© Reuters. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a press briefing in Kiev, Ukraine, February 24, 2022. Press Service of the President of Ukraine / Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION OF THE EDITOR – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
KIEV (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on the Ukrainian military to overthrow its political leaders and negotiate peace, while authorities in Kiev called on citizens to help defend the capital as Russian forces advance.
The defense ministry told city residents to make gasoline bombs to repel the invaders, and on Friday night, witnesses reported hearing artillery fire and intense fire from the western part of the city. President Volodymyr Zelensky took pictures with his aides on the streets of the capital, promising to defend Ukraine’s independence.
Some families huddled in shelters after Kiev fired a Russian missile the second night. Others were desperately trying to board crowded trains heading west, some of the hundreds of thousands who had left their homes to find safety, according to the United Nations aid chief.
After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Putin launched a triple invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on Thursday, in an attack that threatened to overthrow the European order after the Cold War.
“Once again, I appeal to the military personnel of the Ukrainian armed forces: do not allow neo-Nazis and (Ukrainian radical nationalists) to use your children, women and the elderly as human shields,” Putin said in a televised meeting with Russian security officials. Council on Friday. “Take power into your own hands, we will reach an agreement easier.”
Putin says he is not planning a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and remove its leaders, alluding to Ukraine’s far-right nationalists who collaborated with Nazi invaders in World War II in the fight against Soviet Russia. But it is unclear how a pro-Russian leader could be appointed unless Russian troops control most of the country.
Moscow has said it has taken Hostomel Airport northwest of the capital – a potential starting point for an attack on Kiev that they have been fighting over since Russian paratroopers landed there in the early hours of the war. This could not be confirmed and the Ukrainian authorities reported heavy fighting.
“Shots and explosions are echoing in some neighborhoods. The saboteurs have already entered Kiev,” said Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of the city of three million and former world heavyweight boxing champion. “The enemy wants to bring the capital to its knees and destroy us.”
‘GLORY TO OUR DEFENDERS’
Amid the chaos of the war, a picture of what was happening on the ground across the country – the second largest in Europe after Russia itself – was slowly emerging.
Zelenski tweeted that there were heavy fighting with the dead at the entrance to the eastern cities of Chernihiv and Melitopol, as well as in Hostomel.
“Glory to our defenders, both men and women, glory to Ukraine,” he said, along with the prime minister and advisers in a video released to confirm he is in the capital.
Witnesses said that loud explosions and shootings could be heard near the airport in Kharkov, another city in Ukraine, near the border with Russia, and sirens for the air attack sounded over Lviv in the west. The Ukrainian military says Russian troops have been stopped with heavy losses near the northeastern town of Konotop.
The British Ministry of Defense announced that the Russian armored forces opened a new route of advance towards the capital after they failed to capture Chernihiv.
Ukraine has said that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far. Russia has not released data on the victims.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart and condemned reports of a growing death of civilians, including the deaths of Ukrainian children, over the attack around Kiev, the State Department said.
United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said that hundreds of thousands of people were on the move in Ukraine, adding that “north of a billion dollars” would be needed for aid operations in the next three months.
Ukraine has banned men of fighting age from leaving, and on the borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, Reuters reporters saw mostly women and children crossing.
The women cried as they said goodbye to their beloved men and crossed into Romania.
The 27 member states of the European Union agreed to freeze all assets in the bloc belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Britain followed their example.
A number of Western countries have announced new sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology imports. But so far he has been stopped from being expelled from the SWIFT system for international bank payments, which has drawn criticism from Kiev.
On Friday, the governing body of European football moved the May final of the Champions League from St. Petersburg to Paris, and Formula 1 canceled this year’s Grand Prix of Russia. The European Broadcasting Union has excluded Russia from the widely watched Eurovision Song Contest 2022.
‘BURN IN HELL’
U.S. officials believe Russia’s initial goal is to “behead” Zelensky’s government.
Putin says that Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, which Ukrainians see as a goal to erase their more than a thousand-year history.
Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Kiev hopes to join NATO and the EU – aspirations that anger Moscow.
While the sirens for the air attack were flying over Kiev the next day, some residents took refuge in the underground metro stations.
The windows were smashed on a 10-storey apartment building near the main airport. A two-meter crater showed where a grenade had fallen before dawn.
“How can we survive this in our time? Putin should burn in hell together with his family,” said Oksana Gulenko, cleaning the broken glass from her room.
Hundreds of people huddled in a cramped bomb shelter under a building after a television warning of airstrikes.
“How can you wage war against peaceful people?” said Victoria, 35, while her children aged 5 and 7 slept in winter coats.
Thousands of people crowded at the railway station in Kiev, trying to force their way into the crowded trains that evacuated people west to Lviv. When the train arrived, people rushed to the door, some were screaming, and the guards fired blanks to scare the crowd.
Maria, 30, has been there since morning with her child, husband and dog, trying but failing to board the train.
“It’s dangerous to break through a crowd with a child,” she said. “The dog is scared. Honestly, we’re exhausted.”