Kyiv: US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has met with Ukraine’s president during a visit to the country’s embattled capital, Kyiv.
Pelosi, second in line to the presidency after the vice president, is the highest-ranking American leader to visit Ukraine since the start of the war, and her visit marks a major show of continuing support for the country’s struggle against Russia.
Footage released early Sunday by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office showed Pelosi in Kyiv with a Congressional delegation including representatives Jason Crow, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.
“You all are welcome,” Zelenskyy told the delegation.
Pelosi told Zelenskyy: “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom.”
“We are on a frontier of freedom and your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,’’ Pelosi added.
The visit was not previously announced.
Meanwhile, Russia said on Sunday Ukraine’s shelling killed and wounded its own civilians in the southern region of Kherson, while some civilians managed to leave a steel plant in besieged Mariupol.
Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukraine’s forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in the villages of Kyselivka and Shyroka Balka in the Kherson region, the Russian RIA news agency said on Sunday.
The ministry gave no further details.
There was no immediate response from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Russian forces have captured the town of Kherson, giving them a foothold just 100km north of Russian-annexed Crimea, and have mostly occupied Mariupol, a strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea.
Ukraine’s military said in a bulletin on Sunday that Russian forces were fighting to break beyond Kherson’s administrative borders and prepare the way for attacks on the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.
In Mariupol, Russia declared victory on April 21 even as hundreds of holdout Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the Azovstal steel works.
On Saturday, a Ukrainian fighter inside said that 20 women and children had made it out.
“We are getting civilians out of the rubble with ropes - it’s the elderly, women and children,” said the fighter, Sviatoslav Palamar, referring to wreckage within the sprawling plant.
Palamar said Russia and Ukraine were respecting a local ceasefire and he hoped the evacuated civilians would be taken to the city of Zaporizhzhia to the northwest.
Neither Russia nor the United Nations, which has urged an evacuation deal, commented on the evacuations.
Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of the invasion it launched on February 24. The war has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee the country.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
A Russian missile launched from Crimea on Saturday destroyed the runway at the main airport in the southwestern city of Odesa, said regional governor Maksym Marchenko, but no one was hurt.
Ukraine’s military said the airport could no longer be used and President Zelenskiy vowed to rebuild it, saying in a late-night video speech that “Odesa will never forget Russia’s behaviour towards it”.
Moscow did not comment on the strike.
Russian forces have targeted Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, sporadically during the conflict. Eight people were killed in a strike there a week ago, Ukrainian officials said.
In the east, Moscow is pushing for complete control of the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before the invasion.
Zelenskiy said in his speech that Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country” and “trying to increase pressure in the Donbas”.
Despite weeks of peace talks, both sides looked to be as far apart as ever on Saturday.