Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops on the streets of Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv on Sunday, the regional governor said, as the biggest assault on a European state since the Second World War entered its fourth day.
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Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops on the streets of Ukraine’s key northeastern city of Kharkiv on Sunday, the regional governor said, as the biggest assault on a European state since the Second World War entered its fourth day.
“The Russian enemy’s light vehicles have broken into Kharkiv, including the city centre,” Gov. Oleh Sinegubov said. “Ukraine’s armed forces are destroying the enemy. We ask civilians not to go out.”
Videos published by Anton Herashchenko, adviser to the interior minister, and Ukraine’s state information agency showed several light military vehicles moving along a street and, separately, a burning tank.
A witness in Kharkiv said Russian soldiers and armored vehicles could be seen in different parts of the city and firing could be heard. Military trucks with the letter “Z” painted on their sides could be seen in residential areas, the witness said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a special military operation on Thursday, ignoring weeks of Western warnings and saying the “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine threatened Russia’s security — a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.
Ukrainian forces were holding off Russian troops advancing on the capital, Kyiv, said President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday.
But Zelensky said the night had been brutal, with shelling of civilian infrastructure and attacks on everything, including ambulances.
Explosions in pre-dawn hours
Russian missiles found their mark, including a strike that set an oil terminal ablaze in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, the town’s mayor said. Blasts sent huge flames and billowing black smoke into the night sky, online posts showed.
“The enemy wants to destroy everything,” said the mayor of Vasylkiv, Natalia Balasinovich.
Zelensky’s office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, earlier Sunday. The government warned that smoke from the huge explosion could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised people to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze.
The gas blast there sent a mushroom cloud up into the darkness, though Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator said the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine was going on as normal.
Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatists in the eastern province of Luhansk said a Ukrainian missile had blown an oil terminal in the town of Rovenky.
In Kyiv, Reuters witnesses reported occasional blasts and gunfire through the night, then three blasts after air raid sirens went off shortly before 9 a.m. (0600 GMT).
Ukrainian leaders were defiant.
“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.
Potential talks stall
Offering a glimmer of hope for negotiations, the Kremlin said a delegation had arrived in neighbouring Belarus for talks and was waiting for the Ukrainians. But Zelensky rejected talks in Belarus, saying it was complicit in the invasion, but he left the door open for negotiations elsewhere.
A U.S. defence official said Ukraine’s forces were putting up “very determined resistance” to Russia’s air, land and sea advance, which has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing westwards, clogging major highways and railway lines.
On Saturday, Canada, the U.S. and other allies agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aiming to impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion.
They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank to limit its ability to support the ruble and finance Putin’s war effort.
“We are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” said a statement from the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Britain and the European Commission.
‘Financial nuclear weapon’
After initially shying away from such a move largely because of concern about the impact on their economies, the allies said they committed to “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system.”
They did not name the banks that would be expelled, but an EU diplomat said some 70 per cent of the Russian banking market would be affected.
WATCH | Kyiv curfew in force as fighting intensifies:
Curfew in force as fighting intensifies in Ukraine after Russian invasion
A curfew has been imposed in Kyiv until Monday morning, as thousands of Ukranians flee by car and foot to escape Russia’s invasion. 10:20
The decision — which the French finance minister had called a “financial nuclear weapon” because of the damage it would inflict on the Russian economy — deals a blow to Russia’s trade and makes it harder for its companies to do business.
SWIFT, a secure messaging network that facilitates rapid cross-border payments, said it was preparing to implement the measures.
Sanctions on Russia’s central bank could limit Putin’s use of his more than $630 billion US in international reserves, widely seen as insulating Russia from some economic harm.
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Google barred Russia’s state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to a move Facebook made.
Earlier, the Kremlin said its troops were advancing again “in all directions” after Putin ordered a pause on Friday. Ukraine’s government said there had been no pause.
Mounting death toll
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said about 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. Western officials have said intelligence showed Russia suffering higher casualties than expected.
Russia has not released casualty figures and it was impossible to verify tolls or the precise picture on the ground.
A United Nations relief agency said as of Saturday evening at least 64 civilians had been killed among 240 civilian casualties, more than 160,000 people had been internally displaced and more than 116,000 had fled to neighbouring countries.
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.
WATCH | Scenes from Polish-Ukrainian border:
Heavy traffic at Polish-Ukrainian border crossing as tens of thousands flee
CBC’s Susan Ormiston reports from Poland’s Medyka crossing, located on the border with Ukraine, as people fled by car and on foot to escape Russia’s invasion. 1:39
Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine — something Kyiv and its Western allies reject as a lie.
U.S. President Joe Biden has approved the release of up to $350 million US worth of weapons from U.S. 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.
The Canadian government said it will match Canadians’ donations to the Red Cross in aid of Ukraine, up to a maximum of $10 million Cdn. Ottawa said the matching donations are in addition to the $50 million in funding given to Ukraine for development and humanitarian aid, and the recently announced $620 million in sovereign loans that Canada has extended to Ukraine.