Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to defend the capital alongside his country’s soldiers and citizens, who have armed themselves with pistols, rifles and homemade molotov cocktails. “It was a tough, but brave day,” Zelensky said in a video address Friday night. “Tonight they will start storming. … We must resist. Ukraine’s fate is being decided right now.
More than four dozen explosions thundered through Kiev before dawn on Saturday. Continuous shelling could be heard for about 30 minutes, around the same time the Ukrainian military repelled Russian attacks near a thermal power plant in northern Kyiv, the Kyiv Independent reported.
Even with firmer resistance from Ukrainian troops than Western and American officials had anticipated, few doubted that the much larger and more capable Russian conventional forces would prevail. “They are likely to defeat regular Ukrainian military forces and secure their objectives in the days or weeks to come,” a senior Western intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic .
Yet as Ukrainians took refuge in subway stations amid the sirens of air raids, the United States encouraged Ukrainian forces, seeking to dispel what it called Russian misinformation about the mass surrenders.
“Putin didn’t account for everything – and he didn’t take into account the bravery and determination of the Ukrainian people,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We saw Ukrainian soldiers display incredible bravery during the first day of self-defense, shooting down Russian planes, firing on tanks and holding positions under heavy assault.”
Russia has faced a new round of economic sanctions from Western countries, as well as global outrage from leaders in politics, culture, sports and entertainment. The United States joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a coordinated effort that included travel bans and asset freezes.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the deployment of thousands of French, German and American troops to Eastern Europe to reinforce the eastern flank of the military alliance. A growing list of nations have announced that they will close their respective airspace to Russian airlines. The countries – including Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria – were all behind the Iron Curtain and have since become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was also Ukraine’s target.
At a stormy session of the UN Security Council in New York, a wide range of countries backed a resolution denouncing Russian aggression – a decision that Russia was nevertheless able to veto under its authority in as a permanent member of the board. Eleven countries voted in favor of the resolution. Only Russia voted against. Three nations abstained: China, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Speaking after the vote, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Russia reckless and irresponsible. “Russia, you can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our votes,” she said. “You cannot veto the Ukrainian people, and you will not veto accountability.”
Back in Ukraine, the humanitarian toll of the war was quickly becoming apparent.
More than 50,000 Ukrainians fled the country in the first 48 hours after the attacks began, according to Chris Boian, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency. More than 100,000 people have been displaced inside Ukraine, he said, many of them fleeing artillery and missile fire.
Of the 50,000 people who have left the country, around 30,000 crossed into Poland and around 20,000 into Moldova, Boian said. A smaller number passed through other countries in the region.
“There are no winners in war, but countless lives will be torn apart,” said Filippo Grandi, the agency’s high commissioner.
Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Friday that “no strikes are underway on civilian infrastructure” – a claim vigorously denied by Ukrainian officials.
The total number of civilian casualties in Ukraine remains uncertain, as no complete figures have been released by the Ukrainian government. Early Friday, Zelensky said at least 137 people – civilians and military – had been killed in the Russian attacks. Western intelligence officials said they believed the death toll was likely much higher and would certainly rise in the coming days.
“The enemy wants to bring the capital to its knees and destroy us,” he said. “Anyone who can defend the city must join and help our soldiers.”
Putin, in a video statement on Friday, said the Zelensky government had “occupied Kiev and taken the entire Ukrainian people hostage.” But even as he waged war on him, his spokesman said Russia was ready to send a delegation to Minsk, Belarus, for talks with Ukraine. He made it clear, however, that if those talks took place, nothing less than a full Kiev surrender would suffice.
The possibility of such negotiations was raised during a phone call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Ukrainian counterpart. The United States said later Friday that the offer was not serious, however, and that the warning diplomacy could not be done “at the barrel of a gun”.
“We see these offers as the tanks cross the border,” Price said. “We want to impress upon President Putin that diplomacy through the barrel of a gun, coercive diplomacy is not something we will participate in, and not something that will end this conflict in a real, genuine and lasting way. .”
Russia’s offer to negotiate follows an unusual threat from Moscow against Finland and Sweden, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warning of ‘military and political consequences’ if those countries tried to join NATO.
“Finland and Sweden should not base their security on the deterioration of the security of other countries and their membership in NATO may have detrimental consequences,” Zakharova said.
Elsewhere on Friday, Russia faced a wide range of pushbacks. The Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights watchdog, has suspended Russia’s representation rights in the organisation’s decision-making body and debating forum. The council was founded after World War II to defend democracy in Europe and has 47 member countries.
Russia remains a member of the Council and a party to its conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council said in a press release. He said the suspension was temporary, “leaving communication channels open”.
Russia has also been banned from participating in the popular Eurovision Song Contest.
Fedor Smolov, a member of the Russian national football team, criticized the military incursion in a viral post on Instagram which read “No to war!!!” alongside a broken heart emoji and a Ukrainian flag. Another war critic, Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, upcoming shows canceled in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Western nations have pledged to step up military and economic aid to Ukraine. The White House has asked Congress to approve $6.4 billion in new emergency aid, hoping to bolster humanitarian assistance and support other allies in the region against any further Russian aggression.
According to a Biden administration official, who requested anonymity to describe the discussions.
Poland, meanwhile, delivered an ammunition package to Ukraine, according to its defense minister. It was the first publicly acknowledged shipment of military aid to the country since the start of the Russian invasion.
Speaking to his hawkish Security Council via video link on Friday, Putin claimed “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine planted heavy weapons in residential areas of cities like Kiev and Kharkiv, saying they were using women, children, wives and the elderly “like humans”. Shields.”
He said Russia’s main fight was not against the regular Ukrainian army, but against what he called neo-Nazi gangs. Putin also claimed without evidence that the United States was advising these forces to deploy heavy weapons in civilian areas.
Ukraine estimated that its forces destroyed more than 30 Russian tanks, up to 130 armored fighting vehicles, seven planes and six helicopters, according to official reports.
Russian forces continued to shell towns in eastern Ukraine, including Kropyvnytskyi, and the southern town of Vilkovo, Ukrainian officials said.
About a third of the Russian forces involved in the assault appeared to be in Ukraine as of midday on Friday, which would amount to more than 50,000 troops, a senior US defense official said.
The invasion continued with an amphibious landing by Russian naval forces west of the city of Mariupol and Russia continuing to fire missiles at Ukraine. By Friday morning in Washington, more than 200 missile strikes had taken place, the official said, compared to 160 on Thursday. Some of the missiles landed in residential areas.
Russian forces blocked access to Kyiv from the west with paratroopers and assault teams, according to a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman.
Stern reported from Mukachevo, Ukraine. Hudson and Nakashima reported from Washington. Tony Romm, Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe in Washington, and Robyn Dixon in Moscow contributed to this report.