Videos said to show plane shot down over capital; in emotional speech, Zelensky accuses Russia of targeting civilians, praises Ukrainians’ ‘heroism’; NATO leaders to talk
People take shelter at a building basement while the sirens sound announcing new attacks in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)
Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks on three fronts in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order.
Explosions the government described as “horrific rocket strikes” sounded before dawn in Kyiv as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help.
CNN reported that a plane was shot down over the capital. Videos (below) showed large explosions from the incident from several angles.
The falling debris was said to have injured a number of people.
The blasts came amid signs that the capital and largest Ukrainian city was increasingly threatened following a day of fighting that left more than 100 Ukrainians dead.
Ukraine’s army said it was fighting Russian forces outside the capital on Friday.
“Airborne assault troops of the Ukrainian armed forces are fighting in the areas of the settlements of Dymer and Invankiv,” the army said on its Facebook page. Dymer is around 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Kyiv, while Ivankiv is around 60 kilometers northwest of the Ukrainian capital.
“The hardest day will be today. The enemy’s plan is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv. Russian tanks burn perfectly when hit by our ATGMs [anti-tank guided missiles],” Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.
The military confirmed that a bridge across a river had been destroyed in the area of Ivankiv, about 60 kilometers (37 miles), northwest of Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the government had information that “subversive groups” were encroaching on Kyiv, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the city “could well be under siege” in what US officials believe is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismantle the government and install his own regime.
Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to “reconstitute the Soviet empire.”
Zelensky said Moscow would “sooner or later” have to talk with Kyiv to end their war. “The sooner the conversation begins, the fewer losses there will be for Russia itself,” Zelensky said in a video address.
“They say that civilian objects are not a target for them. But this is another lie of theirs. In reality, they do not distinguish between areas in which they operate,” Zelensky said.
“Ukrainian air defense systems are defending our skies,” Zelensky said. “Ukrainians are demonstrating heroism.”
“All our forces are doing everything possible” to protect people, he added.
“Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter on Friday morning. “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.”
Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko said three people were injured with one in critical condition after “missile debris” hit a residential building, in a tweet with a picture from the scene.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call that Russian mechanized forces that entered from Belarus were about 20 miles from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call.
The assault, anticipated for weeks by the US and Western allies and undertaken by Putin in the face of international condemnation and cascading sanctions, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II.
“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Zelensky tweeted. His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, he called Thursday for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days.
Zelensky said in the video address that 137 “heroes” had been killed and 316 people wounded.
The dead included 13 border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which refused to surrender as it was taken over by Russians, the Ukraine Foreign Ministry said.
Zelensky concluded an emotional speech by saying that “the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders.”
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Friday that Russia has lost more than 450 troops, but that number was unverified.
Wallace said the UK government believed Putin planned to “invade the whole of Ukraine,” but that Russia was “behind its hoped-for timetable.”
US President Joe Biden was to talk Friday morning with fellow leaders of NATO governments in what the White House described as an “extraordinary virtual summit” to discuss Ukraine.
On Thursday, Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, saying Putin “chose this war” and had exhibited a “sinister” view of the world in which nations take what they want by force. Other nations also announced sanctions, or said they would shortly.
Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv’s subway stations.
The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and US officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.
Zelensky, who had earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”
Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed.
Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-unused Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”
The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.
Alyona Shevtsova, adviser to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, wrote on Facebook that staff members at the Chernobyl plant had been “taken hostage.” The White House said it was “outraged” by reports of the detentions.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued an update saying that though the plant was “likely captured,” the country’s forces had halted Russia’s advance toward Chernihiv and that it was unlikely that Russia had achieved its planned Day One military objectives.
The chief of the NATO alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders decrying an attack that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. The conflict shook global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.
Condemnation came not only from the US and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin.
While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the US and its NATO partners have shown no indication they would send troops into Ukraine, fearing a larger conflict. NATO reinforced its members in Eastern Europe as a precaution, and Biden said the US was deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO.
European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.
Putin made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. The autocratic leader denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.
Russia and Ukraine made competing claims about damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones. It confirmed the loss of one of its Su-25 attack jets, blaming “pilot error,” and said an An-26 transport plane had crashed because of technical failure, killing the entire crew. It did not say how many were aboard.
Russia said it was not targeting cities, but journalists saw destruction in many civilian areas.