SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Russia and Ukrainian forces clashed in Kyiv on Saturday as authorities urged citizens to help defend the city from advancing Russian forces in the worst European security crisis in decades.
Even though the fighting grew more intense, the Russian and Ukrainian governments signaled an openness to negotiations, offering the first glimmer of hope for diplomacy since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Thursday.
Reuters reported that heavy, frequent artillery fire and intense gunfire, apparently some distance from the city center, could be heard.
The Ukrainian military said the Russian troops attacked an army base on a main avenue but the assault was repelled.
A witness told Reuters that gunfire was heard after dawn near government buildings in the city center.
“The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday in a video address posted to his Telegram channel, Reuters said.
Kyiv residents were told by the defense ministry to make Molotov petrol bombs to repel the invaders.
After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Putin unleashed a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on Thursday, in an attack that threatened to upend Europe’s post-Cold War order.
“I once again appeal to the military personnel of the armed forces of Ukraine: do not allow nep-Nazis [Ukrainian radical nationalists] to use your children, wives and elders as human shields,” Putin said at a televised meeting with Russia’s Security Council.
“Take power into your own hands,” he added.
Putin has cited the need to “denazify” Ukraine’s leadership as one of his main reasons for invasion, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss the accusations as baseless propaganda.
Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and Kyiv hopes to join NATO and the EU – aspirations that infuriate Moscow.
Putin says Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.
The United States imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The European Union and Britain earlier froze any assets Putin and Lavrov held in their territory. Canada took similar steps.
But amid the chaos of war came a ray of hope.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian president said Ukraine and Russia would consult in coming hours on a time and place for talks.
The Kremlin said earlier it offered to meet in the Belarusian capital Minsk after Ukraine expressed a willingness to discuss declaring itself a neutral country while Ukraine had proposed Warsaw as the venue. That, according to Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, resulted in a “pause” in contacts.
“Ukraine was and remains ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace,” Zelenskiy’s spokesman, Sergii Nykyforov, said in a Facebook post. “We agreed to the proposal of the President of the Russian Federation.”
Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter that there had been heavy fighting with deaths at the entrance to the eastern cities of Chernihiv and Melitopol, as well as at Hostomel.
Witnesses said they had heard explosions and gunfire near the airport in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city. Ukraine’s military said Russian troops had been stopped with heavy losses near the northeastern city of Konotop.
There were also have reports of fighting near an air base southwest of Kyiv.
Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia did not release casualty figures. Zelenskiy said late on Thursday that 137 soldiers and civilians been killed with hundreds wounded.