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Zelenskyy meets Blinken, Austin, says Ukrainian official

April 25, 2022

An adviser to President Zelenskyy says the US secretaries of state and defense are holding talks with the Ukrainian leader. Meanwhile, Kyiv blames Russia for Mariupol evacuation failure.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy leaves after a news conference at a metro station in Kyiv
Zelenskyy said he would ask Blinken and Austin for more powerful weapons during their talksImage: Gleb Garanich/REUTERS
  • Kyiv calls on Russia to declare 'Easter truce' in Mariupol
  • Russia says it hit arms depots near Kharkiv
  • Ukraine wants equipment to operate its nuclear power plants — IAEA
  • Russian forces attempting to storm Azovstal plant in Mariupol

This live updates article is now closed. For our latest coverage on Monday, follow our live updates here.

UK says Russia is planning 'referendum' in Kherson

The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia was planning a "staged referendum in the southern city of Kherson aimed at justifying its occupation."

It follows a similar assessment by Ukraine earlier in the week that warned Russia was planning sham referendums to take control of occupied territories in the south of the country.

In 2014, Russia held a sham referendum in Crimea to retrospectively justify its annexation of the territory.

Russia could use the referendum to declare a so-called Kherson people's republic similar to the self-declared republics in Luhansk and Donetsk.

British military intelligence highlighted the fact that Russia's own domestic elections have been beset by allegations of vote-rigging and have seen high-profile opposition politicians blocked from running.

Zelenskyy meets Blinken, Austin in Kyiv, says Ukraine official

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday night that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were meeting with the Ukrainian leader in Kyiv.

The adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview on Ukrainian TV late Sunday that the talks are going on "right now."

The trip by two of President Joe Biden's top cabinet members was kept closely under wraps. The White House has not confirmed any visit. The State Department and Pentagon declined to comment.

Zelenskyy earlier said he was "expecting specific things and specific weapons" from world leaders who come to the country. He said he would ask Blinken and Austin for more powerful weapons during their talks.

No humanitarian routes out of Mariupol on Sunday

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, said that no humanitarian routes were established to bring civilians and the wounded out of Mariupol on Sunday.

Vereshchuk blamed Russian forces for continuing their siege on the southern port city that has faced weeks of bombardment.

The Ukrainian side would try again on Monday, Vereshchuk said. She called on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to demand a ceasefire "if he is preparing to talk about peace" ahead of his travels to Moscow and then Kyiv next week.

UN: Almost 5.2 million Ukrainian refugees since war started

The UN refugee agency said 5,186,744 Ukrainians have fled since the start of Russia's invasion, an increase of 23,058 on Saturday's figures.

In April so far, more than 1,151,000 Ukrainians have fled their country compared with 3.4 million during the month of March.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrote on Twitter that this Orthodox Easter "will be another day of fear, anguish, loss and separation from loved ones, as war continues to rage without mercy."

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 7.7 million people are internally displaced within Ukraine.

Luhansk governor says shelling kills civilians 

Serhiy Gaidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said several civilians were killed by Russian shelling on Orthodox Easter Sunday.

In a video address to mark the holiday, Gaidai said, "Today, once again, civilians have died. Our compatriots. The (Russians) do not hold anything sacred."

Russian forces attempting to storm Azovstal plant in Mariupol

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said Sunday Russian forces are again attempting to storm the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where Ukrainian forces and civilians are sheltering following a weeks-long siege of the southern port city.

On Facebook, Arestovych wrote, "Russian troops are trying to finish off the defenders of Azovstal and more than 1,000 civilians who are hiding at the plant."

Russian troops have surrounded the plant since early March. On Saturday, Ukrainian officials issued similar warnings and said Russian forces were laying siege to the plant.

Pope Francis appeals for truce again

The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag flew among those gathered on St. Peter's Square in the Vatican this Orthodox Easter weekend as Pope Francis appealed again for a truce in Ukraine.

He called for an easing of "the suffering of exhausted people." 

Francis added that, "Instead of halting, the war has become worse."

Echoing the calls of senior Ukrainian government officials, Francis said, "I renew the appeal for an Easter truce, the smallest tangible sign of a willingness for peace."

Russia's US envoy says consulates' bank accounts closed

Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov said Sunday that the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US was essentially "blockaded" by US government entities.

"Accounts of our two consulates in Houston and New York have been closed by Bank of America," Antonov was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

He also said Russian diplomatic sites were receiving threats via telephone and in the mail.

OSCE says members captured in Donetsk and Luhansk

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it is "extremely concerned" about the detention of several members of its monitoring mission in the eastern part of the country.

In a brief tweet, the Vienna-based organization said several of its mission members "have been deprived of their liberty in Donetsk and Luhansk" and that OSCE was "using all available channels to facilitate their release."

An OSCE spokesperson failed to provide specifics such as how many Ukrainian nationals involved in the monitoring mission had been detained or when or who may be holding them. Several OSCE observers have been killed or injured since the monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine began eight years ago.

