Ukrainian fighters fight for Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s defense forces, undermanned and outgunned, put up a fierce resistance to the Russian invasion on Saturday, struggling to retain control of the capital Kiev and other cities across the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted a video urging the public not to believe false reports.

He was alive. Kiev had not fallen. Any reports that Ukraine is laying down its arms are a lie, Zelenskyy said.

“I’m here,” he said. “We do not lay down arms. We will protect our country because our guns are our truth. The truth is this is our country, our country, our children and we will protect them all.”

“That’s it. That’s what I wanted to tell you. Honor of Ukraine.”

His comments, published before 9am, came as fighting in Kiev intensified. What was a thriving European metropolis just three days ago has turned into a combat zone. Russian troops advanced from all directions.

Street fighting ensued, and gunfire and explosions were heard across the city, including at its heart, Maidan Square, where Ukrainian protests led to the ousting of a pro-Moscow government in 2014.

The Russian military has a distinct advantage in cyber warfare, tanks, heavy weapons, missiles, fighter jets and warships. In sheer numbers, its military dwarfs that of Ukraine.

Russia has established lines of attack to three cities — Kiev to the north, Kharkiv to the northeast, and Kherson to the south — and Ukrainian troops are fighting to hold all three. The Pentagon reported late Friday that the Russians do not appear to have any major population centers under control. Significantly, a senior US defense official said, Ukrainian command and control remains intact.

The Ukrainian government reported that hundreds of Russian soldiers had been killed in the war, along with dozens of their own soldiers, while Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement Saturday morning that made no mention of casualties or anything about the battle for Kiev.

The Russian invasion began on Thursday before dawn with targeted airstrikes, but by the third day of the war, close-quarters bloody fighting often broke out. Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian news site, reported fighting 400 meters from Maidan Square in central Kiev, citing witnesses.

All Ukrainian men of struggle are drafted into service, and tens of thousands enlist. Ukrainians were asked to prepare Molotov cocktails. And there were tearful scenes at airports in western Ukraine as wives kissed their husbands goodbye before going to the front lines.

The nation has rallied around its President, Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian.

For him and other officials, the goal of Russia’s invasion of a neighboring country that poses no military threat is to overthrow the government.

Mr. Zelensky has said that he is “Target No. 1.”

As fighting erupted in the city on Saturday morning, witnesses said there were reports of clashes near the city’s train station and along a central thoroughfare, Bohdan Khmelnitsky Street, which leads from Victory Square towards the city center. Along this street, closer to the city center, shots could be heard throughout the night.

“We’re stopping the horde as much as we can,” Secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council Oleksy Danilov said around 7 a.m. “The situation is under control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the citizens of Kiev.”

In dozens of interviews in the tense hours leading up to the invasion and in the days that followed, Ukrainians struggled to understand how a peaceful country found itself so suddenly at war. For many Ukrainians, the answer was found in Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

This is Mr. Putin’s war. But perhaps what frightened people as much as the threat of missiles and bombs was that they didn’t know what he wanted.

The fear was evident when driving from Kiev to a small village outside the city. Military convoys had replaced families going on vacation or visiting friends. Where Kiev was once known as a city whose cafes played music just a tad too loud, the incessant wailing of air raid sirens drowned out everyone’s joy.

Fear was seen on the faces of people sheltering in western Ukraine after emerging from 20-hour train journeys in packed carriages kept pitch black to avoid being attacked by Russian missiles.

From Lviv in the west to Odessa in the south and Kharkiv and almost everywhere in between, people crammed into air raid shelters and queues at ATMs for basic necessities.

While the Russians were not currently in control of any city, this was only the first phase of a conflict that could drag on for weeks or more.

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