U.S. says Kyiv 'could well be under siege' as Russian forces close in on Ukrainian capital
Explosions heard in Kyiv as President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia aiming to destroy Ukraine politically
- Explosions heard in Kyiv, as U.S. says capital could already be under siege.
- Ukrainian president orders 'full military mobilization' to counter attack.
- United Nations refugee agency estimates 100,000 people have fled homes in Ukraine.
- U.S. President Joe Biden says NATO will meet on Friday to 'map out next steps on Russia,' as Prime Minster Justin Trudeau says Canada will impose stricter sanctions, prioritize immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed on Friday to stay in Kyiv as his troops battled Russian forces who were advancing toward the capital in the biggest attack on a European state since the Second World War.
Scores of Ukrainians, civilians and service members alike, were killed in the first full day of fighting, and Kyiv appeared to be increasingly threatened. Zelensky said the government had information that "subversive groups" were encroaching on the city, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv "could well be under siege."
Explosions were heard in the capital in the early hours of Friday and air raid sirens wailed over the city of three million people as Russia continued its assault.
U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call that Russian mechanized forces that entered from Belarus were about 32 kilometres from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, said Ukrainian forces downed an enemy aircraft over Kyiv in the early hours of Friday, which then crashed into a residential building and set it on fire. It was unclear whether the aircraft was manned.
Herashchenko wrote on instant messaging service Telegram that a nine-storey residential building was on fire.
He said the series of explosions were the sounds of air defences firing at the aircraft.
A missile strike hit a Ukrainian border post in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhya, killing and wounding some guards, the border guard service said on Friday.
The region has no land border with Russia, which launched a military operation against Ukraine on Thursday, but is located on the coast of the Azov Sea which the neighbours share.
Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea on Thursday following a declaration by President Vladimir Putin that he was launching a "special military operation." An estimated 100,000 people fled as explosions and gunfire rocked major cities. Dozens have been reported killed.
One senior U.S. defence official described the day's assault as the first salvo in a likely multi-phase invasion aimed at seizing key population centres and "decapitating" Ukraine's government.
"[The] enemy has marked me down as the No. 1 target," Zelensky warned in a video message. "My family is the No. 2 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."
After Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the morning in Kyiv, a city of three million people.
By nightfall in Ukraine, a picture was emerging of fierce fighting across multiple fronts.
Zelensky said in that same video address that 137 "heroes," including 10 military officers, had been killed, and 316 people wounded. The dead included all border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which was taken over by Russians.
Zelensky said despite Russia's claim it is attacking only military targets, civilian sites also have been struck.
"They're killing people and turning peaceful cities into military targets," he said. "It's foul and will never be forgiven."
He said Putin's aim was to destroy his state and ordered a full military mobilization that will last 90 days.
An adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said Russian forces had captured the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just 90 kilometres north of the capital.
There was also fighting at Hostomel Airport, just outside Kyiv, where Russian paratroopers landed. A Ukrainian official later said the airfield had been recaptured, while a senior U.S. defence official said Russian forces were advancing closer to Kyiv.
Heavy exchanges of fire were also taking place in the regions near Sumy and Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson and Odesa, home to Ukraine's most important seaport, in the south.
The highway heading west out of Kyiv was choked with traffic across five lanes as residents fled, fearful of bombardments while stuck in their cars.
Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to "reconstitute the Soviet empire" and that Kyiv was already "under threat, and it could well be under siege."
Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv's subway stations.
The UN High Commission for Refugees said an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians had fled their homes and that several thousand crossed into neighbouring countries, mainly Romania and Moldova.
The day began with missiles raining down on Ukrainian targets and authorities reporting columns of troops pouring across Ukraine's borders from Russia to the east and Belarus to the north, and landing on the southern coast from the Black Sea and Azov Sea.
"Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won't give up its freedom, no matter what Moscow thinks," Zelensky said on Twitter.
Calling on Ukrainians to defend their country, he said arms would be given to anyone prepared to fight. He also urged Russians to take to the streets to protest against their government's actions.
"What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft. This is the sound of a new Iron Curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilized world," Zelensky said.
Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/2WW?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#2WW</a> years. As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history. 🇷🇺 has embarked on a path of evil, but 🇺🇦 is defending itself & won't give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks.—@ZelenskyyUa
In his address, Putin said he had ordered "a special military operation" to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to "genocide" in Ukraine — an accusation the West calls baseless propaganda.
"And for this we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine," Putin said.
After referring earlier in his speech to Russia's powerful nuclear arsenal, he also warned: "Whoever tries to hinder us ... should know that Russia's response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history."
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian later said Putin should understand that NATO was also a nuclear alliance.
Biden, Trudeau toughen sanctions
U.S. President Joe Biden called the Russian action an "unprovoked and unjustified attack." Saying Putin "chose this war" during an afternoon briefing from the White House, he said Russia "will bear the consequences" of new sanctions.
The sanctions target Russian banks, oligarchs and high-tech sectors, Biden said, with U.S. allies blocking assets of four large Russian banks, imposing export controls and sanctioning oligarchs. He held off imposing some of the most severe sanctions, including cutting Russia out of the SWIFT payment system, which allows for the transfer of money from bank to bank around the globe, or targeting Russia's energy sector.
