Ukraine vows to keep fighting as Russian forces close on Kyiv

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children killed * Russian missiles hit oil tanks near Kyiv * All live updates here:

Servicemen of the Ukrainian National Guard take positions in central Kyiv, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, February 25, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)
Servicemen of the Ukrainian National Guard take positions in central Kyiv, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, February 25, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)

A defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were repelling Russian troops advancing on Kyiv on Saturday, as Western nations announced they were shipping more weapons to help the country's outgunned military.

Reuters witnesses in Kyiv reported occasional blasts and gunfire in the city on Saturday evening, but it was not clear exactly where it was coming from. The capital and other cities have been pounded by Russian artillery and cruise missiles.

Later on Saturday night, an attack which seems to have targeted an air base near Vasylkiv, located southwest of Kyiv, reportedly led to a large fire in oil tanks in the area. The glow from the fire could be seen from Kyiv. Ukrainian media reported that local officials were advising residents to tightly close their windows as the wind could carry smoke and harmful substances.

Russian missiles hit a radioactive waste disposal site belonging to the Ukrainian state "RADON" company near Kiev, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine announced early Sunday morning.

While state officials are currently unable to assess the extent of the damage and the radiation monitoring system has failed, a preliminary assessment found that there is no threat to the population outside the sanitary protection zone. According to the Kyiv Independent, the storage tanks themselves were not damaged in the attack.

 A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine February 26, 2022. (credit: Nikolay Ryabchenko/Reuters) A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine February 26, 2022. (credit: Nikolay Ryabchenko/Reuters)

Russian troops have blown up a natural gas pipeline in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's state service of special communications and information protection said on Sunday.

A mushroom-shaped explosion was shown in a video it posted on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not immediately clear how important the pipeline was and whether the blast could disrupt gas shipments outside the city or the country. Despite the war, Ukraine continues to ship Russian natural gas to Europe.

A US defense official said Ukraine's forces were putting up "very determined resistance" to the three-pronged Russian advance that has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing westwards, clogging major highways and railway lines.

"We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on," Zelenskiy said in a video message from the streets of Kyiv posted on his social media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a special military operation before dawn on Thursday, ignoring Western warnings and saying the "neo-Nazis" ruling Ukraine threatened Russia's security.

The Kremlin said its troops were advancing again "in all directions" after Putin ordered a pause on Friday.

Russia's assault is the biggest on a European state since World War Two and threatens to upend the continent's post-Cold War order.

The crisis has galvanized the NATO Western military alliance, which has announced a series of moves to reinforce its eastern flank. While NATO has said it will not deploy troops to Ukraine, a string of countries are sending military aid.

US President Joe Biden approved the release of up to $350 million worth of weapons from US stocks, while Germany, in a shift from its long-standing policy of not exporting weapons to war zones, said it would send anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc's foreign ministers would meet on Sunday evening to discuss emergency assistance for Ukraine's armed forces.

The UK's Ministry of Defense stated in an intelligence update on Saturday that Russian forces were not making the progress they had planned and were sustaining casualties and being taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces. The update added that the Russian government is reportedly restricting access to a number of social media efforts in what seems to be an attempt to conceal details about the war in Ukraine from the Russian people.

CAPITAL UNDER CURFEW

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes.

Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbor, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine - a charge dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as baseless propaganda.

The United States has observed more than 250 launches of Russian missiles, mostly short-range, at Ukrainian targets, the US defense official said.

Surveillance footage shows a missile hitting a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022, in this still image taken from a video obtained by REUTERS. (credit: VIA REUTERS)Surveillance footage shows a missile hitting a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 26, 2022, in this still image taken from a video obtained by REUTERS. (credit: VIA REUTERS)

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said about 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded and that Russian troops had not made serious gains on the third day of fighting. Western officials have also said intelligence showed Russia suffering higher casualties than expected and its advance slowing.

Russia has not released casualty figures and it was impossible to verify tolls or the precise picture on the ground.

"We know that (Russian forces) have not made the progress that they wanted to make, particularly in the north. They have been frustrated by what they have seen is a very determined resistance," the US official said, without providing evidence.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close Putin ally, said on Saturday his fighters were also deployed in Ukraine. He said Russian forces could easily take Kyiv and other large cities but their task was to avoid loss of life.

Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko said there was no major Russian military presence in the capital, but that saboteur groups were active and he was imposing a curfew from Saturday evening until Monday morning.

Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion, later told Germany's Bild tabloid the city was "nearly encircled."

Authorities have handed thousands of assault rifles to residents and told citizens to make petrol bombs to help repel the invaders.

Ukrainians faced lengthy queues for money at cash machines and for fuel at petrol stations, where individual sales are mostly limited to 20 liters. Many shops in the city center were closed and the streets were largely empty on Saturday afternoon.

"I was smart enough to stock up food for at least a month," said Serhiy, out for a walk before the curfew. "I did not trust the politicians that this would end peacefully."

