Russian forces have reportedly moved in closer to Kyiv early Saturday morning, and explosions were seen and heard in parts of the capital suggesting an escalation of fighting with Ukrainian defenders, according to CNN.
The cable network reported that operations by Ukrainian forces to repel the Russian advance were intensifying in the early morning hours of Saturday, Kyiv time, not long after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy warned that the battle could be over by morning.
“This night will be very difficult, and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians,” Zelenskyy said in a late-night video message Friday that was widely circulated on Twitter.
“This night we have to stand ground,” Zelenskyy said, surrounded by members of his national security team. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”
CNN teams in the capital reported hearing loud explosions to the west and south of the city. And Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications said clashes were underway in an eastern suburb as Russian forces appeared to be closing in on Kyiv from at least three sides.
Earlier Saturday morning, the State Service of Special Communications reported: “Explosions in Kyiv. What is known? The enemy is trying to attack CHP-6 near Troieschyna. The Armed Forces give battle. Resistance continues in Vasylkiv, where enemy troops are trying to land.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi says he spoke with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the phone Saturday and agreed they must respond to Russian invasion of Ukraine properly to prevent it from becoming “a wrong lesson” because of its potential influence in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Hayashi declined to comment if Japan plans to join the United States, Britain and the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He said Japan will closely stay in touch with other Group of Seven members and the international society while watching the development.
Hayashi told reporters that he and Blinken reassured their commitment to work closely with the rest of the international society. They agreed that it is necessary to respond to Russia properly and to absolutely reject the unilateral act to change the status quo and not leave “a wrong lesson.”
The Russian military said Friday it had encircled the cities of Sumy and Konotop in northeastern Ukraine, but was “taking steps to ensure civilians’ safety.”
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces have so far knocked out 211 Ukrainian military installations, including 17 command centers, 19 air defense missile systems, 39 radar units, 67 tanks and six warplanes. The Russian military also said it seized a strategic airport outside Kyiv, allowing it to quickly build up forces to take the capital.
Late Friday, the Russian military said it has taken over Melitopol, a city near the Azov Sea. The claim could not immediately be independently verified.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense official said it’s estimated that Russia has now launched more than 200 missiles into Ukraine and some have hit residential areas, although it was unclear if they were deliberately targeted.
But U.S. defense officials believe the Russian offensive has encountered considerable resistance and is proceeding slower than Moscow had envisioned.
Ukraine’s military reported shooting down an II-76 Russian transport plane carrying paratroopers near Vasylkiv, a city 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Kyiv, an account confirmed by a senior American intelligence official. It was unclear how many were on board. Transport planes can carry up to 125 paratroopers.
“We must survive this night”
The U.S. and its European allies moved to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday as Russia’s military pushed further into Ukraine in an invasion that threatened to topple its democratic government.
The White House announced the new sanctions after President Joe Biden met with fellow NATO heads of state to discuss the mounting crisis.
Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures. Bridges and schools have been damaged in the shelling, which also sliced through a Kyiv apartment building.
As Russian troops neared the capital, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to stay and fight – and beckoned his fellow countrymen to do the same.
“You can not give up the capital,” he said in a video message. “We must survive this night.”
The crisis has roiled the globe since Putin, in the pre-dawn hours of Moscow on Thursday, announced in a televised address that he was launching a military operation against Ukraine.
International backlash followed swiftly, with sanctions by the United States and a host of other countries. Biden said the new economic measures would “limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen to be part of the global economy.”
But, so far, those sanctions appear to have had little effect on Russia’s attempt to take over the one-time Soviet Republic that has expressed a desire to someday join NATO.
• MOUNTING DEATH TOLL: Zelenskyy announced that 137 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed with hundreds more wounded.
• WHERE IS THE FIGHTING? Explosions sounded before dawn in Kyiv and gunfire was reported in several areas, as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help to fend off the attack.
• WHERE ARE UKRAINIANS GOING? Poland’s Border Guard says that some 29,000 people were cleared to enter through the country’s land border with neighboring Ukraine on Thursday, the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.
