Battle for Kiev underway; Russian troops seek to encircle capital
Ukrainians in the capital Kiev huddled in air raid shelters today, as a battle for the city raged overhead and Ukrainian forces sought to hold back rapidly advancing Russian troops by blowing up a key bridge. Before dawn, explosions lit up the sky as Russia targeted the city with missile strikes, according to a Ukrainian government adviser. A CNN team reported hearing two large blasts in central Kyiv and a third loud explosion in the distance, followed by at least three more explosions to the south-west of the city a few hours later. “Strikes on Kyiv with cruise or ballistic missiles continued,” Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine told reporters via text message. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Russian reconnaissance troops had entered the Obolon district of northern Kyiv, just a few miles from the city centre. Videos from the area showed chaotic scenes as civilians tried to hide from small arms fire.
UN “gravely concerned” about civilian casualties
The UN is “gravely concerned” about the situation in Ukraine, and is receiving increasing reports of civilian casualties, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani said Friday. “Civilians are terrified of further escalation, with many attempting to flee their homes and others taking shelter where possible,” Shamdasani said, adding that “the military action by the Russian Federation clearly violates international law. It puts at risk countless lives and it must be immediately halted.” The UN Human Rights office said it is also “disturbed by the multiple arbitrary arrests of demonstrators in Russia who were protesting against war yesterday.” More than 1,800 protesters were arrested and it was unclear whether some have now been released,” Shamdasani said.
Soldiers’ defiant last words as Russian warship targets Snake Island
A Ukrainian soldier on a tiny island in the Black Sea didn’t hold back when threatened with bombing by a Russian warship as Moscow continued its assault on Ukrainian territory. According to a purported audio exchange, as the Russians approached Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, the Russian officer says: “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed.” A Ukrainian soldier responds: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.” Those were the final known words heard from the island. All 13 Ukrainian defenders were killed in a Russian bombardment Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “All border guards died heroically but did not give up. They will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously,” Zelensky said.
China blocks anti-Russian sanctions
China “opposes any illegal sanctions that harm Russia’s legitimate rights and interests”. Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin spokesman said “the United States has imposed more than 100 sanctions against Russia since 2011”, which were found to be “non-fundamental and effective tools for solving problems”. Wang later observed, adding that the unitive and restrictive measures “will only bring serious difficulties to the economy and people’s livelihood”. In his daily briefing in Beijing, Wang also recalled “that the sovereign and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected and that the UN Charter must be supported”. The spokesman called for the adoption in Europe of “a balanced, effective and sustainable security mechanism”.
Xi speaks to Putin and calls for ‘negotiation’ with Ukraine
In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he supported solving the Ukraine crisis through talks. In a readout of the call on state broadcaster CCTV, Xi pointed out that the “situation in eastern Ukraine has undergone rapid changes … (and) China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation.” Beijing has trod a cautious diplomatic line on the crisis and refused to call it an “invasion” or condemn the actions of Russia, its close ally. Xi said on the call with Putin it was important to “abandon the Cold War mentality, attach importance to and respect the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations.”
EU to work on third sanctions package
European Council president Charles Michel has said the EU is working on a third package of sanctions against Moscow. In a tweet, he said he had spokent o Ukrainian “President Volodymyr Zelensky while Kiev is constantly under attack from Russian forces. The senseless suffering and loss of civilian lives must stop. Europe is on the side of the people of Ukraine and will continue to provide support,” continues Michel. “A second package of sanctions with massive and serious consequences were agreed last night. A further package is in urgent preparation.”
Champions League final moved To Paris
The Champions League final in May will be moved to Paris from St Petersburg because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European football’s governing body, UEFA, announced today. The widely expected decision was made during a hastily arranged executive committee meeting less than 36 hours after Russian forces entered Ukraine. The Kremlin said the decision was a “shame”. The meeting also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams in UEFA competitions will have to play at neutral venues until further notice. The 80,000-capacity Stade de France will instead host the May 28 final, UEFA said. Paris has hosted five previous finals of Europe’s elite competition, previously known as the European Cup. Parc des Princes stadium was the final venue for the maiden edition of the tournament in 1956 as well as the 1975 and 1981 finals, while the 2000 and 2006 deciders were held in the Stade de France. It is the third year in a row that a relocation at short notice has been required after two coronavirus disrupted seasons saw the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto step in.