Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv was surrounded by Russian forces on Sunday as the city’s residents braced for further urban fighting, the city’s mayor Kyiv told media on Sunday evening.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko told The Associated Press that there are no plans to evacuate civilians from Kyiv simply because there are no ways to actually do so. “Right now we are encircled,” he told AP, adding that nine civilians, including one child, in Kyiv have so far been killed in the city of 2.8 million people.
Later, the mayor’s spokesperson walked back the statement that the city was surrounded.
Klitschko later told Kyiv residents to spend the night in shelters as Russian forces try to break through, according to New Voice of Ukraine.
Satellite imagery taken on Sunday showed a large deployment of Russian ground troops moving in the direction of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv from approximately 40 miles (64 km) away, a private US company said.
The images released by Maxar Technologies Maxar MAXR.N showed a deployment comprised of hundreds of military vehicles and extending more than 3.25 miles (5 km), Maxar said.
The images released by Maxar, which has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks, could not be independently verified by Reuters.
Meanwhile Sunday, the European Union closed all its airspace to Russian aircraft, seek to ban Russian state-owned media in the bloc and target Russian ally Belarus with sanctions, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.
The banning of Russian state-owned media would include the outlets Sputnik and Russia Today (RT).
Von der Leyen also said that the EU would for the first time finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to Ukraine.
“This is a watershed moment for our Union,” she said in a short delivered statement.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv later Sunday as fighting for Ukraine’s capital continues, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Earlier Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military command to put Russia’s deterrence forces – a reference to units which include nuclear arms – on high alert, citing aggressive statements by NATO leaders and economic sanctions against Moscow.
“As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension – I mean the illegal sanctions that everyone knows about very well – but also the top officials of leading NATO countries allow themselves to make aggressive statements with regards to our country,” Putin said on state television.
Responding to Putin’s order, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba commented that it would be a disaster for the world, but would not be enough to break Ukraine.
“If Putin’s order to ready nuclear forces is a direct threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, then I have a very simple message,” Kuleba said, according to the news outlet New Voice of Ukraine. “It will be a disaster for the world, but it will not break us.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield slammed Putin’s move as an unacceptable escalation.
“It means that President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way,” she said in an interview with CBS Face the Nation.
Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear forces on high alert is part of a pattern of Moscow manufacturing threats to justify aggression, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Sunday.
“We’ve seen him do this time and time again. At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO, has Russia been under threat from Ukraine. This is all a pattern from President Putin and we’re going to stand up to it. We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we’re seeing here from President Putin,” Psaki said on ABC’s This Week program.
The United States is open to providing additional assistance to Ukraine, Psaki said. Washington also has not taken sanctions targeting Russia’s energy sector off the table, Psaki added.
“We have not taken those off, but we also want to do that and make sure we’re minimizing the impact on the global marketplace and do it in a united way,” Psaki said.
A senior US defense official called Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear forces on high alert escalatory and said it could make things “much, much more dangerous.”
“It’s clearly, essentially, putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces entered its fourth day on Sunday as Russian forces continued to push into the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the city of Kharkiv in the northeast.
Missiles were launched from Belarusian territory into Ukraine, with one target being the Zhytomyr Airport, according to a reporter from the Kyiv Independent.
Video of what seems to be the airport after the strike was later shared on social media.
Russian forces advanced over the weekend towards Ukraine’s major cities, but on Sunday morning the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed that the Russian military movement had slowed due to the need to replenish fuel and ammunition.
The Ukrainian military also claimed that enemy troops, mostly young conscripts, are exhausted from the previous military exercises they had participated in just prior to the invasion. They claim that there is desertion and low morale, but this assessment may itself be psychological warfare.
“The main goal of the opponent is to block the capital of our homeland, the city of Kiev, which remains unfulfilled,” said the Ukrainian military.
“Where are all those who promised to capture Kyiv in 72 hours? Where are they?” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Sunday morning statement.
A series of blasts were heard to the west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv’s center on Sunday, minutes after air raid sirens sounded, a Reuters correspondent reported.
