KIEV – According to a regional official, street fighting began on Sunday in Kharkiv when Russian troops stormed Ukraine’s second largest city after a wave of attacks elsewhere on airfields and fuel facilities that seemed to mark a new phase of the invasion, which was slowed by fierce resistance.
Russian troops approached Kharkiv, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of the border with Russia, shortly after Moscow launched an invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. But until Sunday, they remained on the outskirts of the 1.4-million city, not trying to enter, while other forces swept past, pushing their offensive deeper into Ukraine.
On Sunday, early Sunday, Russian troops entered and entered the battle with Ukrainian forces, said the head of the Kharkiv regional administration Oleg Sinegubov, who told civilians not to leave their homes. He did not provide more details.
The video posted in the Ukrainian media and social networks shows Russian vehicles moving around Kharkiv and a car burning on the street.
Elsewhere, huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday south of the capital, Kyiv, where people staggered into homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale attack by Russian forces.
The flames rose into the sky before dawn from the oil depot near the air base in Vasilkov, where intense fighting is taking place, the mayor said. The office of President Vladimir Zelensky reported that another explosion took place at the Zhulyany civilian airport.
Zelensky’s office also said Russian forces had blown up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, forcing the government to warn people to protect themselves from smoke by covering windows with damp cloth or gauze.
“We will fight as long as it takes to liberate our country,” Zelensky promised.
Frightened men, women and children sought safety inside and underground, and the government imposed a curfew of 39 hours to prevent people from entering the streets. More than 150 thousand Ukrainians fled to Poland, Moldova and other neighboring countriesand the United Nations has warned that the number could rise to 4 million in the event of an escalation of hostilities.
President Vladimir Putin has not revealed his final plans, but Western officials say he is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War influence.
To help Ukraine survive, the United States has pledged an additional $ 350 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany has said it will send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the country under siege and close its airspace to Russian aircraft.
The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from SWIFT’s global financial messaging system, which moves money to more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world, as part of a new round of sanctions against Moscow. for the invasion. They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” against Russia’s central bank.
Responding to a request from the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, technology billionaire Elon Musk said on Twitter that his satellite Internet system Starlink now operates in Ukraine and that the route is “more terminals.”
It was unclear how much territory had been captured by Russian troops and to what extent their advance had been halted. The UK Ministry of Defense said that “the speed of Russian progress has slowed down temporarily, probably due to acute logistical difficulties and strong resistance from Ukraine.”
A senior U.S. defense official said more than half of Russia’s combat power gathered along Ukraine’s borders had entered the country, and Moscow had to send more fuel and other support units inside Ukraine than originally thought. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. internal assessments.
The curfew, which forced everyone in Kiev inside, lasted until Monday morning. The relative silence of the capital was periodically broken by gunfire.
Fighting on the outskirts of the city suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear the way for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops are reported to be in Kiev, but Britain and the United States have said that as of Saturday afternoon, the main force is 19 miles (30 kilometers) from downtown.
Russia claims his attack on Ukraine from the north, east and south aimed only at military targets, but affected bridges, schools and residential areas.
Ukraine’s health minister said on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 wounded during Europe’s largest land war since World War II. It was unclear whether these figures included both military and civilian casualties.
The rocket hit a high-rise apartment building on the southwestern outskirts of Kiev near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a toothed hole with destroyed apartments on several floors. The rescuer said six civilians were injured.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said that troops in Kiev were fighting Russian “sabotage groups.” Ukraine says about 200 Russian servicemen have been captured and thousands killed.
Markarov said Ukraine was gathering evidence of shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to present The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.
Zelensky reaffirmed his openness to talks with Russia in a video message, saying he welcomed the offer of Turkey and Azerbaijan to organize diplomatic efforts, which have so far faltered.
The Kremlin confirmed Putin’s telephone conversation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, but did not hint at resuming talks. The day before, Zelensky offered to hold talks on a key demand of Russia: to abandon its ambitions to join NATO.
After that, Putin sent troops to Ukraine weeks denied that he intended to do so, constantly increasing the strength of nearly 200,000 troops along the borders of the countries. He claims that the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine seeks to join. But he also expressed contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
In addition to Kiev, the Russian attack was aimed at economically important coastal areas of Ukraine, from the Black Sea port of Odessa in the west to the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov in the east.
Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol guarded bridges and blocked people from the coastline amid fears that the Russian navy could launch an offensive from the sea.
“I don’t care who wins and who doesn’t,” said Ruzanna Zubenko, whose large family was evicted from a home outside Mariupol after he was badly injured in the shelling. “It’s just important that our children grow up smiling and not crying.”
Fighting also took place in two eastern territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Donetsk authorities said the supply of hot water to a city of about 900,000 people had been cut off due to damage to the system as a result of Ukrainian shelling.
The United States and its allies have stepped up their forces on NATO’s eastern flank, but have so far ruled out deploying troops to fight Russia. Instead, the United States, the European Union and other countries have been slapped broad sanctions to Russia, freezing the assets of businesses and individuals, including Putin and his foreign minister.
Isachenko reported from Moscow, and Miller from Washington. Francesca Ebel, Joseph Federman and Andrew Drake in Kiev; Mstislav Chernov and Nick Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
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