WHY IS INVASION HAPPENING?:Why is Russia invading Ukraine? Could it be the start of WWIII? Here’s what we know
A NEW COLD WAR?: How historians view Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
As expected, Russia vetoed a UN resolution on Friday evening demanding that Moscow stop its attack on Ukraine immediately and withdraw all troops. U.S. officials said they knew Moscow would oppose the measure but that they wanted to highlight Russia’s isolation within the international community.
The vote was 11 in favor, with Russia voting no. China, along with India and the United Arab Emirates, abstained.
The vote was delayed for two hours as the United States and Albania, co-sponsor of the resolution, worked behind the scenes to shore up support for the resolution among wavering nations, including Brazil.
“A line has been crossed, and this council cannot remain silent,” said Brazil’s Ambassador Ronaldo Costa Filho. He said his government was “gravely concerned” about Russia’s military action.
China’s decision to abstain was seen as a diplomatic victory for pro-Ukrainian forces, given its history of using its veto power alongside ally Russia.
— Josh Meyer and Associated Press
Russia-Ukraine explained:Inside the crisis as US calls Russian movements an invasion
As Russian troops advanced on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv Friday evening, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy appealed for a cease-fire and warned in a video statement that multiple cities were under attack and intent on seizing the capitol.
”The night will be harder than the day,” Zelenskyy said on the video, which was widely circulated on Twitter.
“At night they will storm,” he said in the message to Ukrainians. “You can not give up the capital. We must survive this night.”
Biden administration spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Friday afternoon that U.S. officials believe Putin intends to try to take the capital and oust the government.
The explosions and gunfire in Kyiv fueled further fears of wider war in Europe and triggered new international efforts — including direct sanctions on President Vladimir Putin by the U.S., UK, European Union and Canada — to make Moscow stop.
— Josh Meyer
The United States is slapping sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and some of his deputies in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the new sanctions will target Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and members of Russia’s national security team.
The announcement follows a decision by the European Union earlier Friday to freeze the assets of Putin and Lavrov, along with other sanctions.
The United States already has hit Russia with sanctions that will impact multiple sectors of the Russia economy. But Ukraine has argued that a tougher economic response is needed and has asked for additional defense assistance.
–Michael Collins and Joey Garrison
The enigma of Vladimir Putin:What do we really know about Russia’s leader?
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., voiced concern Friday that Russia took control of the Chernobyl power plant – site of the worst nuclear disaster in history – and took 92 staff members as hostages.
“We are very concerned that the Chernobyl shelter is under threat of any type of random attack by the Russian federation,” Markarova told reporters in Washington.
More broadly, she said Ukraine armed forces destroyed 80 Russian tanks, 10 planes, seven helicopters and 516 armored vehicles. She blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for casualties.
“As a result of Mr. Putin’s decision to send Russians to kill Ukrainians, 2,800 of Russian soldiers will not be going back to Russia,” she said.
Markarova said she wasn’t able to say what it would take for Putin to abandon the attack, but that Ukraine sought territorial integrity not just of its eastern provinces, but also Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
“We are ready for peace talks, but we are not ready for capitulation or surrender,” Markarova said.
Sen. Mark Warner is urging U.S. tech companies on Friday not to let their platforms be misused by Russian influence operations in the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.
The Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, sent letters Friday to Alphabet, Meta – formerly known as Google and Facebook – as well as Reddit, Telegram, TikTok, and Twitter alerting them to malicious “information warfare” activities by Russia and Russia-linked entities.
“As this conflict continues, we can expect to see an escalation in Russia’s use of both overt and covert means to sow confusion about the conflict and promote disinformation narratives that weaken the global response to these illegal acts,” Warner wrote.
In his letter to YouTube parent company Alphabet, Warner said his staff observed YouTube ads on Thursday monetizing content regarding the conflict in Ukraine from RT, Sputnik and TASS, which he described as malign actors affiliated with the Russian government.
“Unfortunately, your platforms continue to be key vectors for malign actors – including, notably, those affiliated with the Russian government – to not only spread disinformation, but to profit from it,” Warner said.
