Fighting reaches Kyiv as Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies

Air raid sirens wail over capital and heavy gunfire and explosions heard in residential district

Fighting has reached the suburbs and historic centre of Kyiv as Russian troops closed in on the Ukrainian capital, while Moscow indicated it was ready to talk and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pleaded for international help.

After early morning missile attacks, Russian forces advanced to the city’s outskirts from three sides on Friday as Ukrainian soldiers set up defensive positions at key bridges and patrolled in armoured vehicles watched by anxious residents.

A day after Russia launched a massive invasion of its south-western neighbour, the defence ministry in Moscow claimed it had cut Kyiv off from the west and seized a strategic airport at Hostomel, on the outskirts, allowing it to airlift troops to the front.

In an extraordinary message addressed to Ukrainian troops, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called on them to overthrow the government, whose leaders he described as “terrorists” and “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”.

Ukrainian officials said 1,000 Russian servicemen had been killed so far, but warned that advance enemy units had already entered the Obolonskyi district of northern Kyiv. The defence ministry advised residents to “prepare molotov cocktails”.

Fight for Kyiv map

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said the city had entered “a defensive phase”. He added: “Shots and explosions are ringing out … and saboteurs have already entered Kyiv. The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia was ready to send a delegation, including foreign and defence ministry officials, to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, for talks with Ukraine, providing the country agreed to demilitarise.

Ukraine has said it is willing to discuss declaring itself a neutral county. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also said Moscow was ready for talks if Ukrainian forces laid down their arms. “No one is planning to occupy Ukraine,” Lavrov said, insisting Russia’s troops were freeing Ukraine from “oppression”.

Zelenskiy pleaded with western powers to act faster to cut off Russia’s economy and provide Ukraine with military assistance. “When bombs fall on Kyiv, it happens in Europe, not just in Ukraine,” he said. “When missiles kill our people, they kill all Europeans.”

The west scrambled to respond to Putin’s aggression with a range of fresh sanctions against Moscow, with the US also announcing it would send a further 7,000 troops to Germany to shore up Nato’s eastern borders.

There were divisions, however, on the strength of the response. The US president, Joe Biden, and his Nato counterparts sought to reassure member countries on the alliance’s eastern flank, from Estonia to Bulgaria, that their security was guaranteed as Russian forces advanced on Kyiv.

“Russia has shattered peace on the European continent,” the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said as he opened a video summit. “Moscow bears sole responsibility for the deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion.”

The UN security council will also vote on Friday on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s invasion and requiring an immediate withdrawal – although Moscow can veto the measure and it was unclear how China would vote.

The EU on Friday was set to freeze European assets linked to Putin and Lavrov and introduce more measures against Russian banks and industry after facing angry remonstrations from Kyiv for holding back from cutting Russia out of the Swift international payments system through which it receives foreign currency.

Zelenskiy earlier on Friday accused Europe of not being hard or quick enough in sanctioning Russia earlier, urging citizens to compel their governments to do more to stop Putin’s invasion.

“Europe has enough strength to stop this aggression,” he said. “You have to act swiftly. We demand effective counteraction to the Russian Federation. Sanctions must be further strengthened.”

France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said as he arrived for an EU meeting in Brussels that further sanctions were likely. “This isn’t enough. We need to choke the Russian system and in particular further target the oligarchs,” he said.

According to a leaked draft of the new sanctions agreed by EU leaders, all members of the Duma, the Russian security council and any Belarusian officials in the military and ministry of defence who “facilitated” the invasion of Ukraine will be subject to travel bans and asset freezes.

Le Maire said, however, that ejecting Russia from Swift, which would have serious economic consequences for leading EU member states including Germany, France and Italy, would be “a very last resort”.

Beyond the diplomatic arena, Uefa moved the Champions League final to Paris from St Petersburg, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) called on international sports federations to cancel all current or future sporting events in Russia, and Russia was ejected from the Eurovision song contest.

The invasion could drive up to 5 million people to flee abroad, UN aid agencies said on Friday, adding that at least 100,000 people are already uprooted in the country and fuel, cash and medical supplies were running low.

Streams of people – mostly women and children, since Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are forbidden to leave – crossed into Hungary, Poland and Romania, with 15-hour queues reported at border points. Guards fired warning shots to prevent a stampede at Kyiv’s central station as thousands tried to force their way on to evacuation trains.

Earlier on Friday, heavy pre-dawn blasts in Kyiv set off a second day of violence after Putin on Thursday defied western warnings to unleash the biggest attack on a European state since the second world war.

A Ukrainian police officer stands in front of a damaged residential block in Kyiv on Friday.
A Ukrainian police officer stands in front of a damaged residential block in Kyiv on Friday. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

“Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted. “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany. Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one.”

Cleaning broken glass from her room, one Kyiv resident, Oxana Gulenko, said: “How we can live through it in our time? What should we think. Putin should be burned in hell along with his whole family.”

Witnesses said loud explosions could also be heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, close to the border with Russia, while air raid sirens sounded over Lviv in the west. A resident told the Guardian the eastern city of Sumy had been taken.

Day two nationwide map

In the village of Starognativka, near the frontline where separatists have faced off against Kyiv’s forces for years, a local official, Volodymyr Veselkin, said missiles had been raining down all morning and the power was out. “They are trying to wipe the village off the face of the earth,” he said.

Zelenskiy said in a televised address that Putin was targeting civilian as well as military sites. “They say that civilian objects are not a target for them. It is a lie; they do not distinguish in which areas to operate,” he said, vowing to continue defending his country and criticising world leaders for “watching from afar”.

The international criminal court said on Friday it might investigate possible war crimes, though did not provide any further details. Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, although his ultimate aims remain obscure.

In Russia, thousands of people defied tough anti-protest legislation to stage anti-war rallies across the country on Thursday night. OVD-Info, which monitors arrests at opposition protests, said more than 1,800 people in 59 cities had been detained.


Emma Graham-Harrison and Luke Harding in Kyiv, Peter Beaumont in Lviv, Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Jon Henley

The GuardianTramp

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