Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. The country’s president refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting that he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said.
As dawn broke in Kyiv, it was not immediately clear how far the soldiers had advanced. Ukrainian officials reported some success in fending off assaults, but fighting persisted near the capital. Skirmishes reported on the edge of the city suggested that small Russian units were probing Ukrainian defenses to clear a path for the main forces.
The swift movement of the troops after less than three days of fighting further imperiled a country clinging to independence in the face of a broad Russian assault, which threatened to topple the democratic government and scramble the post-Cold War world order.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered renewed assurance Saturday that the country’s military would stand up to the Russian invasion. In a video recorded on a downtown street, he said he had not left the city and that claims that the Ukrainian military would put down arms were false.
“We aren’t going to lay down weapons. We will protect the country,” he said. “Our weapon is our truth, and our truth is that it’s our land, our country, our children. And we will defend all of that.”
The street clashes followed fighting that pummeled bridges, schools and apartment buildings, and resulted in hundreds of casualties. By Saturday morning, when the small Russian units tried to infiltrate Kyiv, Ukrainian forces controlled the situation, Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
U.S. officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own. The invasion represented Putin’s boldest effort yet to redraw the map of Europe and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. It triggered new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions on Putin.
Zelenskyy was urged early Saturday to evacuate Kyiv at the behest of the U.S. government but turned down the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation. The official quoted the president as saying that “the fight is here” and that he needed anti-tank ammunition but “not a ride.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
City officials in Kyiv urged residents to seek shelter, to stay away from windows and to take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets.
The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of the embattled Zelenskyy instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.
The Russian military on Friday laid claim to the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol. Still, it was unclear in the fog of war how much of Ukraine was still under Ukrainian control and how much Russian forces have seized.