Kyiv repulses Russia attack
Ukrainian forces yesterday repulsed an attack on Kyiv, officials said yesterday, as Russian forces kept pounding Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles for a third day running.
A defiant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed his pro-Western country would never give in to the Kremlin even as Russia said it had fired cruise missiles at military targets.
With explosions echoing around Kyiv on the third day of Russia's assault, Zelensky spoke in a video message, wearing olive green military-style clothing and looking tired but determined.
"I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state," he said.
Ignoring warnings from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion that the UN refugee agency said has forced almost 116,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, yesterday accused Ukraine of prolonging the military conflict by refusing to negotiate.
On Friday, as Moscow's forces approached Kyiv, the Kremlin said Putin was ready to send a delegation for talks to Belarus, where Russia has stationed thousands of troops. It is one of the places from where Ukraine says it is being attacked.
A few hours later, Putin called on the Ukrainian army to overthrow the country's leadership whom he described as "terrorists" and "a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.
In Kyiv, residents took shelter in the subway system and in cellars and basements.
"We thought something like this might happen but we were hoping until the end that it wouldn't," Irina Butyak told AFP in one shelter.
Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said 198 civilians, including three children, had been killed in the conflict and 1,115 wounded.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the world must brace for a long war.
"This crisis will last, this war will last and all the crises that come with it will have lasting consequences," Macron said. "We must be prepared".
After speaking to Macron, Zelensky tweeted to thank "partners" for sending weapons and equipment.
Several Nato members have sent weapons and ammunition to Ukraine in recent weeks, including Britain, the United States and ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe.
In another video address, the 44-year-old leader also said that his country had "derailed" the Russian plan of overthrowing him and establishing a puppet state in Ukraine.
In the early hours of yesterday, AFP reporters in Kyiv heard occasional blasts of what soldiers said were artillery and Grad missiles being fired in an area northwest of the city centre.
There were also loud explosions in the centre.
Emergency services said a high-rise apartment block was hit by shelling overnight, posting a picture that showed a hole covering at least five floors blasted into the side of the building.
"The night was difficult, but there are no Russian troops in the capital," Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said. However, he said, sabotage groups might have infiltrated the capital.
Hours later, AFP saw a destroyed Ukrainian military truck in the city centre. The city said it was toughening a curfew in place and anyone on the streets after 5:00 pm would be considered "members of the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups".
Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union on Friday said they could act to exclude Russia from the SWIFT global interbank payments system in a further round of sanctions aimed at halting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has brushed off international condemnation and increasingly stringent sanctions adopted by the West, including against Putin himself and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia said sanctioning the pair was "a demonstration of the complete impotence of the foreign policy" of the West.
"We have reached the line after which the point of no return begins," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
On Friday, Nato said it was deploying its rapid response forces for the first time to bolster defences on its eastern flank.