War in Ukraine: Two top Biden administration officials are expected to arrive in Kyiv

Published April 23, 2022 at 9:21 AM EDT
Residents and a rescue worker watch workers remove rubble from a residential building hit by a rocket the previous day on April 24, 2022 in Odessa, Ukraine.
Anastasia Vlasova
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Getty Images
Residents and a rescue worker watch workers remove rubble from a residential building hit by a rocket the previous day on April 24, 2022 in Odessa, Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was scheduled to meet Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Kyiv. Austin and Blinken will be the highest-ranking U.S. officials to visit Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. The trip comes as Ukraine marked Orthodox Easter with solemn prayers for those fighting on the front lines and others who are trapped in the crossfire.

Here's more context to understand Ukraine and the impact of the invasion:

Follow the latest developments.

Evacuation Plans

Ukraine announced plans for an evacuation corridor from Mariupol on Sunday

Posted April 24, 2022 at 9:30 AM EDT
A part of a destroyed tank and a burned vehicle sit in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022.
Alexei Alexandrov
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AP
A part of a destroyed tank and a burned vehicle sit in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister announced plans for an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol on Sunday.

In a Telegram post, Iryna Vereshchuk announced the attempt to evacuate women, children and the elderly. If all goes according to plan, she said, the evacuation was set to begin at noon local time.

Moscow might also be trying to create a parallel evacuation corridor, Vereshchuk wrote, warning Ukrainians not to be deceived by efforts by Russian forces to bring evacuees to Russia.

The push to evacuate Mariupol follows the Kremlin's claim that the military has captured the port city, but Russian forces have continued to face resistance from a last contingent of Ukrainian forces holding out in the Azovstal steel plant.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says tens of thousands of people — many of them civilians — have been killed in Mariupol. Meanwhile, recent satellite images have identified what appears to be multiple mass grave sites near the city.

Diplomacy

Zelenskyy says Blinken and Austin will meet him in Kyiv on Sunday

Posted April 23, 2022 at 4:09 PM EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says two U.S. Cabinet officials will meet with him on Sunday in Kyiv.
Sergei Supinsky
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AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says two U.S. Cabinet officials will meet with him on Sunday in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday he plans to meet the U.S. secretaries of state and defense in Kyiv on Sunday.

Zelenskyy mentioned the plans to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd during a press conference. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment to NPR.

The visit would mark the first time top U.S. officials traveled to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The meeting comes as Zelenskyy continues to push Western allies for more weapons.

Another global leader, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, will meet Zelenskyy on Thursday.

Economy

An EU trade official calls the economic impact of defending Ukraine a price worth paying

Posted April 23, 2022 at 11:30 AM EDT
European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis credits U.S. and European aid to Ukraine with helping to liberate cities and towns around Kyiv.
John Thys
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AFP via Getty Images
European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis credits U.S. and European aid to Ukraine with helping to liberate cities and towns around Kyiv.

European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis tells NPR's Michel Martin any economic impact from the war in Ukraine is “a price worth paying for defending democracy and peace.”

Dombrovskis says the ongoing international response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was a central topic for all of his discussions in Washington, which include meetings with members of President Biden's Cabinet.

Dombrovskis says American and European aid to Ukraine — financial, military and humanitarian — was making a difference on the ground. He credits that aid with forcing Russia to withdraw its forces from the region around Ukraine's capital of Kyiv.

He does not expect the growing impact on the global economy to weaken international resolve to stop Russia.

“I very much expect that this solidarity is here to stay because the Western democratic world was able to react in a coordinated and forceful way, in a sense surprising Russians ... But this time we see it clearly is different.”

Dombrovskis, who is also the European Trade Commissioner, says one important action item on the European Union’s agenda is to move away from its dependence on Russia's fossil fuels.

“Already now we have put a ban on Russia's coal imports,” he says. “We are currently discussing the possibility to put some kind of oil embargo as part of the six sanctions package which is currently under preparation, and we are also working to rapidly phase out a dependency on Russian natural gas.”

Another port city under attack

6 people are killed in Odesa when Russian cruise missiles strike an apartment building

Posted April 23, 2022 at 10:43 AM EDT
A firefighter stands next to an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Odesa, Ukraine, on Saturday.
Max Pshybyshevsky
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AP
A firefighter stands next to an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Odesa, Ukraine, on Saturday.

Russian forces fired cruise missiles at Odesa on Saturday, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Telegram. The missiles hit an apartment building and killed six people, including a 3-month-old child.

The missiles tore a hole in the side of the apartment and left 18 wounded. Officials say they expect to find more victims in the rubble.

"They killed a 3-month child," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a news conference in Kyiv. "The war began when this child was a month old. Can you imagine what is happening?"

Odesa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov criticized Russia for the shelling of the city on the eve of Orthodox Easter. Ukrainian officials say at least two other cruise missiles were intercepted.

Gerashchenko said residents in the Black Sea port city heard explosions across different areas.

“Citizens saw explosions in the sky and falling burning debris,” Gerashchenko wrote.

In a statement, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the strike was an act of terror.

Mass graves

Satellite images show what appears to be a second mass grave site near Mariupol

Posted April 23, 2022 at 10:21 AM EDT
A satellite photo shows a cemetery near Vynohradne, Ukraine, on March 22.
Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies
A satellite photo shows a cemetery near Vynohradne, Ukraine, on March 22.

Satellite images have revealed what appears to be another mass grave site near Mariupol, Ukraine.

The graves sit in a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne and includes “several” parallel trenches measuring 131 feet each, according to a statement from Maxar Technologies, a provider of satellite imagery that captured the images.

A satellite photo shows the expansion of graves at a cemetery near Vynohradne, Ukraine, on April 15.
Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies
A satellite photo shows the expansion of graves at a cemetery near Vynohradne, Ukraine, on April 15.

The photos follow the discovery of a myriad offreshly dug mass graves in the town of Manhush, just 12 miles west of Mariupol. These graves could hold up to 9,000 bodies and span more than 1,000 feet — larger than three football fields.

Maxar Technologies said the size of the mass grave in Manhush has expanded over the past month. These graves could be 20 times larger than themass grave in Bucha.

The discovery of the mass grave site in Manhush has prompted Ukrainian accusations that Russians are trying to hide the slaughter of civilians in the city, according to the Associated Press.

"The occupiers dug new trenches and filled them with corpses every day throughout April," read a TelegrampostedThursday by the Mariupol City Council. "Our sources report that in such graves the bodies are placed in several layers."

In the Telegram post, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko compared the mass graves to the massacre at Babyn Yar, where Nazis systematically executed more than 30,000 Ukrainian Jews over two days during World War II.

"This requires a strong reaction from the entire civilized world,” Boychenko said. “Anything needs to stop the genocide."

The Kremlin did not respond to the satellite pictures, the AP said.