Live updates |U.S. pledges new Ukraine aid, diplomatic surge
NEAR THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER — The United States is giving new military assistance to Ukraine and renewing a diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden’s secretary of state and Pentagon chief complete a secretive trip to Kyiv.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Ukraine’s president of a more than $300 million package of foreign military financing and a $165 million sale of ammunition.
They also said President Joe Biden would announce his pick for a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left ahead of Russia’s invasion in February would start returning to the country this coming week.
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said he planned to meet with the U.S. officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that or discuss any details of a possible visit.
It was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.
Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv.
Officials say the remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began.
LVIV, Ukraine __ A fire has erupted at a Russian oil depot near the border with Ukraine.
The Tass news agency reported the fire early Monday in Bryansk. The Russian report said oil storage tanks at the facility caught fire around 2 a.m. local time.
NASA satellites that track fires show a burning fire at coordinates that correspond to a Rosneft facility some 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, was cited by the Ukrainian news agency Unian as saying that people who live near the burning oil depot were being evacuated.
Moscow previously has blamed Ukraine for attacks on the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.
Ukraine’s top security officials have denied that Kyiv was behind an earlier airstrike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the border.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Civilians in Mariupol steelworks beg for aid in newly released video
— Ukrainians mark Orthodox Easter with prayers for those trapped
— Far from home, Ukrainian refugees pray at Easter for peace
— Ukrainian village faces a churchless Easter
— Sanctions hit Russian economy, though Putin says otherwise
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — A newly released video shows Ukrainian children in an underground bunker receiving Easter presents.
The video was released Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, which 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, says 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 says there are 600 civilians sheltering under the plant, without food and water.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the U.S. secretaries of state and defense are meeting with the Ukrainian leader in the highest-level visit to Kyiv by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.
The adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview on Ukrainian TV late Sunday that the talks are going on “right now.”
Zelenskyy’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin comes as Ukraine presses the West for more powerful weapons in its fight against the Russian invasion, which began 60 days ago.
SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates — Hundreds of Russians and Ukrainians crowded into the only Russian Orthodox Church on the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday to celebrate Easter — far from home and in the shadow of a war that has brought devastation to Ukraine and international isolation to Moscow.
Although the two nationalities, united in language and history, typically celebrate Easter in harmony in this corner of the world where they’ve forged new lives as expats, this year there was unspoken tension.
“I don’t have any problems with Russians as people,” said Sergei, a Ukrainian businessman from Kyiv and Dubai resident of five years, who like others interviewed declined to give his last name for privacy reasons. “But war changes people. Children are dying. The Russians now hate my country.”
A few Russians interviewed said they did not support the war and felt sick or guilty about it. But to avoid any confrontation in the pews, they stuck to small talk with Ukrainians about the festivities and warming weather, they said.
Ordinary Russians say Dubai has become an increasingly rare haven as anti-Russian hostility escalates around the world over the grinding war, which has rocked the stability of Europe, sent oil prices soaring and triggered the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has discussed the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that he “stressed the need for immediate evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, including Azovstal, and immediate exchange of blocked troops” in Sunday’s call with Erdogan. He noted that the call came before Erdogan’s planned conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine has urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant, the last remaining Ukrainian pocket of resistance in the strategic Sea of Azov port. It also has pushed Russia to conduct talks on a safe exit for the Ukrainian defenders of the plant, but Moscow has stonewalled the demands.
Zelenskyy said he and Erdogan also discussed the course of the negotiation process and possible security guarantees for Ukraine from Turkey and other nations.
Erdogan’s office said he told Zelenskyy in their call that Turkey is ready to mediate and assist in talks between Ukraine and Russia.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has renewed his call for an Easter truce as Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter Sunday, when the faithful mark the resurrection of Jesus.
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 clamor of arms is louder than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection.”
BERLIN — Switzerland has rejected two requests by Germany to export Swiss ammunition to Ukraine, citing the Alpine nation’s strict neutrality.
