Despite fierce fighting inside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv overnight, the Russians have so far failed to capture the city as of Saturday.
Videos posted on social media showed that gunfire could be heard in Kyiv throughout the night, indicating that Ukrainian forces were battling the Russian “sabotage groups” that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed are operating in the city.
In an address to Ukrainians on Saturday, Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces had “derailed” Russia’s plans to quickly capture Kyiv, according to Agence France Presse.
“We have withstood and successfully repelled enemy attacks,” Zelenskyy said in a speech Saturday morning. “The fighting continues in many cities and districts of our state, but we know that we are protecting the country, the land, the future of children.”
Zelensky had warned in an earlier speech just before midnight on Friday that an attack on the capital was imminent and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko had separately warned that Russian troops were “very close to the capital,” adding that “the night and the morning will be difficult.”
As of Saturday, Russian troops were about 30 kilometers north of Kyiv, said a senior defense official, who cautioned reporters that the situation on the ground changes by the hour. The official also said that Russian “reconnaissance elements” are operating in and near the capital, but he did not elaborate on what types of forces these are or how many are inside Kyiv.
Nearly three days after the invasion began, the Russians have committed more than half of the combat forces that had been amassed around Ukraine’s border to the fight, the senior official said during a Saturday press call. The Russians have also fired more than 250 missiles at Ukraine and conducted an amphibious landing from the Sea of Azov to the west of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Yet U.S. military officials believe the invasion is moving slower than the Russians had expected, in part because of stiff Ukrainian resistance, the official said.
“We continue to believe, based on what we’ve observed, that this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected, and we have indications that the Russians are increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum over the last 24 hours, particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” the official said.
U.S. military officials also believe that the Russians have sent more fuel and other logistics support to its invading forces than they had expected to do at this point in the operation, the official said.
A video posted on Twitter purportedly shows a Ukrainian man driving next to a stopped Russian military vehicle and asking if they had broken down. When the Russian troops respond that they have run out of fuel, the Ukrainian man offers to tow them back to Russia.
So far, Russian forces have advanced from the occupied Crimea peninsula toward the Ukrainian city of Kherson; from Belarus towards Kyiv; and from Belgorod, Russia, toward Kharkiv, Ukraine, the senior defense official said. Both military targets and civilian areas have been struck by Russian missiles, said the official, who added the U.S. military does not have an estimate of how many casualties and damage the Russian invasion has created.
Kyiv has clearly been in Russia’s crosshairs since the start of the invasion. The senior defense official told reporters on Thursday that Russia appears intent on “decapitating” the Ukrainian government by taking Kyiv quickly and installing their own governing apparatus. Earlier that day, CNN reporter Matthew Chance reported live from the scene as Russian paratroopers captured an airport just 21 miles from the capital.
On Friday, Russian special operations forces who had attacked the Obolon district of Kyiv were reportedly repulsed by Ukrainian troops, Coffee or Die Magazine editor Nolan Peterson reported.
Zelensky has ordered a “general mobilization” for the Ukrainian military, according to CNN, which means that many male Ukrainian citizens are now barred from leaving the country and will be conscripted into the military to defend Kyiv, a city of nearly 3 million.
It has been nearly three days since Russia launched its full-scale assault on cities across the country that began from the North, South, and East. Explosions were reported in Kyiv in the early morning hours of Thursday. Similar explosions were reported in nearby Boryspil, as well as cities throughout the country, which is about the size of Texas.
The Russian attack followed a weeks-long military buildup of nearly 200,000 troops along the Ukrainian border.
Russia’s pre-dawn invasion of Ukraine kicked off shortly after Russian Vladimir Putin announced in a pre-recorded speech that he had “taken the decision to carry out a special military operation” in the country and called on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms.
“All service members of the Ukrainian army who follow these demands will be able to leave the battle zone,” Putin said in the speech, warning: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history. We are ready for any turn of events.”
Putin on Monday recognized two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent and then deployed Russian troops to the provinces as a so-called “peacekeeping” force. It was just the latest Russian incursion into Ukraine — an independent nation since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 — after Moscow annexed the country’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and began training and supporting an armed insurgency in the east that has cost the lives of nearly 13,000 people, according to the International Crisis Group.
The U.S. government closed its embassy in Kyiv and ordered Americans to leave the country prior to the Russian invasion. Apache helicopters, F-35 fighter jets, and hundreds of U.S. troops have been deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in support of NATO allies.
President Joe Biden had previously stressed the deployment of troops to the region was a “defensive move on our part” and the U.S. had “no intention of fighting Russia.”
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden reiterated that U.S. troops would not fight Russia in Ukraine while announcing he had ordered additional troops to deploy from the United States to NATO allies in the region.
Most of those 7,000 additional service members will mostly come from the Army’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team,3rd Infantry Division, who will deploy to Germany in the coming days, a senior defense official said. In total, between 10,000 and 12,000 U.S. troops have been placed on prepare to deploy orders to respond to the Russian invasion, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a Friday news briefing.
“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” Biden said. “Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and assure those NATO allies in the east.”
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