U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv on Sunday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
"Tomorrow, the American officials are coming to visit us. I will meet the defense secretary [Lloyd Austin] and Antony Blinken," Zelenskyy told reporters Saturday, in what would be the first official visit by U.S. government officials since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
A State Department spokesperson told VOA in an email on Saturday: "We decline comment." The Pentagon also could not confirm the information to VOA. The White House also declined to comment.
British officials said Saturday that Russian troops haven’t gained significant new ground despite announcing a renewed offensive along the eastern front, while Ukraine has declared a nationwide curfew ahead of Orthodox Easter on Sunday.
Ukraine said Russian forces obstructed attempts to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol.
"The evacuation was thwarted," Mariupol city official Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding that about 200 people gathered at the government-appointed evacuation meeting point, but that Russian forces "dispersed" them.
Other residents were told to board buses destined for Russian-controlled Dukuchayevsk, which is about 80 kilometers to the north, Andryushchenko said.
Russian forces tried to storm a steel plant in Mariupol, the last pocket of resistance in the besieged port city that is of high strategic value to Moscow, Ukrainian officials said. Gaining full control of Mariupol would deprive the Ukrainians of a vital port, while giving Russia a land corridor with Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 201
Russia fired at least six cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Saturday, killing five people, Ukraine officials said. Russia’s defense ministry said its troops conducted a missile strike on a depot in Odesa that contained weapons sent to Ukrainian troops by the United States and European countries.
Ukraine officials said Saturday that 21,600 Russian troops have died in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy renewed his call for a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to "put an end to the war."
“I think that whoever started this war will be able to end it," Zelenskyy said Saturday at a news conference held at a metro station in the heart of Kyiv, adding that he was "not afraid to meet" with Putin if it would lead to a peace deal between their two countries.
France and Germany have armed Russia with nearly $300 million worth of military equipment that is “likely being used in Ukraine,” according to an exclusive report, based on European Commission data, in The Telegraph, a British newspaper.
The hardware was sent, the newspaper reports, despite a European Union-wide embargo on arms to Russia that was imposed following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Germany has defended the sales, saying the items were ‘dual-use’ equipment and that Russia had said they were needed for civilian, not military use.
The newspaper said the equipment sent to Russia included “bombs, rockets, missiles and guns.” French firms also sent “thermal imaging cameras for more than 1,000 Russian tanks as well as navigation systems for fighter jets and attack helicopters,” The Telegraph reported.
At least 10 EU member states have sent almost $380 million worth of military equipment to Russia, The Telegraph reported, with 78% of that total coming from French and German companies.
Other European countries that sold arms to Russia include Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Italy, according to The Telegraph.
Cristian Terhes, a Romanian member of the European parliament shared with The Telegraph the EU analysis of the probe into what countries have sold military goods to Russia.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy on Friday seized on remarks by a Russian general as evidence that Moscow would invade other countries if it succeeded in Ukraine. The general had said Russia aimed to capture all of southern and eastern Ukraine and link it to a breakaway province in neighboring Moldova.
"This only confirms what I have already said multiple times: Russia's invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a beginning," Zelenskyy said in his evening address Friday.
He said comments earlier Friday by Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia's central military district, show that Russia will not stop with Ukraine.
Russian state news agencies quoted Minnekayev as saying that Moscow wanted to seize Ukraine's entire eastern Donbas region, provide a land corridor to link with the Crimean Peninsula, and capture the country's entire south as far west as a Russian-occupied breakaway region of Moldova. That would mean carrying the offensive hundreds of miles past the current lines and to the border with Moldova.
Moldova summoned Russia's ambassador Friday to express "deep concern" over the general's comments.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter declined to comment on the Russian general's statement but said Washington firmly supported Moldova's sovereignty.
The U.N. has announced that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to the region next week, meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara Monday, Putin in Moscow Tuesday and Zelenskyy in Ukraine on Thursday.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.