Public urged to report Russian troop movements and prepare molotov cocktails, with heavy gunfire heard in residential district
Fighting has reached the outskirts of Kyiv, following a night of missile attacks on Ukraine’s capital to prepare for a major Russian assault on the city.
Heavy gunfire and explosions could be heard in a residential district of the capital on Friday morning and Ukrainian officials have warned that Russian military vehicles are approaching the city from the north-west.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said Russian forces had entered the Obolon district of Kyiv, about six miles from the centre of the city. In a statement posted online, it advised residents to report the movements of Russian troops and to “prepare molotov cocktails in order to neutralise the enemy”.
Two Kyiv apartment buildings were engulfed in flames on Thursday night after they were hit by falling debris from an aircraft that was shot down. Ukraine’s emergencies ministry has also released photographs showing buildings destroyed by shelling in Starobilsk in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused Vladimir Putin of targeting civilian as well as military sites.
“They say that civilian objects are not a target for them. It is a lie; they do not distinguish in which areas to operate,” he said.
Zelenskiy made the claim in a televised address early on Friday, in which he vowed to continue to defend his country. “Russia will have to talk to us sooner or later about how to end hostilities and stop this invasion. The sooner the conversation begins, the smaller Russia’s losses will be.”
The president, who also criticised world leaders for “watching from afar”, spoke after large explosions were heard in the capital, and after a warning from US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, that “all evidence suggests that Russia intends to encircle and threaten” the city. Zelenskiy has vowed to stay in the capital.
Zelenskiy said missile strikes resumed at 4am and images soon emerged of damaged and burning tower blocks amid footage containing the sound of air raid sirens. Early on Friday, Ukraine’s military said it had shot down a Russia aircraft over the capital.
The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has said it is the view of British intelligence that Russia intends to invade the whole of Ukraine, but its army failed to deliver on the first day of its invasion.
The international criminal court (ICC) said on Friday it might investigate possible war crimes, though did not provide any further details.
Ukrainian troops are battling Russian forces advancing toward Kyiv as part of the biggest invasion of a European state since the second world war. “We believe Moscow has developed plans to inflict widespread human rights abuses – and potentially worse – on the Ukrainian people,” Blinken told a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Thursday.
In an earlier overnight video address, Zelenskiy said 137 people had died since Putin launched an invasion by land, air and sea on Thursday, with hundreds of others injured, and claimed that Russia had named him “target number one”.
He warned: “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian president also voiced frustration after speaking to the heads of Nato member states. “We have been left alone to defend our state,” Zelenskiy said. “Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of Nato membership? Everyone is afraid.”
Asked if he was worried about Zelenskiy’s safety, Blinken told CBS: “To the best of my knowledge, President Zelenskiy remains in Ukraine at his post, and of course we’re concerned for the safety of all of our friends in Ukraine – government officials and others.”
Ukraine announced it had lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear site near the country’s northern border with Belarus hours after Russian troops began an invasion of its neighbour on Thursday, and the White House said it was “outraged” by credible reports that Russian forces were holding facility staff there hostage.
“This unlawful and dangerous hostage-taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and gravely concerning,” the US press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was following the situation “with grave concern” and appealed for maximum restraint to avoid any action that might put Ukraine’s nuclear facilities at risk.
The west scrambled to respond to Putin’s aggression with a range of new sanctions against Moscow, with the US also announcing it would send 7,000 more troops to Germany to shore up Nato’s eastern borders. But even after the invasion there were divisions on the strength of the response, as Russian forces advanced undeterred by the threats.
The EU faced furious remonstrations from Kyiv after Europe’s leaders looked set to hold back from imposing the potentially most damaging sanction on Russia: blocking Russia from an international payments system through which it receives foreign currency. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said European and US politicians would have “blood on their hands” if they failed to impose the heaviest toll on Moscow by cutting Russia from the Swift payments system.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was united after discussions of the five-pillar sanctions package targeting the financial, energy, transport and export industries and visa controls.
She said: “Today’s events are a watershed moment for Europe. Bombs are falling on innocent women, men and children. They fear for their lives and many are dying. All of this happens in 2022 – in the very heart of Europe. President Putin chose to bring back war to Europe.
“Let me stress that these events, indeed, mark the beginning of a new era. We must be very clear in our analysis: Putin is trying to subjugate a friendly European country. And he is trying to redraw the maps of Europe by force. He must, and he will, fail.”
Leaders of the 30 Nato allied nations will meet on Friday, the US president, Joe Biden, confirmed, as they come under pressure to go further than the two rounds of sanctions already announced, after what the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, described as a “dark day in the history of our continent”.
The United Nations security council will also vote on Friday on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s invasion and requiring Moscow’s immediate withdrawal. However, Moscow can veto the measure, and it was unclear how China, which has rejected calling Russia’s move an invasion, would vote.