Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles on Saturday for a third day running but a defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands.

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fled westwards towards the European Union, top Russian security official and ex-president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow’s military operations would be waged relentlessly until their goals were achieved.

Ignoring weeks of Western warnings, President Vladimir Putin launched a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, saying the “neo-Nazis” in power in Kyiv threatened Russia’s security. The assault threatens to upend Europe’s post-Cold War order.

In a significant ratcheting up of Russia’s rhetoric, Medvedev said new Western sanctions were a sign of the West’s impotence in the standoff and hinted at a severing of diplomatic ties, saying it was time to “padlock the embassies”.

After a night of airstrikes, there were some signs of panic in Kyiv. Reuters reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers and a group of women running along the street. Nearby, Ukrainian soldiers forced a man in civilian clothes to lie down on the pavement.

Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, but added that saboteur groups were active. The metro system is now serving only as a shelter for citizens and trains have stopped running, he said.

Klitschko said 35 people, including two children, had been wounded overnight. He later announced the extension of a night-time curfew, which will now run from 5 pm until 8 am.

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed and 1,115 people wounded so far in Russia’s invasion, Interfax quoted Ukraine’s Health Ministry as saying. It was unclear whether the numbers comprised only civilian casualties.

“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskiy said in a video message posted on his social media. “We have the courage to defend our homeland, to defend Europe.”

Britain said the bulk of Russian forces were now 30 km (19 miles) from the centre of Kyiv and said Russia had yet to gain control of Ukraine’s airspace.

The Kremlin said Putin had ordered troops to stop advancing on Friday but that they were moving forwards on Saturday after Kyiv refused to negotiate. Both Moscow and Kyiv had previously raised the possibility of peace talks but they came to nothing.

RESISTANCE

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes. Putin says Ukraine is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their distinctive history and identity.

Western intelligence sources say Russian forces have encountered far stronger Ukrainian resistance to their invasion than they had expected to their invasion.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces had captured Melitopol, a city of 150,000 in southeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials were not immediately available to comment and Britain cast doubt on the report.

If confirmed, it would be the first significant population centre the Russians have seized.

Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia did not release casualty figures.

Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour and has cited the need to “denazify” Ukraine’s leadership, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine – a charge dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as baseless propaganda.

About 100,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, including 9,000 who have entered since 7 a.m. on Saturday, Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told a news conference.

Reuters

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