Ukrainian media reported explosions and a gunfight in a nearby town.
According to the Ukrainian news website Segodnya.ua, a bridge has been blown up near the town of Bucha west of Kyiv. It was unclear whether it had been bombed by Russian troops or destroyed by the Ukrainian side.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said fighting was underway in Bucha with Russian forces that were trying to advance towards Kyiv.
Gunfire and the sound of explosions echoed through Kyiv on Saturday night as well.
Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Saturday that there was no major Russian military presence in the capital, but that saboteur groups were active and he was imposing a curfew from Saturday evening until Monday morning. Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion, later told Germany’s Bild tabloid the city was “nearly encircled.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close Putin ally, said on Saturday his fighters were also deployed in Ukraine. He said Russian forces could easily take Kyiv and other large cities but their task was to avoid loss of life.
However, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was defiant on Sunday morning, extolling Ukrainian success in repelling Russian advances in the city.
Instead of seeing Russian forces in the capital, Reznikov said that all he saw was a “heroic army, a civil guard, fearless border guards, selfless rescuers, reliable police officers, tireless medical rescuers who all do their duty.”
Authorities have handed thousands of assault rifles to residents and told citizens to make petrol bombs to help repel the invaders. The government press has also issued instructions on how to sabotage the Russian advance through non-military means.
“I see thousands and thousands of citizens who have taken arms, and have become a level of territorial defense,” Reznikov said Sunday.
“The main tactics of the occupiers’ actions remain to move and capture small cities, villages and connecting roads,” the Ukrainian armed forces said on Sunday. “Attempts to take control of major cities were unsuccessful.
“Russian occupants are actively deploying sabotage intelligence groups that destroy civilian infrastructure facilities and kill civilians in major cities,” the statement continued.
Russian troop vehicles were seen on the streets of Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv on Sunday, Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on Telegram.
Videos published by Herashchenko and Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection showed several light military vehicles moving along a street and, separately, a burning tank.
“We know that (Russian forces) have not made the progress that they wanted to make, particularly in the north. They have been frustrated by what they have seen is a very determined resistance,” a US official said, without providing evidence.
Putin on Sunday thanked Russia’s special forces, singling out those who are “heroically fulfilling their military duty” in Ukraine, in a televised address that was also published on the Kremlin website.
Ukraine was able to mobilize 100,000 soldiers in just two days, with 50,000 being Territorial Defense volunteers and the other 50,000 being reservists, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Ukraine’s health ministry said on Sunday that 352 civilians, including 14 children, had been killed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It also said that 1,684 people, including 116 children, had been wounded.
Interfax later cited the regional administration in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, saying 17 civilians had been killed and 73 wounded by Russian shelling.
Zelensky said on Sunday that Russian actions verged on “genocide.”
“This is terror. They are going to bomb our Ukrainian cities even more, they are going to kill our children even more subtly. This is the evil that has come to our land and must be destroyed,” Zelensky said on a short video message.
Russia has not released casualty figures and it was impossible to verify tolls or the precise picture on the ground. Both Ukrainian and Russia casualties are suspect of inflation and downplaying by both sides, for morale and propaganda purposes.
About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 who have entered since 7 a.m. on Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker said.
Romania announced on Sunday that in cooperation with Ukrainian border authorities, Romanian ambulances will pick up children, pregnant women and the elderly waiting in long queues to cross the border into Romania at the northeastern Siret crossing, speeding up the process.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Sunday that some 368,000 Ukrainian citizens fled the country in the past week.
At least 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered EU territory so far, and the bloc needs to prepare for even larger numbers of arrivals, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Sunday.
“I am proud of how the European citizens at the borders are showing concrete solidarity with Ukrainians fleeing this terrible, aggressive war,” she told reporters on her arrival for a special meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels to discuss the fallout of the war in Ukraine.
She said she would announce a solidarity platform at the meeting to support the Ukrainians fleeing their country and the EU countries most affected by refugees arrivals at the moment.
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