Russian forces bomb Ukrainian steel plant


Zelenskyy to meet US officials

Russian forces called in air strikes on a besieged steel factory in the southern city of Mariupol as part of an assault meant to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops holding out in the strategic port, Ukrainian officials said Sunday, while President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would meet in Kyiv with two top American officials later in what was the 60th day since the invasion began.

Zelensky gave few details about the logistics of his upcoming talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, but told reporters he expected results — “not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”

It would be the first high-level US trip to Kyiv since before the war began on Feb. 24. While visiting Poland in March, Blinken stepped briefly onto Ukrainian soil to meet with the country’s foreign minister. Zelensky’s last face-to-face meeting with a US leader was Feb. 19 in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris.

In Mariupol, Russian forces have continued to pummel the besieged Azovstal plant, hitting it with air strikes, including by long-range aircraft, Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesman for the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, said Sunday.

Russia has been trying to take Mariupol for nearly two months, a city whose capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014. Russia-backed separatists control parts of the Donbas region, where Mariupol is located.

Some 2,000 troops have been fighting tenaciously to hold on to the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the city, the Azovstal steel plant, which also has civilians taking refuge in its labyrinthine tunnel system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had given an order not to send troops in but instead to blockade the plant last week, but the assault resumed Saturday after the Ukrainian soldiers refused to surrender.

Elsewhere, Shtupun said Russia has pressed its attacks in the eastern Donbas region, intensifying offensive and assault operations toward the cities of Popasna and Siverodonetsk in Luhansk, and Kurakhiv in Donetsk.

Luhansk region Governor Serhiy Haidai said Sunday that eight people were killed and two others were wounded in a Russian barrage Saturday.—AP

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