Russia has unleashed a wave of attacks on Ukraine, targeting fuel facilities and airfields in what appears to be the next phase of an invasion that has been slowed by fierce resistance.
Huge explosions lit up the sky early on Sunday south of the capital, Kyiv, where people hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew in anticipation of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.
Flames billowed into the sky before dawn from an oil depot near an airbase in Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, where there has been intense fighting, according to the town’s mayor. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said another explosion was at the civilian Zhuliany Airport.
Zelensky’s office also said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, prompting the government to warn people to protect themselves from the smoke by covering their windows with damp cloth or gauze.
“We will fight for as long as it takes to liberate our country,” Zelenskyy said.
The curfew in Kyiv is set to last through Monday morning. The relatively quiet of the capital was sporadically broken by gunfire.
Russian-backed separatists in the eastern province of Luhansk said a Ukrainian missile had blown up an oil terminal in the town of Rovenky.
More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Moldova and other neighboring countries, and the United Nations warned the number could grow to four million if fighting escalates.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not disclosed his ultimate goal, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
To help Ukraine resist, the US pledged an additional $ 350m in military assistance, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged country and that it would close its airspace to Russian planes.
Meanwhile, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system, which moves money between banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aimed at impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion. They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” on the central bank.
It is unclear how much territory Russian forces have seized or to what extent their advance has been stalled. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said: “The speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”
Fighting on the city’s outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the US said the bulk of the forces were 30km (19 miles) from the city’s center as of Saturday afternoon.
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine from the north, east and south is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit.
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said troops in Kyiv were fighting Russian “sabotage groups.” Ukraine says some 200 Russian soldiers have been captured and thousands killed.
Markarova said Ukraine was gathering evidence of shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to submit to The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.
Putin sent troops into Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, all while building up a force of nearly 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders.
He claims the West has failed to take seriously serious security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join. But he has also expressed scorn about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.