As battle looms in Ukraine’s east, Austrian leader to meet Putin

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3 mins read
A mother reacts as police members exhume the body of her dead son from a well at a fuel station in Buzova

By Elizabeth Piper and Zohra Bensemra

KYIV/BUZOVA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian forces pounded targets in eastern Ukraine with missiles and artillery on Sunday as Austria’s leader planned to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Washington pledged to give Ukraine “the weapons it needs” to defend itself against a new Russian offensive.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he would meet with Putin on Monday in Moscow for the Russian leader’s first face-to-face meeting with a European Union counterpart since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24.

“We are militarily neutral, but (have) a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against #Ukraine,” Nehammer wrote of Austria on Twitter https://twitter.com/karlnehammer/status/1513193093784297476. “It must stop! It needs humanitarian corridors, ceasefire & full investigation of war crimes.”

Nehammer met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Saturday – the same day as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who promised to give Ukraine 120 armoured vehicles and anti-ship missile systems.

Russia has failed to take any major cities, but Ukraine says it has been gathering its forces in the east for a major assault and has urged people to flee.

Russian forces fired rockets into Ukraine’s Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk regions on Sunday, officials said. Missiles completely destroyed the airport in the city of Dnipro, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.

Russia’s defence ministry said high-precision missiles had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine’s Dnipro battalion in the town of Zvonetsky.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.

WEAPONS APPEALS

Since Russia invaded, Zelenskiy has appealed to Western powers to provide more defence help, and to punish Moscow with tougher sanctions, including embargoes on Russian energy exports.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News: “We’re going to get Ukraine the weapons it needs to beat back the Russians to stop them from taking more cities and towns.”

In an interview aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Zelenskiy said he had confidence in his own armed forces but “unfortunately I don’t have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need” from the United States.

“They have to supply weapons to Ukraine as if they were defending themselves and their own people,” Zelenskiy added. “They need to understand this. If they don’t speed up, it will be very hard for us to hold on against this pressure.”

Zelenskiy said earlier on Twitter he had spoken on the phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about additional sanctions, as well as more defence and financial support for his country. Zelenskiy also discussed with Ukrainian officials Kyiv’s proposals for a new package of EU sanctions, his office said.

The EU on Friday banned Russian coal imports among other products, but has yet to touch oil and gas imports from Russia.

NEW SANCTIONS

Mounting civilian casualties have triggered widespread international condemnation and new sanctions.

A grave with at least two civilian bodies has been found in Buzova village near Kyiv, said Taras Didych, head of the Dmytrivka community that includes Buzova, the latest such reported discovery since Russian forces withdrew from areas north of the capital.

Sullivan said on Sunday he expected Russia’s newly appointed general overseeing Ukraine, Aleksandr Dvornikov, to authorise more brutality against the Ukrainian civilian population. He did not cite any evidence.

Moscow has rejected accusations of war crimes by Ukraine and Western countries.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its southern neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

Russia’s invasion has forced about a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes, turned cities into rubble and killed or injured thousands.

The World Bank on Sunday forecast the war would cause Ukraine’s economic output to collapse by a staggering 45% this year, with half of its businesses shuttered, grain exports mostly cut off by Russia’s naval blockade and destruction rendering economic activity impossible in many areas.

The bank forecast Russia’s GDP would contract by 11.2% this year due to punishing Western sanctions.

HEAVY SHELLING

Some cities in Ukraine’s east were under heavy shelling, with tens of thousands of people unable to evacuate.

Calls by Ukrainian officials for civilians to flee gained more urgency after a missile strike hit a train station on Friday in the city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region, that was full of people trying to leave.

Ukrainian officials said on Sunday the death toll from the strike rose to 57, while 109 were wounded. Russia has denied responsibility, saying the missiles used in the attack were only used by Ukraine’s military.

Reuters was unable to verify the details of the attack.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful head of Russia’s Chechnya region, said in a video message that Russia would unleash an offensive on the besieged port of Mariupol, but also Luhansk, and Donetsk and then target Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 2,824 people were evacuated on Sunday through humanitarian corridors, including 213 from Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Michael Perry, Tomasz Janowski and David Lawder; Editing by Robert Birsel, Frances Kerry, Matthew Lewis and Lincoln Feast.)

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