LVIV, Ukraine —
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed U.S. military, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine on Sunday, a day after she and a delegation of Democratic lawmakers met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the capital as intense fighting raged in the country’s eastern region.
Speaking from neighboring Poland, Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Ukraine needed the West’s assistance to deal with the “devastating human toll taken on the Ukrainian people by [President Vladimir] Putin’s diabolic invasion.”
In the country’s port city of Mariupol, about 100 civilians were being evacuated Sunday from a sprawling steelworks plant that is a final redoubt of Ukrainian defenders and hundreds of noncombatants. Zelensky’s office confirmed the evacuation, but gave few details.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed sorrow over the city’s plight, saying its people had suffered “barbarously” during the weeks-long Russian siege.
“I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children,” Francis said.
Russian officials said Sunday it struck 800 targets overnight and early in the day with missile and artillery fire, marking an intensified battle tempo along a crescent-shaped front line stretching 300 miles from southeast to northeast in a 10th week of warfare.
The number of strikes could not be independently confirmed, but Ukrainian officials confirmed intensified shelling in a number of areas.
Moscow, which has signaled wider ambitions to seize the entirety of Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast and render the country landlocked, confirmed it had taken aim a day earlier at the airport outside the major port city of Odesa. Ukrainian officials had said those strikes on Saturday left the airport inoperable.
Russia’s defense ministry routinely describes its targets as military ones, but at least two Ukrainian regional governors depicted the brunt of the latest carnage as falling on civilians.
Oleh Sinegubov, the governor of Kharkiv, the region where the country’s second-largest city is located, on Sunday used the Telegram messaging app to urge civilians to stay in shelters because shelling was so intense. Serhiy Haidai, head of the regional military administration in Luhansk — one of the two provinces making up the Donbas, the industrial heartland Russia covets — begged people to flee while they still could.
Pelosi’s three-hour stop on Saturday evening in Kyiv, the embattled country’s capital, came as Ukrainian forces defended their country. Zelensky placed his hand on his heart as he greeted the speaker, who was accompanied by a congressional delegation that included Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank).
In a video released by the Ukrainian president Sunday, Pelosi, clad in a bright blue pantsuit, could be seen walking outdoors among a phalanx of Ukrainian officials and armed guards.
Zelensky in recent weeks has received a parade of Western officials, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III a week ago. Pelosi is the next in line of succession to the presidency after Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Ukrainian capital was menaced in the war’s first weeks by heavy bombardment and an enormous column of Russian armored vehicles, but Moscow broke off the attack early last month and turned its attention to Ukraine’s south and east.
Russia on Sunday again struck a string of eastern Ukrainian cities and towns with shelling, and is massing troops and armor in preparation for what has been billed as a major offensive to seize the Donbas.
Zelensky, in his overnight address, accused the Kremlin of cynically preparing conscript soldiers as cannon fodder for the next phase of fighting in the east.
“The Russian command is well aware that thousands more Russian soldiers will be killed and thousands more will be wounded in the coming weeks,” he said.
Summing up Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion in numerical terms, Zelensky said that since the attack began Feb. 24, Ukrainian forces have destroyed an estimated 1,000 Russian tanks, 2,500 armored vehicles and nearly 200 aircraft. Some 23,000 Russian troops have been killed, he said. None of those figures could be independently confirmed.
Even after Russia broke off its effort to seize Kyiv, the capital has come under sporadic bombardment, including Russian strikes staged last week while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the city to meet with Zelensky. That attack drew widespread international condemnation, and the Ukrainian president described it as intended to humiliate the world body.
For security reasons, Pelosi’s three-hour visit was not announced in advance. A week ago, Zelensky caught U.S. officials by surprise when he spoke publicly about the planned Blinken-Austin visit hours before it had taken place.
This time, Zelensky’s office posted the video of Pelosi’s visit online only after she and the delegation had departed the country.
Pelosi tweeted afterward that the delegation’s message to Zelensky, who has won wide acclaim for his wartime leadership, was that “we are with you until victory is won.” Ukraine’s fight, she said, was being waged on behalf of democracies everywhere.
“We are visiting you to say ‘thank you’ for your fight for freedom, that we’re on a frontier for freedom, and that your fight is a fight for everyone,” Pelosi said in the video. “And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”
Joining Pelosi in Kyiv were Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee; Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.); and Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.).
“We had one purpose: to reinforce our commitment to our allies,” Schiff said on Twitter.
The delegation, which held talks with senior Polish officials including President Andrzej Duda, traveled Sunday to Rzeszow, in southeastern Poland, for a briefing on the refugee crisis fueled by the war. Poland has been a main transit point for arms being shipped to Ukraine, and also has taken in the largest share of the more than 5.4 million people who have fled fighting in Ukraine.
At a news conference in Rzeszow, Pelosi said the West should not be deterred by Kremlin threats.
“Do not be bullied by bullies,” she said. “If they are making threats, you cannot back down.”
Crow, a former Army ranger, summed up the trip’s primary purpose as “weapons, weapons and weapons.”
Zelensky has thanked the Biden administration and other Western governments for providing heavy armaments for the battle in the east, but says more will be needed as the fighting begins in earnest.
Last week, Biden asked Congress for an additional $33 billion to support Ukraine in its defense from Russia’s invasion and for the authority to make it easier to seize and sell the assets of Russian oligarchs, vowing anew that the U.S. was committed to ensuring Ukraine’s victory in a war likely to drag on for months.
On Sunday, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed confidence that a new aid package for Ukraine could quickly pass through Congress.
“I don’t think we have a lot of time to waste in Congress,” McCaul said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Every day we don’t send [Ukraine] more weapons is a day where more people will be killed and a day where they could lose this war,” McCaul said. “I think they can win it. But we have to give them the tools to do it.”
King reported from Lviv and Lee from Los Angeles.