Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian troops stormed the Ukrainian capital on Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to hide. The country’s president has rejected America’s offer of evacuation, insisting it remains. “The battle is here,” he said.
When it dawned in Kiev, it was not immediately clear how far the soldiers had advanced. Ukrainian officials reported some progress in repelling the attacks, but fighting continued near the capital. Clashes reported on the outskirts of the city showed that small Russian units were probing the Ukrainian defenses to clear the way for the main forces.
The rapid movement of troops after less than three days of fighting has further threatened a pro-independence country in the face of a widespread Russian attack that threatened to overthrow Ukraine’s democratic government and destroy the post-Cold War world order.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reassured on Saturday that the country’s military was resisting the Russian invasion. In a video recorded on a street in central Kyiv, he said he had not left the city and that allegations that the Ukrainian military would lay down their arms were false.
“We are not going to lay down our arms. We will defend the country, ”the President of Ukraine said. “Our weapons are our truth, and our truth is our land, our country, our children. And we will defend all this. “
US officials believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime. The invasion was Putin’s boldest effort to redraw the map of Europe and revive Moscow’s Cold War influence. This has sparked new international efforts to stop the invasion, including direct sanctions against Putin.
The Kremlin accepted Kiev’s offer to hold talks, but it seemed to be an attempt to squeeze concessions from Zelensky, who entered the fight, instead of gesturing toward a diplomatic solution.
According to a senior U.S. intelligence official who was directly aware of the conversation, Zelensky was urged to evacuate Kyiv by order of the U.S. government, but declined the offer. The official quoted the president as saying “the fight is here” and that he needs anti-tank ammunition, but “not a trip”.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, as he had no right to speak to the media.
Saturday’s clashes came after two days of massive air and missile strikes, which Russian officials say targeted Ukrainian military targets as their ground troops advanced from the north, east and south. As a result of the assault, bridges, schools and houses were destroyed, resulting in hundreds of casualties.
“We are all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do in a few days, ”said Lucy Vashaka, a 20-year-old employee of a small hotel in Kyiv.
But Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podalak said that Ukrainian forces controlled the situation when small Russian units tried to infiltrate Kiev. Kyiv city authorities urged residents to seek shelter, stay away from windows and take precautions to avoid flying debris and bullets.
In the fog of war, it was unclear what part of Ukraine was still under Ukrainian control and how much Russian forces had captured. UN officials said millions of people could flee Ukraine to neighboring Western countries.
The Ukrainian military said it shot down a Russian II-76 transport plane with paratroopers near Vasilkov, a city 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Kiev, as confirmed by a senior US intelligence official.
A second Russian military transport plane was shot down near Belaya Tserkov, 50 miles (85 kilometers) south of Kyiv, according to two U.S. officials who are directly aware of conditions in Ukraine.
The Russian military did not comment on any of the planes.
The United States and other global powers froze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister on Friday as part of tougher sanctions against Russia as the invasion affected the global economy and energy supplies.
Sports leagues also sought to punish Russia, and even the popular Eurovision Song Contest banned Russian artists from participating in the May final of the event in Italy.
At the same time, Russia remained rebellious, vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the attack on Ukraine and the immediate withdrawal of troops. A veto was expected, but the United States and its supporters have argued that the effort underscores Moscow’s international isolation.
The 11-1 vote, in which China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained, showed significant opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbor.
Meanwhile, NATO has decided for the first time to send part of the alliance’s response force to help protect member countries in the east. NATO did not say how many troops would be deployed, but added that it would include ground, naval and air forces.
It was unclear how many people died in the largest land war in Europe since World War II.
Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their part during the first full day of fighting and claimed hundreds in Russian. Russian authorities do not report the death toll.
UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and air strikes, and said an estimated 100,000 people had fled their homes. According to their estimates, in the event of escalation of fighting up to 4 million could flee.
Late Friday, US President Joe Biden signed a memorandum authorizing additional security aid to Ukraine of up to $ 350 million, bringing total aid approved for Ukraine to $ 1 billion last year. It was not clear how quickly help would arrive.
The United States and Western allies have been waiting for the attack for weeks, and Putin has denied that it is being worked out for as long. He claimed that the West had left him no choice but to refuse to negotiate on Russia’s security requirements.
Putin does not disclose his final plans for Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hinted: “We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny.” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognized Zelensky as president, but did not say how long Russia’s military operation could last.
Zelensky’s whereabouts were kept secret after he told European leaders in a conversation Thursday that he is a target for Russia – and that they may no longer see him alive. His office later released a video in which he stands with senior aides near the president’s office and says he and other government officials will remain in the capital.
Zelensky offered on Friday to hold talks on Putin’s key demand: to declare itself neutral and give up its ambitions to join NATO. The Kremlin said that Kyiv first agreed to talks in Minsk, then said it preferred Warsaw, and later stopped talking.
Later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow would discuss the prospects of the talks on Saturday.
Isachenko reported from Moscow. This was reported by LaPorta of Boca Raton, Florida. Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Ruff Caserte and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; Matt Sedensky in New York; Jennifer Peltz at the UN; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Noman Merchant, Ellen Nickmeyer, Zick Miller, Chris Megerian, and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine