Russians Push Toward Ukraine’s Capital as Residents Take Cover
KYIV, Ukraine — Kyiv residents braced 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 he vowed to keep up the struggle and appealed for more help from the outside world.
“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.
Although there was occasional gunfire, Central Kyiv seemed quiet Saturday. And fighting on the city’s outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Britain’s defense ministry said the bulk of Russian forces were 19 miles (30 kilometers) from the middle of the city.
Vitali Klitschko of Kyiv extended the curfew, which he imposed last Thursday. The curfew will be in effect from 5 p.m. till 8 a.m. He said “all civilians on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups.”
Russia says its attack on Ukraine targets only military targets. However, bridges and schools have been damaged since Thursday’s invasion. Russian troops entered Ukraine from the south, north and east.
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded during Europe’s largest land war since World War II. Uncertain if the number included civilian or military casualties.
In Kyiv, a missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the southwestern outskirts near one of Kyiv’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. Six civilians sustained injuries, according to a rescue worker.
Many thousands fled Ukraine in their search for safety due to the conflict. U.N. officials claim that over 120,000 Ukrainians left Ukraine for Poland and Moldova.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine after he spent weeks denying that’s what he intended, all the while building up a force of almost 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders. He claims the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join. But he has also expressed scorn about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
Putin did not reveal his plans for Ukraine, nor have he said how long Russia’s military operations could continue. Western officials believe Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
In the fog of war, it was not clear how many territories Russian forces had seized. Western governments claimed stiff Ukrainian resistance had slowed the Russian advance, and Russia does not yet control Ukraine’s skies.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said a Russian missile was shot down before dawn Saturday as it headed for the dam of the sprawling water reservoir that serves Kyiv, and Ukraine said a Russian military convoy was destroyed near the city early Saturday. Footage showed soldiers inspecting burned-out vehicles after Ukraine’s 101st brigade reported destroying a column of two light vehicles, two trucks and a tank. It was impossible to verify the claim.
In addition to Kyiv, the Russian assault appeared to focus on Ukraine’s coastline, stretching from the Black Sea port of Odesa, in the west near the border with Romania, to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol in the east.
Ukraine’s access to sea ports is vitally important for the economy if they succeed. During concerns that the Russian navy might launch an attack from the sea, Ukrainian soldiers defended bridges in Mariupol and prevented people from reaching the shoreline.
Pro-Russian separatists also control two areas in eastern Ukraine. Donetsk officials stated that hot water supplies for the population of approximately 900,000. were cut due to damage caused by Ukrainian shelling. Repairs to the system were not expected to take much time.
A senior American intelligence official who was directly aware of the exchange said that the U.S. government had urged Zelenskyy Saturday morning to flee Kyiv. But he refused. Zelenskyy recorded a defiant audio on Saturday morning in Kyiv and stated that he was still there.
“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.”
Many thousands of Ukrainians are on the move seeking refuge in western Ukraine or elsewhere. According to the U.N., up to 4,000,000 could leave if fighting intensifies.
The Hungarian border city of Zahony told refugees arriving from Ukraine that men aged 18-60 were not allowed to leave Ukraine.
“My son was not allowed to come. My heart is so sore, I’m shaking, I can’t calm down, they did not let him come,” said Vilma Sugar, 68.
Hungary and Poland open their borders to Ukrainians, with or without travel documentation. At Poland’s Medyka crossing, some said they had walked for 15 miles (35 kilometers) to reach the border.
“They didn’t have food, no tea, they were standing in the middle of a field, on the road, kids were freezing,” said Iryna Wiklenko as she waited on the Polish side for her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law to make it across.
Officials in Kyiv advised residents to find shelter and avoid windows, as well as to use precautions to prevent bullets or flying debris. Many residents spent Friday night underground in parking garages or subway stations.
“We’re all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what’s going to happen in a few days,” said Lucy Vashaka, 20, a worker at a small Kyiv hotel.
The United States and other NATO allies have sent weapons and other aid to Ukraine and beefed up their troops on NATO’s eastern flank, but ruled out deploying troops to fight Russia.
Instead, the U.S., European Union, and other countries have put severe sanctions on Russia. These include freezing Russian assets, as well as individuals and businesses, and including Putin and his foreign secretary.
French maritime officers seized the Russian flagged cargo ship transporting cars and brought it to port.
Zelenskyy called for stronger sanctions and urged European countries that are not in agreement to remove Russia from the SWIFT international payment system to agree to tougher sanctions.
Russia didn’t bow to pressure from the U.N. Security Council, refusing to withdraw troops and stop attacking Ukraine. The 11-1 vote, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining, showed significant opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbor.
A senior Russian official on Saturday shrugged off the sanctions as a reflection of Western “political impotence.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, warned that Moscow could react to the sanctions by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact, freezing Western assets and cutting diplomatic ties with nations in the West.
“There is no particular need in maintaining diplomatic relations,” Medvedev said. “We may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.”
It appeared that diplomatic attempts to end the bloodshed seemed to have failed. Zelenskyy suggested Friday that he negotiate with Russia a crucial demand, that Ukraine be declared neutral and give up its desire to join NATO.
The Kremlin said it accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of the embattled Zelenskyy instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.
Isachenkov reported out of Moscow. LaPorta reported out of Boca Raton in Florida. Francesca Ebel and Josef Federman in Kyiv, Nic Dumitrache and Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol in Ukraine; Jill Lawless and Angela Charlton, in London; Geir Molson and Frank Jordans, in Berlin; Raf Cassert and Lorne Clark in Brussels; Vanessa Gera, in Warsaw; Matt Sedensky, in New York; Jennifer Peltz, at the United Nations; and Robert Burns and Matthew Lee in Washington, Zeke Miller and Chris Megerian, Zeke Miller, Zeke Miller, Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville, and Darlene Superville, respectively
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine