Blinken and Austin to visit Ukraine on Sunday, Zelenskyy says

The Ukrainian leader says the US’s top diplomat and its defence chief will discuss new weapons deliveries during the Kyiv visit.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pose for a group photograph at the State Department in Washington, DC, September 16, 2021 [File: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters]

The United States’ top diplomat and its defence chief are set to make their first visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion two months ago, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskky has said, as fierce battles raged in the south and the east of the country.

During their Sunday visit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will discuss the types of weapons Ukraine needs, Zelenskyy said.

“As soon as we have [more weapons], as soon as there are enough of them, believe me, we will immediately retake this or that territory, which is temporarily occupied,” the Ukrainian leader told a Saturday evening news conference.

The White House has not confirmed any travel plans for Blinken and Austin.

The Department of State and the Pentagon declined to comment.

Blinken and Austin’s reported trip follows a series of visits to Kyiv by European leaders, and comes as Russian forces show no sign of easing their attacks. This included missile attacks on the southern city of Odesa that Ukraine said killed eight people, including an infant.

The death toll from Saturday’s attack could not be independently verified. The last big attack on or near Odesa was in early April.

Russian forces also resumed their assault on the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a giant steelworks in the shattered port city of Mariupol, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy.

“Our defenders hold on regardless of the very difficult situation and even carry out counterraids,” he said.

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and about 1,000 civilians are holed up inside Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant. Kyiv has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow civilians – many barely surviving with little or no access to food or water – to exit safely.

The Azov battalion, a militia prominent in the defence of Mariupol, released a video it said shows women and children sheltering in the complex.

One woman holding a young child said food was running out, while a boy said he was desperate to get out after two months in the bunker.

“I want to see the sun because in here it’s dim, not like outside. When our houses are rebuilt we can live in peace. Let Ukraine win because Ukraine is our native home,” he said.

Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the video.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine map Who controls what in Mariupol DAY 60

Capturing Mariupol is seen as vital to Russia’s attempts to link the eastern Donbas region with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow seized in 2014. Moscow-backed separatists have held territory in the Donbas region for years.

Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Mariupol and says 100,000 civilians are still there. The United Nations and Red Cross say the civilian death toll is in the thousands.

A new attempt to evacuate civilians failed on Saturday, an aide to Mariupol’s mayor said.

About 200 residents gathered at a designated evacuation point in Mariupol but were “dispersed” by Russian forces, Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding: “The evacuation was thwarted.”

He claimed others had been told to board buses headed to places controlled by Russia.

Source: News Agencies