Russian bombs rain down as Ukrainians pause to mark Orthodox Easter

President Volodymyr Zelensky has prayed Ukraine will emerge victorious from the war as the embattled nation marked the Orthodox Easter, one of the most important events of the year.

At a service in Kyiv, Mr Zelensky asked God to save his country from the “evil” that had brought so much suffering to the Ukrainian people.

But as the nation paused, the bombs continued to fall, with the Russian military reporting hitting 423 targets overnight while its warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.

Most of Sunday’s fighting focused on the Donbas in the east, where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war.

Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a Mariupol steel plant where an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters.

A priest blesses people and their baskets with holy water outside the Church of Saint Andrew in Bucha. Photo: Getty

Mr Zelensky urged prayers for those fighting on the front lines and others trapped in places like Mariupol.

“Today we all believe in a new victory for Ukraine. And we are all convinced that we will not be destroyed by any horde or evil,” said Mr Zelensky.

“Save all Ukrainians. We did not attack anyone, so give us protection. We have never destroyed other nations, so do not let anyone destroy us. We did not seize other people’s lands, so do not let anyone seize ours.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, called for a localised Easter truce. He urged Russia to allow civilians to leave the steel plant and suggested talks to negotiate an exit for the Ukrainian soldiers.

Mr Podolyak tweeted that the Russian military was attacking the plant with heavy bombs and artillery while accumulating forces and equipment for a direct assault.

In Kyiv, St Volodymyr’s Cathedral was ringed by hundreds of worshippers with baskets to be blessed.

With the Orthodox church split by the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, some worshippers hoped the holy day could inspire gestures of peacemaking.

Residents of rural villages battered by the war approached the holiday with some defiance.

“We’ll celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks still littered the roads.

“How do I feel? Very nervous, everyone is nervous,” said another resident, Olena Koptyl, as she prepared her Easter bread.

“The Easter holiday doesn’t bring any joy. I’m crying a lot. We cannot forget how we lived.” She and 12 others spent a month sheltering from Russian soldiers in the basement of her home before the soldiers withdrew.

Zelensky demands more powerful weapons

Mr Zelensky has pressed the West for more powerful weapons as he prepared to meet with top US officials in the war-torn country’s capital.

Mr Zelensky announced the planned visit by US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin but the White House has not commented.

The visit would be the first by senior US officials since Russia invaded Ukraine 60 days ago. Mr Blinken stepped briefly onto Ukrainian soil in March to meet with the country’s foreign minister during a visit to Poland.

Mr Zelensky said he was wanted the Americans to produce results, both in arms and security guarantees.

“You can’t come to us empty-handed today, and we are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons,” he said.

-with AAP


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