Russian forces have called for air strikes on the besieged steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol as part of an attack aimed at ousting the last Ukrainian troops staying in the strategic port, Ukrainian officials said.
- Russia has allegedly hit Mariupol steelworks with air strikes, including long-range aircraft
- Zelensky said he would meet with US officials in Kiev on Sunday
- The White House did not confirm the meeting
Russian forces continue to strike at the besieged Azovstal power plant and strike it with air strikes, including long-range aircraft, Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesman for the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on Sunday.
Warning: This story contains graphic images and details that may disturb some readers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week issued an order not to send troops, but instead to block the power plant, but the attack continued on Saturday after Ukrainian troops refused to surrender.
Ukrainian officials said they expected to find thousands of civilian deaths and evidence of war crimes in Mariupol after the fighting ended. 04.30 Reuters: Azov / Handout
Russia has been trying to conquer Mariupol for almost two months, a city whose conquest would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and create a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula.
About 2,000 troops are fighting to maintain the last remaining Ukrainian base in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which also houses civilians in its labyrinth tunnel system.
The attacks are intensifying in the east
Shtupun said Russia was pushing for its attacks in the eastern Donbas region and intensifying offensive and offensive operations on the cities of Popasna and Siverodonetsk in Luhansk and Kharkov in Donetsk.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Sunday that eight people had been killed and two others injured in Russian fire on Saturday.
Russia continues offensive in Donetsk region (AP: Yevgeny Maloletka)
The shelling comes as the Russians continue their offensive in an effort to gain full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heart, Donbas.
The Russians also shelled the Dnieper area west of Donbas, where, according to Dnieper Governor Valentyn Reznichenko, at least one person was killed by a Russian missile.
However, the British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had managed to repel numerous attacks in the past week.
“Despite the fact that Russia made some territorial gains, the Ukrainian resistance was strong across all axes and caused significant costs to Russian forces,” the ministry said in an update.
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, rearm and reorganize forces from previous offensives are likely to hamper Russia’s combat effectiveness,” he said.
Read more about the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
Blinken at a meeting with Zelenský in Kiev
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, said he would meet with two top US officials in Kiev on Sunday to discuss Ukraine’s call for stronger weapons.
Zelenskyj gave some details about the logistics of his upcoming talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but told reporters he expected results – “not just gifts or cakes, we expect specific things and specific weapons.”
Mr Zelensky remains in Kiev, where he gave his press conference from the city’s metro station. (AP: Efrem Lukatsky)
This would be the first high-level US trip to Kiev since the war broke out on February 24th.
During his visit to Poland in March, Mr Blinken briefly entered Ukrainian soil to meet with the country’s foreign minister.
The White House has not confirmed any travel plans for Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin.
The State Department and the Pentagon declined to comment.
AP / Reuters