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  • * Capital City, Kyiv, Still Under Ukrainian Control
  • West Halts Moscow With Sanctions

By Correspondent Reports

Russian forces have continued to pound Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles this Saturday for a third day running but a defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands.

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fled westwards towards the European Union, top Russian security official and ex-president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow’s military operations would be waged relentlessly until their goals were achieved.

Ignoring weeks of Western warnings, President Vladimir Putin launched a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, saying the “neo-Nazis” in power in the Ukrainian capital city Kyiv, threatened Russia’s security.

The assault threatens to upend Europe’s post-Cold War order.

In a significant ratcheting up of Russia’s rhetoric, Medvedev said new Western sanctions were a sign of the West’s impotence in the standoff and hinted at a severing of diplomatic ties, saying it was time to “padlock the embassies”.

After a night of airstrikes, there were some signs of panic in Kyiv. Reuters reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers and a group of women running along the street. Nearby, Ukrainian soldiers forced a man in civilian clothes to lie down on the pavement.

Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, but added that saboteur groups were active. The metro system is now serving only as a shelter for citizens and trains have stopped running, he said.

Klitschko said 35 people, including two children, had been wounded overnight. He later announced the extension of a night-time curfew, which will now run from 5 pm until 8 am.

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 people wounded so far in Russia’s invasion, Interfax quoted Ukraine’s Health Ministry as saying. It was unclear whether the numbers comprised only civilian casualties.

“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskiy said in a video message posted on his social media. We have the courage to defend our homeland, to defend Europe.”

Britain said the bulk of Russian forces were now 30 km (19 miles) from the centre of Kyiv and said Russia had yet to gain control of Ukraine’s airspace.

The Kremlin said Putin had ordered troops to stop advancing on Friday but that they were moving forwards on Saturday after Kyiv refused to negotiate. Both Moscow and Kyiv had previously raised the possibility of peace talks but they came to nothing.

RESISTANCE

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their distinctive history and identity.

Western intelligence sources say Russian forces have encountered far stronger Ukrainian resistance to their invasion than they had expected to their invasion.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces had captured Melitopol, a city of 150,000 in southeastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials were not immediately available to comment and Britain cast doubt on the report. If confirmed, it would be the first significant population centre the Russians have seized.

Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia did not release casualty figures.

Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour and has cited the need to “denazify” Ukraine’s leadership, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine – a charge dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as baseless propaganda.

About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 who have entered since 7 a.m. on Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told a news conference.

At Medyka in southern Poland, refugees described a 30-km (19-mile) line at the border. Ukrainians were also crossing the borders into Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

“The most important thing is that people survive,” said Katharina Asselborn, wiping away tears while waiting at the Polish border for her sister, aunt and her three children to arrive from their home in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa. The last 30 kilometres to the border they went on foot.”

One woman, Nataliya Ableyeva, crossed into Hungary with two young children not her own and only the mobile phone number of their mother. Their father had not been allowed to cross the frontier due to a ban on all men aged 18 to 60 leaving Ukraine so they can fight for their country.

Ukraine has evacuated its embassy staff in Moscow to Latvia, the Baltic country’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

SANCTIONS

Western nations have announced a raft of sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports.

They have stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, but the governor of a central bank in the euro zone told Reuters on Saturday such a decision was “just a matter of time, very short time, days”.

“Is it sufficient? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Sanctions only make sense if there are costs for both sides and this will be costly,” the central banker said.

Medvedev said Moscow would respond symmetrically to the seizure of money of Russian citizens and companies abroad by seizing the funds of foreigners in Russia.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

The EU and Britain earlier froze any assets Putin and Lavrov held in their territory. The invasion is also affecting Russia’s sports, cultural and other links.

This Saturday, Poland’s Football Association, in protest, said the national team would not play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month.

Russia banned airlines from Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic from flying to and over its territory in response to similar moves by those countries. It has already banned all British airlines from its airspace.

Meanwhile, NATO shifted some of its troops on Friday in order to be able to respond swiftly if needed, as Russian attacks on Ukraine continued unrelentingly and Western countries and alliances imposed tougher sanctions on Moscow.

NATO is deploying units of the rapid reaction NATO Response Force, NRF, on land, at sea, and in the air to respond quickly to any contingency, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, as Russian continued its attack on Ukraine.

