KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital yesterday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides.
Explosions sounded before dawn in Kyiv as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help to fend off an attack that could topple his democratically elected government, cause massive casualties and ripple out damage to the global economy.
The nature of the explosions was not immediately clear, but the blasts came amid signs that the capital and largest Ukrainian city was increasingly threatened following a day of fighting that left more than 100 Ukrainians dead.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government had information that “subversive groups” were encroaching on the city, and United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv “could well be under siege”.
The assault, anticipated for weeks by the US and Western allies, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II.
His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, Zelenskyy appealed to global leaders for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and for defence assistance.
“If you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door,” said the leader, who cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, declared martial law and ordered a full military mobilisation that would last 90 days. The invasion began on Thursday with a series of missile strikes on cities and military bases, and then quickly followed with a multi-pronged ground assault that rolled troops in from several areas in the east; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.
Ukrainian officials said they lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and civilians in many parts of the country piled into trains and cars to flee.
Zelenskyy said in a video address that 137 “heroes”, including 10 military officers, had been killed and 316 people wounded.
He concluded an emotional speech by saying that “the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders”.
The Ukrainian military yesterday reported significant fighting near Ivankiv, about 60 kilometres northwest of Kyiv, as Russian forces apparently tried to advance on the capital from the north.
Russian troops also entered the city of Sumy, near the border with Russia that sits on a highway leading to Kyiv from the east.
Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-decommissioned Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site”.