Top U.S. officials meet with Zelensky in Ukraine as Russia continues to pound targets
Newly released video appears to show trapped civilians begging for help
The U.S. secretaries of state and defence met Sunday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the highest-level visit to the war-torn country's capital by an American delegation since the start of Russia's invasion.
The meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was confirmed by Ukraine's presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
It came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia's campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow's forces sought to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol.
"Yes, they're meeting with the president. Let's hope something will be decided on further help," Arestovych said in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
Before the session, Zelensky said he was looking for the Americans to produce results, both in arms and security guarantees.
"You can't come to us empty-handed today, and we are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons," he said.
Children among civilians in bunker, new video suggests
The meeting came as a newly released video appeared to show Ukrainian children in an underground bunker in Mariupol receiving Easter presents.
The video was released Sunday by the far-right Azov battalion that is now part of the Ukraine National Guard, and is among Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steelworks where soldiers and civilians have been holed up under a Russian attack.
The group's deputy commander, Sviatoslav Palamar, said the video was shot Sunday at the plant.
One toddler is seen wearing homemade diapers made of cellophane. People are hanging laundry on makeshift hangers.
One of the women in the video begs for help from world leaders and says she and others stuck under the plant are tired of the bombing and are desperate for their freedom.
"We want to live in our city, in our country. We are tired of these bombings, constant airstrikes on our land. How much longer will this continue?" she says through tears.
"The children are constantly crying here — they want to play and live," she adds. "Stop this aggression. I ask everyone, help please, free us!"
Another woman said there are 600 civilians sheltering under the plant, without food and water.
No easing of bombing on Easter Sunday
Earlier, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces continued to press their attacks in the east on Orthodox Easter Sunday.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said Sunday that 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 Siverodonetsk, Kurakhiv and Popasna directions.
The General Staff added that Russian forces have also continued to pummel the besieged Azovstal steel plant, hitting it with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft.
Zelensky's last face-to-face meeting with a top U.S. official was Feb. 19 in Munich with Vice-President Kamala Harris, five days before Russia's invasion. While the West has funnelled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelensky has stressed repeatedly that his country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defence systems and warplanes.
In an apparent boost for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron won reelection over far right candidate Marine Le Pen. The result was hailed by France's allies in the European Union as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.
Russia says it struck Ukrainian explosives factory
The Russians continue to press their offensive in a bid to gain full control over Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, which is partly held by Moscow-backed separatists.
The Russian military says it has struck a Ukrainian explosives factory, several artillery depots and hundreds of other targets.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that the Russian military used precision-guided missiles to destroy a factory making powder and explosives near Pavlohrad in the Dnipro region in central Ukraine — at least one person was killed by a Russian missile in Dnipro, according its regional governor.
Konashenkov also said Russian forces also struck several depots with artillery munitions and rockets in Barvinkove, Nova Dmytrivka, Ivanivka, Husarivka and Velyka Komyshuvakha in the Kharkiv region.
He added that the Russian artillery hit 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troops concentrations, while Russian warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military targets.
Easter calls for peace
Zelensky spoke of hope and victory for his nation during an Easter Sunday address.
Speaking from the ancient St. Sophia cathedral, he said that "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!"
He said that "the Lord and the holy heavenly light are on our side," adding: "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."
Zelensky said that "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."
Meanwhile, religious leaders are calling for peace.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, on Saturday called for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, saying a "human tragedy" was unfolding in the country.
"Let us ask the Risen Redeemer that this year, (Easter) will be the impetus to open humanitarian corridors, safe passages to truly safe areas for the thousands of people surrounded in Mariupol, civilians, among them the wounded, the elderly, women and many children," Bartholomew during midnight mass in Istanbul. "The same applies to all other regions of Ukraine, where an indescribable human tragedy is unfolding."
Pope Francis renewed his call for an Easter truce.
Without naming countries, Francis urged aggressors to "stop the attack to help the suffering of the exhausted people."
Francis told a crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square that two months had passed since Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said that "instead of stopping, the war got worse. It is sad that in these days that are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians, the deadly clamour of arms is louder than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection."