Friday, February 23, 2024

Heavy fighting in Kyiv outskirts as Russia, Ukraine signal possibility of talks

Heavy fighting in Kyiv outskirts as Russia, Ukraine signal possibility of talks
February 26, 2022 Reuters

KYIV (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian forces clashed on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital on Saturday as authorities urged citizens to help defend the city from advancing Russian forces in the worst European security crisis in decades.

Heavy, frequent artillery fire and intense gunfire, apparently some distance from the city centre, could be heard in Kyiv in the early hours, a Reuters witness said. The Ukrainian military said Russian troops attacked an army base on a main Kyiv avenue but the assault was repelled.

But even as the fighting grew more intense, the Russian and Ukrainian governments signalled an openness to negotiations, offering the first glimmer of hope for diplomacy since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Thursday.

"The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday in a video address posted to his Telegram channel. "Tonight, they will launch an assault. All of us must understand what awaits us. We must withstand this night."

The air force command reported heavy fighting near the air base at Vasylkiv southwest of the capital, which it said was under attack from Russian paratroopers.

It also said one of its fighters had shot down a Russian transport plane. Reuters could not independently verify the claims.

Kyiv residents were told by the defence ministry to make petrol bombs to repel the invaders, as witnesses reported hearing artillery rounds and intense gunfire from the western part of the city.

Some families cowered in shelters after Kyiv was pounded on Thursday night by Russian missiles. Others tried desperately to get on packed trains headed west, some of the hundreds of thousands who have left their homes to find safety, according to the United Nations' aid chief.

After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Putin unleashed a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on Thursday, in an attack that threatened to upend Europe's post-Cold War order.

"I once again appeal to the military personnel of the armed forces of Ukraine: do not allow neo-Nazis and (Ukrainian radical nationalists) to use your children, wives and elders as human shields," Putin said at a televised meeting with Russia's Security Council on Friday. "Take power into your own hands."

Putin has cited the need to "denazify" Ukraine's leadership as one of his main reasons for invasion, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss the accusations as baseless propaganda.

Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and Kyiv hopes to join NATO and the EU - aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Putin says Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.

'READY TO TALK'

Western countries have announced a barrage of sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports. But they have so far stopped short of forcing it out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments.

The United States imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The European Union and Britain earlier froze any assets Putin and Lavrov held in their territory. Canada took similar steps.

However, the steady ramping-up of economic restrictions has not deterred Putin.

Moscow said on Friday it had captured the Hostomel airfield northwest of the capital - a potential staging post for an assault on Kyiv that has been fought over since Russian paratroopers landed there in the first hours of the war.