Ukraine war: Blinken and Austin head to Kyiv as Russia causes more devastation
Kyiv, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing to welcome US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Kyiv on Sunday as a delegation from Washington makes a visit to the embattled country.
The announcement came as Russia continued to bombard Ukrainian cities on Saturday.
Amid the onslaught, Zelensky said he planned to discuss with Blinken and Austin the weapons Ukraine needs and how quickly they can be supplied, in comments to the press in a Kyiv metro station.
"I don't think it's a big secret. Tomorrow I will have a meeting with the US Secretary of Defense and with Secretary of State Blinken," Zelensky said on Saturday.
Zelensky added that he hoped that US President Joe Biden would also come to Kyiv "as soon as the security situation permits."
According to CNN, neither the State Department nor the Pentagon confirmed Blinken and Austin's trip, which would be the most high-profile visit from US officials since the war began.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has also previously insisted that Biden has no plans to visit Ukraine in the near future.
Odessa attack causes heavy casualties
Blinken and Austin arrived after a day of attacks by Russian troops, who continued to target the Azovstal steelworks in the fiercely contested port city of Mariupol.
Russia appears to be concentrating its attacks on the east and south of Ukraine, with Russia's top brass apparently determined to create a land bridge between Russia proper and the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow's forces attacked the southern port city of Odessa, saying they had hit a logistics terminal at a military airfield where Russia said a "large consignment" of weapons from the US and European countries was being stored.
Russian forces had also destroyed weapons, ammunition, and fuel depots, among other targets, and killed up to 200 Ukrainian fighters, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, according to Interfax news agency.
Many people were killed and injured in the Odessa attack, according to Ukrainian sources. "Eight people died and 18 or 20 were wounded, a 3-month-old baby was killed," Zelensky said.
There were reports of further deaths in the east of Ukraine throughout the day as Russian forces renewed their artillery and rocket attacks. Two people were killed and two others injured in the Luhansk village of Zolote, regional governor Serhiy Hayday said on Telegram.
The embattled Luhansk region towns of Popasna, Rubizhne and Sievierodonetsk were also heavily shelled by Russian artillery and bombed in air strikes on Saturday, Hayday said.
In the neighbouring Donetsk region, three people were killed and seven injured on Friday, according to the regional administration.
In the Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Syneyhubov announced that two people had died and a further 19 had been injured in some 56 Russian attacks on the region within the past 24 hours.
Zelensky repeats threat to withdraw from talks
Meanwhile, eight people were injured by shelling in the southern Ukrainian region of Mykolayiv, the authorities said. Attacks were also reported in Dnipropetrovsk.
Russian forces continued to target the besieged city of Mariupol and Zelensky repeated his threat to withdraw from peace talks with Russia to end the war should the Ukrainian troops holding out in Mariupol be massacred by Russian forces.
Mariupol has been completely surrounded by Russian troops since the early days of the Russian invasion. Ukraine estimates that more than 20,000 people have been killed in the battle for the city and satellite images have shown the location of what are thought to be mass graves.
The last defenders of Mariupol and their families remain holed up in the Azovstal steelworks, a labyrinthine complex.
"If our people are annihilated in Mariupol, if a pseudo-referendum on independence takes place in Kherson, then Ukraine will step out of all negotiation processes," Zelensky said during the press conference.
Zelensky said the Azovstal site was facing massive artillery attacks and air strikes. "Ukraine is not capable of a military de-blockade of Mariupol at the moment. And the Ukrainian soldiers who are there understand that," he said.
Cover photo: REUTERS