Ukrainian forces put up fierce fight to hold capital
Kyiv/New Delhi: Kyiv residents braced on Saturday for another night sheltering underground, as Russian troops closed in on Ukraine's capital and skirmishes were reported on the outskirts. Ukraine's leader, meanwhile, claimed the country's forces had repulsed the Russian assault and vowed to keep up the struggle as he appealed for more outside help.
The real fighting for Kyiv is ongoing, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message in which he accused Russia of hitting infrastructure and civilian targets. "We will win," he said.
He was alive. Kyiv had not fallen. Any reports of Ukraine laying down its arms was a lie, Zelenskyy said.
Zelensky said the nation's military had halted Russian forces' bid to capture capital Kyiv and oust him. He further urged Russians to plead with their leader Vladimir Putin to stop the invasion.
Meanwhile, the Russian army has been ordered to broaden its Ukraine advance "from all directions" after Ukraine said it had repulsed an attack on Kyiv but "sabotage groups" were in the city.
Ukraine on Saturday rejected Russian suggestions that it was refusing to negotiate a ceasefire but said it was not ready to accept unacceptable conditions after the Kremlin accused the country of prolonging the military conflict.
Central Kyiv appeared quiet on Saturday, though sporadic gunfire could be heard. And fighting on the city's outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Britain and the US said the bulk of Russian forces were 19 miles (30 kilometres) from the centre of the city.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko extended an overnight curfew to run from 5 pm until 8 am. Authorities later stated that the curfew had been extended until early Monday amid the ongoing fighting.
The Mayor said "all civilians on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups."
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighbourhoods have been hit since the invasion began on Thursday with air and missile strikes and Russian troops entering Ukraine from the north, east and south.
Ukraine's health minister reported on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others had been wounded during Europe's largest land war since World War II. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties.
The Russian military has a decisive edge in cyberwarfare, tanks, heavy weaponry, missiles, fighter planes and warships. In sheer numbers, its military dwarfs that of Ukraine's. Russia has established attack lines into three cities — Kyiv in the north, Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south — and Ukrainian troops are fighting to hold all three.
The Pentagon reported late on Friday that the Russians did not appear to be in control of a single major population centre. Significantly, the senior US defence official said, Ukrainian command and control remains intact.
In Kyiv, a missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the southwestern outskirts near one of the city's two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.
The conflict has driven thousands of Ukrainians from their homes in search of safety. UN officials said more than 120,000 Ukrainians had left the country for Poland, Moldova and other neighbouring nations.
Skirmishes reported on the edge of the city suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces.
It was unclear in the fog of war how much of Ukraine was still under Ukrainian control and how much Russian forces have seized. Russia's defense ministry claimed the Russian military had taken full control of the southern city of Melitopol, about 22 miles (35 kilometres) inland from the Azov Sea coast, and said Russia-backed separatists had made significant gains in the eastern region of Donbas.
Ukrainian and Western officials, however, say Ukrainian forces have managed to slow the Russian advance.
Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry said a Russian missile was shot down before dawn on Saturday as it headed for the dam of the sprawling water reservoir that serves Kyiv.
Western officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine's government and replace it with a regime of his own. The invasion represented Putin's boldest effort yet to redraw the map of Europe and revive Moscow's Cold War-era influence. It triggered new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions on Putin.
Zelenskyy offered renewed assurance on Saturday that the country's military would stand up to the Russian invasion. In a defiant video recorded on a downtown Kyiv street, he said he remained in the city and that claims the Ukrainian military would put down arms were false.
"We aren't going to lay down weapons. We will protect the country," the Ukrainian President said.
"Our weapon is our truth, and our truth is that it's our land, our country, our children. And we will defend all of that."
Zelenskyy said in a second video later on Saturday Moscow's plan to quickly seize the capital and install a puppet government had been unsuccessful.
The United States, Britain, Canada, and the European Union moved to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 25 in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The EU was first to blacklist Putin and Lavrov as part of a broader sanctions package that was unanimously approved during an emergency summit of EU leaders. With agency inputs