Kyiv’s Defenders Vow to Fight as Russian Forces Close in on Major Cities

March 2, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces Wednesday pressed ahead with a wide-ranging but slow-moving offensive targeting key Ukrainian cities, menacing the capital of Kyiv with a miles-long military convoy, launching deadly strikes on the second-largest city of Kharkiv and apparently breaching a strategic Black Sea port city with tanks and troops.

On the seventh day of an offensive marked by fierce Ukrainian resistance in the face of Russian firepower, the Kremlin said a delegation was ready to hold evening talks with Ukrainian representatives at an undisclosed location. An initial session Sunday on the Ukraine-Belarus border produced no breakthroughs.

With President Joe Biden vowing in his Tuesday night State of the Union address to make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a heavy price for the unprovoked attack on Ukraine, its defenders — a motley mix of regular army troops and ad hoc civilian militias — braced for an expected full-scale attack on Kyiv, a city of 3 million people.

Daylight on Wednesday in the snow-blanketed capital revealed the destructive power of a Russian missile strike the previous evening that killed five people and wounded five others. Russia had warned residents to leave the area in advance of what it called a “precision strike” on a communications center.

The city’s iconic television tower, erected in 1973, remained standing, but the blast disemboweled a nearby commercial building, blowing out the windows of a gym and roasting treadmills arrayed in a line.

An automotive-supply store nearby was a chaotic maw of glass shards and car parts. The shock wave burst open a billboard and left power lines dangling onto the street.

Some of the most harrowing scenes of the invasion have emerged in Kharkiv, where blasts in recent days have devastated the city’s central square and other populated areas.

Anton Geraschenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s interior minister, said Wednesday that four people were killed in an attack aimed at offices of police and state security services. Ukrainian officials in Kharkiv said later Wednesday that a missile had struck a municipal building.

“Just now, Kharkiv, a direct hit by a cruise missile on the building of the City Council,” Roman Semenukha, deputy head of Kharkiv’s regional state administration, wrote on his Facebook page.

The city lies only a few dozen miles from the border with Russia, and its largely Russian-speaking population has sometimes been considered to have closer ties to Moscow than Kyiv. But the city’s mayor, Igor Terekhov, said in a video uploaded Wednesday that attitudes toward Russia had changed completely after “unforgivable” attacks.

Repercussions continued to widen Wednesday from the Ukraine conflict, Europe’s largest land war in decades. The invasion has sent more than 874,000 people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries, the biggest such migration wave within Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Sanctions from a reinvigorated Western alliance have begun to pummel the Russian economy, sending the ruble plunging and crippling parts of the financial sector. Putin’s government has denounced the punitive steps as illegitimate.

In Ukraine’s southern coastal regions, defenders and attackers battled for control of Kherson, a Black Sea outpost that could be used as a springboard for an attack on Odessa, the crown jewel of Ukraine’s port cities.

Residents in Kherson, a city of some 300,000 people, posted videos purporting to show Russian soldiers and tanks entering the city. Drone footage taken over a bridge near Kherson appeared to depict a battle between Ukrainian soldiers and armored vehicles against Russian artillery.

For Kyiv’s hunkered-down residents, Tuesday night’s missile strike near the TV tower provided the most potent demonstration yet of the military threat facing the capital. But on Wednesday, people were out on the streets in greater numbers than in past days, with cars navigating newly erected checkpoints and pedestrians out replenishing water and food supplies.

The massive Russian convoy, which stretches for 40 miles but remains stalled about 20 miles north of the city, has become emblematic of logistical stumbles by the invading force, including what Western officials say are supply shortages that have bogged down some troop movements. But military analysts believe that Putin and his generals, if frustrated by the initial sluggishness of the advance, might resort to overwhelming force directed at civilian areas, a hallmark of past Russian offensives elsewhere.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that though Russian forces were moving closer to the capital, the city was prepared and that critical infrastructure, including public transportation, was still functioning.

“Do not believe misinformation intended to break Ukrainians. Kyiv stands and will stand. We will fight,” he said in a video message Wednesday.

Despite the looming threat, even those sheltering in the depths of a metro station near the scene of Tuesday night’s missile strike said they had become accustomed to a new rhythm of life in the capital.

“We felt scared in the beginning, yes, but now, after a week?” said Julia Andreyivna, 25, a manager at a magazine publisher who sat on an inflatable mattress, cradling her cat, Mark. “We feel OK. It’s become routine.”

Despite the danger, she has no intention of leaving the capital.

"We’re staying,” she said. “This is our Kyiv.”


(Bulos reported from Kyiv and King from Washington.)


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