The Russians are pushing towards the Ukrainian capital; residents take shelter

KYIV, Ukraine — Residents of Kyiv braced for another night sheltering underground on Saturday as Russian troops closed in on the Ukrainian capital and skirmishes were reported on the outskirts. The Ukrainian leader, meanwhile, vowed to continue to fight off the Russian onslaught 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 are going to win,” he said.

Central kyiv appeared calm on Saturday, although sporadic gunfire could be heard. And the fighting on the outskirts of the city suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Britain and the United States said the bulk of Russian forces were 30 kilometers from the center of the city.

As Russian troops continued their offensive with small groups of soldiers reported inside Kyiv, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, extended the night curfew from 5 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday, saying that any civilian exceeding the curfew “will be considered a member of the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups.

Russia says its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit since the invasion began on Thursday with airstrikes and missiles and Russian troops entering in Ukraine from the north, east and south.

Ukraine’s health minister announced on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others injured in Europe’s largest ground war since World War II. It was unclear whether these figures included both military and civilian casualties.

In Kyiv, a missile struck a high-rise building in the southwestern outskirts near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged multi-storey apartments. 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 neighboring countries.

Zelenskyy reiterated his openness to talks with Russia in a video message on Saturday, saying he welcomed an offer from Turkish and Azerbaijani leaders to stage diplomatic efforts, which so far have failed. A day earlier, Zelenskyy had offered to negotiate a key Russian demand: to give up its NATO membership ambitions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine after spending weeks denying that was what he intended, while building up a force of nearly 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders. He claims the West has not taken Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join, seriously. But he also expressed his contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.

Putin has not revealed his ultimate plans for Ukraine, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, redraw the map of Europe and revive Europe. influence of Moscow during the Cold War era.

In the fog of war, it was unclear how much territory Russian forces had seized. The British Ministry of Defense said that “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, probably due to acute logistical difficulties and heavy Ukrainian resistance”.

A senior US defense official said on Saturday that more than half of the Russian combat power that was massed along Ukraine’s borders had entered Ukraine and that Russia had had to commit more fuel supplies and other support units inside Ukraine than originally planned. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US internal assessments, did not provide further details.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said a Russian missile was shot down before dawn on Saturday as it headed towards the dam of the vast water reservoir that serves kyiv, and Ukraine said a military convoy Russian had been destroyed near the town early on Saturday. Footage shows soldiers inspecting burnt-out vehicles after Ukraine’s 101st Brigade reported destroying a column of two light vehicles, two trucks and a tank. The request could not be verified.

Highways leading to kyiv from the east were dotted with checkpoints manned by uniformed Ukrainian soldiers and young men in civilian clothes carrying automatic rifles. Low-flying planes patrolled the skies, though it was unclear whether they were Russian or Ukrainian.

In addition to kyiv, the Russian assault appeared to be focused on the Ukrainian coastline, which stretches from the port of Odessa on the Black Sea in the west to the port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov in the east. .

If Russian troops were successful, Ukraine would be cut off from all of its seaports, which are vital to its economy. In Mariupol, Ukrainian soldiers guarded bridges and blocked people from the shore, fearing that the Russian navy would launch an assault from the sea.

Fighting also raged in two territories in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Donetsk city authorities said the hot water supply to the city of around 900,000 people had been suspended due to damage to the system from Ukrainian shelling.

The US government urged Zelenskyy early Saturday to evacuate kyiv, but he refused the offer, according to a senior US intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation. Zelenskyy posted a provocative video recorded on a street in downtown Kyiv early Saturday claiming he had stayed in the city.

“We are not going to lay down our arms. We will protect the country,” the Ukrainian president said. “Our weapon is our truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children. And we will defend all of this.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have moved, seeking safety in the west of the country or beyond. The UN estimates that up to 4 million people could flee if the fighting intensifies.

Refugees arriving in the Hungarian border town of Zahony said men between the ages of 18 and 60 were not allowed to leave Ukraine.

“My son was not allowed to come. My heart hurts so much that I’m shaking,” said Vilma Sugar, 68.

Both Hungary and Poland have opened their borders to Ukrainians. At the Polish Medyka crossing point, some said they traveled 15 miles (35 kilometers) to reach the border.

“They had no food, no tea, they were standing in the middle of a field, on the road, the children were freezing,” said Iryna Wiklenko as she waited on the Polish side for her grandchildren and his daughter-in-law. to get him across.

Kyiv officials have urged residents to take shelter, stay away from windows and take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets. Many spent Friday night in basements, underground parking lots and subway stations, and prepared to do the same on Saturday.

Shelves were thin in some Kyiv grocery stores and pharmacies, and some worried about how long food and medicine stocks would last.

The US military on Saturday announced $350 million in aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany also said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the country.

The United States and its allies have been beefing up troops on NATO’s eastern flank, but have so far ruled out deploying troops to fight Russia.

Instead, the United States, the European Union and other countries imposed far-reaching sanctions on Russia, freezing the assets of Russian companies and individuals, including Putin and his foreign minister. .

Zelenskyy called for tougher sanctions, urging recalcitrant European countries to agree to exclude Russia from the SWIFT international payments system.

A senior Russian official ignored the sanctions on Saturday, reflecting Western “political impotence”.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, has warned that Moscow could respond to sanctions by withdrawing from the latest nuclear arms pact, freezing Western assets and cutting diplomatic ties with Western nations.

“There is no particular need to maintain diplomatic relations,” Medvedev said. “We can look at each other through binoculars and sights.”

About Raymond A. Bentley

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