Russia says its forces capture south Ukraine city; fighting reaches streets of Kyiv
Ukraine's health minister says 198 civilians, including three children, have been killed so far by Russian forces.
KYIV: Russian forces captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Saturday (Feb 26), Russia's Interfax news agency reported, as Moscow launched coordinated cruise missile and artillery strikes on several cities, including the capital Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials were not immediately available for comment on the fate of Melitopol, a city of about 150,000 people. If confirmed, it would be the first significant population centre the Russians have seized since their invasion began on Thursday.
Fighting has reached the streets of Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities said earlier on Saturday. But a defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the capital remained in Ukrainian hands.
"We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on," Zelenskyy said in a new video message posted on his social media.
Ukraine's military said Russia had "attacked one of the military units on Victory Avenue in Kyiv" but that the assault was "repulsed".
Kyiv authorities said a missile hit a residential building and a Reuters witness said another hit an area near the airport. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Gunfire also erupted near city-centre government buildings, a Reuters witness said. The cause was not clear.
Ukraine's health minister said on Saturday that 198 civilians, including three children, have been killed so far by Russian forces attacking the pro-Western country.
"Unfortunately, according to operative data, at the hands of the invaders we have 198 dead, including three children, 1,115 wounded, including 33 children," Health Minister Viktor Lyashko wrote on Facebook.
In an earlier video message from outside his Kyiv office, President Zelenskiyy urged the nation to defend itself. "We will not put down weapons, we will defend our state," he said.
After a night of airstrikes, there were some signs of panic in the centre of Kyiv. Reuters reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers with guns and a group of women running along the street. Nearby, Ukrainian soldiers forced a man in civilian clothes to lie down on the pavement.
Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko said there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, but added that saboteur groups were active. The metro system is now serving only as a shelter for citizens and trains have stopped running, he said.
Kyiv residents were told by the defence ministry to make petrol bombs to repel the invaders.
Britain said the bulk of Russian forces were now 30km from the centre of Kyiv and said Russia had yet to gain control of Ukraine's airspace.
Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes. Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their distinctive history and identity.
Western intelligence sources say Russian forces have encountered far stronger Ukrainian resistance to their invasion than they had expected to their invasion.
Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour and has cited the need to "denazify" Ukraine's leadership, accusing it of genocide against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine - a charge dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as baseless propaganda.
Zelenskyy signalled on Friday a readiness to discuss a ceasefire and peace talks, as did the Kremlin, but tentative diplomatic contacts have so far produced no results.
About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 who have entered since 7am on Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told a news conference.
At Medyka in southern Poland, refugees described a 30km line at the border. Ukrainians were also crossing the borders into Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
Ukraine has evacuated its embassy staff in Moscow to Latvia, the Baltic country's foreign ministry said on Saturday.
The mayor of Chernihiv, about 150km northeast of Kyiv, told citizens on Saturday: "We need to prepare for street combat. Those of you who know and understand what I am talking about, prepare the petrol bombs."
Fighting was also under way on Saturday in the northeastern city of Sumy, the municipal administration said.
Western nations have announced a raft of sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports.
They have so far stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, but the governor of a central bank in the euro zone told Reuters on Saturday such a decision was "just a matter of time, very short time, days".
"Is it sufficient? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Sanctions only make sense if there are costs for both sides and this will be costly," the central banker said.
Zelenskyy said he hoped "Germany and Hungary will have the courage to support" such a decision, which would cause economic disruption to Western countries reliant on Russian energy as well as to Moscow.
Russia's Medvedev said sanctions showed the West's impotence to change Moscow's course. Moscow will respond symmetrically to the seizure of money of Russian citizens and companies abroad by seizing the funds of foreigners in Russia, he said.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The European Union and Britain earlier froze any assets Putin and Lavrov held in their territory. Canada took similar steps.
The invasion triggered a flurry of credit rating moves on Friday, with S&P lowering Russia's rating to "junk" status, Moody's putting it on review for a downgrade to junk, and S&P and Fitch swiftly cutting Ukraine on default worries.
At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution that would have deplored its invasion, while China abstained, a move Western countries viewed as proof of Russia's isolation. The United Arab Emirates and India also abstained while the remaining 11 members voted in favour.
The White House asked Congress for US$6.4 billion in security and humanitarian aid for the crisis, officials said, and Biden instructed the US State Department to release US$350 million in military aid.