Putin Urges Ukraine’s Army to Seize Power as Kyiv Girds for Assault
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s military to overthrow its political leaders and negotiate peace on Friday, as authorities in Kyiv called on citizens to help defend the capital from a Russian assault its mayor said had already begun.
Residents were told by the defense ministry to make petrol bombs to repel the invaders. Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy filmed himself with aides on the streets of the capital, vowing to defend the country’s independence.
Some families cowered in shelters after the city was pounded for a second night by Russian missiles. Others tried desperately to get on packed trains headed west, among the hundreds of thousands of people the UN’s aid chief said have left their homes to find safety.
After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Putin unleashed a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on Thursday, in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two that threatened to up-end the post-Cold War order on the continent.
“I once again appeal to the military personnel of the armed forces of Ukraine: do not allow neo-Nazis and (Ukrainian radical nationalists) to use your children, wives and elders as human shields,” Putin said at a televised meeting with Russia’s Security Council on Friday. “Take power into your own hands, it will be easier for us to reach agreement.”
Putin says he does not plan a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and remove its leaders, alluding to Ukrainian far-right nationalists who collaborated with Nazi invaders in World War Two to fight Soviet Russia. But it is not clear how a pro-Russian leader could be installed unless Russian troops control much of the country.
Moscow said it had captured the Hostomel airfield northwest of the capital – a potential staging post for an assault on Kyiv that has been fought over since Russian paratroopers landed there in the first hours of the war. This could not be confirmed and the Ukrainian authorities reported heavy fighting there.
“Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods. Saboteurs have already entered Kyiv,” said the mayor of the city of 3 million, former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. “The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us.”
NEW ROUTE OF ADVANCE
Amid the chaos of war, a picture of what was happening on the ground across the country — the second largest in Europe after Russia itself — was slow to emerge.
President Zelenskiy tweeted that there had been heavy fighting with people killed at the entrance to the eastern cities of Chernihiv and Melitopol, as well as at Hostomel.
“Glory to our defenders, both male and female, glory to Ukraine,” he said flanked by the prime minister and advisors in a video posted to confirm he was in the capital.
Witnesses said loud explosions and gunfire could also be heard near the airport in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, close to Russia’s border, and air raid sirens sounded over Lviv in the west. Authorities reported heavy fighting in the eastern city of Sumy.
Britain’s defense ministry said in an intelligence update that Russian armored forces had opened a new route of advance towards the capital after failing to take Chernihiv, and most troops remained more than 30 miles from Kyiv’s city centre.
Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed so far. Russia did not release casualty figures. The UN said 25 civilians had been killed and 102 wounded, figures that were likely to be a “significant under-estimate.” None of the tolls could be independently verified.
The United Nations’ aid chief said hundreds of thousands of people were on the move in Ukraine, adding that “north of a billion dollars” would be needed for relief operations in the next three months.
Ukraine has banned men of fighting age from leaving, and at borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, those seen crossing by Reuters journalists were mostly women and children.
Women cried as they bade goodbye to male loved ones and crossed into Romania.
Envoys of the EU’s 27 member states agreed to freeze any assets in the EU belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, adding to a slew of sanctions backed by the leaders at an emergency summit on Thursday night.
Numerous Western countries have announced new sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology imports. But they have so far stopped short of forcing it out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, drawing criticism from Kyiv which says there is no reason to hold back.
U.S. officials believe Russia’s initial aim is to “decapitate” Zelenskiy’s government. Zelenskiy said he knew he was “the number one target” but would stay in Kyiv.
Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.
Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, voted overwhelmingly for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and hopes to join NATO and the EU — aspirations that infuriate Moscow.