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As battle looms in Ukraine's east, US commits to providing weapons to Ukraine

Russian forces pounded targets in eastern Ukraine with missiles and artillery as Austria's leader planned to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Washington pledged to give Ukraine "the weapons it needs" to defend itself against a new Russian offensive.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (c) visits the site of a mass grave in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, near Kyiv on 9 April 2022.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visiting the site of a mass grave near the Ukranian town of Bucha. Photo: AFP

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he would meet with Putin on Monday in Moscow for the Russian leader's first face-to-face meeting with a European Union counterpart since Russia's invasion began on 24 February.

"We are militarily neutral, but (have) a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against #Ukraine," Nehammer wrote of Austria on Twitter: "It must stop! It needs humanitarian corridors, ceasefire & full investigation of war crimes."

Nehammer met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday - the same day as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who promised to give Ukraine 120 armoured vehicles and anti-ship missile systems.

Russia has failed to take any major cities since it launched its invasion on 24 February, but Ukraine says it has been gathering its forces in the east for a major assault and has urged people to flee.

Russian forces fired rockets into Ukraine's Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk regions on Sunday, officials said. Missiles completely destroyed the airport in the city of Dnipro, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.

Russia's defence ministry said high-precision missiles had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine's Dnipro battalion in the town of Zvonetsky.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (R) shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine on 9 April 2022.
Karl Nehammer (right) and Volodymyr Zelensky during their recent meeting in Kyiv. Photo: AFP / Dragan Tatic / Austrian Chancellery / APA

Since Russia invaded, Zelensky has appealed to Western powers to provide more defence help, and to punish Moscow with tougher sanctions, including embargoes on Russian energy exports.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News:

"We're going to get Ukraine the weapons it needs to beat back the Russians to stop them from taking more cities and towns."

In excerpts from an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes Zelensky said he had confidence in his own armed forces but "unfortunately I don't have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need" from the United States.

Zelensky said earlier on Twitter he had spoken on the phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about additional sanctions, as well as more defence and financial support for his country. Zelensky also discussed with Ukrainian officials Kyiv's proposals for a new package of EU sanctions, his office said.

In a video address late on Saturday, Zelenskiy renewed his appeal for a total ban on Russian energy products and more weapons for Ukraine.

The EU on Friday banned Russian coal imports among other products, but has yet to touch oil and gas imports from Russia.

Mounting civilian casualties have triggered widespread international condemnation and new sanctions.

A grave with at least two civilian bodies has been found in Buzova village near Kyiv, said Taras Didych, head of the Dmytrivka community that includes Buzova, the latest such reported discovery since Russian forces withdrew from areas north of the capital to focus on the east of the country.

Sullivan said on Sunday he expected Russia's newly appointed general overseeing Ukraine, Aleksandr Dvornikov, to authorise more brutality against the Ukrainian civilian population. He did not cite any evidence.

Moscow has rejected accusations of war crimes by Ukraine and Western countries.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in what it calls a "special operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" its southern neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

Russia's invasion has forced about a quarter of Ukraine's 44 million people from their homes, turned cities into rubble and killed or injured thousands.

The World Bank on Sunday forecast that the war would cause Ukraine's economic output to collapse by a staggering 45 percent this year, with half of its businesses shuttered, grain exports mostly cut off by Russia's naval blockade and destruction rendering economic activity impossible in many areas.

The bank forecast that Russia's GDP also would contract by 11.2 percent this year due to punishing Western sanctions.

Some cities in the east were under heavy shelling, with tens of thousands of people unable to evacuate.

Calls by Ukrainian officials for civilians to flee gained more urgency after a missile strike hit a train station on Friday in the city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region, that was full of people trying to leave.

Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that the death toll from the strike rose to 57, while 109 were wounded. Russia has denied responsibility, saying the missiles used in the attack were only used by Ukraine's military.

Reuters was unable to verify the details of the attack.

Residents of the region of Luhansk would have nine trains on Sunday to get out on, the region's governor, Serhiy Gaidai, wrote on the Telegram message service.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 2824 people were evacuated on Sunday through humanitarian corridors, including 213 from Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks.

- Reuters