Explosions and gunfire continued in Kyiv Saturday as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled for control of the capital, and Russian troops closed in on two other cities on the third day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands, as Ukrainian officials urged the country’s citizens to help defend Kyiv against the Russian forces.
“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskyy said in a video recorded from the streets of Kyiv.
A U.S. Defense Department official told reporters Saturday the U.S. sees “indications of viable Ukrainian resistance.”
“We continue to believe, based on what we have observed, that this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected, and we have indications that the Russians are increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum over the last 24 hours, particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence.
As Russian troops engaged in skirmishes with Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Kyiv, Russian defense ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said at a media briefing in Moscow that “all units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation’s plans.”
An army base in the capital was attacked but Ukraine’s military said that attack was repelled.
A high-rise apartment building in the capital was hit early Saturday by a Russian missile, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister. A rescue worker told the Associated Press that six people were injured in the missile strike. Video images of the building showed extensive damage on upper floors.
Zelenskyy predicted Friday the attacks on Kyiv would become more intense Saturday, saying “Kyiv requires special attention” and declaring “We cannot lose the capital.”
Zelenskyy tweeted Saturday that he had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron about getting more assistance from Western allies. “Weapons and equipment from our partners are on the way to Ukraine.” The anti-war coalition is working,” he tweeted.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the State Department to release $350 million in military aid to Ukraine. The funding brings the total security assistance the United States has committed to Ukraine over the past year to more than $1 billion.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Saturday the additional assistance includes “anti-armor, small arms and various munitions, body armor, and related equipment in support of Ukraine’s front-line defenders facing down Russia’s unprovoked attack.” He said the United States was continuing to find ways to help Ukraine defend itself “both from a lethal and nonlethal perspective.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that Russian troops have captured the southeastern Ukraine city of Melitopol, but that was disputed by British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey. In a BBC interview Saturday, Heappey said “we can’t see anything to substantiate that.” He also said armored columns approaching Kyiv have been held up by Ukrainian resistance.
And Britain’s intelligence agency tweeted that Russia’s advance into Ukraine has slowed “likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties & strong Ukrainian resistance.”
Kyiv’s mayor, former world heavyweight boxing champion, Vitali Klitschko, said Saturday there was no significant Russian military presence in the capital but that saboteur groups were on the loose. Klitschko imposed a 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, as he said the city had gone into a defensive phase.
U.S. and Western officials said Friday Russian forces advancing on Kyiv and other key cities as part of a plan to “decapitate” Ukraine’s government appear to have lost some momentum. Russia’s state-run media outlet RT reported Saturday that Russia’s military were “given orders to advance in all directions,” after Kyiv refused to negotiate.
A senior U.S. defense official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence, said the Russian forces had unleashed a barrage of more than 200 ballistic and cruise missiles since the invasion began, most of them targeting the Ukrainian military.
“They’re meeting more resistance than they expected,” the U.S. official said, adding that Russian forces had yet to establish air superiority despite a numerical advantage and efforts to eliminate Ukrainian air defenses.
Ukraine’s command and control “is intact,” the official added.
In Kyiv, Zelenskyy sought to rally the nation, rejecting rumors that he had fled the city and insisting he and other government officials “are all here, defending our independence, our state.”
Amnesty International says Russia may have committed war crimes with its invasion of Ukraine.
“The Russian military has shown a blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement. “Some of these attacks may be war crimes. The Russian government, which falsely claims to use only precision-guided weapons, should take responsibility for these acts.”
Russian officials countered Friday that their forces had made solid progress in what they described as an effort to eliminate a terrorist threat.
In one social media post, Russian defense ministry spokesman Major General Konashenkov said his country’s forces had disabled more than 200 Ukrainian military facilities and dozens of air defense batteries and radar stations, while destroying a handful of Ukrainian combat planes, helicopters and military vehicles.
Russia’s military also said Friday it took control of the strategic Hostomel airport northwest of Kyiv.
Russia’s claim was not immediately confirmed, but Ukrainian authorities reported heavy fighting there.
On the ground in Ukraine
Western officials, despite praising Ukrainian forces, cautioned the situation was fluid, and noted that things could change rapidly, especially given that about two-thirds of the 190,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border had yet to take part in the fighting.
They also warned of Russian attempts to use disinformation to cloud the situation on the ground and scare Ukraine’s forces into submission.
“Our information indicates Russia is creating a disinformation campaign by publicizing false reports about the widespread surrender of Ukrainian troops,” a U.S. official said Friday.
“Our information also indicates that Russia plans to threaten killing the family members of Ukrainian soldiers if they do not surrender,” the official added.
The Pentagon voiced support for NATO’s decision to activate the NATO Response Force Friday, citing Russia’s aggression.
NATO on Friday vowed to continue to support Ukraine’s government and military and warned it had taken unprecedented action to ensure the security of alliance members.
“We are deploying elements of the NATO Response Force on land, at sea, and in the air to further strengthen our posture and to respond quickly to any contingency,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels following a virtual meeting of alliance heads of state.
“There must be no space for miscalculation or misunderstanding,” he said of NATO activating the 40,000-strong force for the first time. “We will do what it takes to protect and defend every ally and every inch of NATO territory.”
At least 198 Ukrainians have been killed, including three children, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency, which cited Ukraine’s health ministry. It was unclear if the figure included only civilian deaths.
Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed, while Russia did not disclose casualty figures.
Ukraine evacuated its embassy staff in Moscow to Latvia, the country’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, VOA refugee correspondent Heather Murdock in Kyiv, Jamie Dettmer in Lviv, Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine and VOA’s Wayne Lee contributed to this report.