Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to stay in Kyiv as his troops battle the Russian army advancing towards the capital in the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.
Russia launched its land, air and sea invasion on Thursday following a declaration of war by President Vladimir Putin. About 100,000 people fled as explosions and gunfire rocked major cities. Zelenskyy said 137 people were killed on the first day of the attack.
US and Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to capture Kiev and overthrow the government, which Putin sees as an American puppet. Russian troops seized the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about 90 km (56 miles) north of Kiev, as they advanced along the shortest route to the capital from Belarus north.
“[The] the enemy has singled me out as target number one,” Zelenskyy warned in a video message Friday as heavy fighting was reported on multiple fronts. “My family is target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.
“I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.
Putin says Russia is conducting “a special military operation” to prevent the Ukrainian government from committing genocide against its own people – a charge the West calls baseless. He also says that Ukraine is an illegitimate state whose lands historically belong to Russia.
When asked if he was worried about Zelenskyy’s safety, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS: “To my knowledge, President Zelenskyy remains in Ukraine in his post, and of course we are concerned for the safety of all our friends. in Ukraine – government officials and others.
Sanctions imposed on Russia
A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence upon the fall of the Soviet Union and has recently stepped up efforts to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union, aspirations which exasperate Moscow.
The United States, along with the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia and the EU unveiled more sanctions against Moscow in addition to penalties earlier this week, including a decision by Germany to stopping an 11 billion dollar gas pipeline from Russia.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the bloc’s measures as “the toughest sanctions package we have ever implemented”.
China has come under pressure over its refusal to call Russia’s assault an invasion.
US President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House, said: “Any nation that tolerates Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be tainted by association.” He declined to comment directly on China’s position.
Russia is one of the largest energy producers in the world, and both Russia and Ukraine are among the top grain exporters. War and sanctions will disrupt economies around the world.
Oil prices climbed as high as $2 a barrel on Friday as markets brace for the effect of trade sanctions on Russia’s top crude exporter.
U.S. wheat futures hit their highest level in nearly 14 years, corn nudged an eight-month high and soybeans rebounded on fears of grain supply disruptions from the key Black Sea region.
Airlines were also facing disruption, with Japan Airlines canceling its Thursday night flight to Moscow and the UK closing its airspace to Russian carriers.
Russian military advances
Zelenskyy said 137 servicemen and civilians were killed in the fighting, with hundreds injured. Ukrainian officials had previously reported at least 70 people killed.
On Friday morning, Ukrainian forces shot down a plane over Kiev, which then crashed into a residential building and set it on fire, said Anton Herashchenko, adviser to the interior minister. It was unclear if the plane was manned.
A missile hit a Ukrainian border crossing in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, killing and injuring guards, the border guard service said.
The United States and other NATO members have sent military aid to Ukraine, but there are no plans to send troops for fear of sparking a wider European conflict.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded for “more weapons to continue fighting…the amount of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, helicopters that Russia has launched at Ukraine is unimaginable” .
Chernobyl was taken over by unidentified forces who disarmed a Ukrainian military unit guarding the plant, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator said.
He said there were no casualties, nothing was destroyed and radiation levels were unchanged. She informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that she had lost control of the plant.
The UN Security Council will vote Friday on a draft resolution that would condemn the Russian invasion and demand Moscow’s immediate withdrawal.
However, Moscow can veto the measure, and it was unclear how China would vote.