Ukraine girds for Kyiv attack amid signs of slowing Russian advance

The moves to defend Kyiv escalated Friday, the second day of a Russian military incursion
Last Updated 26 February 2022, 05:06 IST

Ukraine braced for an all-out assault on its capital early Saturday, as the military blew up a bridge to slow the advance of Russian soldiers, street fights erupted in a northern district of the city, and the nation’s leaders warned residents that Russia wanted to “bring the capital to its knees.”

The moves to defend Kyiv escalated Friday, the second day of a Russian military incursion. The fighting came as western governments imposed new sanctions, including on Russian President Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands of refugees fled the country, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared in a video warning that “the fate of Ukraine is now being decided.”

Zelenskyy warned that Russian “sabotage groups” had entered Kyiv with the aim of “destroying the head of state.”

Early Saturday, gunfire could be heard every few minutes in central Kyiv, with the crack of shots and bursts of automatic fire apparently coming from neighborhoods in the north. Artillery fire was reported in the Shuliavka neighborhood, and videos showed vehicles on fire there.

A US Defense Department official said the Russians were “not moving on Kyiv as fast as they anticipated it going” and that, significantly, “Ukrainian command and control is intact” to direct the defense of the country. But officials warned that as of Friday morning Russia had sent into Ukraine only 30% of the 150,000 to 190,000 troops it had massed at the border.

On Friday, a Kremlin spokesperson said Putin was prepared to send representatives to Belarus for talks with a Ukrainian delegation. But later in the day, Russia claimed Ukraine had rejected immediate talks — a characterization at odds with a report from Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, who said Zelenskyy had asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate negotiations in Jerusalem.

At a rare emergency summit Friday, NATO agreed to make “significant additional defensive deployments of forces” to the eastern members of the alliance, it said in a statement.

European Union foreign ministers approved a second set of sanctions Friday that would freeze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and impose financial, technological, industrial, trade and travel-related bans and restrictions. President Joe Biden joined the EU in imposing sanctions directly on Putin, Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said it would close its Moscow office and terminate Russia’s application for membership in the group, which represents 38 of the world’s most influential economies.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fled the country in response to what the United Nations described as a growing humanitarian crisis. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations’ top humanitarian and emergency coordinator, said Friday that the agency was setting aside $20 million from an emergency fund to help with the crisis in Ukraine.

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(Published 26 February 2022, 05:06 IST)

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