Kyiv ‘ready to fight’ as Russian forces close in on Ukrainian capital | Ukraine
Ukrainian officials said kyiv was “ready to fight” as Russian forces renewed their shelling of the capital and observers warned of “an unimaginable tragedy” unfolding after more than two weeks of war.
Air raid sirens and shelling sounded over kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities on Saturday morning amid warnings from Western defense officials that the Russians were beginning to gain ground around the capital.
There were reports of loud explosions in Dnipro in the east of the country on Saturday, as well as in Mykolaiv, Nikolaev and Kropyvnytskyi.
But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the capital was “ready to fight”. He called it a “besieged city”, with checkpoints prepared and supply lines in place. “kyiv will hold out until the end.”
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies on Saturday showed burning homes and buildings and Russian artillery battalions appearing to fire at surrounding towns northwest of the Ukrainian capital as forces advanced. The Guardian has not independently verified the images.
A senior US defense official told a Pentagon briefing on Friday: “We believe the Russians are beginning to gain momentum on the ground towards kyiv, particularly from the east.”
The British Ministry of Defense said saturday morning that “the bulk of the Russian ground forces” were about 25 km from the center of kyiv, while the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain surrounded and continue to come under heavy Russian bombardment.
However, the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said Russian operations around kyiv “have largely stalled over the past 24 hours” to “resupply and refit frontline units — an assessment shared by Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, who said on Friday that the Russian advance had been halted over the past day.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukrainians to continue fighting, but said living conditions in the Kyiv region had deteriorated into a “humanitarian catastrophe” with gas, heating and water cuts. Ukraine’s president said his country had reached a “strategic turning point” in the conflict. “It’s impossible to say how many more days we have [ahead of us] to liberate Ukrainian land. But we can say we will,” he said. “We are already heading towards our goal, our victory.”
About 2 million people – half the population of the metropolitan area – had left the capital, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday, and those who remained were continuing to prepare his defence.
“Every street, every house is fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their life never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
Ukrainian soldiers described fierce fighting for control of the main road leading to the capital, while missile strikes were reported on Friday just outside the Kyiv city limits.
“It’s scary, but what can you do?” said Vasil Popov, a 38-year-old who works in advertising sales. “There’s nowhere to really run or hide. We live here.”
Continued Russian bombing and attacks on civilians in towns across Ukraine have prompted warnings of ‘unimaginable tragedy’ and a fresh wave of UN alarm that Russia is committing war crimes .
“We are truly heading towards an unimaginable tragedy,” Doctors Without Borders’ Stephen Cornish told Agence France-Presse, insisting “there is still time to avoid it, and we must see it avoided.” .
Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped and under fire from Ukrainian cities, but the situation in Mariupol is particularly dire. Ten days after Russia’s siege, its people have no access to electricity or mobile phone networks, and water and food are running out. On Friday, 7,144 people were evacuated from four Ukrainian towns, Zelenskiy said in a televised address – far fewer than the number who managed to leave on each of the previous two days.
Zelenskiy accused Russia of refusing to allow people out of Mariupol and said Ukraine would try to deliver food and medicine there again on Saturday.
Ukraine has repeatedly raised concerns that Moscow’s ally Belarus, which has served as a staging point for Russian forces, will soon see its troops take part in the invasion. Ukraine’s State Center for Strategic Communications said Belarus could launch an invasion of Ukraine today, following a meeting in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Ukraine has accused Russia of staging “false flag” airstrikes on Belarus from Ukraine to provide an excuse for an offensive.
Putin and Lukashenko agreed on Friday that Moscow would provide its smaller neighbor with military equipment and mutual support against Western sanctions, including on energy prices, the official Belarusian BelTA news agency said.
Foreign fighters have already entered the Ukrainian conflict on both sides, but the Kremlin has stepped up efforts to bring in reinforcements from Syria. The Syrian army has begun recruiting troops from its own ranks to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, promising payments of $3,000 a month – a sum up to 50 times more than a Syrian soldier’s monthly salary . A furious Zelenskiy accused Russia of hiring “assassins from Syria, a country where everything has been destroyed…like they are doing to us here.”
As the war continues, Russia faces a growing web of sanctions. Western governments have announced plans to impose punitive tariffs on Russian trade to further isolate Moscow from the global economy. The wealthy G7 group of nations has said it will strip Russia of “most favored nation” status under World Trade Organization rules. US President Joe Biden has announced plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia, and the UK government has announced plans to ban exports of luxury goods to Russia.
Deutsche Bank and Sony Pictures have joined the exodus of Western companies from Russia. In a statement posted on its website, Deutsche Bank said it was “terminating our remaining business in Russia” and that “there will be no new business in Russia.” Russia has decided to block Instagram after its parent company, Meta, said it would allow calls for violence against Putin and Russian soldiers involved in the invasion of Ukraine to appear on the media platform social. Russian prosecutors demanded that access to Instagram be blocked and authorities decided to recognize Meta as an “extremist organization”.
The United States has also imposed sanctions on a group of Russia’s elite, including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three family members of Putin’s spokesman and lawmakers.
With Agence France Presse