– Josh Meyer
As the fighting intensified in Ukraine Friday, government officials offered competing assessments of the death toll.
Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures.
U.N. officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said that 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes, estimating up to 4 million could flee if the fighting escalates.
Bridges and schools have been damaged in the shelling, which also sliced through a Kyiv apartment building. After 8 p.m. in Ukraine, a large boom was heard near Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the square in central Kyiv that was the heart of the protests which led to the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president. The cause was not immediately known and smaller repeated blasts could be heard in the distance.
The parents of a former Marine imprisoned in Moscow worry the global outrage over Russia’s attack on Ukraine could hurt their chances of getting their son released at a moment when he is suffering from serious health problems.
Trevor Reed’s parents, Joey and Paula Reed, told the Dallas Morning News their son called his Moscow lawyers to tell them he was running a fever. He had prolonged exposure in December to another prisoner with tuberculosis and was coughing up blood, according to U.S. embassy spokesman Jason Rebholz. Trevor Reed had been diagnosed with COVID-19 last May.
As a Marine, Reed served as a presidential guard and provided security at Camp David during the Obama administration.
But Reed was arrested in Moscow in August 2019 after allegedly being involved in a drunken fight at a party. He’s serving a nine-year sentence on charges the U.S. ambassador called “absurd.” U.S. officials have said Reed and another former Marine, Paul Whelan, were imprisoned potentially to be used as bargaining chips for the release of Russian spies.
President Joe Biden said Thursday diplomatic talks with Russia have been ruptured by Moscow’s massive military attack on Ukraine.
Paula Reed told the Dallas Morning News the remarks were “like the exclamation point” to know “it’s going to be that much more difficult to get Trevor home.”
Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced Friday that the country’s armed forces would receive a 30% salary increase, along with monthly bonuses, while Ukraine is battling a Russian invasion that threatens its survival as a free democracy.
“Together with the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of Finance and the relevant parliamentary committee, we managed to find the expected financial resources and raise the salaries of Ukrainian defenders to the national average,” Reznikov said in a statement. “This is only the first step. We continue to work. Glory to Ukraine and its defenders!”
The pay hike will go into effect March 1.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with President Joe Biden on Friday about strengthening sanctions against Russia and other steps to retaliate for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition have just been discussed with @POTUS,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter, thanking the U.S. for its strong support” of Ukraine.
The White House confirmed that Biden spoke with Zelenskky for 40 minutes but provided no other details.
The United States and Europe have already hit Russia with sanctions that will impact multiple sectors of the Russia economy. Ukraine has argued that a tougher economic response is needed and has asked for additional defense assistance.
In response, the European Union agreed Friday to freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with other sanctions.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a short video just after midnight local time with other leaders of his country proclaiming their continued defense against the Russian invasion.
His defiance came as Russian troops pushed toward the capital Kyiv, and as questions swirled on social media about whether leaders had begun fleeing.
“We are all here,” said Zelenskyy, who was surrounded by a handful of leaders. “Our military is here, citizens are here. We are all here defending our independence, our state and it will be so further. Glory to our defenders, glory to Ukraine!”
He was joined by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and adviser Mykhailo Podoliak among other officials.
“Glory to heroes!” the men said as the video ended.
– Bart Jansen and Karina Zaiets
The European Union agreed to freeze the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with other sanctions, according to Latvia’s foreign minister.
The move is intended to ratchet up financial pressure on Putin to back off Ukraine and would add to other sanctions levied against Moscow from governments including the United States.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said in a tweet on Friday that the EU’s foreign ministers “adopted the 2nd sanctions package” and added that “the asset freeze includes President of Russia and its Foreign Minister.”
He said the EU plans to prepare another package of sanctions.
– Bart Jansen
Russian forces continue to invade Ukraine along three routes, including from the north toward Kyiv, although a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Russian momentum toward Kyiv has slowed in the last 24 hours.
