After unleashing airstrikes on cities and military posts and pouring in troops and tanks from three sides in an offensive that might rewrite the entire post-Cold War security system, Russia pushed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of Kiev on Friday.
Explosions erupted in Kyiv before dawn, followed by gunfire near the government quarter, as Western leaders convened an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international assistance to fend off an attack that could topple his democratically elected government, result in massive casualties, and cause global economic damage.
The military said Friday that a squad of Russian spies and saboteurs was sighted in an area of Kyiv about 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of the city center, adding to concerns that the Ukrainian capital was becoming increasingly endangered. Russian soldiers had taken two Ukrainian military vehicles and several uniforms, according to the military, and were going toward the city to try to penetrate under the pretence of being locals.
Kyiv “may well be under siege,” according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in what US officials fear is a blatant attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to impose his own dictatorship.
The onslaught, which the US and its Western allies have been anticipating for weeks, amounts to Europe’s greatest land combat since World War II. After weeks of denials, Russia’s despotic leader began an attack on the country, which has been steadily tilting toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s control.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose grip on power was becoming more shaky, appealed to world leaders for more severe sanctions than those imposed by Western partners, as well as defense help.
“If you don’t support us now, if you don’t provide a forceful assistance to Ukraine, the conflict will knock on your door tomorrow,” claimed the leader, who severed diplomatic ties with Moscow, established martial rule, and ordered a 90-day military mobilization.
Guests of a hotel in the city center were escorted to an improvised underground bunker packed with heaps of mattresses and bottles of water as air raid sirens sounded early Friday in Kyiv. The guests were served tea and cookies by workers who were all local university students. Some individuals went outside to smoke or enjoy some fresh air in a courtyard.
“We’re all terrified and concerned.” Lucy Vashaka, 20, one of the workers, said, “We don’t know what to do then, what’s going to happen in a few days.”
The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile attacks on cities and military posts, followed by a multi-pronged foot assault that drew soldiers from multiple places in the east, as well as Crimea’s southern region, which Russia annexed in 2014, and Belarus’s north.
Officials in Ukraine reported they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power facility, which was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and citizens crowded onto trains and automobiles to evacuate.
In a video speech, Zelenskyy claimed 137 “heroes” had been slain, including 10 military commanders, and 316 people had been injured.
“The survival of the nation relies entirely on our army, security forces, and all of our defenders,” he said at the close of an impassioned address. He also stated that Ukraine has received word from Moscow that “they want to discuss about Ukraine’s neutral status,” referring to Moscow’s demand that Ukraine abandon its desire to join the western NATO alliance.
Thousands of people hurried underground as darkness fell, crowding Kyiv’s metro stations, fearful of a Russian strike on the capital city.
It was almost pleasant at times. Dinner was served to the families. The kids were having fun. Adults conversed. People packed sleeping bags, pets, and crossword puzzles to help pass the time and prepare for the long night ahead.
“No one expected this battle to start and for them to capture Kyiv by force,” Anton Mironov remarked as he waited out the night in one of the ancient Soviet metro stations. “I’m basically exhausted.” “It doesn’t feel real.”
Many of those who slept in improvised shelters awoke to a comparatively peaceful city in the early hours of Friday. Highways were busy with vehicles and cars, as well as military columns. The lineups at the gas stations had vanished the day before.
Russia claimed it was not targeting cities, but journalists witnessed widespread wreckage in residential areas, and Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko reported at least three people were hurt when a missile struck a multistory apartment building in the city on Friday, causing a fire.
On Friday, the Ukrainian military reported heavy battle in Ivankiv, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Kyiv, as Russian soldiers attempted to push from the north on the capital. Russian forces also invaded Sumy, a city near the Russian border that stands on a route running east to Kyiv.
“Today will be the most difficult day.” On Telegram, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko warned that the enemy’s objective is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv.
According to presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak, Russian soldiers gained control of the now-decommissioned Chernobyl facility and its surrounding exclusion zone few hours after the assault began.
Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about the takeover, which said that “no injuries or devastation at the industrial facility” had occurred.
The violence rattled global financial markets, sending stocks plunging and oil prices soaring amid fears of skyrocketing heating costs and food prices. Many nations prepared further measures in response to the condemnation, which came not just from the US and Europe, but also from South Korea, Australia, and others. Even sympathetic leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary tried to distance themselves from Putin.
President Joe Biden announced further sanctions against Russian banks, billionaires, state-controlled corporations, and high-tech sectors, claiming that Putin “choosed this conflict” and displayed a “sinister” worldview in which nations grab what they want by force. He went on to say that the safeguards were put in place to avoid disrupting global energy markets. Oil and natural gas exports from Russia are critical energy sources for Europe.
Biden was scheduled to meet with fellow NATO leaders on Friday morning for a “special virtual meeting” to address Ukraine, according to the White House.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, said he wanted to cut Russia off from the United Kingdom’s financial markets as he announced sanctions that included freezing the assets of all large Russian banks and a plan to prevent Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising funds on British exchanges.
“We now know Putin for what he is – a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,” Johnson added.
Zelenskyy asked the US and the rest of the world to go even farther and cut Russia off from the SWIFT system, which connects hundreds of banks across the world. The White House has been hesitant to do so, fearful that it will wreak havoc on Europe’s and the West’s economies.
While some worried Europeans fantasized about a new world war, the United States and its NATO allies have showed no signs of sending troops into Ukraine, fearing a bigger confrontation. NATO countries in Eastern Europe were bolstered as a precaution, and Biden said the US was sending more troops to Germany to support NATO.
Ukrainians were advised to take cover and not panic.
“I didn’t think it would happen until the very last second.” “I just pushed these ideas aside,” Anna Dovnya, a horrified civilian in Kyiv, said as she saw soldiers and police retrieve shrapnel from an exploding shell. “We’ve lost all hope.”