A civil protection man stands guard at a checkpoint in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday. Russian troops stormed towards Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and avenue preventing broke out as metropolis officers urged residents to take shelter. (Emilio Morenatti, Related Press)
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KYIV, Ukraine — President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces placed on excessive alert Sunday, whereas Ukraine’s embattled chief agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s forces drove deeper into the nation.
Putin cited “aggressive statements” by NATO in issuing a directive to extend the readiness of his nation’s nuclear weapons — a step that raised fears that the invasion of Ukraine might boil over into nuclear struggle, whether or not by design or mistake.
The Russian chief is “doubtlessly placing in play forces that, if there is a miscalculation, might make issues a lot, rather more harmful,” stated a senior U.S. protection official, talking on situation of anonymity.
Amid the mounting tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace introduced that the 2 sides would meet at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border, the place a Russian delegation was ready Sunday.
However the Kremlin’s final goals in Ukraine — and what steps could be sufficient to fulfill Moscow — remained unclear.
The fast-moving developments got here as scattered preventing was reported in Kyiv, battles broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis, Kharkiv, and strategic ports within the nation’s south got here below assault from Russian forces.
With Russian troops closing in round Kyiv, a metropolis of just about 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt civilians may very well be evacuated.
Throughout the nation, Ukrainian defenders had been placing up stiff resistance that appeared to sluggish Russia’s advance.
Within the southern port metropolis of Mariupol, the place Ukrainians tried to fend off a Russian advance, a medical group at a metropolis hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old woman in unicorn pajamas who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling. The trouble failed, and he or she lay lifeless on a gurney, her jacket spattered with blood.
Throughout the video-recorded rescue try, a health care provider in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into the woman, appeared into the digicam.
“Present this to Putin,” he stated angrily. “The eyes of this little one, and crying docs.”
In the meantime, the highest official within the European Union outlined plans by the 27-nation bloc to shut its airspace to Russian airways and fund the acquisition of weapons for Ukraine.
“For the primary time ever, the European Union will finance the acquisition and supply of weapons and different tools to a rustic that’s below assault,” stated European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU will even ban some pro-Kremlin media shops, she stated.
Additionally, the 193-member U.N. Normal Meeting scheduled an emergency session Monday on Russia’s invasion.
Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not solely statements by NATO members — who’ve rushed to bolster the army alliance’s members in Jap Europe — however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West towards Russia, together with Putin himself. He advised his army chiefs to place nuclear forces in a “particular regime of fight obligation.”
“Western international locations aren’t solely taking unfriendly actions towards our nation within the financial sphere, however high officers from main NATO members made aggressive statements concerning our nation,” Putin stated in televised feedback.
U.S. protection officers wouldn’t disclose their present nuclear alert degree besides to say that the army is ready always to defend its homeland and allies.
White Home press secretary Jen Psaki advised ABC that Putin is resorting to the sample he used within the weeks earlier than the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that do not exist with a view to justify additional aggression.”
The sensible that means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and the US usually have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces on alert and ready for fight always, however nuclear-capable bombers and different plane are usually not.
If Putin is arming or in any other case elevating the nuclear fight readiness of his bombers, or if he’s ordering extra ballistic missile submarines to sea, then the US would possibly really feel compelled to reply in type, stated Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst on the Federation of American Scientists. That will mark a worrisome escalation, he stated.
Earlier Sunday, Kyiv was eerily quiet after big explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one of many airports. A foremost boulevard was virtually abandoned as a strict 39-hour curfew saved folks off the streets. Authorities warned that anybody venturing out and not using a cross could be thought of a Russian saboteur.
Terrified residents hunkered down in houses, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Provides of meals and medication had been operating low, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko stated.
Authorities have been handing out weapons to anybody prepared to defend the town. Ukraine can also be releasing prisoners with army expertise who need to combat, and coaching folks to make firebombs.
“Proper now, crucial query is to defend our nation,” Klitschko stated.
In downtown Kharkiv, 86-year-old Olena Dudnik stated she and her husband had been almost thrown from their mattress by the strain blast of a close-by explosion.
“Daily there are avenue fights, even downtown,” with Ukrainian fighters making an attempt to cease Russian tanks, armored automobiles and missile launchers, Dudnik stated by cellphone. She stated the traces at drugstores had been hours lengthy.
“We’re struggling immensely,” she stated. “We do not have a lot meals within the pantry, and I fear the shops aren’t going to have something both, in the event that they reopen.” She added: “I simply need the capturing to cease, folks to cease being killed.”
Pentagon officers stated that Russian troops are being slowed by Ukrainian resistance, gas shortages and different logistical issues, and that Ukraine’s air protection programs, whereas weakened, are nonetheless working.
However a senior U.S. protection official stated that can most likely change: “We’re in day 4. The Russians will be taught and adapt.”
Putin hasn’t disclosed his final plans, however Western officers consider he’s decided to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and change it with a regime of his personal, reviving Moscow’s Chilly Conflict-era affect.
The variety of casualties from Europe’s largest land battle since World Conflict II remained unclear amid the fog of struggle.
Ukraine’s well being minister reported Saturday that 198 folks, together with three youngsters, had been killed and greater than 1,000 others wounded. It was not clear whether or not these figures included each army and civilian casualties.
Russian Protection Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia’s lifeless and wounded Sunday however stated his nation’s losses had been “many instances” decrease than Ukraine’s.
The U.N. refugee company stated Sunday that about 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring international locations because the invasion began Thursday.
Over the weekend, the U.S. pledged a further $350 million in army help to Ukraine, together with anti-tank weapons and physique armor. Germany stated it might ship missiles and anti-tank weapons.
The U.S., European Union and Britain additionally agreed to dam chosen Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which strikes cash round 1000’s of banks and different monetary establishments worldwide. In addition they moved to slap restrictions on Russia’s central financial institution.
Russia’s economic system has taken a pounding because the invasion, with the ruble plunging, the central financial institution calling for calm to keep away from financial institution runs, and lengthy traces forming at ATMs.
Putin despatched forces into Ukraine after massing virtually 200,000 troops alongside the nation’s borders. He claims the West has did not take significantly Russia’s safety considerations about NATO, the Western army alliance that Ukraine aspires to hitch. However he has additionally expressed scorn about Ukraine’s proper to exist as an impartial state.
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed solely at army targets, however bridges, faculties and residential neighborhoods have been hit.
Contributing: Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, Hope Yen, Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman, Andrew Drake, Mstyslav Chernov, Nic Dumitrache