The U.S. official declined to say how many Russian troops were on the ground in Ukraine now, but estimated it was about one third of the combat force that Russia had massed before the attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin had deployed more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s border prior to the invasion.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, told reporters Friday the U.S. had information suggesting that Moscow had expected a faster advance on Ukraine’s capital. The official declined to say how the Pentagon had made that assessment, but Russia has not yet captured any major population centers.
Russia has failed to dominate Ukrainian air space, the official said. Ukraine continues to fly warplanes that are attacking Russian forces. Ukraine also retains missiles for air defense.
In southern Ukraine, the Russians have made an amphibious attack, landing thousands of troops, the official said.
Elsewhere in the south, a battle is being fought for the Kakhovka hyrdo-electric plant that provides energy to Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia has launched cyberattacks there, the official said.
-Tom Vanden Brook
Ukraine’s foreign minister ramped up the pressure on European leaders on Friday to kick Russia out of the SWIFT financial system in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and Europe already have hit Russia with sanctions that will impact multiple sectors of the Russia economy. But some European leaders have been reluctant to boot Russia from SWIFT, a global messaging system connecting thousands of financial institutions around the world.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba took to Twitter to urge those holdouts to reconsider, citing their past statements that a conflict like World War II should never be allowed to happen again.
“To some European leaders who are still hesitant: each year at commemorative events you say ‘Never again,’” he wrote. “The time to prove it is now. Russia is waging a horrific war of aggression in Europe. Here is your ‘never again’ test: BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT and kick it out of everywhere.”
Kuleba said he spoke Friday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the need for the U.S. to use its influence to persuade hesitant European leaders to ban Russia from SWIFT.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday Ukraine is fighting Russia “alone,” in an apparent criticism of the U.S. and other western allies, as he pushes for a stronger international response to Russia’s invasion of his country.
“This morning, we are defending our state alone, as we did yesterday,” he said in an address to Ukrainians. “The world’s most powerful forces are watching from afar. Did yesterday’s sanctions convince Russia?”
Biden has vowed that he won’t send U.S. troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, though he has sent American forces to shore up NATO’s eastern flank.
Biden announced a second round of U.S. sanctions announced Thursday, but it did not include the harsh step of cutting Russia from the SWIFT financial system, which connects banks worldwide.
The Kremlin said Friday it is ready to hold talks with Ukrainian officials, but only after Ukrainian forces stand down. The conditional offer came as Russian forces bore down on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to send a delegation to Belarus to meet with Ukrainian officials. This came after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he is willing to discuss a non-aligned status for the country, which would essentially mean dropping the country’s bid to join NATO.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine must put down its arms before any talks happen, according to Russia’s state controlled TASS News Agency.
Russian military forces invaded Ukraine at roughly 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday (4:30 a.m. on Thursday in Ukraine), using missiles, troops, tanks and aircraft.
The invasion has targeted major cities and military sites, with the attacks coming from all different directions, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Russia has fired more than 100 missiles.
Congress may need to approve at least $10 billion in emergency spending to support Ukraine and for other needs, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Friday.
Coons, a close ally of President Joe Biden who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters his estimate may be on the low side because it doesn’t include what may be a “robust” request from the Pentagon.
“There is strong enthusiasm to provide ongoing resupply and training and whatever other covert and overt support is necessary and appropriate for the Ukrainian resistance,” he said.
Coons, who also heads a subcommittee in charge of humanitarian aid, said he’s confident billions of dollars will be needed to support the likely millions of refugees expected to flee Ukraine for nearby countries.
“It would be a wild guess on my part,” he said, “but I would be supportive of an emergency supplemental of at least $10 billion, perhaps more, to meet these vital national security and humanitarian needs.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry urged Kyiv’s residents Friday to stay inside and prepare Molotov cocktails to defend their capital as Russian troops and tanks were on the verge of entering the central part of the city for the first since President Vladimir Putin launched his assault on Ukraine.
“Neutralize the enemy,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted as Kyiv continued to be hit by apparent Russian airstrikes that have damaged apartment buildings and forced thousands into bomb shelters. Air raid sirens rang out through the night and into the early morning.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is continuing to plead with western leaders to unveil harsher sanctions on the Kremlin, saying “If you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”
Ukraine claims that more than 1,000 Russian troops have already been killed, though British officials have put the Russian death toll at half that.
