Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city and on Sunday Russian forces pressed a strategic port in southern Ukraine. This was a development that seemed to mark a new phase of the Russian invasion following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere in Russia.
According to the Kremlin, Russia has sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, based on gains from the ground. The Ukrainian president suggested another place, saying he had no intention of meeting in Belarus because Belarus served as a springboard for the invasion.
By Sunday, Russian forces remained outside of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people about 20 kilometers south of the Russian border, while other forces had overtaken and pushed deeper into Ukraine, with Ukrainian fighters fighting hard.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We are fighting for our country, we are fighting for our freedom, because we have the right to do so.”
“Last night was tough with more artillery and more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. There is not a single facility in the country that the occupants do not consider an acceptable target.”
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks show Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the city in small groups.
A video shows Ukrainian soldiers inspecting a Russian light utility vehicle that had been bombarded and abandoned by Russian forces on the street.
A huge explosion illuminates the skies near the capital Kiev early on Sunday. Terrified residents were crouching in their homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of an all-out Russian attack.
But the Ukrainians also volunteered to defend Kiev and other cities, taking the guns distributed by the authorities and preparing Molotov cocktails to fight the Russians.
Zelensky denounced the Russian offensive as “state terrorism.” He said the attack on the Ukrainian city should be brought under investigation by the International Tribunal for War Crimes and at the expense of Russia becoming one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“Russia has chosen the path of evil and the world must strip Russia of its seat on the UN Security Council,” he said.
Officials maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people off the streets of the capital until Monday morning, complicating the task of assessing the intensity of the battle.
Zelensky’s office said the explosion was reported at Kiev International Airport.
Flames are rising from an oil depot near an air base in the city of Vasilkiv, 37 kilometers south of Kiev, the mayor said.
The government has warned people to cover windows with damp cloths or gauze to protect them from smoke, after Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline going east of Kharkiv, the presidential office said.
Meanwhile, Moscow also claimed today that its troops had “completely” besieged the cities of Kersson in southern Ukraine and Verdansk in southeastern Ukraine.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement that “the city of Kherson and Verdansk has been completely blocked by Russian forces over the past 24 hours.”
Read more: Russia, new impetus for Kiev
More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Moldova and other neighboring countries, and the UN has warned that the number could rise to 4 million if fighting escalates.
President Vladimir Putin has not disclosed his final plans, but Western officials claim he is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence.
To support Ukraine’s ability to survive, the United States has pledged $350 million in additional military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms.
Germany said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged country and close airspace to Russian aircraft.
The US, European Union and UK have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system. Serious costs of Moscow for the invasion.
They also agreed to put ‘restrictions’ on the Russian central bank.
It was unclear how much territory the Russians had seized, or how much the advance was blocked. “The temporary slowdown in Russia’s advance is likely due to serious logistical problems and strong Ukraine resistance,” the Defense Ministry said.
A senior U.S. Pentagon official said more than half of the Russian fighting force gathered along the Ukrainian border had entered Russia and that Moscow would have to put more fuel and other support units inside Ukraine than originally anticipated.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal US assessment.
The mandatory curfew for everyone inside Kiev was set to last until Monday morning. The relative stillness of the capital was broken by sporadic gunfire.
Battles on the outskirts of the city showed small Russian units trying to pave the way for the main force. A small number of Russian troops were reported within Kiev, but Britain and the United States said as of Saturday afternoon most troops were 30 kilometers from the city centre.
Although Russia claims that its attacks on Ukraine from the north, east and south were aimed only at military targets, bridges, schools and residential areas were hit.
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Europe’s largest ground battle since World War II. It was unclear whether the figure included both military and civilian casualties.
A missile attacked a high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of Kiev’s south-west near one of Kiev’s two passenger airports, leaving jagged holes in the dilapidated apartment building on several floors. Rescuers said six civilians were injured.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said in Kiev that the military was fighting a Russian ‘sabotage group’. She said Ukraine had taken over 200 Russian soldiers prisoner of war and killed thousands.
