Russia, Ukraine say open to talks as combat continues outside Kyiv

About 70 people were injured after Russian missiles hit Okhtyrka. Russian forces are becoming increasingly frustrated.

 Service members gather in a square during head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov's address, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia February 25, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV)
Service members gather in a square during head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov's address, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia February 25, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV)

RUSSIA'S PLAN

US officials believe Russia's initial aim is to "decapitate" Zelenskiy's government. Putin says Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.

He says he does not plan a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and remove its leaders, but it is not clear how a pro-Russian leader could be installed unless Russian troops control much of the country.

Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and Kyiv hopes to join NATO and the EU - aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

There are indications Russia is splitting its troops that are advancing from the south, as movement into capital Kyiv is "not as fast as anticipated," several news outlets reported on Friday, citing US defense officials. Ukraine's resistance has proven to be more than Russia reportedly expected, two days into the Russian invasion.

Earlier on Friday, Russian president Vladimir Putin called on Ukraine's Armed Forces to seize power in their country on Friday, hours before Ukraine's defense ministry announced a 30% increase in the Ukrainian defense budget. 

"I once again appeal to the military personnel of the armed forces of Ukraine: do not allow neo-Nazis and (Ukrainian radical nationalists) to use your children, wives and elders as human shields," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a televised meeting with Russia's security council. "Take power into your own hands, it will be easier for us to reach an agreement."

Putin added that Russian servicemen in Ukraine were acting "bravely, professionally and heroically."

GLIMMER OF DIPLOMACY

On the outskirts of Kyiv, Russian and Ukrainian forces clashed as authorities urged citizens to help defend the city from advancing Russian forces in the worst European security crisis in decades. Heavy, frequent artillery fire and intense gunfire, apparently some distance from the city center, could be heard in Kyiv in the early hours, a Reuters witness said. The Ukrainian military said Russian troops attacked an army base on a main Kyiv avenue but the assault was repelled.

But even as the fighting grew more intense, the Russian and Ukrainian governments signaled an openness to negotiations, offering the first glimmer of hope for diplomacy since Putin launched the invasion on Thursday.

"The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday in a video address posted to his Telegram channel. "Tonight, they will launch an assault. All of us must understand what awaits us. We must withstand this night."

Read more on the Ukraine-Russia War:

HEAVY FIGHTING

Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian attack in the Lviv region near Brody in western Ukraine, Lviv's mayor was quoted as saying on Saturday by the Telegram messaging service.

"Russians landed three helicopters near Brody at 0900 a.m.. About 60 people," mayor Andrey Sadovyi said.

"The (Ukrainian) armed forces are repelling the occupier! We are keeping the situation under control," he added.

Earlier, Russia's defense ministry said its troops have captured the city of Melitopol in Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, hitting hundreds of military infrastructure targets and destroying several aircraft and dozens of tanks and armored and artillery vehicles.

However, British armed forces minister James Heappey said on Saturday that Britain did not believe Russian forces had captured the southeastern city. "All of Russia's day one objectives ... and even Melitopol, which the Russians are claiming to have taken but we can't see anything to substantiate that, are all still in Ukrainian hands," Heappey told BBC radio.

If captured, Melitopol would become the first significant population center to be taken over since Moscow launched the invasion.

Fighting is underway near Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa, an adviser to the Ukrainian president said, as shelling was heard in central Kyiv on Saturday morning, following reports of gunfire in the same area and an attack on a military base in the Ukrainian capital. Frequent artillery blasts could be heard in Kyiv in the early hours of Saturday, coming from an unspecified location some distance from the city center, a Reuters eyewitness said on Saturday.

Witnesses said they had heard explosions and gunfire near the airport in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city, close to Russia's border. Ukraine's military said Russian troops had been stopped with heavy losses near the northeastern city of Konotop. There were also reports of fighting near an airbase some 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Kyiv.

The municipal administration of Ukraine's northeastern city of Sumy said the same day that fighting was underway on its streets, urging residents to stay home. Territorial defense forces were engaged in combat with the enemy, the city authorities said.

The air force command reported heavy fighting near the airbase at Vasylkiv, southwest of the capital, which it said was under attack from Russian paratroopers. It also said one of its fighters had shot down a Russian transport plane. Reuters could not independently verify the claims. Kyiv residents were told by the defense ministry to make petrol bombs to repel the invaders, as witnesses reported hearing artillery rounds and intense gunfire from the western part of the city.

Earlier on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart and condemned reported civilian deaths, including those of Ukrainian children, in attacks around Kyiv, the State Department said. President Joe Biden instructed the US State Department to release $350 million in military aid to Ukraine as it struggles to repulse a Russian invasion. In a memorandum to Blinken, Biden directed that the money allocated through the Foreign Assistance Act be designated for Ukraine's defense.

Smoke and flames rise over during the shelling near Kyiv as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)Smoke and flames rise over during the shelling near Kyiv as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, February 26, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)

ALL ROADS LEAD TO KYIV

Ukrainian military vehicles were entering the country's capital Kyiv to defend it against approaching Russian troops, Ukraine's interior ministry said on Friday. According to a reporter for the Kyiv Independent, the Ukrainian military is entering the city for urban warfare against Russian troops, with tens of thousands of people getting firearms and Molotov cocktails.

The Kyiv City Administration issued warnings to citizens, saying it is believed some buildings in the capital were marked with paint to guide Russian bombers, The Kyiv Independent reported on Friday. The administration told Ukrainians to check the roofs of their apartment buildings for such markings and obscure them if necessary.

Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday the Ukrainian capital "has entered into a defensive phase" as Russian troops brought the sounds of war to the city. "The city has gone into a defensive phase. Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods saboteurs have already entered Kyiv. The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us," he told a news briefing.

Britain said on Friday that Russian armored forces had opened a new route of advance towards Kyiv, and that the bulk of troops remained more than 50km from the center of the city. "Russian armored forces have opened a new route of advance towards Kyiv having failed to capture Chernihiv," the defense ministry said in an intelligence update. "The bulk of Russian forces advancing on Kyiv remain more than 50km from the center of the city."

A power station in the north of Kyiv is operating as usual, Ukrainian TV reported on Friday, after the capital's mayor said earlier that blasts had been heard in its vicinity. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said five blasts were heard in a close interval of three to five minutes near the power station.

"The emergency services are underway. We're finding out the details," he said.

He added that bridges in the city had been taken under protection and special control, as Russian troops are nearing, while checkpoints are being installed near strategic city objects. "The situation now - without exaggeration - is threatening for Kyiv. The night, close to the morning, will be very difficult."

The Russian defense ministry has vowed not to strike residential areas, TASS reported. Despite that, the Ukrainian foreign minister claimed on Twitter that Russia is targeting Ukrainian kindergartens and orphanages. Ukraine's health minister accused Russian troops of firing on ambulances in the Zaporizhzhya and Chernihiv regions. Viktor Lyashko told Ukrainian TV Russian forces also opened fire, in a psychiatric hospital in Chernihiv.

Ukraine is collecting information on the attacks, which foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba called "war crimes," to be sent to the International Criminal Court in Hague, Kuleba said.

Dozens of people were wounded in overnight fighting in Kyiv, city mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Saturday morning.

As of 6 a.m. local time, 35 people, including two children, had been wounded, he said. It is unclear whether he was referring only to civilians. Klitschko added there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, although he said saboteur groups were active.