Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he has “high expectations” for a second round of meetings scheduled for next week of the partner countries supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy told reporters on May 21 that he expects positive responses to his requests for multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and U.S. jets at the meetings, scheduled to take place on May 23 online in a follow-up to a meeting of about 40 ministers from countries backing Ukraine militarily held last month at the U.S. air base at Ramstein, Germany.
“To be honest, we have high expectations. I would call it a long-awaited process. We are grateful for the great military support provided by various states. We expect a positive [response] on the supply of MLRS,” Zelenskiy was quoted as saying in response to questions from reporters following talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in Kyiv.
“I have no secrets, we appeal to all countries — from the United States to every European country on MLRS,”
He said the MLRS “just stand still” in other countries but would be “key” to Ukraine’s ability to take the initiative and liberate its territory.
Zelenskiy also addressed reservations expressed by some countries that Kyiv will use rocket systems to attack Russia, saying those who have such concerns should consider that the war continues on Ukrainian territory, including the Donbas area.
“These are our territories, and we are going step by step to liberate them. We cannot pay the price of tens, hundreds of thousands of people. So please help us,” he said.
Costa became the latest Western leader to visit Kyiv. In addition to meeting Zelenskiy, the Portuguese leader met Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and signed an agreement for unspecified financial support.
Kyiv also got another huge boost of aid from the United States when U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill to provide nearly $40 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid to the country.
“Look forward to new, powerful defense assistance. Today it is needed more than ever,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.
Zelenskiy said earlier on Ukrainian television that his country could be victorious on the battlefield — but that things could only come to a conclusive halt “at the negotiating table.”
He warned that there will be more fighting but the conflict “will only definitively end through diplomacy.”
The developments in Kyiv came as Russia moved nearer to taking control over Ukraine’s Donbas region, claiming victory in the monthslong battle for Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant while launching a major offensive in the eastern Luhansk region.
The last Ukrainian forces holed up in the Azovstal steelworks surrendered on May 20, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
It came after a devastating siege that has left Mariupol in complete ruins, with some 20,000 feared dead.
“The underground facilities of the enterprise, where the militants were hiding, came under the full control of the Russian armed forces,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said 531 people were in the group that gave up most recently and that brought to 2,439 the total number of defenders who had surrendered in the past few days.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine, but Zelenskiy said earlier than the Azovstal defenders got a clear signal from military command that they could get out and save their lives.
Zelensky said in the television interview that the Ukrainian Army had inflicted serious damage on Russia’s armed forces despite the fall of Mariupol, which Russia sought to capture to complete a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.
Concern mounted for the fate of the Ukrainian defenders who held out at the steelworks for weeks and now are prisoners in Russian hands.
Denis Pushilin, the head of a Moscow-backed separatist group in the Donetsk region, said on May 21 that the Ukrainians were sure to face a tribunal.
“I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community,” Russian state news agency TASS quoted Pushilin as saying.
He said on Russian state TV that some foreign nationals are among those who surrendered but did not provide further details.
Family members of the fighters who held out in the steelworks have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war (POWs) and eventually returned to Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on May 20 it was registering them as POWs.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said again on May 21 that authorities “will fight for the return of every soldier” captured from the Azovstal steelworks.
Meanwhile, Russia also launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the Luhansk region.
“The Russian Army has started very intensive destruction of the town of Severodonetsk, the intensity of shelling doubled, they are shelling residential quarters, destroying house by house,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said on his Telegram channel.
In early hours of May 21, air-raid sirens were going off in much of Ukraine, including in the Kyiv region and the southern port of Odesa.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said it had pushed back an offensive on Severodonetsk, part of what it described as major Russian operations along a stretch of the front line.
Russia had sought control of Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, to complete a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and to free up troops to join the battle for control of the Donbas region.
Zelenskiy said Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital and business it destroys. He called on Ukraine’s partners to seize Russian funds and property under their jurisdiction and use them to create a fund to compensate those who suffered.
Russia “would feel the true weight of every missile, every bomb, every shell that it has fired at us,” he said in his nightly video address.