Russian forces pound Ukraine for third day, Kiev still in Ukrainian hands

  • Russian forces meet resistance in Ukrainian cities
  • Moscow could ‘padlock’ Western embassies – Medvedev
  • Ukrainian president defies but panics in Kyiv
  • Russia could be excluded from the SWIFT payment system – banker

KYIV, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Russian forces pounded Ukrainian towns with artillery and cruise missiles on Saturday for the third day in a row, but defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the capital Kyiv remained in the hands of Ukrainians.

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fled west to the European Union, top Russian security official and ex-president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow’s military operations would be carried out unabated until their goals are achieved.

Ignoring weeks of Western warnings, President Vladimir Putin launched a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, saying “neo-Nazis” in power in Kiev were threatening Russia’s security. The assault threatens to upend Europe’s post-Cold War order.

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In a significant surge of Russian rhetoric, Medvedev said the new Western sanctions were a sign of the West’s impotence in the stalemate and hinted at a severance of diplomatic relations, saying that it was time to “padlock the embassies”.

After a night of airstrikes, there were signs of panic in Kyiv. Reuters reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers and a group of women running down the street. Nearby, Ukrainian soldiers forced a man in civilian clothes to lie on the sidewalk.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, but added that saboteur groups were active. The metro system now only serves as a shelter for citizens and trains have stopped running, he said.

Klitschko said 35 people, including two children, were injured overnight. He then announced the extension of a nighttime curfew, which will now run from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 injured so far during the Russian invasion, Interfax quoted the Ukrainian Health Ministry as saying. It was unclear whether the figures included only civilian casualties.

“We resisted and successfully repelled enemy attacks. The fighting continues,” Zelenskiy said in a video message posted to his social media. “We have the courage to defend our homeland, to defend Europe.”

Britain said the bulk of Russian forces were now 30 km (19 miles) from central Kiev and said Russia had not yet taken control of Ukrainian airspace.

The Kremlin said Putin ordered troops to stop advancing on Friday but were advancing on Saturday after Kiev refused to negotiate. Moscow and Kiev had previously discussed the possibility of peace talks, but they came to nothing.

RESISTANCE

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, gained independence from Moscow in 1991 and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes. Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their distinctive history and identity.

Western intelligence sources say Russian forces encountered much stronger Ukrainian resistance to their invasion than they had anticipated.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had captured Melitopol, a city of 150,000 people in southeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials were not immediately available for comment and Britain cast doubt on the report.

If confirmed, it would be the first major population center captured by the Russians.

Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia has not released casualty figures.

Putin said he must remove what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbor and cited the need to ‘denazify’ Ukraine’s leadership, accusing it of genocide against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine – a charge dismissed by Kiev and its Western allies as baseless propaganda.

About 100,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 since 7 a.m. Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told a news conference. Read more

In Medyka, in southern Poland, refugees described a 30 km (19 mile) line at the border. Ukrainians also crossed the borders to Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

“The most important thing is that people survive,” said Katharina Asselborn, wiping away tears as she waited at the Polish border for her sister, aunt and three children to arrive from their home in the Ukrainian port of Odessa. on the Black Sea.

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

A woman, Nataliya Ableyeva, entered Hungary with two young children who are not her own and only their mother’s mobile phone number. Their father had not been allowed to cross the border because of the ban on all men between the ages of 18 and 60 leaving Ukraine to be able to fight for their country. Read more

Ukraine has evacuated staff from its embassy in Moscow to Latvia, the Baltic country’s foreign ministry announced on Saturday.

PUNISHMENTS

Western countries have announced a series of sanctions against Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports.

They failed to force Russia out of the SWIFT system for international banking payments, but the governor of a eurozone central bank told Reuters on Saturday that such a move was “just a question of time, of very short time, of days”.

“Is it enough? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Sanctions only make sense if there are costs for both parties and it will be expensive,” the central banker said.

Medvedev said Moscow would symmetrically respond to the seizure of money from Russian citizens and businesses abroad by seizing the funds of foreigners in Russia.

The United States imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The EU and Britain previously froze all assets Putin and Lavrov held on their territory.

The invasion also affects Russia’s sporting, cultural and other ties. On Saturday, the Polish Football Association, in protest, said the national team would not play its World Cup qualifier against Russia next month. Read more

Russia has banned Polish, Bulgarian and Czech airlines from flying into and over its territory in response to similar measures by those countries. It has already banned all British airlines from its airspace.

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Reporting by Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova in Kyiv, Aleksandar Vasovic in Mariupol, Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland, Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania and Reuters offices; Written by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones; Editing by William Mallard and David Clarke

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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