Ukraine capital under siege as Russia bombards nation

Russian forces have bombarded Ukraine and encircled cities near the nation’s capital, Kyiv, in an onslaught that spread fires through civilian buildings and left hundreds dead or wounded on the second day of an invasion condemned by world leaders.

Missiles struck air fields and military targets across Ukraine while Russian forces took control of roads leading to Kyiv in an attempt to overthrow the government and install a regime friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With the capital under attack, thousands of Ukrainians have been forced to shelter in bunkers or flee the Russian forces storming the country.

The Russian and Ukrainian armies fought for control of the main airport at Hostomel, 10 kilometres outside Kyiv, while authorities warned that “enemy sabotage groups” were already inside the capital.

Ukrainian forces sought to slow the Russian advance at Sumy, 30 kilometres east of the capital, in a gun battle that saw parts of the town engulfed in flames during the night.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged citizens to volunteer to help against the offensive, saying he and his family were prime targets because the Russians were seeking to remove the elected government.

“They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of the state,” he said in a video address released after midnight on Friday, Kyiv time.

“We are left to our own devices in defence of our state.”

Mr Zelensky told citizens that “enemy sabotage groups” had already entered Kyiv.

The United States and its European allies deployed thousands of troops to NATO members including Poland and the Baltic states, but declared again they would not send troops into Ukraine, choosing instead to escalate trade and financial sanctions in the hope it would halt the invasion.

Mr Blinken said a Russian attack beyond Ukraine was “a possibility”, but reiterated the US’ commitment towards defending its NATO allies, warning that “an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO”.

High-rise towers burned in the night in Kyiv after the city was hit with heavy shelling. Credit:Ukraine’s State Emergency Services

US President Joe Biden condemned the “naked aggression” Mr Putin had unleashed and said the Russian President was driven by a “desire for empire” that meant bullying his neighbours through coercion and corruption.

“Putin’s actions betray his sinister vision for the future of our world — one where nations take what they want by force,” he said.

“Putin will be a pariah on the international stage.”

Mr Biden insisted the sanctions would have a greater impact than another option being debated, removing Russia from the SWIFT network that underpins global banking, with Germany and Italy opposed that move out of fear of an extreme disruption to financial markets.

Asked by a journalist whether the sanctions were strong enough, Mr Biden said: “Let’s have a conversation in another month or so to see if they’re working.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the case to exclude Russian banks from SWIFT and promised medical supplies and non-lethal military equipment to help Ukraine.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also urged “punitive action” against Russia to stop the conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told US network ABC he was “convinced” the Russian objective was to overthrow the Ukrainian government with an assault on Kyiv, saying an attack beyond Ukraine was a “possibility” but would be resisted by NATO.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior estimated Russia has conducted 393 bombardments since the invasion began at dawn on Thursday, Kyiv time.

The government said the attacks had killed at least 137 Ukrainians, including military personnel and civilians, and wounded another 316.

The Russian army crossed the border from Belarus and took control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine on a strategic route to Kyiv. The White House said Russian troops had taken staff at the station hostage.

Russian forces also moved across the contested Donbas region of Luhansk and Donetsk, two areas Mr Putin has recognised as separate republics in a move dismissed by other countries as a violation of international law.

The Russian and Ukrainian navies fought in the Black Sea as part of an attack on the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa.

With cities under attack across the country, the Ukrainian government ordered a general mobilisation, called for volunteers for its armed forces and barred men aged from 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

US defence officials told the media that the first wave of Russian attacks included more than 100 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles and sea-launched missiles from the Black Sea, as well as attacks from 75 fixed-wing heavy and medium bombers.

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