Kyiv 'at the border of a humanitarian catastrophe' as Russian troops advance, mayor says

As the biggest assault on a European state since the Second World War continues, and Russian troops draw closer to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv's mayor was asked if there were plans to evacuate civilians if the city is taken , at first saying, "We can't do that, because all ways are blocked," then backing away from that assessment.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko concerned about capacity to replenish food and medicine

'Go back home,' Kyiv mayor tells Russian forces

1 year ago
Duration 0:40
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Russian forces have 'nothing to find here in our home' and said he hopes Sunday night will be quiet.

The latest:

  • Delegations from both sides agree to meet after Putin puts nuclear forces on alert.
  • Russian troops have entered Ukraine's second largest city of Kharkiv.
  • United Nations General Assembly to hold an emergency session on Monday.
  • Ukraine files genocide case against Russia at UN's top court.
  • What questions do you have about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to

As Russian troops draw closer to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv's mayor is both filled with pride over his citizens' spirit and anxious about how long they can hold out.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, after a gruelling night of Russian attacks on the outskirts of the city, Mayor Vitali Klitschko was silent for several seconds when asked if there were plans to evacuate civilians if Russian troops managed to take Kyiv.

"We can't do that, because all ways are blocked," he finally said. "Right now we are encircled." The AP was not able to immediately verify the mayor's report that Kyiv was encircled by Russian forces or how wide an area that would encompass due to a strict curfew Sunday on movement in the city.

Klitschko himself later backed away from that assessment, saying on his Telegram channel: "In the evening, Russian internet publications spread information with reference to me that Kyiv is allegedly surrounded and evacuation of people is impossible. ... Do not believe lies! Trust information only from official sources."

A person walks in front of a destroyed building after a Russian missile attack in the town of Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, on Sunday. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Thursday, the city of 2.8 million people initially reacted with concern but also a measure of self-possession. However, nerves started fraying when grocery stores began closing and the city's famously deep subway system turned its stations into bomb shelters.

The mayor confirmed to AP that nine civilians in Kyiv had been killed so far, including one child. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Sunday that 352 civilians have been killed, including 14 children.

A Klitschko-ordered curfew began about sundown on Saturday and is to extend until at least 8 a.m. Monday. His order pointedly stated that any unauthorized person outside could be considered a saboteur.

"We are hunting these people, and it will be much easier if nobody is on the street," Klitschko explained, saying that six Russian "saboteurs" were killed Saturday night.

Russian troops' advance on the city has been slower than many military experts had expected.

Ukrainian troops are seen at a check point in the city of Zhytomyr, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

"Ï just talked to the president [Volodymyr Zelensky]. Everybody is not feeling so well," Klitschko said, adding the Ukrainian city government employees were in shock but not depressed. "We show our character, our knowledge, our values."

In the last few days, long queues of people — both men and women — were spotted waiting to pick up weapons throughout the capital, after authorities decided to distribute weapons freely to anybody ready to defend the city. There are concerns, however, about arming nervous civilians with little military experience amid warnings of Russian saboteurs disguised as Ukrainian police or journalists.

"To be honest, we don't have 100 per cent control," said Klitschko. "We built this territorial defence in a short amount of time — but these are patriotic people.

"Right now, the most important question is to defend our country," he added.

Responding to a question about the city's capacity to replenish dwindling stocks of food and medicine, Klitscho's view darkened, however.

"We are at the border of a humanitarian catastrophe," he said. "Right now, we have electricity, right now we have water and heating in our houses. But the infrastructure is destroyed to deliver the food and medication."

Then, in the same breath, he rallied like the world heavyweight boxing champion he once was.

"That's why the message for everyone is: 'Support Ukraine together ... We are strong,'" he said. "Every Ukrainian is proud to be independent, proud to be Ukrainian, and we are proud to have our own country."

Fighting in Ukraine's 2nd largest city

Ukrainian authorities say Russian troops have entered Ukraine's second largest city of Kharkiv and fighting is underway in the streets. The city of 1.5 million is 40 kilometres from the Russian border.

Oleh Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said Sunday that Ukrainian forces were fighting Russian troops in the city and asked civilians not to leave their homes.

Russian troops approached Kharkiv shortly after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. But until Sunday, they remained on its outskirts without trying to enter the city while other forces rolled past, pressing their offensive deeper into Ukraine.

PHOTOS | Russian troops enter Kharkiv: 

Videos on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and a light vehicle burning on the street.

