Missiles pound Ukraine's capital as Russian troops advance

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KYIV (REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES) - Missiles pounded the Ukrainian capital on Friday (Feb 25) as Russian forces pressed their advance and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with the international community to do more, saying sanctions announced so far were not enough.

Air raid sirens wailed over Kyiv amid unconfirmed reports that a Russian plane had been shot down and crashed into a building a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion that has shocked the world.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv had come under a missile attack.

“Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” he wrote on Twitter. “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.”

A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside the capital, Kyiv, later on Friday and that Ukrainian troops were defending positions on four fronts despite being outnumbered.

An estimated 100,000 people fled as explosions and gunfire rocked major cities. Dozens have been reported killed. Russian troops seized the Chernobyl former nuclear power plant north of Kyiv as they advanced on the city from Belarus.

United States and Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to capture Kyiv and topple the government, which Putin regards as a puppet of the US.

Zelensky said he understood Russian troops were coming for him but vowed to stay in Kyiv.

“(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” Zelensky said in a video message. “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”

“I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.”

Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea on Thursday following a declaration of war by Putin, in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.

Putin says Russia is carrying out “a special military operation” to stop the Ukrainian government from committing genocide against its own people – an accusation the West calls baseless. He also says Ukraine is an illegitimate state whose lands historically belong to Russia.

Ukrainian forces downed an enemy aircraft over Kyiv early on Friday, which then crashed into a residential building and set it ablaze, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister.

It was unclear whether the aircraft was manned or whether it could be a missile. Kyiv municipal authorities said at least eight people were injured when the object crashed into an apartment block.

The wreckage of an unidentified aircraft is seen after it crashed in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb 25, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS/UKRAINIAN STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE
Police officers inspecting the remains of a missile that fell on a street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Zelensky warned on Friday that Russian “sabotage groups” have entered Kyiv and urged citizens to remain vigilant.

In the video address released after midnight on Friday in Ukraine, Zelensky, unshaven and wearing a T-shirt, said 137 Ukrainians, military and civilian, had been killed so far in the Russian invasion that began on Thursday morning.

"There is also information about the enemy's sabotage groups entering Kyiv," he said. "This is why I am asking citizens of Kyiv to be vigilant and adhere to the rules of martial law."

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Speaking in Ukrainian rather than his native Russian, he disputed Russia's claims that it was striking only military targets. "They're killing people and turning peaceful cities into military targets," he said.

Zelensky warned Ukrainians not to expect help from abroad.

"We are left to our own devices in defence of our state," he said. "Who is ready to fight together with us? Honestly, I do not see such."

He said that continued Russian aggression against his country showed that sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West were not enough.

Firefighters extinguishing a blaze at a damaged residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, early on Feb 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Firefighters working at the site of a damaged residential building in Kyiv, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, on Feb 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Zelensky said the world was continuing to observe what was going on in Ukraine from afar. 

Asked if he was worried about Zelensky’s safety, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS: “To the best of my knowledge, President Zelensky remains in Ukraine at his post, and of course we’re concerned for the safety of all of our friends in Ukraine – government officials and others.”

Authorities said intense fighting was under way in the city of Sumy in the north-east.

A border post in the south-eastern Zaporizhzhya region had been hit by missiles, causing deaths and injuries among border guards, and air raid sirens sounded over the city of Lviv in the west of the country.

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A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and has recently stepped up efforts to join the Nato military alliance and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

The United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia and the EU unveiled more sanctions on Moscow on top of penalties earlier this week, including a move by Germany to halt an US$11 billion (S$14.9 billion) gas pipeline from Russia.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the bloc’s measures as “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”.

China came under pressure over its refusal to call Russia’s assault an invasion.

US President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House, said: “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.” He declined to comment directly on China’s position.

The UN Security Council will vote on Friday on a draft resolution that would condemn Russia’s invasion and require Moscow’s immediate withdrawal. However, Moscow can veto the measure, and it was unclear how China would vote.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain. War and sanctions will disrupt economies around the world.

Oil prices soared as much as US$2 per barrel on Friday as markets brace for the impact of trade sanctions on major crude exporter Russia.

US wheat futures hit their highest in nearly 14 years, corn hovered near an eight-month peak and soybeans rebounded on fears of grain supply disruptions from the key Black Sea region.

Airlines were also facing disruptions, with Japan Airlines cancelling its Thursday evening flight to Moscow and Britain closing its airspace to Russian carriers.

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