President refuses to flee, urges Ukraine to ‘stand firm’ – Press Enterprise


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian troops stormed the Ukrainian capital early Saturday as explosions echoed through the city and the president urged the country to “stand firm” against the siege that could determine its future. He refused American help with the evacuation, saying, “The fight is here.”

Hundreds of casualties were reported in the fighting, including shells that pierced an apartment building in Kiev, destroying bridges and schools. There were also mounting signs that Russia could seek to overthrow the Ukrainian government, which US officials have said is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal.

The attack was Putin’s boldest attempt yet to redraw the world map and revitalize Moscow’s Cold War influence. It sparked new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions against Putin.

With his country faced with explosions and gunfire and the fate of Kiev at stake, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for a ceasefire and issued a somber statement warning that several cities would be attacked.

“Tonight we must stand firm,” he said. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

Zelenskyy was ordered to evacuate Kiev at the behest of the US government, but declined the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the call. The official quoted the president as saying that “the fight is here” and that he needs anti-tank ammunition, but “no ride.”

For their part, US defense officials believe the Russian offensive has met significant resistance and is progressing more slowly than Moscow had envisioned, although that could change quickly.

The Kremlin accepted Kiev’s offer of talks, but it appeared to be an attempt to wring concessions from the embattled Zelenskyy rather than a gesture towards a diplomatic solution.

The Russian military continued its advance and laid claim to the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Friday. Still, in the fog of war it was unclear how much of Ukraine is still under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have captured.

As fighting continued, the Ukrainian military reported shooting down a Russian II-76 transport plane carrying paratroopers near Vasylkiv, a town 40 kilometers south of Kiev, a report confirmed by a senior American intelligence official. It was unclear how many were on board. Transport aircraft can carry up to 125 paratroopers.

The US and other global powers slapped ever-tougher sanctions on Russia as the invasion echoed through the world economy and energy supply, threatening to further hit ordinary households. UN officials said millions could flee Ukraine. Sports leagues tried to punish Russia, and even the popular Eurovision Song Contest banned it from May’s finals in Italy.

Throughout all of this, Russia remained unyielding, vetoing a UN Security Council resolution demanding that it cease attacks on Ukraine and withdraw troops immediately. The veto was expected, but the US and its supporters argued that the effort would emphasize Moscow’s international isolation. The 11-1 vote, in which China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained, showed strong but not complete opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbor.

The meeting revealed friction between Russia and Ukraine, including when Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya asked for a minute’s silence to pray for those killed and asked Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia to pray “for salvation”. Nebenzia countered that the memory of the people who died in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine should be included. There, pro-Russian separatists are fighting the Ukrainian government, which Russia accuses of abuse. A moment of tense silence followed.

Meanwhile, NATO decided to send parts of the alliance’s strike force to protect its member states in the east for the first time. NATO did not say how many troops would be deployed, but added that it would be land, sea and air forces.

The second day of the invasion of Russia, the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, focused on the Ukrainian capital, where Associated Press reporters heard explosions beginning before dawn. Shots were reported from several areas.

In the evening, a huge bang was heard near Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the square in central Kiev that was at the heart of the protests that led to the ouster of a pro-Kremlin president in 2014. The cause was not immediately known.

Five blasts struck near a large power plant on the eastern outskirts of Kiev, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said. There was no information as to what caused them, and no power outages were immediately reported.

It was unclear how many people had died in total. Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side since the first full day of fighting and claimed hundreds on the Russian side. The Russian authorities did not publish any casualty figures.

UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said an estimated 100,000 people had fled their homes. They estimate as many as 4 million people could flee if fighting escalates.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he and US President Joe Biden had spoken on the phone and discussed “enhancing sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition”.

His whereabouts were kept secret after Zelenskyy told European leaders in a call on Thursday that he was Russia’s No. 1 target – and that they might not see him alive again. His office later released a video of him standing outside the president’s office with senior officials and saying that he and other government officials would remain in the capital.

Zelenskyi had previously offered to negotiate one of Putin’s key demands: Ukraine should declare itself neutral and give up its ambitions to join NATO. The Kremlin said Kiev first agreed to hold talks in Minsk, then said it would prefer Warsaw and later cut off communications. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said Kiev would discuss prospects for talks on Saturday.

The attack had been awaited for weeks by US and Western allies, and Putin denied it was in the works for as long. He argued that the West had left him no choice by refusing to negotiate Russia’s security demands.

In a window on how the increasingly isolated Putin views Ukraine and its leadership, he called on Ukraine’s military to surrender, saying: “We would find it easier to agree with you than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who… hid Kiev and took the entire Ukrainian people hostage.”

The Kremlin plays on Russian nostalgia for World War II heroism, equating members of Ukrainian right-wing groups with neo-Nazis. Zelensky, who is Jewish, angrily denies these claims.

Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans for Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted: “We want to allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognized Zelenskyy as president but declined to say how long the Russian military operation might last.

Ukrainians abruptly adapted to life under fire after Russian troops invaded the country from three sides, massing an estimated 150,000 troops nearby.

Residents of an apartment building in Kiev woke up to screams, smoke and flying dust. What the mayor identified as Russian shelling demolished part of the building and started a fire.

“What are you doing? What is that?” Resident Yurii Zhyhanov asked Russian forces. Like countless other Ukrainians, he grabbed what he could, took his mother with him and fled, alarms blaring behind him.

Elsewhere in Kiev, the body of a dead soldier lay near an underpass. Fragments of a crashed plane smoked among the brick houses of a residential area. Black plastic was draped over body parts found next to them. People climbed out of bomb shelters, basements and subways to face another day of upheaval.

“We are all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what will happen in a few days,” said Lucy Vashaka, 20, an employee at a small Kiev hotel.

At the Pentagon, Press Secretary John Kirby said the US believed the offensive, including its advance on Kiev, had been slower than Moscow had planned, noting that Ukrainian forces had fought back. But he also said that the military campaign is at an early stage and circumstances could change quickly.

The Biden administration said Friday it would freeze Putin and Lavrov’s assets after the European Union and Britain directly sanctioned Russia’s top leadership.

Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, called the sanctions against Putin and Lavrov “an example and a demonstration of total helplessness” by the West.


Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; Matt Sedensky in New York; Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; James LaPorta in Boca Raton, Fla. and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian, and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *