Russia-Ukraine war: US officials to meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv; Russia claims strikes in Kharkiv – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war: US officials to meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv; Russia claims strikes in Kharkiv – live” was written by Sarah Haque (now) and Rebecca Ratcliffe (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 24th April 2022 10.27 UTC

There is a growing list of regions that keep popping up in coverage of this war. So where, exactly, has Russia been targeting? Here are a few key locations, with background from the AP.

Mariupol

Russia has been attempting to take Mariupol, in the Donbas region, for nearly two months, and the city on the Sea of Azov has faced some of the war’s most brutal attacks. Some 2,000 troops are fighting to hold on to the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which is also housing civilians in its tunnel system.

Russian forces continue to hammer the plant with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft, Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces general staff, said on Sunday.

If captured, Ukraine would lose a vital port, and Russian troops would be free to fight elsewhere. It would also establish a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.

Satellite images have shown what appears to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.

Rest of the Donbas region

The wider Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war, is one of Russia’s major targets.

Last week, Russian troops overran the small city of Kreminna.

Shtupun said Russian forces intensified their assault operations toward the cities of Popasna and Siverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kharkiv in Donetsk. Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Sunday that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage on Saturday.

The Russians also have shelled the Dnipro region west of Donbas, where at least one person was killed by a Russian missile, according to regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

Kyiv

Russia has pulled back forces from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and the north of the country to feed into the Donbas offensive, but the British ministry of defence said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous assaults in the past week.

“Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted significant cost on Russian forces,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.

Zelenskiy speaks of hope on Easter Sunday

In his Easter message on Sunday, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke from the ancient St Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv: “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.”

“The Lord and the holy heavenly light are on our side,” he added. “We are going through very difficult ordeals. Let us reach a just end on this path – the beginning of a happy life and prosperity of Ukraine.”

Zelenskiy said: “On Easter, we ask God for great grace to make our dream come true – this is another great day – the day when great peace will come to Ukraine.”

Updated

US: ‘This is going to be a victory for Ukraine’

The BBC journalist Sophie Raworth spoke to US state department spokesperson Ned Price earlier today about the possibility of Russia winning the war.

“What we have seen from our Ukrainian partners is nothing short of victory on the battlefield,” Price said.

“Right now, they are winning the battle for Ukraine. And it’s really no surprise, because they are fighting with grit, with determination, with tenacity – but also with massive amounts of security assistance that United States and some 30-odd countries from around the world are also providing.”

He added, “This is going to be a victory for Ukraine. It is going to be a strategic defeat for Russia. However and whenever that happens, we are confident of that.”

When pressed by Raworth on whether the US is committed to sending heavy offensive weapons to push Russian soldiers off Ukraine territory, Price said: “We announced yesterday, another tranche of security assistance, in the form of $800m in security assistance. We’re providing them just what they need for this new type of battle, the battle that’s going to emerge in the Donbas and in the south.

“We are confident that with our continued support, with the determination and tenacity that our Ukrainian partners have demonstrated, they will emerge victorious there as well.”

Updated

Russia says it struck several arms depots in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region overnight.

Reuters reports:

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday its high-precision missiles struck nine Ukrainian military targets overnight, including four arms depots in the Kharkiv region where artillery weapons were stored.”

These claims could not immediately be verified.

Updated

The senior Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has urged Moscow to agree to a “real Easter truce” on Sunday.

“Russia is constantly attacking Mariupol’s Azovstal. The place where our civilians and soldiers are is covered with heavy air bombs, artillery fire and intensive concentration of forces and equipment for the assault,” Podolyak said on Twitter.

He called on Russia to immediately open a humanitarian corridor for civilians and agree on a “special round of negotiations” to facilitate an exchange of military and civilians.

Updated

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments in Ukraine with me, Sarah Haque.

It is 11am, and this morning the sun came out as Ukrainians marked Orthodox Easter in the capital, Kyiv, with prayers for those fighting on the front lines and others trapped in places like Mariupol.

AP reports that residents of villages battered by the war remain defiant in commemorating the holiday:

“We’ll celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks still littered the roads.