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 people wounded so far in Russia's invasion, Interfax quoted Ukraine's Health Ministry as saying. It was unclear whether the numbers comprised only civilian casualties.

Interfax later cited the regional administration in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, saying 17 civilians had been killed and 73 wounded by Russian shelling.

Moscow says it is taking care not to hit civilian sites.

REFUGEES, SANCTIONS AND PROTESTS

Russia's Defence Ministry said its forces had captured Melitopol, a city of 150,000 in southeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials did not comment and Britain cast doubt on the report.

If confirmed, it would be the first significant population center the Russians have seized.

The city of Mariupol, a key port on the Sea of Azov in southeast Ukraine, remained under relentless shelling on Saturday, its mayor Vadim Boychenko said in a televised address.

"They are shelling schools, apartment blocks," he said.

About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 who have entered since 7 a.m. on Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker said. Read full story

"The most important thing is that people survive," said Katharina Asselborn, wiping away tears while waiting at the Polish border for her sister, aunt and her three children to arrive from their home in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa.

"The last 30 kilometers to the border they went on foot."

Ukrainians were also crossing the borders into Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Western nations have also announced new sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports.

They have so far stopped short of forcing Russia out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments, though Germany's foreign and economy ministers and French presidential official indicated on Saturday that such a move may come soon. Read full storyRead full story

Several European countries, including Russia's Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Latvia, said they were closing their airspace to Russian airliners. Read full story

Protests against the war took place in Berlin, Bern, London, Tokyo, Sydney and other cities worldwide. Read full story

Abramov Kiril, a 33-year-old Ukrainian living in Romania who still has grandparents in southern Ukraine, was among around 1,000 people demonstrating against Putin's move outside the Russian embassy in Bucharest.

"If they will not stop him in Ukraine he will go forward," he said. "Somehow, together with everybody, with all the countries in Europe and ... all the world, we need to stop him."

ARTILLERY FIRE

Artillery shelling of Russian forces in Kyiv has killed one child at the Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital, Ukrainian media reported. Two children and two other adults were also injured.

Eyewitnesses report shelling of the city from multiple rocket launchers. In particular, traces of shells were seen near the Okhmatdyt hospital.

Earlier today, Russian soldiers fired at an ambulance on Saturday near the city of Kherson, killing two people and injuring one more. 

Russian forces shelled the medical vehicle, blowing it up. A driver and a patient were burned alive, Segodnya news site reported. The patient was injured due to Russian shelling earlier that day.

Russian troops are approaching Ukraine's nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia and have aimed their rockets at the site, Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on Saturday.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, some 100 km north of Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

Russian forces fired at a bus on Saturday, killing five Ukrainians and injuring several more in Kharkiv Oblast, the third most populous province in the country.

All of the victims were residents of Toretsk, a city near the front line in Donetsk Oblast, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk Regional Administration.

In the afternoon of February 26, Ukrainian troops blew up the railway junctions connecting the Ukrainian railway with the Russian railways.

This was done in order to block Russian trains from delivering equipment and personnel to the Russian military forces operating in Ukraine.

The Russians tried to restore contact with the central headquarters of Ukrzaliznytsia, allegedly for humanitarian purposes.

To which they received an answer from Ukrainian dispatchers: "Russian trains, go f#^k yourself!"

Greece said on Saturday that six Greek nationals had been killed and six others wounded by Russian bombing near Mariupol in Ukraine, and that it had summoned Russia's ambassador to the foreign ministry on Monday after a verbal demarche.

The bombing took place in the outskirts of Sartana and Bugas villages and one of those injured was a child, the foreign ministry said.

"The death of our nationals creates grief and anger for this unacceptable Russian attack against civilians," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement.

The foreign ministry condemned the continuing attacks against civilians, expressing its "deepest grief" in a statement after reporting four expat deaths in Bugas on top of two killed in Sartana earlier.

At a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias stressed the need to protect the Greek expatriate community in Ukraine.

Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles on Saturday for a third day running but the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands.

Russian troops have destroyed a concrete dam built in Ukraine's Kherson Region in 2014 to cut off water to Crimea, the RIA news agency quoted the governor of Russian-annexed Crimea Sergei Aksyonov as saying on Saturday.

Ukraine cut off the fresh water supply to Crimea by damming a canal that had supplied 85% of the peninsula's needs before Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Soviet-era canal was built to channel water from the River Dnieper to arid areas of Ukraine's Kherson region and Crimea.

19 civilians were killed and 73 were injured in the Donetsk region as a result of Russian shelling, as reported by IFAX.

A Russian tank commander from the 35th Motorized Rifle Brigade, Major Leonid Petrovich Shchetkin, was reportedly captured as stated by Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Magomed Tushayev, the leader of the 141st Kadyrov Guards Motorized Regiment, was reported as killed by Ukrainian Armed Forces.

All Russian units in Ukraine were on Saturday given the order to resume their offensive from all directions after a pause on Friday, the RIA news agency quoted Russia's defense ministry as saying.

