Russian troops will arrive in Kyiv today and are now fighting just 20 miles from the outskirts, an official has said, as US intelligence warned of a plan to seize an airport, fly in troops, and ‘decapitate’ the government.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the country’s interior minister, said Friday will be the war’s ‘hardest day’ as Russia armour pushes down from Chernihiv – to the north-east of the capital – and Ivankiv – to the north-west – in an attempt to encircle the city, where President Volodymyr Zelensky is still holed up.
Once the city is surrounded, US intelligence believes the plan will be for Russian special forces to move in and seize an airport – likely Sikorsky or Boryspil – which would then be used to fly in a much larger force of up to 10,000 paratroopers who would assault the capital.
The job of the paratroopers would be to enter the city, find Zelensky, his ministers, and parliamentarians, before forcing them to sign a peace deal handing control of the country back to Russia or a Moscow-backed puppet regime – effectively ending the war without Putin’s ground forces going to the difficult and bloody trouble of seizing and occupying the whole country.
It appears the Russians almost pulled off the plan on Day 1 of the invasion when 20 attack helicopters landed a crack team of troops at Antonov Airport, 15 miles to the north of Kyiv, where they spent the day fighting. But Ukrainian national guard units managed to retake the landing strip overnight, scattering the surviving Russian attackers into the surrounding countryside.
The Russian attack on the capital would likely be coordinated with a push by troops on southern and eastern fronts – Crimea and Donbass – aimed at pinning down Ukrainian armed forces so they cannot retreat and reinforce the city, officials told author Michael Weiss.
It may also be accompanied by bombing raids and sabotage attacks on power grids and infrastructure to sow panic and force people to flee, snarling up roads and making it difficult for forces already in Kyiv to move around.
The plan appeared to be underway in the early hours, as explosions sounded before dawn with the city under heavy Russian bombardment. The Ukrainians claiming to have shot down a Russian jet over the outskirts as Zelensky gave a national address, saying Russia has identified him as ‘target number 1’ of the invasion but he and his family were remaining in the city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government had information that ‘subversive groups’ were encroaching on the city, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv ‘could well be under siege’ in what U.S. officials believe is a brazen attempt by Putin to dismantle the government and install his own regime.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call that Russian mechanized forces that entered from Belarus were about 20 miles from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call.
The assault, anticipated for weeks by the U.S. and Western allies and undertaken by Putin in the face of international condemnation and cascading sanctions, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II.
Russian missiles bombarded cities and military bases in the first day of the attack, and Ukraine officials said they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Civilians piled into trains and cars to flee.
As explosions sounded in Kyiv early Friday, guests of a hotel were directed to a makeshift basement shelter. Air raid sirens also went off.
‘Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,’ Zelenskyy tweeted. His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, he called Thursday for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days.
Zelenskyy said in a video address that 137 ‘heroes,’ including 10 military officers, had been killed and 316 people wounded. The dead included border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which was taken over by Russians.
He concluded an emotional speech by saying that ‘the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders.’ He also said the country had heard from Moscow that ‘they want to talk about Ukraine’s neutral status.’
Biden was to meet Friday morning with fellow leaders of NATO governments in what the White House described as an ‘extraordinary virtual summit’ to discuss Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, saying Putin ‘chose this war’ and had exhibited a ‘sinister’ view of the world in which nations take what they want by force. Other nations also announced sanctions, or said they would shortly.
‘It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary – by bullying Russia’s neighbors through coercion and corruption, by changing borders by force, and, ultimately, by choosing a war without a cause,’ Biden said.
Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to ‘reconstitute the Soviet empire’ and that Kyiv was already ‘under threat, and it could well be under siege.’
Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv’s subway stations.
At times it felt almost cheerful. Families ate dinner. Children played. Adults chatted. People brought sleeping bags or dogs or crossword puzzles – anything to alleviate the waiting and the long night ahead.
But the exhaustion was clear on many faces. And the worries.
‘Nobody believed that this war would start and that they would take Kyiv directly,’ said Anton Mironov, waiting out the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. ‘I feel mostly fatigue. None of it feels real.’
The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.
