warning issued | 

Street fighting begins in Kyiv as Ukraine president refuses to leave the city

There are growing signs that Russia may be seeking to overthrow Ukraine’s government

Natali Sevriukova reacts as she stands next to her house following a rocket attack in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

AP reporters

Kyiv officials are warning residents that street fighting is underway against Russian forces as Ukraine’s president refused to leave the city.

The warning issued on Saturday advised residents to remain in shelters, to avoid going near windows or on balconies and to take precautions against being hit by debris or bullets.

Russian troops continued to storm toward Ukraine’s capital early on Saturday as explosions reverberated through the city and the president urged the country to “stand firm” against the siege that could determine its future. He refused American help to evacuate, saying: “The fight is here.”

Hundreds of casualties were reported in the fighting, which included shelling that sliced through a Kyiv apartment building and pummelled bridges and schools. There also were growing signs that Russia may be seeking to overthrow Ukraine’s government, which US officials have described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate objective.

In a chilling statement issued several hours earlier, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said of Russia: “This is the night they will storm”.

As his country confronted explosions and gunfire, and as the fate of Kyiv hung in the balance, Mr Zelensky appealed for a cease-fire and warned in a bleak statement that multiple cities were under attack.

“This night we have to stand firm,” he said. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

Mr Zelensky was urged to evacuate Kyiv at the behest of the US government but turned down the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation. The official quoted the president as saying that “the fight is here” and that he needed anti-tank ammunition but “not a ride”.

For their part, US defence officials believe the Russian offensive has encountered considerable resistance and is proceeding slower than Moscow had envisioned, though that could change quickly.

The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of Ukraine’s embattled leader instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.

As fighting persisted, Ukraine’s military reported shooting down an II-76 Russian transport plane carrying paratroopers near Vasylkiv, a city 25 miles south of Kyiv, an account confirmed by a senior American intelligence official. It was unclear how many were on board, with transport planes able to carry up to 125 paratroopers.

A second Russian military transport plane was shot down near Bila Tserkva, 50 miles south of Kyiv, according to two American officials with direct knowledge of conditions on the ground in Ukraine who spoke to the Associated Press.

The Russian military has not commented on either plane.

It remains unclear how many people overall have died so far. Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side from the first full day of fighting and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures.

UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said that 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes. They estimate that up to four million could flee if the fighting escalates.

Mr Zelensky tweeted that he and US President Joe Biden spoke by phone and discussed “strengthening sanctions, concrete defence assistance and an antiwar coalition.”

Mr Biden subsequently signed a memo clearing the way for the US to expedite up to 600 million dollars (£448 million) in emergency military assistance to the Ukrainian government, though it was not immediately clear how quickly the aid would flow.

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Mr Zelensky’s whereabouts were kept secret after he told European leaders in a call Thursday that he was Russia’s No 1 target — and that they might not see him again alive.

His office later released a video of him standing with senior aides outside the presidential office and saying that he and other government officials would stay in the capital.

He later appealed for cease-fire and warned in a bleak statement that multiple cities were under attack, but also posted a video just before 8am (6am London) to show he was still alive.

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution telling Moscow to stop attacking Ukraine and withdraw all troops immediately.

The veto was expected, but the United States and its supporters argued that the effort would highlight Moscow’s international isolation.

The 11-1 vote — with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining — showed significant but not total opposition to Russia’s invasion of its smaller, militarily weaker neighbour.

The resolution’s failure paves the way for backers to call for a swift vote on a similar measure in the 193-member UN General Assembly, where there are no vetoes.

There was no immediate timetable for a potential Assembly vote.

Spearheaded by the US and Albania, the Security Council resolution would have deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine.

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It called for Moscow immediately to pull out its military and stop using force against Ukraine, and to reverse a decision to recognise two separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as independent.

Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they can function as statements of world opinion.

In an Assembly meeting on Wednesday as Moscow’s invasion loomed, dozens of countries condemned Russia or expressed solidarity with Ukraine.

Russia and ally Syria defended Moscow’s moves.

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