Ukraine in a fierce fight against advancing Russian forces

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian forces have put up fierce resistance to slow the advance of the larger and more powerful Russian military closing in on the capital as the US and EU hastily move ammunition and arms to Kyiv and announce powerful new financial sanctions aimed at further isolating Moscow.

Terrified men, women and children sought safety indoors and underground, and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people out of the streets. More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Moldova and other neighboring countries, and the United Nations has warned the number could rise to 4 million if fighting escalates.

Huge explosions lit up the pre-dawn sky south of Kiev early on Sunday. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said one of the explosions occurred near Zhuliany airport, and the mayor of Vasylkiv, about 40 kilometers south of the capital, said an oil depot had been touched.

“We will fight as long as necessary to liberate our country,” Zelenskyy promised.

The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the global financial messaging system SWIFT, which transfers money to more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world. world, as part of a new round of sanctions aimed at imposing a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion. They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank.

It was unclear how much territory the Russian forces had seized or how much their advance had been blocked. 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 that more than half of the Russian combat power that was massed along Ukraine’s borders had entered the country and that Moscow had to commit more fuel supplies and weapons. 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.

The curfew in Kyiv was due to last until Monday morning and forced everyone indoors, although the capital’s relative calm was sporadically interrupted by gunfire.

The fighting on the outskirts of the city suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the United States said the bulk of forces were 30 kilometers from the city center by afternoon.

Russia says its assault on Ukraine from the north, east and south is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit.

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.

A missile struck a high-rise building in the southwestern outskirts of Kiev, 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.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said troops in Kiev were fighting Russian “sabotage groups”. According to Ukraine, some 200 Russian soldiers were captured and thousands were killed.

Markarova said Ukraine was gathering evidence of bombings of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to submit to The Hague for consideration as possible crimes against humanity.

Zelenskyy reiterated his openness to talks with Russia in a video message, saying he welcomed an offer from Turkey and Azerbaijan to stage diplomatic efforts, which so far have failed.

The Kremlin confirmed a phone call between President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, but gave no indication of whether talks would resume. A day earlier, Zelenskyy offered to negotiate a key Russian demand: to abandon ambitions to join NATO.

Putin sent troops to Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, 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 disclosed his ultimate plans, 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 Moscow’s influence during the Cold War era.

The effort was already costing Ukraine dearly, and apparently Russian forces as well.

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. The government also said a Russian convoy had been destroyed. Video footage showed 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 Kiev 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 Kiev, the Russian assault appeared to be focused on Ukraine’s economically vital coastal areas, from the Black Sea port of Odessa in the west to beyond the Mediterranean Sea port of Mariupol. ‘Azov to the east.

Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol were guarding bridges and blocking people from the shore, fearing that the Russian navy would launch an assault from the sea.

“I don’t care who wins and who doesn’t,” said Ruzanna Zubenko, whose large family was forced from their home outside Mariupol after it was badly damaged by shelling. “The only important thing is that our children can grow up smiling and not crying.”

Fighting also raged in two eastern territories 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 Kiev, 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 downtown street, 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.

Both Hungary and Poland have opened their borders to Ukrainians.

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.

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 can get him across.

Kyiv officials have urged residents to stay away from windows and take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets. Many have holed up in basements, underground garages and subway stations.

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

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. .

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

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

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Isachenkov reported from Moscow. LaPorta reported from Boca Raton, Florida. Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Mstyslav Chernov and Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; Jill Lawless in London; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw; Matt Sedensky in New York; Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Christi C. Elwood