He did not initially state where the troops would be deployed, in comments that followed a video conference with NATO leaders, but dpa learned that ground troops could be sent to Romania.

Meanwhile NRF units are due to head to Norway, for an exercise, in the first deployment of parts of the NRF in the course of deterrence and defence of the alliance area, Stoltenberg said.

The NATO members said the measures were “preventive, proportionate, and non-escalatory” in a statement.

German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, told the emergency summit that the eastern members of the alliance needed more troops following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. As he spoke, the first British soldiers and trucks carrying additional equipment reached Estonia to reinforce the NATO battalion there.

A convoy with six battle tanks and other military vehicles reached the Tapa military base, the Estonian army said.

London is set to send 850 soldiers and equipment to Estonia, roughly doubling the British contingent there.

Other NATO members also announced new deployments to strengthen the Western military alliance.

Italy said it was making around 3,400 additional soldiers available on the alliance’s eastern flank, while Denmark announced it was ready to contribute 20 more F-16 fighter jets to help secure NATO airspace.

Also on Friday, Russia banned British aircraft from using its airspace, in a tit-for-tat response a day after London barred Russia’s Aeroflot airline from flying to Britain.

Poland and the Czech Republic followed up later by saying they would also close airspace to Russian planes. Friday also saw Western countries impose tougher sanctions amid Moscow’s unrelenting attacks.

Washington was the latest to announce sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on Friday after penalties imposed on the two earlier by Britain and the European Union in response to Moscow’s invasion.

Russia responded by criticising the sanctions on Putin and Lavrov, slamming these as a sign of weak foreign policy.

In further efforts to cease hostilities, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, formally ended Russia’s accession negotiations, it said in a statement.

The organisation said it would continue to reconsider its co-operation with Russia in the days and weeks ahead, while also weighing how to better support the Ukrainian government. The move came after the 47-country Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights watchdog, suspended Russia with immediate effect.

Individual countries also adopted their own measures, with the Spanish government withdrawing the country’s ambassador to Ukraine.

The pro-Russian president of Serbia, Alexander Vucic, has been critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We consider it a grave mistake to violate the territorial integrity of a country like Ukraine,” Vucic said in Belgrade on Friday evening. At the same time, he said that his country would not be imposing sanctions on Moscow.

Ambassador Silvia Cortés will be taken to Poland in a convoy of vehicles together with around 100 other Spanish citizens, Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told Spanish media on Friday.

The invasion has opened the eyes of many EU states, according to Latvia’s prime minister Krisjanis Karins, who said a period of naivety had come to an end, in comments to Latvian news agency Leta.

“Many European countries have lived under the illusion that everything can be negotiated if they find the right words to say to Putin and if they are patient,” Karins said, referring to the Baltic states’ long-standing admonitions to its EU and NATO partners.

But with a “brutal war” unfolding in Ukraine, Karins said, the same countries now understand that these were only empty hopes. “For a long time, the world did not want to accept the obvious. Now everything has changed. Putin has lost all trust and support within the democratic world,” Karins said.

At the close of the day, U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated Washington’s support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I commended the brave actions of the Ukrainian people who were fighting to defend their country,” Biden said in a statement following their call.

“I also conveyed ongoing economic, humanitarian, and security support being provided by the United States as well as our continued efforts to rally other countries to provide similar assistance,” U.S. President Joe Biden assured Zelensky.

Washington also dismissed Russian offers of talks with Ukraine. “Diplomacy by the barrel of a gun, coercive diplomacy, is not something that we are going to take part in,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, adding this would not aid peace efforts in a real, genuine and sustainable way.

Diplomacy cannot succeed in a context where “you rain down bombs, mortar shells” and “your tanks advance towards a capital of 2.9 million people,” he said.

Meanwhile people worldwide took to the streets to show their solidarity with Ukraine. Buildings and monuments were lit up in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag, including starting Friday evening the Eiffel Tower.

In Germany, rallies were announced for the weekend in cities including Berlin.

In Stockholm, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg showed her support during Friday’s climate protest.

Along with others, the 19-year-old stood in front of the Russian embassy. She held a small sign in the blue and yellow national colours with the inscription “Stand with Ukraine” in her hand.

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(sources: Reuters; dpa/NAN). NNL.

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