Top officials from the Biden administration are set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in the highest-ranking visit to Ukraine by a U.S. delegation since Russia began its invasion.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip was announced by Zelenskyy in a press conference Saturday, but is still unconfirmed by U.S. officials.
Zelenskyy did not give details about the meeting but said said he is expecting “not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”
The Ukrainian president has for weeks urged Western leaders to commit more weapons and military aid.
More Western officials have visited with Zelenskyy since Russian forces withdrew from around the capital of Kyiv.
The visit comes the same day as Orthodox Easter, in a nation where about 78% of adults were Orthodox Christians in a 2015-16 Pew Research Center study. Russian adults were about 71% Orthodox Christians.
Ukrainian officials highlighted the brutality of Russian attacks on the eve of the holiday. At least six were killed, including an infant, in a strike on Odesa Saturday. “Nothing sacred,” said Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Zelenskyy.
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►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said he promised more defense weaponry is on the way to Ukraine while speaking with Zelenskyy by phone on Saturday afternoon, the latest Western leader to pledge artillery to help the defense against Russian forces.
► A second mass grave was found outside the besieged port city Mariupol, its city council said Friday. A satellite photo by Planet Labs to Telegram showed what was described as a mass grave in the village of Vynohradne that is at least about 147 feet by 82 feet, and could hold the bodies of at least 1,000 Mariupol residents, the city officials said.
►Turkey’s top diplomat says Ankara has closed the Turkish airspace to Russian civilian and military flights between Russia and Syria.
Ukrainian village of Lukashivka faces a churchless Easter after Russia invasion
A single metal cross remains inside the church of shattered brick and blackened stone in Lukashivka, Ukraine. Russian soldiers used the house of worship for storing ammunition, residents said, and Ukrainian forces shelled the building to make the Russians leave.
There will be no Orthodox Easter service here Sunday in this small village in northern Ukraine. One of the church’s golden domes was blown off. Its gilded cross is propped up against an exterior wall.
“It’s a great pity,” resident Valentina Ivanivna, 70, said, standing with her bike on Orthodox Good Friday as men dismantled abandoned Russian military vehicles nearby.
The church in Lukashivka, a village near the city of Chernihiv, survived World War II and the most austere years of the Soviet Union, a time when authorities stripped it of its religious icons, residents said. This time, locals think it will take years for the church to recover its past beauty.
Ukrainian officials: 6 dead in Russian strike on Black Sea port city of Odesa
At least six people were killed, including a 3-month-old infant, in a Russian strike in the Black Sea port city of Odesa, Ukrainian officials said Saturday.
“The war started when this baby was 1 month old. Can you imagine what is happening?” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “They are just bastards. … I don’t have any other words for it, just bastards.”
Russia’s firing of cruise missiles on the region came on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
“Nothing sacred,” said Andriy Yermak of the president’s office on Telegram.
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Russian forces try to storm holdout at Mariupol steel plant
Russian forces in Ukraine tried to storm a steel plant housing soldiers and civilians in the southern city of Mariupol on Saturday while attempting to crush the last corner of resistance in a place of deep symbolic and strategic value to Moscow, Ukrainian officials said.
The reported assault on the eve of Orthodox Easter came after the Kremlin claimed its military had seized all of the shattered city except for the Azovstal plant.
The fate of the Ukrainians in the sprawling seaside steel mill wasn’t immediately clear. Earlier Saturday, a Ukrainian military unit released a video reportedly taken two days earlier in which women and children holed up underground, some for as long as two months, said they longed to see the sun.
“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe in fresh air,” one woman in the video said. “You have simply no idea what it means for us to simply eat, drink some sweetened tea. For us, it is already happiness.”
Contributing: The Associated Press