Battle moves into Kyiv as Ukrainians fight to keep control of their capital
Kyiv, Ukraine (CNN)A large apartment block in the west of Kyiv was struck by what a Ukrainian government minister described as a Russian missile early Saturday, as residents across the city were forced to seek shelter after a terrifying night punctuated by explosions and gunfire.
Images and video from the scene showed a large impact some ten floors up in the building, with the cause of the strike unclear and the extent of causalities unknown.
Several apartment units were blown out entirely, their outer walls and windows missing, leaving a gaping hole visible in the building’s side, as residents were evacuated.
Saturday brought confirmation that Russia’s war of aggression has now moved to the streets of the Ukrainian capital, as the country’s military — outnumbered and using lesser weaponry — continues to hold back the invading forces in multiple locations.
“Active fighting is taking place on the streets of our city. Please stay calm and be as careful as possible!” the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page Saturday.
The ministry called on residents to “hide indoors” and take cover to prevent injury from bullet fragments. It advised those in the city to “go immediately” to the nearest shelter if they heard air sirens.
Ukrainians have been preparing to defend their capital in recent days, with officials arming reservists and Ukrainian TV broadcasting instructions for making Molotov cocktails.
As the fighting intensified, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky struck a defiant tone, saying Ukrainians would not put down arms in a video posted to his Twitter account on Saturday morning.
“I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this,” Zelensky said in the video, which he appeared to film himself while standing on the street.
Ukrainian troops fight against a significantly more advanced military power.
Russian defense spending is roughly ten times that of the Kyiv’s and its armed forces stand at some 900,000 active personnel and 2 million in reserve, versus Ukraine’s 196,000 and 900,000 reservists.
There have been suggestions of efforts toward diplomacy to stop the bloodshed, with Zelensky’s senior adviser, Myhailo Podoliak, on Saturday morning saying Ukraine would set conditions in any process, noting he didn’t think the country had “weak positions.”
“Even if the negotiation process starts — and it is going to start — Ukraine will set conditions,” said Podoliak, speaking on national television.
Residents being evacuated from damaged apartment building in Kyiv on February 26.
Residents being evacuated from damaged apartment building in Kyiv on February 26. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine)
A separate spokesperson for Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, late Friday said that Ukraine “has been and remains ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace.”
His comments follow a Russian proposal to send representatives to the Belarusian capital of Minsk to talk with Kyiv. A Kremlin spokesperson said the Ukrainian side had countered with a proposal to meet in Warsaw, and then dropped contact — but Nykyforov denied any “claims that we have refused to negotiate.”
“The sooner negotiations begin, the better the chances of resuming normal life,” he said.
But around Kyiv overnight Friday and into Saturday, there were no signs of a ceasefire, as fierce battles waged on the outskirts of Kyiv loomed closer, before finally breaking out within the city.
The Russian Ministry of Defense in a statement Saturday said it had launched cruise missile strikes overnight against targets in Ukraine, and claimed it is exclusively targeting military infrastructure, as video emerged of a residential high-rise near Kyiv that was struck by a missile or rocket fire.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attributed that attack to Russian ground forces, in a comment on Twitter.
Reports about apartment buildings and kindergartens being shelled, civilians being killed, and rockets being found in residential streets have been trickling in since the beginning of the offensive into Ukraine on Thursday.
Images analyzed by CNN confirmed that on several occasions densely populated areas have been hit by Russian forces around the country.
While the previous two nights in Kyiv were marked by the sounds of sporadic explosions coming from further away, Friday night in the capital was different for the residents who remained, with bursts of small arms fire and visible orange lines of fire going up into the sky.
Streets around the city center were also empty, with many who remained spending the night in subway stations and underground garages, seeking safe haven.
One Kyiv resident who gave her name as Olga said she had her young son Vadim, a kindergartener, sleeping in the bathroom.
“We are not going to the shelter, it does not guarantee 100% safety, and it can affect the psychology of a child. At home, he sleeps well, eats and thinks it’s all fun,” she said.
An unknown number of Kyiv’s residents had already left the capital by Friday, leaving quiet the roads heading west of the capital that had been busy on Thursday. Refugees have been pouring into neighboring European countries in recent days, with international leaders warning of a humanitarian crisis.
As the situation worsened, the international community has sought to find ways to stand with Ukraine without actively deploying troops to the country — a move that both the United States and NATO have said they will not take.
In the late hours of Friday evening in Washington, the White House announced that US President Joe Biden had green-lighted the release of up to $350 million in immediate support to Ukraine’s security and defense.
This release, announced in a memo from the White House, comes after a 40-minute call between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier Friday, during which they discussed “concrete defense assistance.”