The US foreign and defense chief is expected to make his first wartime visit to Kyiv since Russia launched its unprovoked war on Ukraine two months ago amid heavy fighting continue in the east of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on April 23 that he would meet the next day in the capital with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as he seeks more weapons to repel the Russian invasion .
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The visit would mark the most high-profile arrival of US officials to war-torn Ukraine and follow a series of visits by European leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The U.S. visit is an attempt by the Biden administration to “show personal support for Zelenskiy and Ukraine,” Bill Courtney, an analyst at Washington-based RAND Corp and a former U.S. diplomat, told RFE/RL. The visit “suggests a level of confidence that Kyiv is safe enough for foreign leaders.”
Russian forces sought to capture kyiv in the first weeks of the war, bombarding parts of the capital and sending hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the city. However, the Russian forces withdrew after facing heavy resistance.
The Kremlin is now refocusing its military campaign on capturing the Donbass region to the east.
Ukraine has requested heavy artillery from the West for the new phase of the war, which will take place on the vast plains of the region.
In his daily video address late April 23, Zelenskiy said he “expects specific things and specific weapons” from the meeting with US officials.
The Biden administration has already announced several billion dollars in military and economic aid to Ukraine since the start of the war, including an additional $800 million on April 21.
Austin could use the visit to better understand how Ukrainian military leaders see the new phase of the war progressing and assess their future weapons needs, Courtney said.
Is the peace effort dead?
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears determined to grab as much Ukrainian territory as possible, after backing out of peace talks, the Financial Times reported on April 24, citing three people briefed on conversations with the Russian president.
Putin told those involved in the attempt to end the conflict that he saw no prospect of a settlement, the newspaper said. Talks have stalled after Zelenskiy earlier this month accused Russia of committing war crimes, the newspaper reported.
Russian forces continued their attacks in the east, including against the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian military said on April 24.
The Ukrainian General Staff said the Russians fired on Ukrainian positions along the entire line of contact on the 60th day of the war. He also said that the Russian army has intensified its offensive and assault operations in the directions of Severodonetsk, Kurakhiv and Popasna.
Russian forces have also intensified their attacks on towns and villages in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Luhansk region governor Serhiy Hayday said on April 24 that eight people had been killed and two others injured in a Russian roadblock the previous day.
In the strategic Black Sea port of Odessa, government officials said a Russian missile strike hit a military installation and two residential buildings, killing at least five people and injuring 18, although reports are unclear. could not be immediately confirmed.
Ukraine’s presidential office said a 3-month-old child was among those killed.
“Among those killed was a 3-month-old baby girl. How did she threaten Russia? It seems that killing children is just a new national idea of the Russian Federation,” Zelenskiy said.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said on April 24 that at least 213 children had been killed during the war and 389 injured.
The attorney general’s office added that the figures were not final and that work was underway to establish them in areas of hostilities.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, the governor said two children were killed April 24 in shelling by Russian forces.
Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a post on Telegram that the children, girls aged 5 and 14, died in the Ocheretynsk community after the building where they lived was destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on April 23 that it had destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.
The command post was hit on April 22, killing two generals and seriously wounding another, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said in a statement. The Russian military has not commented on this claim.
British military intelligence said on April 24 that Ukraine had repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in Donbass this week.
Although Russia has made some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong on all axes and has inflicted a significant cost on Russian forces, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. tweeted in a regular newsletter.
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to replenish, re-equip and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely hampering Russia’s combat effectiveness,” the update said.
In its latest analysis, the US Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces did not appear to be stopping to refit or mass their troops as they redeployed and were likely to step up their offensives.
“Russian forces will likely increase the scale of offensive ground operations in the coming days, but it is too early to say how quickly they will do so or how large these offensives will be,” he said.
Chief Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on April 24 that Russian forces were continuously bombarding Mariupol and urged Moscow to agree a “real Easter truce”.
Russia has largely reduced Mariupol to rubble as it seeks to crush the last remnants of resistance hidden in the massive local steelworks.
The UN coordinator for the crisis in Ukraine, Amin Awad, called on April 24 for an “immediate halt” to the fighting in Mariupol to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped in the battered city “today”.
“The lives of tens of thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly, are at stake in Mariupol,” Awad said in a statement. “We need a pause in the fighting right now to save lives.” Awad said Orthodox Easter provided an opportunity to end hostilities.
His appeal came after the latest of many attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed on April 23.
The UN statement said there were around 100,000 civilians trapped in the city, which was badly devastated after being besieged by Russian forces for weeks.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on April 24 it was “deeply alarmed” by the situation in Mariupol, calling for unhindered access to help residents, including hundreds of injured.
“Every day, every hour that passes has a terrible human cost,” the ICRC said in a statement.