Ukraine’s capital under threat as Russia pushes invasion – Press Enterprise


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian troops marched on Ukraine’s capital on Friday, with explosions and gunfire being heard around the city, as the invasion of a democratic country stoked fears of a wider war in Europe and sparked international efforts to to stop Moscow.

With reports of hundreds of casualties from the war – including shelling that pierced a home in Kiev and destroyed bridges and schools – there were also mounting signs that Vladimir Putin’s Russia might be trying to overthrow the Ukrainian government. It would be his boldest attempt yet to redraw the world map and revive Moscow’s Cold War influence.

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 land, sea and air forces would be involved.

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

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.

Day 2 of the Russian invasion, the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, focused on the Ukrainian capital, where reporters from the Associated Press heard explosions that began before dawn and gunfire was reported from several areas.

After 8 p.m., a huge bang was heard near Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central Kiev square that was the heart of the protests that led to the 2014 ouster of a pro-Kremlin president. 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.

Russia’s military said it had seized a strategic airport outside of Kiev in a bid to quickly build up forces to take the capital. It claimed to have already cut off the city from the west – the direction many were taking to escape the invasion – resulting in queues of cars snaking towards the Polish border.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed it sealed off the towns of Sumy and Konotop and that the offensive claimed dozens of Ukrainian military assets. The statement could not be independently confirmed.

Fierce gunfire erupted on a bridge over the Dnieper River separating east and west Kiev, while another key bridge to the capital was blown up.

Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side and claimed hundreds on the Russian side. Russian authorities did not release casualty figures and it was not possible to verify tolls.

UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said an estimated 100,000 people have fled their homes, with an estimated as many as 4 million fleeing 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,” adding that he was grateful for Washington’s support.

His whereabouts were kept secret after he told European leaders in a call Thursday night 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 advisers and saying he and other government officials would remain in the capital.

“We are all here to protect the independence of our country,” said Zelenskyy. “And that will remain so. Glory to our defenders, Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the heroes.”

A US defense official said a Russian amphibious assault was underway and thousands of Russian forces had disembarked from the Sea of ​​Azov west of Mariupol. The official said that Ukraine’s air defenses have been dismantled but are still operational and that about a third of the combat capability that Russia has rallied around Ukraine is now in the country. According to official estimates, Russia has fired more than 200 rockets at Ukraine, some of which have hit residential areas.

A senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of current intelligence assessments told the AP that Russian tanks are 50 kilometers (31 miles) north and west of Kiev.

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 initially said it was ready to send a delegation to Belarus, but later backtracked and said it would prefer to meet in Warsaw. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that it was too late, saying Zelenskyy should have agreed to the talks earlier.

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.

The autocratic leader has not revealed his final plans for Ukraine. Lavrov hinted on Friday: “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. And 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.

AP reporters saw signs of significant fighting near Ivankiv, about 60 kilometers northwest of Kiev. Russian troops also entered the town of Sumy, near the border with Russia, which lies on a highway leading east to Kiev. A Russian rocket launcher has been sighted on the outskirts of Kharkiv to the east.

Zelenskyi, whose power was fading, appealed to world leaders to impose sanctions even tougher than those of Western allies and defense aid. Zelensky broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow, declared martial law and ordered a full military mobilization that was to last 90 days.

The invasion began early Thursday with rocket attacks on towns and military bases, followed by a multi-pronged ground attack that rolled in troops from separatist-held areas to the east; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

After Ukrainian officials said they lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Russia said it was working with Ukrainians to secure the plant. Ukraine’s ambassador in Washington said the Russians held 92 workers hostage at the plant, forcing them to continue operating the plant and flouting safety regulations

Biden announced new sanctions that will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, saying Putin “chose this war.”

The European Union has imposed asset freezes on Putin and Lavrov themselves, in addition to other sanctions. Britain freezes the assets of all major Russian banks and plans to block Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising funds in British markets.

“Now we see him for what he is – a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of Putin.


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; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian, and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.


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