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Russian air strikes and missile attacks continue to hit the capital as Ukrainian President vows to stay

Smoke and flames rise over during the shelling near Kyiv Saturday night, as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine Feb 26.GLEB GARANICH/Reuters

Kyiv’s mayor has declared a weekend-long curfew, ordering all city residents to stay inside as Russian forces continued their assault on this city of three million people.

“For more effective defence of the capital and security of its residents the curfew will run from 1700 today, February 26, 2022, until the morning February 28,” mayor Vitaly Klitschko’s office said in a statement. Officials said the strict measures were needed to help the city defend against “the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups.”

Kyiv was pounded with air strikes and cruise missiles for a third consecutive day on Saturday, and advance Russian units continued to push toward the city centre. Huge explosions lit up the predawn sky south of Kyiv early Sunday. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said one of the blasts was near the Zhuliany airport, and the mayor of Vasylkiv, about 40 kilometres south of the capital, said an oil depot was hit.

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 people wounded since Russia’s unprovoked invasion began on Wednesday.

On Saturday, Russia said it was resuming its offensive after a pause, claiming Ukraine had refused an offer to negotiate. “After the Ukrainian side rejected a negotiating process, all units were given orders today to develop the offensive along all axes in line with the operation plan,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

If there had been a pause, it was barely noticed as the sounds of shelling and warplanes could be heard throughout the day in and around Kyiv. Mikhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Mr. Zelensky’s office, said Ukraine had not refused to negotiate, but had rejected an unspecified ultimatum.

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fled westwards towards the European Union, top Russian security official and ex-president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow’s military operations would be waged relentlessly until their goals were achieved.

In a significant ratcheting up of Russia’s rhetoric, Medvedev said on social media that new Western sanctions had helped unite Russians and hinted at a severing of diplomatic ties with Western nations, saying it was time to “padlock the embassies.” He said Moscow might also restore the death penalty.

The battle for Kyiv intensified on Friday with Russian troops and armoured vehicles invading parts of the city and residents taking up arms to fight back, as Mr. Zelensky vowed to stay amid the onslaught on his country.

The Defence Ministry said Russian reconnaissance units were in the northern Obolon neighbourhood of the city, close to Kyiv’s historic Podil district, a place of cafés and cobblestoned streets that is now a front line.

“We ask citizens to inform about the movement of equipment!” the official statement said. “Make Molotov cocktails, neutralize the occupier!”

An armed local resident in Kyiv carries a cat in a carrier and a fish in an aquarium removed from a damaged apartment building on Feb. 26.Mikhail Palinchak/Reuters

On Saturday, Mr. Zelensky said the fighting will continue. “We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” he said in a video message posted on his social media. “We have the courage to defend our homeland, to defend Europe.”

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.

On Friday, Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin called on the Ukrainian army to overthrow the elected government of Mr. Zelensky.

“Take power in your own hands. It seems like it will be easier for us to agree with you than this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” Mr. Putin said, referring to Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish.

The Ukrainian government said they had destroyed three bridges on the northern approach to the capital on Friday to slow the Russian advance.

A few hours later, as fighting moved closer to the centre of the city, the Interior Ministry announced it had distributed some 18,000 assault rifles to residents.

Friday’s fighting followed a night of fierce bombing in and around Kyiv.

In the eastern Pozniaky district of the city, a 10-storey apartment block had its windows blown out and façade badly damaged when a Russian cruise missile slammed into the ground directly in front of the residential building, leaving a two-metre-deep crater while narrowly missing a kindergarten. Three people were injured.

“It’s an indiscriminate crime. If they had hit the building, it would have exploded like a match,” Gurban Abasov, a 70-year-old singer whose eighth-floor apartment was scorched by fire after the missile strike, told The Globe. “Ordinary people live here. This place has nothing to do with the military.”

Amnesty International said on Friday that Russia’s war against Ukraine “has been marked by indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and strikes on protected objects such as hospitals,” and that at least six civilians had been confirmed as killed in the first day of attacks. Agnès Callamard, the group’s secretary general, said some of the attacks on civilian areas “may be war crimes.”

Footage of a Kyiv residential building hit by a rocket early on Feb. 26, 2022 released by Ukraine's state emergency services. Ukraine's interior minister has said no one was killed in the strike.

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Russian air strikes and missile attacks continued to hit Kyiv throughout Friday. As night fell, the roar of fighter jets mixed with the thud of artillery fire somewhere in the dark, and residents were repeatedly forced to flee into bomb shelters.

With Russian units less than 10 kilometres from the Presidential Administration building in the city centre, Mr. Zelensky called for direct talks with Mr. Putin. “I want to appeal once again to the President of the Russian Federation. Fighting is taking place all over Ukraine. Let’s sit down at the negotiating table to stop the deaths of people,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address.

Ukrainian service members look for unexploded shells after Russian shelling in Kyiv on Feb. 26.SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

He said 137 Ukrainians had been killed, and 316 injured, on Thursday during the first day of fighting. There was no credible count of Russian casualties. The Ukrainian military claimed to have killed 1,000 Russian soldiers, while Russia’s Ministry of Defence reported “no losses.”

Mr. Putin said Russia was willing to send a delegation of officials to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Minsk has been the site of years of fruitless talks aimed at ending the smaller scale war between the Ukrainian military and a Moscow-backed militia that controls part of the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine. Nor is Belarus any kind of neutral turf – Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has allowed Russia to use his country’s territory to launch their attack on Kyiv.

Mr. Putin also called for a military coup against Mr. Zelensky, claiming that Ukrainian “nationalists” – and the advice of “American advisers” – were preparing to attack residential areas of Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, with rockets.

Mr. Zelensky, who was elected in 2019, said unspecified intelligence suggested that Russia’s plan was to forcibly remove him as head of state. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he said in an overnight video address, appearing unshaven and wearing a military green shirt. “The enemy marked me as a target No. 1 and my family as the target No. 2.”

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears with top officials in a Facebook video on Feb. 25.FACEBOOK / @Volodymyr Zelensky/AFP via Getty Images

Later on Friday, a stern-faced Mr. Zelensky posted a video of himself standing outside the Presidential Administration building with his top staff, saying they would remain in Kyiv despite the risks. “All of us here, we are defending our independence. And we will continue to do so. Glory to our male and female defenders. Glory to Ukraine.”

Mr. Putin has said the invasion was necessary because Ukraine’s ambition to join the NATO military alliance posed a threat to Russia, while also claiming a need to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority. Ukrainian officials believe that Mr. Putin never saw Ukraine as an independent state, and the Kremlin was unwilling to tolerate a democratic state on its border.

Ukraine’s often-chaotic democracy has seen the country go through five presidents during the 22-plus years that Mr. Putin has ruled Russia.

In addition to the attack on Kyiv, Russian forces were closing on the country’s second-largest city Kharkiv, in the east of the country. There were also reports that at least part of Kherson, a city of 300,000 people near Crimea in the south of Ukraine, had been captured. “The enemy overcame the defences of the city with significant forces and great losses,” read a statement posted on the city’s Facebook page.

But while Russian forces were making significant military gains in the early days of this war, there were also signs that it will be much harder to win over the Ukrainian population. In Henichesk, a village near Kherson, a video emerged of an elderly woman confronting an armed Russian soldier on the streets.

“What the ... are you doing in our land with all these guns?” the woman asks, ignoring the soldier’s order to move along. “Take these seeds and put them in your pockets so at least sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here.”

With a report from Reuters.

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