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Russia-Ukraine Tensions Latest: Putin hits Kyiv harder as Zelenskiy refuses US offer…

Russia-Ukraine Tensions Latest: Putin hits Kyiv harder as Zelenskiy refuses US offer…

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Russian troops continued to press their offensive against Kyiv as well as other cities across Ukraine on Saturday, as residents sought shelter in the capital’s metro system and in basements during a third day of fierce bombardment.

As Russian strikes continued to pound Kyiv, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, refused a US offer to evacuate, insisting he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said as street fighting continued, largely around the edges of the city.

Zelenskiy also offered renewed assurance that the country’s military would stand up to the Russian invasion. In a video recorded in the street close to the government quarter, he said he remained in the city and that claims the Ukrainian military would put down arms were false.

Zelenskiy calls on 'all friends of Ukraine' to help fight Russian invasion – video
Zelenskiy calls on ‘all friends of Ukraine’ to help fight Russian invasion 

At a later press conference, he said: “We are successfully holding back the enemy’s attacks. We know we are defending our land and the future of our children. Kyiv and the key areas are controlled by our army.

“The occupiers wanted to set up their puppet in our capital. They didn’t succeed. On our streets, there was a proper fight going on.”

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Ukraine’s health minister reported on Saturday that 198 people had been killed, including three children, and that more than 1,000 others had been wounded since the Russian offensive started before dawn on Thursday with massive air and missile strikes and troops forging into Ukraine from the north, east and south.

Among the Kyiv buildings hit in the latest wave of Russian strikes was a high-rise residential building. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, posted an image showing a gaping hole in one side of the building and ravaged apartments on several floors.

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“We are all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what’s going to happen in a few days,” said Lucy Vashaka, 20, a worker at a small Kyiv hotel.

Kyiv apartment building hit as Ukrainians fight off Russian attacks – video report
Kyiv apartment building hit as Ukrainians fight off Russian attacks – video report

An intelligence update by the UK’s defence ministry on Saturday said Russia had yet to gain control of airspace over Ukraine and that the majority of Russian forces were still about 18 miles from Kyiv.

With Kyiv’s defenders fending off Russian attacks in the early hours of Saturday, there were reports of Ukrainian counterattacks in some places previously claimed by Russian forces, including Sumy in the country’s east.

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A resident in Kherson – which Russia claimed to have taken – who was reached by the Guardian by phone said that while Russian troops were in the city there was continuing fighting and the Ukrainian military had blown up a key bridge into the city.

The Ukrainian military claimed to have shot down two Russian transport planes loaded with paratroopers, although this could not be confirmed and the Russian military did not comment on either plane.

There was evidence that in some areas Russian forces were facing mounting logistical difficulties, with Ukrainian-language social media accounts posting footage of captured Russian soldiers and reports of shortages of vehicle fuel and food for troops.

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In a deeply ominous development, however, footage captured by CNN just across the Russian border in the Belgorod region showed a TOS-1 heavy flamethrower system, which fires thermobaric rockets, being moved on a flatbed truck towards the Ukrainian border.

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The deployment came as the international criminal court’s prosecutor has put combatants and their commanders on notice that he is monitoring Russia’s invasion and has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ukraine appeared to be winning mounting diplomatic support for expelling Russia from the international Swift banking system, with the office of the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, saying it would support any EU move on sanctions and Cyprus, which has extensive banking links with Russia, indicating that it would no longer object to the move. A decision is expected within days.

“We already have almost full support from EU countries for disconnecting Russia from Swift. I hope that Germany and Hungary will have the courage to support this decision. We have the courage to defend our homeland, to defend Europe,” Zelenskiy said on Saturday.

Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said the country was banning Russian flights from its airspace, and France said it had decided to send defensive military equipment to Ukraine.

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As large numbers of Ukrainians in the country’s south and east have sought to flee, including into neighbouring Hungary and Poland, queues at some border crossings snaked back for 12 miles or more.

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Evacuation trains were organised from cities, including Lviv, to help people leave. An estimated 120,000 people have fled, including 100,000 into Poland since Thursday.

The movement of Russian troops after less than three days of fighting further imperilled a country clinging to independence in the face of a broad assault, which threatened to topple Ukraine’s democratic government and scramble the post-cold war world order.

Western officials believe Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own. The invasion represents Putin’s boldest effort yet to redraw the map of Europe and revive Moscow’s cold war-era influence. It has triggered an international response including direct sanctions on Putin.

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The US government urged Zelenskiy on Saturday to evacuate from Kyiv but he turned down the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation, saying he needed anti-tank ammunition but “not a ride”.

The Russian invasion was anticipated for weeks by the US and western allies and was denied to be in the works for just as long by Putin.

Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans for Ukraine. His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, gave a hint, saying: “We want to allow the Ukrainian people to determine its own fate.”

Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognised Zelenskiy as Ukraine’s president, but he would not say how long the Russian military operation could last.

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