The Ukrainian military on Friday reported significant fighting in the area of Ivankiv, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Kyiv, as Russian forces apparently tried to advance on the capital from the north. It said one bridge across a small river had been destroyed.
‘The hardest day will be today. The enemy’s plan is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv. Russian tanks burn perfectly when hit by our ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles),’ Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said on Telegram.
Zelenskyy, who had earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to global leaders, saying that ‘if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.’
Though Biden said he had no plans to speak with Putin, the Russian leader did have what the Kremlin described as a ‘serious and frank exchange’ with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Kyiv apartment block is seen ablaze on Friday morning. It is unclear what caused the fire
Kyiv was ablaze in the early hours of Friday as the city came under attack from Russia. Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashenko shared footage on social media of a blaze in what he said was the Darnitsky district of Kyiv, in the southeast of the city on the left bank of the Dnipro river
Projectiles are seen falling from the sky over Kyiv in the early hours of Friday
Explosions are seen in Kyiv in the early hours of Friday, with a bombardment that began around 4am
Missiles rain down on Kyiv in the early hours of Friday
Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed.
Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-unused Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been ‘no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.’
The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.
Alyona Shevtsova, adviser to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, wrote on Facebook that staff members at the Chernobyl plant had been ‘taken hostage.’ The White House said it was ‘outraged’ by reports of the detentions.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued an update saying that though the plant was ‘likely captured,’ the country’s forces had halted Russia’s advance toward Chernihiv and that it was unlikely that Russia had achieved its planned Day One military objectives.
The chief of the NATO alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, said the ‘brutal act of war’ shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders decrying an attack that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. The conflict shook global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.
Condemnation came not only from the U.S. and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond – and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he aimed to cut off Russia from the U.K.’s financial markets as he announced sanctions, freezing the assets of all large Russian banks and planning to bar Russian companies and the Kremlin from raising money on British markets.
‘Now we see him for what he is – a bloodstained aggressor who believes in imperial conquest,’ Johnson said of Putin.
The U.S. sanctions will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, Biden said, but they were designed not to disrupt global energy markets. Russian oil and natural gas exports are vital energy sources for Europe.
Zelenskyy urged the U.S. and West to go further and cut the Russians from the SWIFT system, a key financial network that connects thousands of banks around the world. The White House has been reluctant to immediately cut Russia from SWIFT, worried it could cause enormous economic problems in Europe and elsewhere in the West.
While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the U.S. and its NATO partners have shown no indication they would send troops into Ukraine, fearing a larger conflict. NATO reinforced its members in Eastern Europe as a precaution, and Biden said the U.S. was deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO.
European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.
After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway. The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.
Ukrainians were urged to shelter in place and not to panic.
‘Until the very last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen. I just pushed away these thoughts,’ said a terrified Anna Dovnya in Kyiv, watching soldiers and police remove shrapnel from an exploded shell. ‘We have lost all faith.’
With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.
Russia and Ukraine made competing claims about damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones. It confirmed the loss of one of its Su-25 attack jets, blaming ‘pilot error,’ and said an An-26 transport plane had crashed because of technical failure, killing the entire crew. It did not say how many were aboard.
Russia said it was not targeting cities, but journalists saw destruction in many civilian areas.
A Russian plane crashed near Voronezh on Thursday in what is believed to have been a technical failure. All those on board perished – it is unclear how many
Twenty million dollars in U.N. humanitarian funds for Ukraine. A raft of new, stronger sanctions against Russia from Japan, Australia, Taiwan and others. And a cascade of condemnation from the highest levels.
As Russian bombs and troops pounded Ukraine during the invasion’s first full day, world leaders on Friday began to fine-tune a response meant to punish the Russian economy and its leaders, including President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
While there’s an acute awareness that a military intervention isn’t possible, for now, the strength, unity and speed of the financial sanctions – with the striking exception of China, a strong Russian supporter – signal a growing global determination to make Moscow reconsider its attack.
‘Japan must clearly show its position that we will never tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force,’ Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday while announcing new punitive measures that included freezing the visas and assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals, and the suspension of shipments of semiconductors and other restricted goods to Russian military-linked organizations.
‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an extremely grave development that affects the international order, not only for Europe but also for Asia,’ Kishida said.
Countries in Asia and the Pacific have joined the United States, the 27-nation European Union and others in the West in piling on punitive measures against Russian banks and leading companies. The nations have also set up export controls aimed at starving Russia’s industries and military of semiconductors and other high-tech products.
The moves follow Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s forces conducted airstrikes on cities and military bases, and his troops and tanks rolled into the nation from three sides. Ukraine’s government pleaded for help as civilians fled. Scores of Ukrainians, civilians and service members alike, were killed.
‘An unthinkable number of innocent lives could be lost because of Russia’s decision,’ New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. She announced targeted travel bans against Russian officials and other measures.
At the United Nations, officials set aside $20 million to boost U.N. humanitarian operations in Ukraine. Separately, the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all its forces. Moscow, however, is certain to veto it.
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the $20 million from the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund will support emergency operations along the contact line in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk and in other areas of the country, and will ‘help with health care, shelter, food, and water and sanitation to the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict.’
The West and its allies have shown no inclination to send troops into Ukraine – a non-member of NATO – and risk a wider war on the continent. But NATO reinforced its member states in Eastern Europe as a precaution against an attack on them, too.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, meanwhile, extended to 200 nautical miles the airspace it considers risky, and warned of ‘the threat of missile launches to and from Ukraine.’
Protests by Ukrainians and their supporters were held Friday in Taiwan, Mongolia, Australia and elsewhere. Public buildings, sports stadiums and landmarks in the Australian city of Melbourne were illuminated in Ukraine’s national colors of blue and yellow.
Japan’s new sanctions follow an earlier set of measures that include the suspension of distributing and issuing new Russian government bonds in Japan – a move aimed at cutting funding for Russia’s military – a trade ban with two Ukrainian separatist regions and the freezing of their assets and visas.
Japan, which has long sought to regain control of Russian-held northern islands seized at the end of World War II, took a milder stance toward Moscow during Russia’s 2014 Crimea annexation. Tokyo’s response to the current invasion has been considered tougher and faster, something that may be linked to a deep worry in Tokyo over China’s increasingly assertive military actions in the region.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his nation will join international sanctions, but won’t consider unilateral sanctions.
South Korea’s comparative caution is likely because its economy is heavily dependent on international trade. It also worries that strained ties with Moscow could undermine efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Russia is South Korea’s 10th largest trading partner, and Moscow is a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and maintains friendly ties with North Korea.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned Putin late Thursday and appealed for an ‘immediate cessation of violence,’ his office said in a statement.
India’s permanent U.N. representative pushed for ‘urgent de-escalation’ through ‘sustained and focused diplomacy,’ but stopped short of either condemning Russia or acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The cautious statement reflects India’s delicate position. It relies heavily on Russia, a historic partner, for military equipment but has sought to strengthen ties with the West over the years.
Taiwan announced Friday that it would join in economic sanctions against Russia, although it did not specify what type of measures those would be. Sanctions could potentially be focused on export control of semiconductor chips, local media reported. Taiwan is the dominant manufacturer of such chips, a critical component used in technologies from cars to laptops to cellphones.
While most nations in Asia rallied to support Ukraine, China has continued to denounce sanctions against Russia and blamed the United States and its allies for provoking Moscow. Beijing, worried about U.S. power in Asia, has increasingly aligned its foreign policy with Russia to challenge the West.
‘At a time when Australia, together with the United Kingdom, together with the United States and Europe and Japan, are acting to cut off Russia, the Chinese government is following through on easing trade restrictions with Russia and that is simply unacceptable,’ Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday.
‘You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they’re invading another country,’ he added, referring to a report in The South China Morning Post that China had announced it was fully open to Russian wheat imports.
In Tokyo, Ukraine’s top diplomat for Japan urged China to join international efforts to stop the Russian invasion.
‘We would very much welcome that China will exercise its connection with Russia and talk to Putin and explain to him it is inappropriate in the 21st century to do this massacre in Europe,’ Ambassador Sergiy Korsunsky told reporters.