Ukrainian officials — including a defiant President Zelensky — declared on Saturday morning that they had fought off a Russian effort to seize Kyiv.
Explosions rang out throughout the city overnight as authorities said Russian forces repeatedly tried to blow up a power plant and fierce fighting erupted across the Ukrainian capital.
“There is combat in the streets of our city right now,” city authorities bluntly warned in a message on Telegram.
As the sun came up, Zelensky recorded another of the social media phone videos that are becoming an iconic symbol of Ukrainian resistance. He announced that the city was still under his control and that Russia’s latest salvos had not shaken Kyiv’s desire to fight.
“Recently, fake info was spread about me ordering our army to lay down arms and evacuate,” he said. “It’s untrue. I’m here, we are not laying down, we will protect our state. This is our land, our country, our kids, and we will defend them. ”
On Friday night, President Putin called on Ukrainian troops to give up the fight or even to help him take out Zelensky in order to bring the invasion to a swifter conclusion. There was no sign of that happening as the Ukrainian military appeared to hold off Russian advances in the North.
Russian forces continue to push towards the capital, however. There were reports of further skirmishes on the outskirts of the city on Saturday. It was unclear how much of its territory is still under Ukrainian control amid competing claims about the advance.
Ukraine said on Saturday that 198 people — which included three kids — have already died since the start of the Russian invasion. Moscow has not released any casualty figures of its own but Ukraine claims to have killed 3,500 invading troops, hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles and 14 aircraft including two Ilyushin-76 transport planes carrying paratroopers.
Ukrainian troops spent the night “pushing out [Russian] sabotage and reconnaissance groups in Kyiv, ”Maryana Bezugla, deputy head of the Committee on National Security for Ukraine’s parliament, wrote on Facebook early Saturday. “The fighting continues,” she said.
A Ukrainian man named Oleksander (not his real name), told The Daily Beast he was hearing gunfire.
“Well, we’re trying to be safe, but periodically we hear the sounds of explosions and shots from machine guns,” he said. “We will never give up! Many of our warriors say that God is fighting for us! ”
Terrifying scenes played out overnight, with near-constant artillery fire heard and a firefight on a main street sending plumes of thick black smoke into the sky. The Ukrainian military said that battle ultimately ended in their favor, and they fended off a Russian attack on Victory Avenue.
Despite warnings from Zelensky that Russia would do all it could to crush the city, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had managed to repel several attacks.
Another attack is expected on Saturday night and the authorities introduced a 5pm curfew for Kyiv residents.
Troops used an anti-aircraft missile system to shoot down a Russian helicopter and an SU-25, the Defense Ministry said. Ukraine’s military also claimed to have downed a Russian Il-76 heavy transport plane with a contingent of paratroopers aboard, the Associated Press reported. The news has not been independently verified, the AP cautioned.
Local residents in Kyiv took to social media to warn that Russian saboteurs appeared to have infiltrated parts of the city, with some spotted in the streets appearing to direct artillery fire at certain buildings.
Ukraine’s National Police issued an ominous warning to residents of the capital, suggesting Russian reconnaissance units were marking residential buildings to help direct aviation forces to their targets.
“The city authorities of Kyiv are appealing to residents of multi-story buildings with access to the roof to urgently check the roof for marks. If any marks are found, please put dirt over them or cover them with something. Such marks probably direct aviation [forces] to objects where strikes can be carried out. ”
At a Saturday press conference, Zelensky continued to call for more intervention from the West. He claimed to be making progress on sanctions talks, edging closer to winning European backing for kicking Russia off the SWIFT bank transfer system. He also said that now would be a good time to adopt Ukraine as a member of the EU.
“Ukrainian people deserve to become members of the EU. And this would be a signal of your support to Ukraine. This discussion should be closed, ”he said.
In New York City, Russia vetoed a resolution by the UN Security Council to condemn Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Following the unsuccessful vote, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations asked for a moment of silence from everyone, including his Russian counterpart.
“I will ask all of you to dedicate a moment of complete silence to pray, or to meditate if you do not believe in God, for peace,” said Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya. “To pray for the souls of those who have already been killed, for the souls of those who may be killed.