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Ukraine's president says he will meet with U.S. secretaries of state and defense

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says he will meet today in Kyiv with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The two would be the highest-ranking U.S. officials to visit Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion. The visit comes just days after the Biden administration unveiled another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. NPR's Franco Ordoñez is in Kyiv and joins us now.

Franco, thank you for being with us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what can you tell us about this trip?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, I'll just note that Biden administration is keeping pretty much a tight lid on this so far, likely for security reasons. At this point, they're still not commenting, but if this visit does happen, it would be very significant. As you mentioned, they would be the highest-ranking officials to come here. And they're expected to discuss the $800 million package, which is intended to provide more heavy weapons, including howitzers and drones. The trip, though, will also likely be seen as a trial run for President Biden to eventually visit. Here's Zelenskyy at a press conference yesterday talking about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) We're waiting for the security situation to allow Mr. Biden to come as well, just to support Ukrainian people. We will have this conversation, and we'll talk about that armament list that we need.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there is increasing pressure on Biden to visit. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and others have visited in recent weeks, and there are calls for Biden to do the same. But so far, the White House says there are no plans for that kind of visit.

RASCOE: Zelenskyy also talked about Ukraine's relationship with the United States. Like, what did he say about that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he did. He says Ukraine wants more weapons, and they're being given, but that right now, the best military support they're receiving comes from the United States and from Britain. He says U.S. weapons have been crucial to their defense of the country, and he adds that the influence (ph) on other European nations to do more is also very key.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) USA are the leaders. This is the country who is the leader, and they set the tone. They actually set the tone for early (ph) negotiation, and they set the tone for this dynamics of support. And they affect, quite often, if any European country can provide armament - they actually can change the situation. This is a very important strategic partner, and I do believe in the strategic partnership.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Zelenskyy was very thankful for U.S. support, and he mentioned the bipartisan support he has as well. He said he just needs the weapons to arrive faster for him to save more lives.

RASCOE: So what more did we learn from Zelenskyy's press conference?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it was a two-hour press conference that touched on several issues. He addressed his willingness to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin while at the same time investigating him and other Moscow leaders for war crimes. He said he would do anything he can to save Ukrainian lives, but he was also clear that Russian leaders will be brought to justice. He said it may take years. He said it may even be up to the next generations of Ukrainians to complete the job. But he said he was confident that they will be held accountable.

RASCOE: And what do we know this morning about the fighting going on there in Ukraine?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. There were new strikes yesterday on the port city of Odesa. Ukrainian officials say at least eight people were killed, including a 3-month-old child. Zelenskyy yesterday got, you know, pretty emotional speaking about that child - a young girl - even asking, what did she do to threaten Russia?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) A 3-month newborn child died - 3-month child. Just try to grasp it - 3 months old. When the war started, this child was a month old, and the child died. Just realize it. Grasp it.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You can really hear the passion in his voice. And Ayesha, it's also getting worse in the east. There has been increased fighting in the Donbas region, where Russia is shifting its focus as it seeks more controls of areas such as Donetsk and Luhansk.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez in Kyiv, Ukraine. Thank you so much, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.