President Biden on Thursday announced a raft of new sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
But one move the president didn’t announce: kicking Russia out of the SWIFT financial system.
Biden said removing Russia from the international SWIFT financial system is still on the table but that European allies had resisted that step. The SWIFT system shifts money between banks around the world. Removing Russia would block Moscow from most international financial transactions, including profits from oil and gas production that are the lifeblood of Russia’s economy.
Russia’s civil aviation authority has banned U.K. flights to and over Russia in retaliation against the British government’s ban on Aeroflot flights.
Rosaviatsiya said that all flights by the U.K. carriers to Russia as well as transit flights are banned starting Friday.
It said the measure was taken in response to the “unfriendly decisions” by the British authorities who banned flights to the U.K. by the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot as part of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
– Associated Press
Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy in Rome on Friday to personally express his concern about the war in Ukraine, in an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent.
Popes usually receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican. For Francis to travel a short distance to the Russian embassy outside the Vatican walls was a sign of his strength of concern about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Vatican officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the pontiff wanted “clearly to express his concern about the war.” Pope Francis was there for just over a half-hour, Bruni said.
Francis has called for dialogue to end the conflict and has urged the faithful to set next Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine.
But he has refrained from publicly calling out Russia, presumably for fear of antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church, with which he is trying to build stronger ties.
Russia has launched a “horrific” rocket strike on Kyiv, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, tweeted Friday.
The capital hasn’t experienced an attack like that since 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded, he said.
“Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one,” Kuleba tweeted. “Stop Putin. Isolate Russia. Severe all ties. Kick Russia out” of everywhere.
— Maureen Groppe
Russian troops appeared to be advancing on Kyiv at the start of the second day of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Amid a fast-moving and difficult-to-verify situation, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted early Friday that some Russian troops had broken through to several northern districts on the outskirts of the capital. However, Ukraine’s military also said it was resisting the advance on multiple fronts.
The apparent development comes as thousands of civilians spent the night in bomb shelters, typically underground subway stations, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his citizens to do all they can to resist Russia’s assault. Zelenskyy has vowed to remain in Kyiv with his family and he appealed to Russia for a ceasefire.
Some 137 Ukrainians, a mixture of soldiers and civilians, died in the fighting on Thursday, Zelenskyy said. Britain’s Defense Secretary told his country’s media Friday that Russia has lost about 450 military personnel.
The U.S., Europe and Japan have all unveiled sanctions on key Russian banks, airlines and associates of President Vladimir Putin. Later Friday, NATO leaders will convene an emergency meeting by video link to discuss the deteriorating security situation.
– Kim Hjelmgaard
EU plans more sanctions with ‘massive consequences’
BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official says the 27-nation bloc intends to slap further sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
EU Council president Charles Michel tweeted Friday: “Second wave of sanctions with massive and severe consequences politically agreed last night. Further package under urgent preparation.”
Michel announced the move after a call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Michel said Kyiv “is under continued attack by Russian forces” and called on Russia to immediately stop the violence.
Russia stripped of Champions League final as UEFA shifts match to Paris
LONDON – Russia was stripped of hosting the Champions League final by UEFA on Friday with St. Petersburg replaced by Paris after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The men’s final will still be held on May 28 but now at the 80,000-seat Stade de France after the decision by UEFA’s executive committee.
“UEFA wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to French Republic President Emmanuel Macron for his personal support and commitment to have European club football’s most prestigious game moved to France at a time of unparalleled crisis,” European football’s governing body said in a statement. “Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement.”
Ukraine president: Russia has marked him ‘target No. 1’
Zelenskyy said Thursday he remains in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv, and intends to stay there, even as Russia has made him its top quarry.
“The enemy has marked me as target No. 1, my family as target No. 2,” Zelenskyy said in an address to Ukrainians. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
Asked about Zelenskyy’s safety, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. is in touch with him and are working to provide him support.
– Joey Garrison
Contributing: Associated Press