The United States’ top diplomat and defense chief are set to make their first wartime visits to Kyiv since Russia launched its unprovoked war on Ukraine two months ago, as intense fighting continues in the eastern part of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on April 23 that he would meet in the capital the following day with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as he seeks more weapons to repel Russia’s invasion.
The visit would mark the highest-profile arrival by U.S. officials to war-ravaged 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 the 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, shelling parts of the capital and sending hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the city. However, the Russian forces retreated after facing strong resistance.
The Kremlin is now refocusing its military campaign on capturing the Donbas region in the east.
Ukraine has requested heavy artillery from the West for the new phase of the war, which will take place on the region’s vast plains.
In his daily video address late on April 23 , Zelenskiy said he was “expecting specific things and specific weapons” from the meeting with the U.S. officials.
The Biden administration has already announced several billion dollars in military and economic aid to Ukraine since the war began, including another $ 800 million on April 21.
Austin may use the visit to get a better understanding of how Ukrainian military leaders see the new phase of the war progressing and gauge their future weapon needs, Courtney said.
Peace Effort Dead?
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears set on seizing as much Ukrainian territory as possible, having given up on peace talks, the Financial Times reported on April 24, citing three people briefed on conversations with the Russian president.
Putin told people involved in trying to end the conflict that he sees no prospects for a settlement, the paper said. Talks stalled after Zelenskiy earlier this month accused Russia of committing war crimes, the paper reported.
Russian forces have continued to press their attacks in the east, including on the besieged port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian military said on April 24.
Ukraine’s General Staff said the Russians fired on Ukrainian positions along the entire line of contact on the war’s 60th day. It also said the Russian military intensified its offensive and assault operations in the Severodonetsk, Kurakhiv, and Popasna directions.
Russian forces also intensified their assaults on cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Luhansk region Governor Serhiy Hayday said on April 24 that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage the day before.
In the strategic Black Sea port of Odesa, government officials said a Russian missile strike hit a military facility and two residential buildings, killing at least five people and injuring 18, although the reports could not immediately be confirmed.
The Ukrainian 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 in the war, and 389 wounded.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office added that the figures were not final and that work was under way to establish them in areas of hostilities.
In the eastern Donetsk region, the governor said two children were killed on April 24 in shelling by Russian forces.
Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a post on Telegram that the children, girls aged 5 and 14, had died in the Ocheretynsk community after the building where they lived was destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on April 23 it 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 critically wounding another, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said in a statement. The Russian military did not comment on the claim.
British military intelligence said on April 24 that Ukraine had repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in Donbas this week.
Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted a significant cost on Russian forces, the U.K. Ministry of Defense tweeted in a regular bulletin.
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness,” the update said.
In its latest analysis, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces did not appear to be pausing 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 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.
Senior Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on April 24 that Russian forces were continuously shelling Mariupol and urged Moscow to agree a “real Easter truce.”
Russia has largely reduced Mariupol to rubble as it seeks to crush the last vestiges of resistance holed up at the massive local steel plant.
The UN’s Ukraine crisis coordinator, Amin Awad, on April 24 called for an “immediate stop” to fighting in Mariupol to allow the evacuation of trapped civilians in the battered city “today.”
“The lives of tens of thousands, including women, children, and older people, are at stake in Mariupol,” Awad said in a statement. “We need a pause in fighting right now to save lives.” Awad said Orthodox Easter provided an opportunity to halt hostilities.
His call came after the latest of many attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol failed on April 23.
The UN statement said there was an estimated 100,000 civilians trapped in the city, which has been heavily devastated after being besieged by Russian forces for weeks.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on April 24 that it was “deeply alarmed” by the situation in Mariupol, calling for unimpeded access to help residents, including hundreds of wounded.
“Each day, each hour that passes has a terrible human cost,” the ICRC said in a statement.