Ukraine’s capital city readied for battle Friday as its leader issued a desperate plea to the outside world for help, and condemnation of Russia’s invasion grew louder.
Explosions, air raid sirens and the sound of gunfire filled the air over Kyiv. Russian troops bore down on the city as the global backlash mounted against the unprovoked attack on a European democracy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin added fuel to Western powers’ warnings that the Kremlin’s true aim in the invasion was to topple Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pro-Europe government.
- Zelenskyy says he is Russia’s “No. 1 target.”
- Russian troops are bearing down on Kyiv, but a senior U.S. defense official tells NBC News that Putin’s forces are meeting “greater resistance” than expected.
- The United Kingdom plans to sanction Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Putin suggested he might be willing to enter negotiations with Ukraine even as his forces continued their advance across the country. But hours later, the Russian leader urged Ukrainian soldiers to overthrow their government, which he described without providing evidence as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”
Inside the embattled capital, Zelenskyy refused to leave and instead made a desperate plea for Western governments to take tougher measures against Moscow.
He has already called up any Ukrainians willing to fight and handed out thousands of guns to civilians. And on Friday, Zelenskyy urged anyone with military experience in Europe to travel to Ukraine and help defend its independence or take to their own streets in protest.
“We are defending our independence, our country,” he said in his latest video message. It will continue like this. Glory to our defenders, glory to Ukraine.”
The fresh plea from the Ukrainian leader came as the invading Russian troops bore down on Kyiv amid a desperate defense in which hundreds of troops on either side were reportedly killed.
“The enemy wants to put the capital on its knees and destroy us,” said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion. “The city has gone into a defensive phase. Shots and explosions are ringing out in some neighborhoods. Saboteurs have already entered Kyiv.”
Russia is nonetheless meeting “greater resistance” from the Ukrainians than it might have expected, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday.
“They are fighting for their country,” the official said, referring to Ukrainian troops and freedom fighters.
The official said Russian forces are undertaking an amphibious assault to the west of the city of Mariupol, and the United States has indications Russia is placing potentially thousands of naval forces ashore there. American officials assume Russian troops will then attempt to move toward the Donbass region, the official added.
Local officials warned residents in Obolon, a district north of the capital, not to go outside early Friday due to “the approach of active hostilities.” The military said Russian saboteurs — troops disguised in Ukrainian uniforms — were in the streets.
Meanwhile just outside the capital, Russia claimed it had taken control of the strategic Hostomel Airport, which handles heavy cargo flights and would allow Moscow to airlift troops directly to Kyiv. A day earlier, Ukraine’s military said that Russian troops sustained heavy casualties in the fighting there.
NBC News has not verified either side’s reports.
Local officials said that Russia had captured the southern city of Kherson despite its “significant forces” suffering “great loses.”
In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, NBC News correspondent Matt Bradley reported around noon local time Friday that car alarms went off across the city as loud, sustained bombardments drew closer.
“Up until now, we understood Russian troops had set up around the ring road of the city. Now we understand they are moving in,” he said from an underground parking garage filled with journalists and local residents, including children.