US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv to vow continued support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, as Moscow said it had struck at weapons supplied by Western nations in the country’s south.
Footage posted by Mr Zelenskiy on Twitter on Sunday showed him, flanked by an armed escort and dressed in military fatigues, greeting a congressional delegation led by Ms Pelosi outside his presidential office the previous day.
“Our delegation travelled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” Ms Pelosi, the highest ranking US official to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, said in a statement. She condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “diabolic invasion”.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
Western nations have imposed broad economic sanctions on Russia and have been shipping increasing quantities of weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.
Our Congressional Delegation was honored to meet with @ZelenskyyUa in Kyiv to salute his leadership and courage, to commend the Ukrainian people for their outstanding defense of Democracy and to say that we are with you until victory is won. pic.twitter.com/zkc588Qcrv
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 1, 2022
Ms Pelosi said on Friday she hoped to pass a $US33 billion ($A47b) aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden has requested “as soon as possible”.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday it had carried out a missile strike on a military airfield near the port city of Odesa, destroying a runway and a hangar containing weapons and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the United States and European countries.
Runway at Odesa airport knocked out by missiles
On Saturday, Ukraine said Russian missiles had knocked out a newly constructed runway at Odesa’s main airport.
It was unclear if they were referring to the same incident and Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of a war that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than five million to flee the country.
Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukraine’s forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in villages in the occupied southern Kherson region, the Russian RIA news agency said on Sunday.
The ministry said civilians had been killed and wounded but gave no further details. There was no immediate response from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Women, children make it out of steelworks
Russian forces captured the town of Kherson, 100 km north of Russian-annexed Crimea, in March and since then have mostly occupied Mariupol, a strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea.
Ukraine’s military said in a bulletin on Sunday that Russian forces were fighting to break beyond Kherson’s administrative borders and prepare the way for attacks on the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.
In Mariupol, Russia declared victory on April 21 even as hundreds of holdout Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the city’s bombed out Azovstal steel works, where they have been trapped with little food, water or medicine.
On Saturday, a Ukrainian fighter inside said that 20 women and children had made it out of the sprawling plant.
“We are getting civilians out of the rubble with ropes – it’s the elderly, women and children,” said the fighter, Sviatoslav Palamar.
Respecting a local ceasefire
Palamar said Russia and Ukraine were respecting a local ceasefire.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday that 46 civilians had left the area around the steel plant the previous day.
Speaking to thousands of people in St Peter’s Square for his noon blessing on Sunday, Pope Francis said Mariupol had been “barbarously bombarded and destroyed” in a war he called a “macabre regression of humanity”.
In the east, Moscow is pushing for complete control of the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before the invasion.
Despite weeks of peace talks, both sides looked to be as far apart as ever on Saturday.
Ukraine accuses Russian troops of carrying out atrocities in areas near Kyiv from which they have since been pushed back in early April, a claim denied by Moscow. Negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29 and have since spoken by video link.