Nation & World

Ukraine invasion: What to know as Russian forces target Kyiv

Barrage of airstrikes around country
February 25, 2022 at 12:18 p.m.

By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Invading Russian forces closed in on Ukraine's capital Friday, in an apparent encircling movement after a barrage of airstrikes on cities and military bases around the country. 

Amid growing signs that Russia aims to overthrow him, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told European Union leaders in a video link-up from his bunker late Thursday that it might be the last time they saw him alive.

But on Friday Zelenskyy released a video of himself and his senior aides outside the presidential office in Kyiv to reassure Ukrainians that he and other top officials would stay in the capital.

The assault, anticipated for weeks by the West, amounts to Europe's largest ground conflict since World War II. It could also portend the emergence of a new "Iron Curtain" between the West and Russia, with global repercussions.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO partners agreed Friday to send thousands of troops to help protect allies along Europe's eastern edge. 

Here are the things to know about the conflict and the security crisis in former Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe:

RUSSIAN TROOPS MARCH ON

The Russian military said Friday it had encircled the cities of Sumy and Konotop in northeastern Ukraine, but was "taking steps to ensure civilians' safety." 

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces have so far knocked out 211 Ukrainian military installations including 17 command centers, 19 air defense missile systems, 39 radar units, 67 tanks and six warplanes.

Meanwhile a senior U.S. defense official said it's estimated that Russia has now launched more than 200 missiles into Ukraine and some have hit residential areas, although it was unclear if they were deliberately targeted.

According to the official, separate Russian forces continue to move northwest from Crimea toward Kherson and northeast toward the Donbas region.

HOPES DIM ON UKRAINE'S OFFER OF NEUTRALITY

Hopes for a negotiated end to the war dimmed on Friday after a tentative deal to discuss Zelenskyy's offer to designate Ukraine a non-aligned country appeared to break down over the proposed venue for the talks.

The Kremlin had said President Vladimir Putin was ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks to discuss the proposal that suggests Zelenskyy would be willing to negotiate dropping his country's bid to join NATO.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian officials reversed course and said they were unwilling to travel to Minsk for talks, proposing Warsaw as a venue instead. He said they then cut off communication.

Before the invasion, the West had rejected Russia's demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Putin used the refusal to justify the invasion, claiming that the West left him no other choice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Zelenskyy of "simply lying" about the non-alignment offer, saying the president "missed the opportunity" to discuss Ukraine's neutral status when Putin initially proposed it.

CIVILIANS IN HARM'S WAY

Waking to the second day of Russia's invasion,  horrified civilians found themselves at risk  as artillery shells rained down on some residential buildings on Kyiv's outskirts.

Russia has said it is not targeting cities, but the fighting would seem to belie that. The body of a soldier lay on the ground near a Kyiv underpass. Elsewhere, fragments of a downed aircraft lay amid a residential area's brick homes with black plastic covering body parts found nearby.

City residents stood uneasily in doorways of apartment buildings watching armored personnel carriers driving down the streets. 

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, says its staffers have so far verified at least 127 civilian casualties — 25 killed and 102 injured — mostly from shelling and airstrikes.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, Shabia Mantoo, said more than 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes in Ukraine and that "up to 4 million people may flee to other countries if the situation escalates."

FLEEING FOR SAFETY

Thousands of Ukrainians crossed Friday into neighboring countries  to the west in search of safety from the unfolding war in their country. 

With men of military age banned from leaving the country, most of those who crossed borders were women, children and the elderly.

One woman from Kyiv who arrived in Przemsyl, Poland described how men were pulled off trains in Ukraine before they got to the border.

Cars were backed up for several miles at some border crossings as authorities in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova mobilized to receive them, providing shelter, food and legal help. These countries also eased their usual border procedures, including COVID-19 testing requirements.

POPE'S PERSONAL APPEAL FOR PEACE

The pope broke protocol with an in-person visit Friday to the Russian embassy to "express his concern about the war" in Ukraine.

Pope Francis' extraordinary gesture was viewed as a sign of his anger at Russia's actions, and his willingness to make a personal appeal for the end of hostilities. 

The pope travelled to and from the Russian embassy in a small white car with Vatican officials saying they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

NUCLEAR WAR NIGHTMARE REVISITED

Reviving Cold War fears of a nuclear showdown, Putin has warned in a speech that  he has the weapons available if anyone dares to use military means to try to stop his takeover of Ukraine. 

Whether an empty threat or not, Putin's words re-animated the specter of nuclear war — through accident or miscalculation. 

The Russian president said in a speech early Thursday that despite "losing a considerable part of its capabilities after the fall of the Soviet Union," Russia remains "one of the most powerful nuclear states" and has "a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons." 

TURNING THE SCREWS ON RUSSIA

The West has taken a military option in Ukraine off the table, but world leaders — with the exception of Moscow ally China — are preparing measures aimed at hurting the Russian economy and its leaders, including President Putin's inner circle. 

The EU on Friday unanimously agreed to freeze the assets of Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn said even further sanctions were still possible, including booting Russia off SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU has decided on an "unprecedented" 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion) in economic aid for Ukraine. 

Asian and Pacific countries have joined the West in taking punitive measures against Russia, including export controls aimed at starving its industries and military of semiconductors and other high-tech products.

In retaliation to a British ban on Aeroflot flights, Russia's civil aviation authority forbade U.K. flights to and over Russia starting Friday.

The Council of Europe also suspended Russia from the continent's foremost human rights organization.

SPORTING WORLD TURNS ITS BACK

Russia has been stripped of hosting the Champions League final by UEFA w ith St. Petersburg replaced by Paris, and Formula One dropped this season's Russian Grand Prix at Sochi.

The showpiece final in the European men's football season will still be held on May 28 but at the 80,000-seat Stade de France. 

It followed discussions led by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin that involved the European Commission and Macron.

The F1 race wasn't due until September but the motorsport series leadership decided it would be "impossible" to stage it thereafter talks with teams and the FIA governing body. 

___

Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

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