“How do I feel? Very nervous, everyone is nervous,” said another resident, Olena Koptyl, as she prepared her Easter bread. “The Easter holiday doesn’t bring any joy. I’m crying a lot. We cannot forget how we lived.” She and 12 others spent a month sheltering from Russian soldiers in the basement of her home before the soldiers withdrew.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to meet with US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin later today in the first high-level US trip to Kyiv since before the war began on 24 February.

Updated

Summary

  • The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday, the most senior US officials to visit Kyiv since the war began. It’s expected that Zelenskiy will ask the US for more heavy weapons.
  • Zelenskiy warned peace negotiations with Moscow will be suspended if Russia kills any Mariupol defenders or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
  • On Saturday, Russia resumed its assault on the last defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. This came despite Moscow declaring days ago that it had achieved victory in the southern port city and that its forces did not need to take the factory.
  • Zelenskiy, speaking via a video address late on Saturday, said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes committed against people in Mariupol, including the discovery of fresh graves. Russia was continuing the activities of “filtration camps” near Mariupol, he said, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens before forcibly relocating them to Russia.
  • Zelenskiy also condemned the killing of eight people, including a three-month-old baby girl, in a missile strike on Odesa.
  • UN secretary general António Guterres will visit Turkey, which has played a key role in negotiations, on Monday before meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday.
  • The UK Ministry of Defence said Ukraine has repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in the Donbas this week. It added that while Russia has made some territorial gains, its operations are hindered by poor morale and limited time to reorganise troops.

Updated

Ukrainians have marked Orthodox Easter this Sunday with prayers for those defending the country, and those facing desperate conditions in Mariupol.

At St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukrainians brought baskets to be blessed by priests.

Updated

The Kyiv Independent has produced the following breakdown of Russia’s military losses as of 24 April, based on data from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is not possible to verify these figures.

Updated

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leaders across Europe and North America have sought to isolate Russia by imposing “unprecedented” sanctions.

How isolated is Russia? AFP has published the following analysis:

In the weeks that followed the invasion, Nato and EU airspace closed to Russian planes and the United States ordered bans on importing Russian oil and gas, as well as seafood, vodka and diamonds.

Some Russian banks were excluded from the Swift international payment system and hundreds of prominent figures were prohibited from touching down on European soil.

But outside the West, the response has been more cautious.

At the UN General Assembly on March 2, India and South Africa abstained during a vote demanding Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine.

In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico refused to participate in the barrage of sanctions.

“There are a growing number of countries that are more willing to assert their independence in spite of the fact that they aspire to closer cooperation with the West and are even in need of Western support,” Chris Landsberg, a professor of international relations at the University of Johannesburg, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

“It’s one thing to condemn the invasion of Ukraine – it’s another to launch an economic war against Russia, and many countries in South America, Africa and Asia are not ready to cross the line,” the former Chilean ambassador to India and South Africa Jorge Heine added.

This appears to be the case for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have so far avoided taking a stand against Russia. It could also be said for India, which abstained during a vote condemning the Russian invasion at the UN Security Council in February.

“For India, the war has posed a stark and unwelcome choice between the West and Russia, a choice that it has done everything possible to avoid making,” explained Shivshankar Menon, former national security adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“The United States is an essential and indispensable partner in India’s modernisation, but Russia remains an important partner for geopolitical and military reasons,” he wrote in an article published at the beginning of April, entitled: “The Fantasy of the Free World: Are Democracies Really United Against Russia?”

For former French ambassador Michel Duclos, this tendency is nothing new.

“Already in 2015 with the Syrian crisis and the first Ukrainian crisis, we had neither India nor Brazil with us,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves: why is this the case, and what can we do to build stronger bridges with these countries? The question is more relevant than ever before”.

Updated

Zelenskiy likens Russian ‘filtration camps’ to Nazi concentration camps

Here is a recap of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s video address last night.

