Sunday, December 4

Russia-Ukraine war: Top US officials to meet Zelenskiy in Kyiv; eight killed in Russian attacks in Luhansk, governor says | Ukraine

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its latest analysis last night that Russian forces are expected to “attempt to starve out the remaining defenders of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol”.

Ukraine says hundreds of its forces and civilians are trapped inside the steel plant, and has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to allow civilians to flee safely. Those stuck inside are running out of food and water.

Yesterday, to video emerged from inside the besieged factory showing women and children who said they are “running out of strength” and needed to be urgently evacuated.

Moscow had earlier declared victory in Mariupol and said its forces did not need to take the factory. However, on Saturday a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovich, said Russian forces had summarized air strikes and tried to storm the plant.

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

According to ISW, Russian forces will likely attempt to starve those who remain at the plant, and not allow trapped civilians to evacuate. ISW also said Russia is expected to continue attacking southeast from Izyum, west from Kreminna and Popasna, and north from Donetsk City via Avdiivka or another axis. “Russian forces will likely increase the scale of ground operations in the coming days, but it is too soon to tell how fast they will do so or how large those offensives will be,” it said.

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the latest developments in Ukraine with me, Rebecca Ratcliffe.

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It is now 8.30am, and a curfew that was in place for traditional Orthodox Easter ceremonies was lifted three and a half ago.

Here’s a summary of the latest developments:

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kyiv Sunday, the most senior US officials to travel to the city since the war began. It’s expected that Zelenskiy will ask the US for more heavy weapons. The US has not commented on the trip, which was announced by Zelenskiy as he held a press conference in an underground subway station on Saturday.
  • Zelenskiy warned peace negotiations with Moscow will be suspended if Russia kills any Mariupol defenders or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
  • On Saturday, Russia summarized its assault on the last defenders in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to a Ukraine official. This came despite Moscow declaring days ago that it had achieved victory in the southern port city and that its forces did not need to take the factory.
  • Zelenskiy, speaking via a video address late on Saturday, said new information continued to emerge regarding crimes committed against people in Mariupol, including the discovery of new graves. Russia was continuing the activities of “filtration camps” near Mariupol, he said, where Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens, before forcibly relocating them to Russia. I have compared the camps to Nazi concentration camps.
  • Zelenskiy also condemned the killing of eight people, including a three-month-old baby girl, in a missile strike on Odessa. The baby’s mother and grandmother were also killed.
  • Eight people also died in Russian attacks in Ukraine’s Luhansk region on SaturdaySerhiy Gaidai, the region’s governor, said on social media.
  • UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will visit Turkey, which has played a key role in negotiations, on Monday before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday. Zelenskiy has criticized the UN’s decision to visit Moscow first, stating: “There is no justice and no logic in this order.”
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