The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, April 24. Click here for updates from April 23.
Blinken, Austin Meet With Zelenskyy
The U.S. secretaries of state and defense met Sunday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was confirmed by 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 Donbass 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, Zelenskyy 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.
Ukraine to Call for Heavy Arms When Top US Officials Visit Kyiv
Ukraine will ask U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin for more powerful weapons during an expected visit by the officials to Kyiv on Sunday, seeking to build the country’s defences against the Russian invasion.
The trip by Blinken and Austin, announced earlier by Zelenskyy, would be the highest-level visit to Ukraine by U.S. officials since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the country two months ago.
The White House has not confirmed any visit by Blinken and Austin. The State Department and Pentagon declined to comment.
NATO and Russian Military Presence in Mediterranean Sea at ‘Cold War’ Levels
As the conflict in Ukraine enters its third month, NATO and Russia have built up their naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea to the most significant levels in decades.
That was confirmed in a recent interview with Thibault Lavernhe, regional communication officer of French forces in the Mediterranean, who said that “Ukraine has changed things.”
“The Americans are back. This hasn’t been the case since the Cold War,” he said. “Russia has doubled, if not tripled, its military capacity in the area” in terms of destroyers, submarines, and frigates, Lavernhe continued to say.
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Ukraine’s Military Says Russian Forces Are Trying to Storm Azovstal Plant
Russian forces attempted to storm the Ukrainian-held Azovstal steel plant in the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol on Sunday, Ukrainian officials said, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments last week that the complex did not need to be taken.
Ukraine’s armed forces command wrote on Facebook that Russian forces were firing and performing “offensive operations” in the Azovstal area, as well as conducting airstrikes on civilian infrastructure.
Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine brigade forces in Mariupol, said in an interview with an opposition lawmaker that was shown on YouTube on Sunday that Russia was hitting the complex with air and artillery bombardments.
“We are taking casualties, the situation is critical … we have very many wounded men, (some) are dying, it’s a difficult (situation) with guns, ammunition, food, medicines … the situation is rapidly worsening,” Volyna said, speaking from his location at the plant.
Konstantin Ivaschenko, the official who has been designated mayor of Mariupol by Russia but not recognized as such by Ukraine, denied that any fighting was taking place in the city in comments reported by Russian news outlet TASS on Sunday.
The Epoch Times could not independently verify the Ukrainian or Russian accounts.
Russia Says Village in Belgorod Region Shelled by Ukraine: Tass
Russia said on Sunday a village in its Belgorod region bordering Ukraine was shelled from across the frontier, state news agency Tass quoted a local official as saying.
Vladimir Pertsev, the official, said there were no casualties or damage after one projectile landed in a field, according to Tass.
Zelenskyy, Erdogan Discuss Evacuation
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.
Ukraine Says Russia Deploys Iskander-M Launchers Near Border
Russia has deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers within 60 km (40 miles) of the Ukrainian border, General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Sunday.
“Then enemy has increased the number of troops in the Belgorod region by transferring and concentrating additional units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily morning update.
“According to available information, Iskander-M launchers have been deployed 60 km from the border with Ukraine,” it said, without providing more detail on the location of the systems.
The Epoch Times could not immediately verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Moscow to the reports.
WTA Chief Promises ‘Strong Reactions’ to Ban on Russian, Belarusian Players
Women’s Tennis Association chief Steve Simon has warned Wimbledon organisers and Britain’s tennis body of “strong reactions” to their decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus from competing in tournaments.
The ATP, which runs the men’s tour, and the WTA denounced the move as “discriminatory”, with the two world governing bodies saying they were evaluating sanctions in response.
Simon told The Tennis Podcast that the Wimbledon decision was against Grand Slam rules and the agreement they have with the tournament while the LTA, which has WTA sanctioned events, violated the regulations regarding athlete entry.
“We don’t have the same jurisdiction over the Grand Slams as we do (over) our own sanctioned events. We have precedents … where these situations may have occurred where fines and tournament sanctions have been imposed,” Simon said.
“We need to sit down with our tournament, our player councils and I suppose our board and see where everything’s at. I do think that you’ll see some strong reactions that will come from us, but what those are and how far they’ll go is still to be determined.”
Britain Says Ukraine Repelled Numerous Russian Assaults Along the Line of Contact in Donbas
Ukraine has repelled numerous Russian assaults along the line of contact in Donbas this week, a British military update said on Sunday.
Despite Russia making some territorial gains, Ukrainian resistance has been strong across all axes and inflicted a significant cost on Russian forces, the UK Ministry of Defence tweeted in a regular bulletin.
“Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganise forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness,” the update added.
The Epoch Times could not immediately verify the report.
Switzerland Blocked Germany’s Request to Export Swiss Ammunition to Ukraine
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.
Ukraine Urges Russia to Allow Civilians to Leave Mariupol Steel Plant
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 wrote on Twitter that the Russian military is attacking the plant with heavy bombs and artillery barrage and is accumulating forces and equipment for an assault.
The Epoch Times could not independently verify the claims.
Ukrainian Steel Plant Bombed; Zelenskyy to Meet US Officials
Russian forces called in airstrikes on a besieged steel factory in the southern city of Mariupol to try to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops holding out in the strategic port, Ukrainian officials said Sunday, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would meet in Kyiv with two top American officials.
Zelenskyy gave few details about the logistics of his planned talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on what was the 60th day since Russia invaded Ukraine. But he told reporters he expected the Americans to come bringing “not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”
The visit would be the first to Ukraine’s capital by high-level U.S. officials since the invasion began Feb. 24. While visiting Poland in March, Blinken stepped briefly onto Ukrainian soil to meet with the country’s foreign minister. Zelenskyy’s last face-to-face meeting with a U.S. leader was Feb. 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.
Russia Strikes Ukrainian Explosives Factory
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.
Ukrainian Military Says It Destroyed a Russian Command Post in Kherson
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.
Ukrainian Military: Russian Forces Have Continued to Press Their Attacks in the East
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.
Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.