Beyond sanctions, Biden said the U.S. will not send troops into Ukraine to fight the Russians but will deploy additional forces to Germany to bolster the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"NATO is more united and more determined than ever," he said. "There's no doubt, no doubt, that the United States and every NATO ally will meet our Article 5 commitments, which says an attack on one is an attack on all."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, said Canada will also impose additional sanctions on Russia, targeting 58 people and entities connected to the country, including members of Russia's elite and their families, the paramilitary organization known as the Wagner Group and major Russian banks.
Phone conversation with <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JustinTrudeau</a> 🇨🇦 Today there is a full-scale war throughout 🇺🇦! We demand the immediate imposition of additional tough sanctions against Russia. Now, more than ever, we need concrete support! I count on leadership of 🇨🇦 in this process!—@ZelenskyyUa
During a briefing from Ottawa, he said Canada will be prioritizing immigration applications for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada and is launching a dedicated telephone line for anyone who has any urgent questions about the process.
He also said Canada has arranged for the safe passage of any Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families still in Ukraine through land borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova.
A resident of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city and the closest big city to the Russian border, said windows in the apartment blocks near him were shaking from constant blasts.
Blasts could be heard in the southeastern port of Mariupol, near a front line held by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Local authorities said 26 people were being treated for wounds in hospital after an eastern district of the port was shelled, and "an attempt by Russian troops to break through" into the city was thwarted.
A Ukrainian armoured column headed along the road, with soldiers seated atop turrets smiling and flashing victory signs to passing cars, which honked their horns in support.
'We are going into hiding'
In the nearby town of Mangush and city of Berdyansk, people lined up throughout the day for cash and gasoline. Civilians from Mariupol were seen packing bags.
"We are going into hiding," said a middle-aged woman in a grey sweater.
Initial reports of casualties were sporadic and unconfirmed. Ukraine reported at least eight people killed by Russian shelling and three border guards killed in the southern Kherson region.
However, an adviser to Ukraine's president says about 40 people have been killed so far in the Russian attacks. Oleksii Arestovich said Thursday that several dozen people have been wounded. He didn't specify whether the casualties included civilians.
Russia's Defence Ministry said it had destroyed 83 land-based Ukrainian targets and achieved all of its goals, according to Interfax news agency.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency is warning of "devastating consequences" from Russia's military action in Ukraine and calling on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for people fleeing the fighting.
In a televised declaration of war in the early hours, Putin said he had ordered "a special military operation" to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to "genocide" in Ukraine — an accusation the West calls absurd propaganda.
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Almost all of the world — but not China — condemned the attack and threatened to hit Russian elites with — in the words of the European Union president — "massive and targeted sanctions."
Ukraine, a democratic country of 44 million people with more than 1,000 years of history, is Europe's biggest nation by area after Russia itself. It voted overwhelmingly for independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and aims to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.
Putin, who denied for months that he was planning an invasion, has called Ukraine an artificial creation carved from Russia by its enemies — a characterization Ukrainians call shocking and false.
While many Ukrainians, particularly in the east, speak Russian as a native language, virtually all identify themselves as Ukrainian.
There was also some dissent in Russia. Police detained more than 1,700 people taking part in anti-war rallies in 54 cities, and authorities threatened to block media reports carrying "false information."
'We're afraid of bombardments'
In Kyiv, some people who chose to stay stood in long lines outside banks and shops, hoping to withdraw money and stock up on supplies. But others packed bags and suitcases and looked for a way out of the city — by bus, car or plane.
Queues of people waited to withdraw money and buy supplies of food and water in Kyiv. Traffic was jammed going west out of the city of three million people, toward the distant Polish border. Western countries have been preparing for the likelihood of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing an assault.
By mid-morning, traffic was at a standstill on the four-lane main road to the western city of Lviv. Cars stretched back for dozens of kilometres, Reuters witnesses said.
Oxana, stuck in a traffic jam with her three-year-old daughter in the back seat, said she was fleeing "because a war has started. Putin has attacked us."
"We're afraid of bombardments," she said. "Tell them: 'You can't do this.' This is so scary."
"Russia has attacked Ukraine," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a briefing on Thursday, noting that Putin's invasion had "shattered" peace on the continent.
"This is a brutal act of war. Our thoughts are with the brave people of Ukraine."
"This hideous and barbarous venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament, announcing measures targeting banks, members of Putin's closest circle and super-rich Russians who enjoy high-rolling London lifestyles.
Britain will also ban the export of a wide range of high-tech products, including semiconductors, to Russia and prohibit the nation's flagship airline, Aeroflot, from landing at U.K. airports. The slate of sanctions comes days after Johnson was criticized for acting too cautiously in response to Russian aggression earlier this week.
French President Emmanuel Macron said France and its European allies did everything to try to head off the attack. He said that they will show "no weakness" in their response, noting that sanctions will be "proportionate" to Russia's military operations, targeting its economy and its energy sector.
In a televised address on Thursday, Macron called Russia's attack a "turning point in European history" and said that as a result, "there will be profound consequences for our continent and changes in our lives."
"We have tried everything to avoid this war, but it is here and we are ready," Macron said.
With files from The Canadian Press, CBC News and The Associated Press