The US secretaries of state and defence have met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the highest-level visit to the war-torn country’s capital by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.
The meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday night was confirmed by presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
It came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Yes, they’re meeting with the president. Let’s hope something will be decided on further help,” Arestovych said in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
Before the session, Zelenskiy said he was looking for the Americans to produce results, both in arms and security guarantees.
“You can’t come to us empty-handed today, and we are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons,” he said.
The visit would be the first by senior US officials since Russia invaded 60 days ago.
Mr Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with a top US official was February 19 in Munich with Vice-President Kamala Harris, five days before Russia’s invasion. While the West has funneled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelenskiy has stressed repeatedly that his country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defence systems and warplanes.
In an apparent boost for Ukraine, polling agencies said French President Emmanuel Macron would win re-election over far right candidate Marine Le Pen. The result was hailed by France’s allies in the European Union as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine.
France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.
Zelensky’s meeting with US officials took place as Ukrainians and Russians observed Orthodox Easter, when the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Speaking from Kyiv’s ancient St Sophia Cathedral, Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, highlighted its significance to a nation racked by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win,” he said.
The Russian military reported hitting 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while its warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.
Since failing to capture Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control over the eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war.
Two girls, aged five and 14, died in shelling in the town of Ocheretyne, part of the industrial region, Ukraine’s national police said.
Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a Mariupol steel plant where an estimated 1000 civilians are sheltering along with about 2000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal steel mill where the defenders are holed up is the last corner of resistance in the city, otherwise occupied by the Russians.
Mr Zelensky said he stressed the need to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including from the steel plant, in a Sunday call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is scheduled to speak later with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.