The decision was first reported Sunday by Swiss weekly Sonntagszeitung.
Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs confirmed that “both requests from Germany, whether the ammunition received from Switzerland can be passed on to Ukraine, were answered negatively with a reference to Swiss neutrality.”
Germany needs Switzerland’s consent for the arms delivery as part of the original sale contract. The Swiss office declined to specify what type of ammunition Germany had sought to export to Ukraine.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has struck a Ukrainian explosives factory, several artillery depots and hundreds of other targets.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman 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.
Konashenkov 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.
ISTANBUL -- The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has called for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, saying a “human tragedy” was unfolding in the country.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I spoke Saturday night in Istanbul during midnight mass marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ ahead of Orthodox Easter Sunday.
“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 said. “The same applies to all other regions of Ukraine, where an indescribable human tragedy is unfolding.”
Istanbul-based Bartholomew is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope.
BERLIN — The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe says it is extremely concerned about the detention of several Ukrainian members of its monitoring mission in the east of the country.
The Vienna-based body said in a brief statement Sunday that it is “using all available channels to facilitate their release.” A spokesperson declined to specify how many national mission members were detained, when or by whom.
Several OSCE observers have been killed or injured since the body’s 57 participating states established a mission to monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine eight years ago. Russia recently vetoed an extension of the mission.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has spoken of hope and victory for his nation during an Easter Sunday address.
Speaking from the ancient St. Sophia cathedral, Zelenskyy 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.”
Zelenskyy 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.”
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian presidential adviser has urged Russia to allow civilians to leave a steel mill in Mariupol besieged by the Russian forces.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealed to Russia to announce a truce in Mariupol on Orthodox Easter Sunday and immediately open a humanitarian corridor for civilians holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant. He also challenged Russia to conduct a round of talks to negotiate an exit for the Ukrainian defenders of the plant.
Podolyak tweeted that the Russian military is attacking the plant with heavy bombs and artillery barrage and is accumulating forces and equipment for an assault.
Sviatoslav Palamar, an officer with the Azov Regiment defending the plant, said in a video that on Eastern Sunday the Russians are continuing to shower the plant with bombs and shell it with heavy artillery.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says Russian forces have continued to press their attacks in the east.
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.
A regional official in eastern Ukraine says at least eight people have been killed by the Russian shelling.
Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Haidai said Sunday that two others were wounded by the Russian barrage in the past 24 hours.
The General Staff added that Russian forces have also continued to pummel the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, hitting it with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft.
The shelling comes as the Russians are pressing their offensive in a bid to gain full control over Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas.
The Russians have also shelled the Dnipro region west of Donbas, where at least one person was killed by a Russian missile, according to Dnipro regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military said Saturday it destroyed a Russian command post in Kherson, a southern city that fell to Russian forces early in the war.
The Ukrainian military intelligence agency posted a statement saying the command post was hit on Friday and two generals were killed and one was critically wounded.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an online interview that 50 senior Russian officers were in the command center when it came under attack. He said their fate was unknown.
The Russian military did not comment on the claim, which could not be confirmed.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said new evidence is emerging that shows Russian troops killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol and then tried to cover it up. He said Ukraine has intercepted Russian conversations about “how they are concealing the traces of their crimes.” Satellite images have shown what appear to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.
Zelenskyy said the Russians set up “filtration camps” near Mariupol for those trying to leave the city, which has largely been reduced to rubble. He said those who survive these camps are sent to areas under Russian occupation or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East. Many of them, he said, are children.
He said he spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday about the situation in Mariupol and the general course of the war.
Zelenskyy promised to find and punish those responsible for the missile attack on Odesa, which he said killed eight people and wounded 18.
Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to observe a curfew and not attend Orthodox Easter services overnight. The lengthy services traditionally begin late Saturday and run through Sunday morning. “But starting from 5 a.m. you may go to the church in your city, town or community,” he said.