By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DACHA LITVINOVA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops attacked the Ukrainian capital on Friday, with gunfire and explosions echoing closer and closer to the government district, in an invasion of a democratic country that has fueled fears of a wider war in Europe and sparked global efforts to make Russia Stop.
Amid mounting casualties from the deadly war – including shelling that ripped through the facade of a building, bridges and schools in Kiev – the Kremlin said Russia was ready to talk with Ukrainian officials.
It came even as there were growing signs that Vladimir Putin’s Russia might seek to overthrow the Ukrainian government, in its boldest effort to redraw the map of the world and revive the influence of Moscow at the time of the Cold War.
The United States and other world powers imposed increasingly harsh sanctions on Russia as the invasion rippled through the global economy and energy supply, threatening to further squeeze ordinary households. UN officials said they were preparing for millions to flee Ukraine. Sporting authorities have sought to punish Russia on world playgrounds. And NATO leaders have called an urgent meeting to discuss how far they can go to challenge Putin without engaging Russian forces in a direct war.
The second day of the Russian invasion focused on the Ukrainian capital, where Associated Press reporters heard explosions starting before dawn and gunfire was reported in several areas. Ukrainian authorities used armored vehicles and snowplows to defend Kiev and limit movement, and said Russian spies were seeking to infiltrate the city.
The Russian military says it has seized a strategic airport outside Kiev that allows it to quickly build up forces to take the capital.
He claimed to have already cut off the city from the west – the direction in which many of those who escaped the invasion are heading, with lines of cars winding their way towards the Polish border.
An intense fire broke out on a bridge crossing the Dneiper River dividing the eastern and western sides of Kyiv, with around 200 Ukrainian forces establishing defensive positions and taking refuge behind their armored vehicles and later under the bridge.
Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on the Ukrainian side and claimed hundreds on the Russian side. The Russian authorities have not released any casualty figures and it has not been possible to verify the tolls.
UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said 100,000 people are believed to have left their homes and around 4 million may flee if the fighting subsides. ‘intensify.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with the Russian government to hold talks and Western powers to move faster to cut off the Russian economy and provide military aid to Ukraine.
“When bombs fall on Kiev, it happens in Europe, not just in Ukraine,” he said. “When missiles kill our people, they kill all Europeans.”
Zelenskyy’s whereabouts have been kept secret, after he told European leaders he was No. 1 on Russia’s target list.
He also offered to negotiate on one of Putin’s key demands: that Ukraine declare itself neutral and give up its ambition to join NATO. And the Kremlin replied that Russia was ready to send a delegation to Belarus to discuss it.
After denying for weeks that he was planning to invade, Putin argued that the West was giving him no other choice by refusing to negotiate on Russia’s security demands.
The autocratic leader has not said what his ultimate plans are for Ukraine. Lavrov gave a hint, saying on Friday: “We want to allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny.” His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognizes Zelensky as Ukraine’s president, but did not say how long the Russian military operation might last.
The Ukrainians, meanwhile, had to adapt abruptly to life under fire, after Russian forces began moving into their country from three sides in an invasion telegraphed for weeks as they massed about 150,000 troops nearby.
In an apartment building in Kiev, residents woke up to screams, smoke and flying dust. What the mayor identified as Russian shelling ripped off part of the building and started a fire.
“What are you doing? What is it?” asked resident Yurii Zhyhanov – a question directed at Russian forces. Like countless other Ukrainians, he grabbed what he could, grabbed his mother and set off on the run, car alarms wailing behind him.
Elsewhere in Kiev, the body of a dead soldier lay on the ground near an underpass. Fragments of a downed plane smoked amid brick houses in a residential area. Black plastic was draped over body parts found next to them. And people came out of bomb shelters, basements and subways to face another day of upheaval.
As air raid sirens sounded across the capital on Friday morning, guests at a city center hotel were directed to a makeshift basement shelter lined with piles of mattresses and water bottles.
“We are all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what will happen in a few days,” said one of the workers, Lucy Vashaka, 20.
Meanwhile, the mayor of the rebel-held eastern town said Ukrainian shelling hit a school building.
The Ukrainian army on Friday reported heavy fighting near Ivankiv, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Kiev, as Russian forces apparently attempted to advance towards the capital from the north. Russian troops also entered the town of Sumy, near the border with Russia which is on a highway leading to Kiev from the east.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Kiev “may well come under siege” in what US officials see as a brazen attempt by Putin to install his own regime.
With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.
The assault, planned for weeks by the United States and its Western allies, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II. After repeatedly denying invasion plans, the autocratic Putin launched his attack on the country, which has increasingly leaned towards the democratic West and away from Moscow’s grip.
Zelenskyy, whose grip on power was increasingly tenuous, called on world leaders for sanctions even tougher than those imposed by Western allies and for defense aid.
‘If you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer powerful help to Ukraine, tomorrow war will knock on your door,’ said the leader, who broke diplomatic ties with Moscow, said the law martial and ordered a complete army. mobilization that will last 90 days.
The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes on towns and military bases, then quickly followed with a multi-pronged ground assault that brought in troops from several eastern regions; the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and Belarus to the north.
After Ukrainian officials said they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Russia said on Friday it was working with the Ukrainians to secure the plant. There was no corroboration of such cooperation from Ukraine.
As Western leaders rushed to condemn and punish Russia, US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions that will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, saying Putin “chose this war” and displayed a “sinister” view of the world where nations take what they want by force. He added that the measures were designed not to disrupt global energy markets. Russian oil and natural gas exports are vital sources of energy for Europe.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sanctions, freezing the assets of all major Russian banks and planning to ban Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising funds in British markets.
“Now we see him for what he is – a bloodthirsty aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,” Johnson said of Putin.
Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine, Inna Varennytsia in eastern Ukraine; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine