A defiant Ukrainian president has urged his compatriots to keep fighting after his troops battled through the night with Russian troops encircling the capital Kyiv and besieging cities throughout the country.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its third day, Volodymyr Zelensky assured citizens in a video recorded outside his office on Saturday morning: “I’m here. We are not going to put down any arms. We will defend our country. ”
The center of Kyiv was still under Ukrainian government and military control on Saturday, its leaders said, as the country’s outgunned troops continued to resist the biggest invasion force in Europe in half a century. Gunfire and explosions were heard in several parts of the capital overnight.
“This is our land. This is our country, ”Zelensky said. “These are our children. And we will defend all of this. ”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky’s administration, said in a televised address that battles were continuing across the country in the cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa. However, he claimed that the situation in Kyiv was “100 percent controlled” and that the city had withstood overnight assaults.
Podolyak said that as of Saturday morning, Ukraine had killed more than 3,500 Russians and captured just under 200 more.
While Ukrainian troops were fending off the Russians in Kyiv and elsewhere, Moscow claimed it had captured the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol on Saturday. A witness in the city confirmed that the city was under Russian control.
Russia’s defense ministry said overnight, without providing any evidence, that Russian troops were being welcomed in the city by locals, including some “older age citizens who went out on to the streets with red flags”.
As Russian armored columns moved on Kyiv, Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s armed forces to “take power into their own hands” and overthrow their government so they could strike a peace deal with Moscow.
In a social media post on Friday evening, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s president said discussions had begun with the Russians about a possible “negotiation process”. But it was not clear if the suggestion of talks was realistic, given Russia’s extreme demands.
Oleksandr Danylyuk, chair of the Kyiv-based Center for Defense Reforms and an expert on hybrid warfare, said he believed the Russians had not abandoned the idea of ousting Zelensky in a “false flag” coup.
“Now they are trying to seize. . . government buildings with their military disguised in Ukrainian uniform, ”Danylyuk told the Financial Times. “That is why they are trying to get to the city center in small groups.”
NATO member states, meanwhile, pledged to continue supplying military weapons to Ukraine, including air defense systems. “We are in this for the long haul,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, after the alliance held a crisis meeting on Friday.
The US, EU and UK also imposed sanctions directly on Putin and Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in a rare instance of leveling such measures against a foreign leader.
The civilian exodus from Kyiv continued on Friday. Traffic was heavy on roads leading out of the capital, with some residents fleeing on foot with suitcases.
Ukraine’s military called on residents of Obolon, a suburb of Kyiv, to inform them about the movement of Russian equipment into the city. “Make Molotov cocktails, neutralize the occupier,” the defense ministry said.
Russia on Friday claimed it had captured Kyiv’s Hostomel airport, which is near the Obolon district. Control of the runway could allow Russia to transport rapidly large numbers of troops directly to the capital.
Moscow also ordered more combat forces into Ukraine, including through amphibious assaults near Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, according to US officials.
Western military officials warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of troops advancing south from Belarus and north from Crimea would bring “overwhelming” military superiority that could lead to the capital falling within days.
Early on Friday, Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed its forces had shot down more than a dozen Russian aircraft and helicopters, along with scores of tanks and armored vehicles. Ukraine said 137 of its people had died. Russia provided no figures on damage to its military assets or on casualties.
On Friday, oil prices steadied after topping $ 100 per barrel on Thursday for the first time since 2014. European natural gas prices retreated after surging almost 70 per cent to € 142 per megawatt hour on Thursday. Futures linked to TTF, Europe’s wholesale gas price, fell more than 30 per cent on Friday to € 92.50.
European equities recovered their losses while US stock markets also rose, with the benchmark S&P 500 ending the day more than 2 per cent higher.