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Missiles hit Kyiv awaiting Russian assault; Ukrainian leader pleads for help

Randy Mancini 3 Feb 25
Protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, in Times Square
People sing Ukraine's national anthem during a protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, outside the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York City, U.S., February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

February 25, 2022

By Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova

KYIV (Reuters) -Missiles pounded the Ukrainian capital on Friday as Russian forces pressed their advance and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the international community to do more, saying sanctions announced so far were not enough.

Air raid sirens wailed over the city of 3 million people, where some were sheltering in underground metro stations, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion that has shocked the world.

Ukrainian officials said a Russian aircraft had been shot down and crashed into a building in Kyiv overnight, setting it ablaze and injuring eight people.

A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside the capital later on Friday and that Ukrainian troops were defending positions on four fronts despite being outnumbered.

Windows had been blasted out of a 10-storey apartment block near Kyiv’s main airport, where a two-metre crater filled with rubble showed where a shell had struck before dawn. A policeman said people were injured there but not killed.

“How we can live through it in our time? What should we think. Putin should be burnt in hell along with his whole family,” said Oxana Gulenko, cleaning broken glass from her room. A neighbour, Soviet army veteran Anatoliy Marchenko, 57, could not find his cat that had run away during the shelling.

“I know people there, they are my friends,” he said of Russia. “What do they need from me? A war has come to my house and that’s it.”

Witnesses said loud explosions could be heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, close to Russia’s border, and air raid sirens sounded over Lviv in the west. Authorities reported heavy fighting in the eastern city of Sumy.

‘NUMBER ONE TARGET’

Tens of thousands of people have fled as explosions and gunfire rocked major cities. Dozens have been reported killed. Russian troops seized the Chernobyl former nuclear power plant north of Kyiv as they advanced on the city from Belarus.

Ukraine’s nuclear agency said it was recording increased radiation levels from the defunct power plant.

Zelenskiy said he understood Russian troops were coming for him but vowed to stay in Kyiv.

“(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” Zelenskiy said in a video message. “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”

Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea on Thursday following a declaration of war by Putin, in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.

Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as an attempt to erase their more than thousand-year history.

The Russian leader’s full aims remain obscure. He says he does not plan a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and remove its leaders. But it is not clear how a pro-Russian leader could be installed without holding much of the country. Russia has floated no name of such a figure and none has come forward.

After Moscow denied for months it was planning an invasion, news that Putin had ordered one came as a shock to Russians accustomed to viewing their ruler of 22 years as a careful strategist. Many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine.

Russia has cracked down on dissent in the past year, and Putin’s main political foes have been jailed or fled. State media have relentlessly characterised Ukraine as a threat. But nevertheless, thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest against the war, and hundreds were swiftly arrested.

One pop star posted a video on Instagram opposing the war, and the head of a Moscow state theatre quit, saying she would not take her salary from a murderer.

‘HORRIFIC’

Britain said Moscow’s aim was to conquer all of Ukraine, and its military had failed to meet its main objectives on the first day because it failed to anticipate Ukrainians would resist.

“Contrary to great Russian claims – and indeed President Putin’s sort of vision that somehow the Ukrainians would be liberated and would be flocking to his cause – he’s got that completely wrong, and the Russian army has failed to deliver, on day one, its main objective,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky.

Ukrainians were circulating an unverified recording on Friday of a Russian warship ordering a Ukrainian Black Sea outpost to surrender. The Ukrainians reply: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.” Zelenskiy said the 13 guards were killed by a Russian strike and would receive posthumous honours.

“Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.”

A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and has recently stepped up efforts to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Western countries unveiled financial sanctions on Moscow billed as far stronger than earlier measures, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology imports. However, they stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, drawing strong words from Kyiv which says the most serious steps should be taken now.

The U.N. Security Council will vote on Friday on a draft resolution that would condemn the invasion and require Moscow’s immediate withdrawal, though Moscow is certain to veto it. China, which signed a friendship treaty with Russia three weeks ago, has refused to describe Moscow’s actions as an invasion.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain. War and sanctions will disrupt economies https://graphics.reuters.com/RUSSIA-UKRAINE/zgpomzbjmpd/graphic.jpg around the world.

Oil and grain prices have soared. Share markets around the world, many of which plunged on Thursday at news of the outbreak of war, were mainly rebounding on Friday.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Aleksandar Vasovic in Mariupol and Reuters bureauxWriting by Stephen Coates and Peter GraffEditing by Robert Birsel)