashes come a day after a senior Russian military official said he wanted full control of eastern Donbas and southern Ukraine.
Russian troops, who withdrew from the vicinity of Kiev and northern Ukraine after failing to conquer the capital, had already occupied much of Donbas and the south. – “What could be worse” –
After Russian troops shifted their strategic focus to southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian troops around Kiev, including the shuttle city of Bucha, left a trail of doom.
The UN mission in Bucha has documented “the unlawful killing, including the shortened execution, of about 50 civilians there,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.
Russian troops “attacked and bombed residential areas without distinction, killing civilians and destroying hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that could amount to war crimes.”
Tania Boikiv (52) said that Russian soldiers took her husband from her house in Bucha, detained him for two weeks and then killed him when retreating.
“The scariest thing in my life was that my husband, my beloved, had disappeared,” she told AFP. “I don’t know what could be worse.”