Markarova said Ukraine has raised the possibility of crimes against humanity in The Hague by collecting evidence of shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals.
Zelensky said in a video message that he welcomed the proposal to organize diplomatic efforts between Turkey and Azerbaijan, re-emphasizing openness to dialogue with Russia.
The Kremlin confirmed a phone call between Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, but there was no hint of a resumption of talks.
The day before, Zelensky offered to negotiate a deal giving up Russia’s core requirement, its ambition to join NATO.
Putin sent troops to Ukraine after denying for weeks that he would do so while building an army of nearly 200,000 along the Ukrainian border.
He argues that the West has not taken Russia’s security concerns seriously about NATO, the western military alliance that Ukraine seeks to join. However, he also expressed contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
These efforts were already paying a heavy price for the Ukrainian and Russian forces.
Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to Ukraine’s interior minister, said Ukrainian artillery had destroyed a Russian train carrying diesel to troops heading east to Kiev.
Russia’s infrastructure ministry said earlier Saturday that a Russian missile was shot down while it was heading towards a dam in a huge reservoir that supplies Kiev.
The government also said the Russian convoy was destroyed. Video image shows soldiers inspecting a vehicle that has been burned down after reporting that Ukraine’s 101st Brigade has destroyed a pole consisting of two light vehicles, two trucks and a tank. The claim could not be verified.
The highway from the east to Kiev was dotted with checkpoints where Ukrainian soldiers and young men in civilian uniforms with automatic rifles were stationed. It was unclear whether the low-flying plane was Russian or Ukrainian, but it patrolled the sky.
In addition to Kiev, Russian attacks have been shown to focus on Ukraine’s economically important coastal areas, from near the Black Sea port in the west to beyond the Sea port of Azov in Mariupol in the east.
Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol guarded the bridge and cut off people from the shoreline amid concerns that the Russian navy could launch an attack at sea.
“I don’t care who wins and who loses,” said Ruzanna Zubenko, who has a large family driven out of Mariupol after it was badly damaged by shelling.
“The important thing is to make sure our children grow up laughing and not crying.”
Fighting also broke out in two eastern territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Donetsk authorities say that system damage caused by Ukrainian shelling has cut hot water supplies to about 900,000 cities.
The US government urged Zelensky to withdraw from Kiev earlier on Saturday, but he turned down the offer, a senior US intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation said. Zelensky reveals rebellious footage recorded on downtown streets, saying he remains in the city.
“We will not lay down our weapons. I will protect the country,” he said. “Our weapon is our truth and our truth is that it is our land, our country, our children. And we will defend it all.”
Hungary and Poland both opened their borders to Ukrainians.
Refugees arriving in the Hungarian border town of Jahoni say men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave Ukraine.
“My son did not allow me to come. My heart hurts so much and I am trembling,” said Vilma Sugar, 68.
At the Polish Medica crossing, some said they had to walk 35 kilometers to reach the border.
Iryna Wiklenko, waiting for her grandchildren and daughter-in-law on the Polish side, said: “There was no food, no cars, and the children standing in the middle of the field and walking down the street were frozen.” across.
Kiev officials urged residents to stay away from windows to avoid debris and bullets.
Grocery stores and pharmacies had few shelves, and people were worried about how long the food and medicines would last.
The United States and its allies have strengthened their forces on NATO’s eastern flank, but have so far ruled out deploying troops to fight Russia. Instead, several countries, including the United States and the European Union (EU), have imposed widespread sanctions on Russia, freezing the assets of businesses and individuals, including President Putin and his foreign minister.
Russian Security Council Vice Chairman Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia could respond by withdrawing from the last remaining nuclear weapons agreement, freezing Western assets and severing diplomatic ties.
“There is no special need to maintain diplomacy,” Medvedev said. “You can look at each other with binoculars and sights.”