Echoing similar comments by the Kremlin, the ministry said Friday's pause had been made in anticipation of talks between Moscow and Kyiv but the offensive resumed after Ukraine refused to negotiate.

The Russian advance into Ukraine has temporarily slowed, probably because of logistical problems and strong resistance, Britain's defense ministry said on Saturday.

"The speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance," the ministry said in a regular intelligence update posted on Twitter.

"Russian forces are bypassing major Ukrainian population centers while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them. Overnight clashes in Kyiv are likely to have involved limited numbers of pre-positioned Russian groups. The capture of Kyiv remains Russia's primary military objective."

Russian forces are becoming increasingly frustrated by what the United States believes is "viable" Ukrainian resistance, a US defense official said on Saturday.

"We know that they have not made the progress that they have wanted to make, particularly in the north. They have been frustrated by what they have seen is a very determined resistance," the official said.

"It has slowed them down," the official added.

Russian troops started advancing into Ukraine again on Saturday after President Vladimir Putin paused the offensive a day earlier in anticipation of talks with Kyiv that never happened, the Kremlin said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov also told a briefing Russia had expected the sanctions imposed by the West in response to the invasion and was taking measures to minimize their impact on the economy.

The Ukrainian border guards service said on Saturday Russia had closed off the northwestern part of the Black Sea to navigation.

"The presence of ships and ships in this zone will be regarded as a terrorist threat," it said in a statement.

On Friday, Ukraine said Russia had hit two commercial ships near the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa, one day after Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier on Saturday, the Russian defense ministry said Russia has used air and ship-based cruise missiles to carry out overnight strikes on military targets in Ukraine. Ukraine's military command said areas near the cities of Sumy, Poltava and Mariupol were hit by airstrikes on Friday, with Russian Kalibr cruise missiles launched at the country from the Black Sea.

Two missiles hit areas southwest of the Kyiv city center on Saturday, a Reuters correspondent reported. One of the missiles landed in the area close to the Zhulyany airport, he said. Another witness said the missiles hit the area near the Sevastopol square, while the Kyiv city government said one of the missiles struck a residential building.

THE TOLL SO FAR

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian health ministry was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on Saturday.

He said 1,115 people were wounded, including 33 children. It was unclear whether he was referring only to civilian casualties. Kyiv region local governor Oleksiy Kuleba added that 71 people were currently wounded in hospitals in the region, including soldiers and civilians, as Russian troops are building up on the Ukrainian border.

In contrast, over 3,500 Russian soldiers were killed in the first two days of fighting in eastern Europe and a further 200 were taken as prisoners of war, Ukraine's Armed Forces said on Saturday. The Ukrainian military also estimated Russian forces lost 14 aircrafts, eight helicopters and 102 tanks in the fighting, so far.

About 70 people were injured after Russian missiles hit Okhtyrka, Sumy Oblast.

The heating system is damaged and the nearby thermal power plant may have been shut down. Ukrainian authorities are working on restoring the system. as reported by The Kyiv Independant.

Rescuers are currently evacuating an unspecified number of Ukrainians injured in the strike on residential buildings, called by Ukraine's Armed Forces a "war crime." There were no reported casualties from the strike, according to an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday he would stay in Kyiv as he appeared in a video filmed outside his office in the capital city.

"We will not put down weapons, we will defend our state," Zelenskiy said.

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 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.

INTERNET DOWN

 Internet connectivity in Ukraine has been affected by the Russian invasion, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the country where fighting has been heaviest, internet monitors said on Saturday.

Russian forces captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Saturday, Russia's Interfax news agency reported, as Moscow launched coordinated cruise missile and artillery strikes on several cities, including the capital Kyiv. 

Connectivity to GigaTrans, Ukraine's main internet provider, dropped to below 20% of normal levels before returning to higher levels in the early hours of Friday morning, according to internet blockage observatory NetBlocks.

"We currently observe national connectivity at 87% of ordinary levels, a figure that reflects service disruptions as well as population flight and the shuttering of homes and businesses since the morning of the 24th," Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told Reuters.

"While there is no nation-scale blackout, little is being heard from the worst affected regions, and for others there's an ever-present fear that connectivity could worsen at any moment, cutting off friends and family," Toker said.

The Monash IP Observatory in Australia said that so far only the Obolonskyi district of Kyiv and central parts of Kharkiv, in Ukraine's east, showed clear signs of internet failure.

Other anomalies might simply be due to some people moving away from their computers, for example by leaving cities, said Simon Angus, an associate professor of economics who serves as the observatory's director.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials released more information about an alleged Belarusian cyberespionage operation they said was targeting personal email accounts belonging to Kyiv's forces.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine's Computer Emergency Response Team said the hackers were targeting not just Ukrainians but also Poles, Russians, and Belarusians as well - including several Belarusian media organizations.

Emails sent to the Belarusian embassy in London were not returned.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.