KIEV: Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders in the streets of the capital Kiev on Friday as President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of targeting civilians and called for more international sanctions.
The predawn explosions in Kiev set off a second day of violence after Russian President Vladimir Putin defied Western warnings to unleash a full-scale invasion on Thursday that quickly claimed dozens of lives and displaced at least 100,000 people.
The United States and its allies responded with a barrage of sanctions, but Russian forces sought to press their advantage after a series of key strategic victories in their air and ground attacks.
“Dreadful Russian rocket attacks in Kiev,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted on Twitter after the initial explosions were heard in the capital on Friday morning.
“The last time our capital experienced something like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany. Ukraine defeated that evil and will defeat this one.”
Explosions and small arms fire
In Obolonsky, a northern district of Kiev, pedestrians ran for safety and explosions and small arms fire were heard.
Russian forces first reached the outskirts of Kiev on Thursday when helicopter troops stormed an airfield on the outskirts of the city near Obolonsky.
The Ukrainian military said it had repulsed the attack on the Gostomel airbase, but Russian ground forces have also been pushing the west bank of the Dnieper River from Belarus.
When Russian forces reached Obolonsky, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry urged civilians to resist.
“We urge citizens to inform us of troop movements, make Molotov cocktails and neutralize the enemy,” he said.
Ukraine says 137 people, including soldiers and civilians, have been killed since Russia attacked.
“Ukrainians are showing heroism,” Zelensky said in a video message, accusing Russia of lying about attacking only military targets and calling up conscripts and reservists across the country.
After speaking with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, he called for more sanctions, tweeting that “the pressure on Russia must increase.”
‘better to die’
In the Ukrainian village of Starognativka, near the front line, where separatists have clashed with Kiev’s forces for years, official Volodymyr Veselkin said on Friday it had been raining missiles all morning and there was no electricity.
“They are trying to wipe the town off the face of the earth,” he said.
Olena Kurilo was among 20 people injured by flying glass shards after an explosion in the eastern Ukrainian city of Chuguiv on Thursday.
“I will never, under any conditions, submit to Putin. It is better to die,” said the 52-year-old teacher, her face covered in bandages.
The UN refugee agency said Thursday night that some 100,000 people were already displaced inside Ukraine, while thousands more fled across the border. On Thursday streams of people in cars and on foot were seen crossing into Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Zelensky said there was now a “new iron curtain” between Russia and the rest of the world, adding later that his nation had been “left alone”.
“Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone.”
And as the United States moved to impose sanctions on Russian elites and banks, it emphasized that US forces would not fight in Ukraine.
NATO said it had activated “defense plans” for allied countries but had no plans to send alliance forces to Ukraine.
War ‘all over Europe’
Among the highest-profile strategic developments on Thursday, Ukraine said Russian forces had seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, sparking concern from international nuclear watchdogs.
Zelensky called the attack on Chernobyl “a declaration of war on all of Europe.”
Russian ground forces entered Ukraine on Thursday from the north, south and east.
In the capital, many residents fled their homes and took refuge in the city’s subway system.
Russia said on Thursday that its forces had “successfully completed” their objectives for the day and claimed to have destroyed more than 70 Ukrainian military targets, including 11 airfields.
Western intelligence confirmed that Moscow had established “complete air superiority” over Ukraine.
Weeks of diplomacy failed to deter Putin, who massed more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders in what the West said was Europe’s largest military buildup since World War II.
Western allies initially imposed some sanctions on Russia in an effort to deter Putin, and then on Thursday vowed to hit Russia hard economically.
US President Joe Biden announced export controls against Russia to cut off more than half of the country’s high-tech imports, along with sanctions on Russian elites he called “rogue billionaires” and banks.
He will meet other NATO leaders in an extraordinary virtual summit on Friday to discuss the security situation in and around Ukraine.
The EU moved to impose “massive” sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial sectors.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Putin of trying to destroy the state of Ukraine.
“This is a total war. Putin has decided… to take Ukraine off the map of nations,” Le Drian told France Inter radio.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the invasion was “barbaric, unjustified and shows callous disregard for human life”.
The fight also spooked global financial markets, with oil prices rising above $100 and wheat prices rising as Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s biggest producers.
Demonstrations across Europe
In a televised speech, Putin justified the assault as a defense of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in eastern Ukraine.
Leaders of the two breakaway territories asked Moscow for military help against Kiev after Putin recognized their independence on Monday.
A conflict between separatists and government forces has dragged on since 2014, killing more than 14,000 people.
Russia has also long demanded that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO and that US troops be withdrawn from Eastern Europe.
Thousands of Russians defied strict anti-protest legislation to organize anti-war rallies across the country.
OVD-Info, which monitors arrests at opposition protests, said more than 1,800 people in 59 cities had been detained across Russia.