Residents of Kyiv are bracing for another night of assaults as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle for control of the capital, and Russian troops closed in on two other cities Saturday on the third day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There were reports of shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Early Sunday the Ukrainian president's office reported an explosion in Kharkiv and said Russian forces had blown up a gas pipeline.
The explosion could cause an "environmental catastrophe," it said, urging residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.
Ukraine's top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said the Russian forces have been unable to take Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, about 40 kilometers from the Russian border. She said a fierce battle is underway, according to The Associated Press.
Western allies are responding. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday his country will send Ukraine 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles “as quickly as possible,” and the French presidential office said France will send defensive weapons and fuel.
“The anti-war coalition is working,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
Lines of vehicles clogged Ukraine’s borders as refugees continued to leave the country. The United Nations refugee agency said Saturday more than 150,000 had fled, half of them to Poland, and up to 4 million could flee if the situation worsens.
A defiant Zelenskyy said Saturday the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands, as officials urged the country’s citizens to help defend Kyiv against the Russian forces.
Small groups of Russian soldiers were reported in the capital Saturday, although British and U.S. officials say the bulk of Russian forces were 30 kilometers from the city center.
"We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks" Zelenskyy said in a video recorded from the streets of Kyiv. Zelenskyy also said he would be willing to talk with Russia.
US sees ‘viable Ukrainian resistance’
“We continue to believe, based on what we have observed, that this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected … particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence.
A high-rise apartment building in the capital was hit early Saturday by a Russian missile, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister. A rescue worker told the Associated Press that six people were injured.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized the State Department to release $350 million in military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total security assistance the United States has committed to Ukraine over the past year to more than $1 billion.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Saturday the additional assistance includes “anti-armor, small arms and various munitions, body armor, and related equipment.”
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said in a BBC interview Saturday that Russian armored columns approaching Kyiv have been held up by Ukrainian resistance.
And Britain’s intelligence agency tweeted that Russia’s advance has slowed "likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties & strong Ukrainian resistance."
Kyiv's mayor, former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, said Saturday there was no significant military presence in the capital but that saboteur groups were on the loose. Klitschko imposed a 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, as he said the city had gone into a defensive phase.
A senior U.S. defense official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence, said Russian forces had unleashed a barrage of more than 200 ballistic and cruise missiles since the invasion began, most of them targeting the Ukrainian military.
"They're meeting more resistance than they expected," the U.S. official said.
Amnesty International says Russia may have committed war crimes with its invasion of Ukraine, showing “blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a statement.
Russian officials countered Friday that their forces had made solid progress in what they described as an effort to eliminate a terrorist threat.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov claimed Saturday that since the start of Russia’s attack, its military had hit 821 Ukrainian military facilities, 87 tanks and other targets.
Konashenkov claimed the Russian military has taken full control of the southern city of Melitopol, 35 kilometers inland from the Azov Sea coast and said Russia-backed separatists have made significant gains in the eastern region of Donbas.
Russia's military also said Friday it took control of the strategic Hostomel airport northwest of Kyiv. Russia's claim was not immediately confirmed, but Ukrainian authorities reported heavy fighting there.
On the ground in Ukraine
Western officials cautioned that the situation was fluid and noted that things could change rapidly. They now estimate that half of the 190,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border had entered the fighting.
They also warned of Russian attempts to use disinformation, “publicizing false reports about the widespread surrender of Ukrainian troops," a U.S. official said Friday, as well as threatening the families of Ukrainian soldiers if they do not surrender.
The Pentagon voiced support for NATO's decision to activate the NATO Response Force Friday, citing Russia's aggression.
NATO on Friday vowed to continue to support Ukraine's government and military and warned it had taken unprecedented action to ensure the security of alliance members.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 12,000 US service members are on “prepare to deploy” orders in case the United States is asked to participate in the defensive force.
At least 198 Ukrainians have been killed in the invasion, including three children, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency, which cited Ukraine’s health ministry. It was unclear if the figure included only civilian deaths.
Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed, while Russia did not disclose casualty figures.
Small anti-war protests continued in a number of Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the Russian independent human rights media project OVD-Info reports that more than 489 people have been detained.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, VOA Refugee Correspondent Heather Murdock in Kyiv, Jamie Dettmer in Lviv, Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine and VOA’s Wayne Lee contributed to this report. Some information is from Reuters and The Associated Press.