  • Zelenskiy condemned a missile strike in Odesa which killed eight people on Saturday, including a three-month old baby girl. “How did she threaten Russia?” Zelenskiy questioned. The missiles were launched by Russian strategic aircraft from the Caspian Sea region, he said, adding that Ukraine managed to shoot down two missiles, but five more missiles hit the city. He promised justice for those killed.
  • Zelenskiy said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes by Russian forces against Mariupol residents. “New graves of people killed by the occupiers are being found. We are talking about tens of thousands of dead Mariupol residents,” he said.
  • Zelenskiy said Russia was also continuing the activites of “filtration camps”, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens, before forcibly relocating them to Russia. He likened the camps to Nazi concentration camps.
  • Zelenskiy said he had spoken to UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, and thanked him for his support. He added he was now preparing to meet US representatives.

Updated

The UK Ministry of Defence has released its latest analysis of the war in Ukraine. It says that while Russia has made some territorial gains, its operations are hindered by poor morale and limited time to reorganise troops.

Russia has deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers within 60 km (40 miles) of the Ukrainian border, General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Sunday.

“Then enemy has increased the number of troops in the Belgorod region by transferring and concentrating additional units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily morning update.

“According to available information, Iskander-M launchers have been deployed 60 km from the border with Ukraine,” it said.

Here is some more detail from a Reuters’ report on the development:

The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by Nato, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km (300 miles) and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

Russia said on Friday it wanted to control all of southern Ukraine. Kyiv said this showed Moscow had wider goals than its declared aim of demilitarising and “denazifying” the country.

Belgorod is a city and the administrative centre of Russia’s Belgorod region, north of the border with Ukraine.

Reuters could not immediately to verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Moscow to the reports.

Russian forces are “likely attempting to starve out” those who remain in Azovstal steel plant

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its latest analysis last night that Russian forces are “likely attempting to starve out” the remaining defenders of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol.

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are trapped inside the steel plant, and has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow civilians to flee safely. Those stuck inside are running out of food and water.

Yesterday, a video emerged from inside the besieged factory showing women and children who said they are “running out of strength” and needed to be urgently evacuated.

Moscow had earlier declared victory in Mariupol and said its forces did not need to take the factory. However, on Saturday a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovich, said Russian forces had resumed air strikes and tried to storm the plant.

“Our defenders hold on regardless of the very difficult situation and even carry out counter-raids,” he said.

According to ISW, Russian forces will likely attempt to starve those who remain at the plant, and not allow trapped civilians to evacuate. ISW also said Russia is expected to continue attacking southeast from Izyum, west from Kreminna and Popasna, and north from Donetsk City via Avdiivka or another axis. “Russian forces will likely increase the scale of ground offensive operations in the coming days, but it is too soon to tell how fast they will do so or how large those offensives will be,” it said.

Updated

Summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments in Ukraine with me, Rebecca Ratcliffe.

It is now 8.30am, and a curfew that was in place for traditional Orthodox Easter ceremonies was lifted three and a half hours ago.

Here’s a summary of the latest news:

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv Sunday, the most senior US officials to travel to the city since the war began. It’s expected that Zelenskiy will ask the US for more heavy weapons. The US has not commented on the trip, which was announced by Zelenskiy as he held a press conference in an underground subway station on Saturday.
  • Zelenskiy warned peace negotiations with Moscow will be suspended if Russia kills any Mariupol defenders or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
  • On Saturday, Russia resumed its assault on the last defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to a Ukraine official. This came despite Moscow declaring days ago that it had achieved victory in the southern port city and that its forces did not need to take the factory.
  • Zelenskiy, speaking via a video address late on Saturday, said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes committed against people in Mariupol, including the discovery of new graves. Russia was continuing the activities of “filtration camps” near Mariupol, he said, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens, before forcibly relocating them to Russia. He compared the camps to Nazi concentration camps.
  • Zelenskiy also condemned the killing of eight people, including a three-month-old baby girl, in a missile strike on Odesa.
  • Eight people also died in Russian attacks in Ukraine’s Luhansk region on Saturday, Serhiy Gaidai, the region’s governor, said on social media.
  • UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will visit Turkey, which has played a key role in negotiations, on Monday before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday. Zelenskiy has criticised the UN’s decision to visit Moscow first, stating: “There is no justice and no logic in this order.”

Updated

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