Russia recently vetoed extending the mission. It is one of 57 participating member states that form the OSCE.

UN says fighting in Mariupol should stop 'right now'

"The lives of tens of thousands, including women, children and older people, are at stake in Mariupol," the UN's coordinator for the Ukraine crisis, Amin Awad, warned. 

"We need a pause in fighting right now to save lives," he said in a statement. "They must be allowed to safely evacuate now, today. Tomorrow could be too late."

Russia claims to control the entirety of the port city save for a steelworks plant where several thousands of Ukrainian fighters are holed up. Earlier on Sunday, Ukraine also called for a truce as both Russia and Ukraine mark Orthodox Easter this Sunday.

Moscow blocks leading chess site

Chess.com, one of the most popular chess websites in the world, is now inaccessible in Russia. According to the Interfax news agency, the country's media supervisor Roskomnadzor has blocked two of its pages with information about the war in Ukraine.

Russian prosecutors demanded the move on Saturday. As the site uses https network protocol, barring the access to those pages has reportedly caused the entire site to be inaccessible in Russia.

Previously, Russian grandmaster Sergei Karjakin had called for the pages with information about what Russia calls its "special military operations" in Ukraine to be blocked.

Russia claims it struck arms depots in the Kharkiv region

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Sunday that it had struck nine Ukrainian military targets overnight.

Included among those targets were four arms depots in the Kharkiv region where artillery is stored and a facility producing military grade explosives in Dnipropetrovsk.

Ukraine marks Orthodox Easter in wartime

Ukrainian negotiator calls for a 'real Easter truce'

Mykhailo Podoliak, the senior Ukrainian negotiator and presidential advisor, urged a "real Easter truce" as both Ukraine and Russia mark Orthodox Easter.

On Twitter, Podoliak also urged a humanitarian corridor out of the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol.

"Russia is continuously attacking the Mariupol Azovstal. The place where our civilians and military are located, is shelled with heavy air bombs and artillery."

Podoliak urged Russia to "think of the remnants of its reputation."

Ukraine says Russia deployed Iskander-M missile launchers near border

Russia has moved Iskander-M missile launchers to sites within 60 kilometers (40 miles) of Ukraine's border, said the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces.

The mobile ballistic Iskander system has a range of up to 500 kilometers and is armed with two guided missiles capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.

"The enemy has increased the number of troops in (Russia's) Belgorod region by transferring and concentrating additional units," Ukraine's Armed Forces said in their daily morning update.

Missile attack on Odesa during Orthodox Easter

Zelenskyy hopes for 'eternal harmony' following peace in Ukraine

In his message for Orthodox Easter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the holiday is a reminder that "light wins over darkness," therefore "Ukraine must win!"

Zelenskyy said Ukrainians were praying for a day of "great peace" in Ukraine which would bring "eternal harmony and prosperity."

The politician recorded the video message at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv where "a thousand years ago, on the field of the holy battle, the army of Kievan Rus-Ukraine defeated the [medival Turkic nations of] Pechenegs," Zelenskyy noted.

Both Russia and Ukraine trace their countries' origins to the medieval state of Kievan Rus. The Kremlin has argued that because of this, Ukraine's national identity is virtually identical to Russia's; Kyiv strongly objects.

Meanwhile, Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians, called from Istanbul for humanitarian corridors to be opened in Ukraine where he said "an indescribable human tragedy is unfolding."

"We call once again for an immediate end to the fratricidal war, which, like any war, undermines human dignity," Bartholomew added.

Switzerland impedes German arms deliveries: report

Switzerland has blocked the re-export from Germany to Ukraine of Swiss-produced ammunition used in German-made Marder infantry fighting vehicles, according to the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.

The move by Switzerland, which maintains a neutral status, has held up arms deliveries by Germany at a time when Berlin is already under fire for failing to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons to help fight off Russia's invasion of the country.

Switzerland has gone against previous practice and adopted EU sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its invasion, but has insisted its neutrality does not allow it to send arms to conflict zones. Swiss officials have previously rejected Poland's request for the Alpine state to send arms to Ukraine.

The Marder vehicles are made by German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall but use Swiss-manufactured ammunition.

UK says Russian troops suffer from poor morale

Russia has made "some territorial gains" since starting the ongoing offensive in the east of the country, according to UK military intelligence. At the same time, UK officials said that Ukraine provided strong resistance and inflicted significant losses on the Russian forces.

"Poor Russian morale and limited time to reconstitute, re-equip and reorganize forces from prior offensives are likely hindering Russian combat effectiveness," they said on Twitter.

Ukraine governor says Russian attacks killed 8 in Luhansk

Russian shelling killed eight people and injured two more in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, according to governor Serhiy Gaidai. The Ukrainian official two more people were seriously injured, and no less than eight buildings were destroyed in the region, which is partially controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

The numbers could not be independently verified.

