Kyiv prepares for battle as Russian advance reaches Ukraine capital
“The city has gone into a defensive phase. Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods. Saboteurs have already entered Kyiv,” said Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Ukraine’s capital was preparing for battle Friday as a Russian advance reached the city and its leader issued a desperate plea to the outside world for help.
With explosions and air-raid sirens filling the air over Kyiv, and Russian troops bearing down on the city to press their invasion despite growing global backlash, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Western governments to take tougher measures against Moscow.
He has already called up any Ukrainians willing to fight and handed out thousands of guns to civilians. And on Friday, Zelenskyy urged anyone with military experience in Europe to travel to Ukraine and help defend its independence or take to their own streets in protest.
“We need you,” Zelenskyy said in his latest video message from inside the embattled city that he has refused to leave. “Protect yourselves the same way as we protect ourselves.”
The Ukrainian leader also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to enter into negotiations to stop the fighting, a request that was met with a mixed response from Moscow amid warnings by Western powers that the Kremlin’s true aim was to topple Zelenskyy’s pro-Europe government.
“The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us,” said Kyiv’s mayor, former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. “The city has gone into a defensive phase. Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods. Saboteurs have already entered Kyiv.”
Local officials warned residents in Obolon, a district in the north of the capital, not to go outside early Friday due to “the approach of active hostilities.” The military said Russian saboteurs — troops disguised in Ukrainian uniforms — were in the streets.
Meanwhile just outside the capital, Russia claimed it had taken control of the strategic Hostomel Airport, which handles heavy cargo flights and would allow Moscow to airlift troops directly to Kyiv. A day earlier Ukraine’s military said that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.
NBC News has not verified either sides’ reports.
Since before dawn the city of 3 million people faced a barrage of explosions, with residents huddled in shelters as Russia pressed forward with the invasion of its democratic neighbor.
Zelenskyy said that Russia had been targeting civilians and residential areas, something that’s denied by Moscow, which as recently as Tuesday was saying it would not invade.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, accused Russia of attacking a Ukrainian kindergarten and orphanage in what he described as “war crimes.” NBC News was unable to verify the allegations.
The United Nations said it had confirmed that at least 25 people had been killed across Ukraine but acknowledged that these were likely under-estimates, estimating up to 4 million could flee if the fighting escalates.
Karim Khan, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said he was watching the conflict with “increasing concern” and said his office may investigate possible war crimes in the country.
Zelenskyy said in a statement that at least 137 people had been killed and 316 had been injured during the first day of the invasion. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government said Russia had lost as many as 1,000 personnel, more than a dozen aircraft and 30 tanks.