Earlier on Sunday, the Ukrainian president's office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv.

The State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection warned the explosion, which it said looked like a mushroom cloud, could cause an "environmental catastrophe" and advised residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.

Russia acknowledges casualties for 1st time

The Russian military said Sunday some of its troops were killed and some were wounded in Ukraine — admitting for the first time it had suffered casualties since the Russian invasion.

Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson, said Sunday "there are dead and wounded among our comrades," without offering any numbers, but adding that Russia's losses were "many times" fewer than those of Ukraine's forces.

A member of a pro-Russia separatist militia is seen in the Luhansk region of Eastern Ukraine on Sunday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

It was the first time Russian military officials mentioned casualties on their side.

Ukraine has claimed that its forces killed 3,500 Russian troops. Konashenkov also said that since the start of the attack Thursday, the Russian military have hit 1,067 Ukrainian military facilities, including 27 command posts and communication centres, 38 air defence missile system and 56 radar stations.

Konashenkov's claims and Ukraine's allegations that its forces killed thousands of Russian troops can't be independently verified.

Canada closes airspace

Canada is joining many European countries in closing its airspace to all Russian aircraft as the West ramps up pressure on Russia for invading Ukraine.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Sunday that Canada will hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked attacks.

Most European countries have either announced they are closing their airspace or said intend to do so.

WATCH | Canadian in Ukraine helps Kyiv residents flee: 

This Canadian in Ukraine is driving people out of Kyiv to safer cities

1 year ago
Duration 5:50
Istan Rozumny is a Canadian who lives in Lviv, near Ukraine’s border with Poland. He’s been driving people out of Kyiv to safer cities nearby because other means of transportation, like trains, are packed.

Also on Sunday, Canada said it will send an additional $25 million worth of defensive military equipment to Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the equipment includes helmets, body armour, gas masks and night-vision gear. She says it will be routed through Poland to get there as quickly as possible.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada will offer up cybersecurity experts who can help Ukraine "defend its networks against cyber attacks that are increasingly forming part of modern-day warfare."

'We need to prepare for millions'

The European Union's top migration official says hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war have entered the 27-nation bloc in recent days and is warning that Europe must be ready for millions to arrive.

WATCH | Hundreds of thousands flee:

Over 400,000 people flee war in Ukraine

1 year ago
Duration 4:32
More than 400,000 people in Ukraine have fled Russia's invasion, with many crossing into Poland without their husbands and fathers who stayed behind to fight.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson urged the bloc's interior ministers meeting on Sunday to trigger a special protection mechanism set up 20 years ago to help deal with influxes of refugees.

"We have to prepare for even bigger numbers, and we have to prepare for the support that we need to give to the Ukrainians fleeing," she told reporters at the EU meeting in Brussels. "I think we need to prepare for millions."

PHOTOS | Refugees flee to central Europe: 

The protection system was set up in the wake of the wars in former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, when thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. It has never been used. It provides residence permits for a fixed time, the possibility of jobs, accommodation, social welfare, medical treatment and education for children.

The United Nations said it has confirmed at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 people killed, in the fighting in Ukraine that erupted since Russia's invasion on Thursday — though it believed the "real figures are considerably higher" because many reports of casualties remain to be confirmed.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs relayed the count late Saturday from the UN human rights office, which has strict methodologies and verification procedures about the toll from conflict.

Ukraine files genocide case

Ukraine launched a case against Russia at the UN's highest court, accusing Moscow of planning genocide and asking the court to intervene to halt the invasion and order Russia to pay reparations, the International Court of Justice said Sunday.

The case, filed Saturday, asks the International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, to indicate "provisional measures" ordering Moscow to "immediately suspend the military operations" that were launched Feb. 24.

The case said Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine based on false claims of acts of genocide in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine and now is planning genocidal acts in Ukraine.

PHOTOS | Protests in support of Ukraine around the world:

Ukraine "emphatically denies that genocide happened in the eastern regions" and says it filed the case "to establish that Russia has no lawful basis to take action in and against Ukraine for the purpose of preventing and punishing any purported genocide," the court said in a statement.

Also at the UN, the Security Council on Sunday voted for the 193-member General Assembly to hold an emergency session on Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Monday.

The vote on Sunday to authorize an emergency meeting was 11 in favour, Russia opposed, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining. That was the exact same vote on a resolution Friday demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. But in that case, Russia used its veto and the resolution was defeated.

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