Analyzing military tactics in Ukraine

Germany reportedly to buy Chinook heavy transport helicopters

Germany would buy 60 CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters from Boeing worth around €5 billion ($5.4 billion), Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported, citing government sources.

Deliveries would begin after 2025-2026, and the helicopters are said to replace the aging CH-53G Stallion rotorcraft.

The paper said the project will be funded from the €100 billion fund Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in February to modernize the military.

The paper said Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht would inform the parliament of the decision next week, but a spokesperson for the ministry said no decision on helicopter purchases had been made yet.

Opposition leader calls for German foreign and security policy review

The leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Friedrich Merz, has called for a review of German foreign and security policies over the past two decades.

"The entire German foreign and security policies of the past 20 years are in ruins. When this war is over, we must carefully analyze how this happened," he told newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

He did not spare his own party, saying "serious failures" were made on defense over the past two decades.

"Looking back, we must, unfortunately, say that all defense ministers of the past 20 years made wrong decisions about materiel and the condition of troops," Merz said.

Are Ukrainian forces getting everything they need?

From the end of 2005 to the end of 2021, the CDU and its sister party, the CSU, held the Ministry of Defense.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a plan to beef up the German military in February, pledging a special package of €100 billion ($112.7 billion) to boost the strength of the country's armed forces.

He also vowed to increase Germany’s annual defense spending to 2% of the nation’s GDP, in line with NATO demands.

UN Chief to stop in Turkey before visits to Russia and Ukraine

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit Turkey on Monday before heading to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin and then to Ukraine for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the UN said in a statement.

In the Turkish capital Ankara, Guterres will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has been trying to negotiate an end to the conflict, so far without success.

On Tuesday, Guterres will meet Putin in Moscow, followed by a trip Thursday to Kyiv in an effort to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy criticized Guterres's decision to head to Moscow before Kyiv, saying there is "no justice and no logic in this order."

"The war is in Ukraine, there are no bodies in the streets of Moscow. It would be logical to go first to Ukraine, to see the people there, the consequences of the occupation," Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine blames Russian troops for forcibly recruiting civilians

Ukraine has accused Russian troops of forcibly recruiting civilians in occupied regions of eastern Ukraine.

In addition to young people, doctors were being targeted in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Kharkiv regions, Ukrainian military officials wrote on Facebook.

The UK's Ministry of Defense also noted similar conscription practices in the Russian-occupied Donbas and Crimea.

"Any enlistment of Ukrainian civilians into the Russian armed forces, even if presented by Russia as being voluntary or military service in accordance with Russian law, would constitute a violation of Article 51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention," the UK Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter.

IAEA to provide Ukraine with equipment to keep nuclear plants running

Ukraine has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the equipment it needs to operate nuclear power plants during the war with Russia.

The agency says it includes radiation measurement devices, protective material, computer-related assistance, power supply systems, and diesel generators.

"We will coordinate the implementation of the assistance that the IAEA and its member states will provide, including by delivering required equipment directly to Ukraine's nuclear sites," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said.

Ukraine has 15 operational reactors at four plants.

Grossi was due to visit the decommissioned Chernobyl plant next week, on the anniversary of the 1986 disaster there.

Putin in church as Ukrainians told to stay home

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended an Easter mass conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

The church has strongly backed the Kremlin leader's invasion of Ukraine.

Putin did not speak during the service.

Patriarch Kirill said he hoped the conflict in Ukraine would end quickly but did not condemn it.

His previous statements backing Russia's invasion have splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

On Sunday, many Ukrainians will observe Easter, but they were told to attend service virtually as authorities there have announced a nationwide curfew.

In Germany, Russian monks help Ukrainians

Zelenksyy to meet Blinken and Austin in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expecting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to visit Kyiv on Sunday.

It would be the highest-level visit by an American delegation since the start of the war two months ago.

Zelenskyy had high hopes for the encounter, saying Ukraine was expecting more weapons to counter the Russian invasion. The White House, State Department, and Pentagon declined to comment.

Summary of Saturday's events in Ukraine-Russia crisis

A Russian strike killed at least eight people, including a baby, and wounded several others in Ukraine's Black Sea city of Odesa, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Speaking to the media, Zelenskyy said his country's army was not ready to launch a military operation to restore access to the besieged city of Mariupol. Ukraine says Russia resumed its assault on the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a giant steelworks in the city, days after Moscow declared victory in the port city.

Ukrainian officials announced a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter Sunday. Authorities cautioned residents about the potential for increased Russian military activity during holiday celebrations.

Two Russian generals have been killed near Kherson, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's intelligence directorate has said. Defense Intelligence reported the deaths on Facebook, adding that another general had been heavily injured and evacuated.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has told the New York Times that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will not cut the supply of gas to Germany.

Schröder stressed that Putin is interested in ending the war with Ukraine, but added that ending the war won't be easy. He did not elaborate.

ar, lo/dj, sri (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)