Ukraine's Zelenskyy 'tells West it may not see him alive again'

Moscow launched its attack by land, air and sea a day earlier after a declaration of war by President Vladimir Putin

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European leaders on Friday expressed fears they might not see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alive again as he held his ground amid a fight for Kiev.

As fighting raged on day two of the Russian invasion, Mr Zelenskyy was pleading for tougher sanctions from the West after it held off hitting Moscow with its full arsenal of punitive measures.

In a moment described in emotional terms by EU leaders, he addressed them by video link from a hideout in Kiev during an overnight summit in an appearance that left them fearing for his fate.

Mr Zelenskyy has said he will not flee the capital and, according to multiple reports, told the European Council that they it might be the last time they saw him alive.

"When we said goodbye, we all knew that it is not obvious that we will ever see each other again," Swedish media quoted Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson as saying.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the call was a "dramatic moment that hit everyone in the European Council".

Mr Zelenskyy kept up his campaign on Friday with a series of phone calls to western leaders. "Not all possibilities for sanctions have been exhausted yet,” he wrote on Twitter, after talking to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. “The pressure on Russia must increase.”

At least one residential building on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital was hit by shelling on Friday morning, damaging several floors.

Ukrainian Emergency Services rescued 150 residents and reported that eight were wounded.

Russia on Friday claimed to have killed 200 Ukrainian special forces during the capture of an airfield close to Kiev. The claim has not been verified.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Friday that Russian forces had lost about 2,800 servicemen and 80 tanks during their assault.

She added on her Facebook page that the Russian troops also lost about 516 armoured combat vehicles, 10 aircraft and seven helicopters as of 1500 local time.

Ukrainian officials' claims of heavy Russian losses have not been independently verified.

Earlier, Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia had lost 450 soldiers on Thursday, the first day of the invasion.

Streets in Kiev appeared eerily deserted after Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital on Friday after unleashing air strikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides.

Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the city was in a defensive phase. On Friday Mr Klitschko was pictured wearing military fatigues holding a gun.

In Obolonsky, a northern district of Kiev, pedestrians ran for safety as small-arms fire and explosions were heard.

Russian forces first arrived on the outskirts of Kiev on Thursday when helicopter-borne troops assaulted an airfield just outside the city, close to Obolonsky.

The Ukrainian military said it had repulsed the attack on Gostomel airbase but Russian ground forces have also been pushing down the west bank of the Dnieper River from Belarus.

A video posted on social media, believed to have been filmed in Kiev, showed firearms being distributed to Ukrainian civilians.

Mr Zelenskyy vowed to stay in Kiev as two loud explosions were heard in the centre of the capital early on Friday, in the biggest attack on a European state since the Second World War.

Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea after a declaration of war by President Vladimir Putin. About 100,000 people have fled as explosions and gunfire rocked big cities. The death toll of Ukrainian civilians and military personnel killed stands at 137, while 316 people have been wounded in the violence.

In a message to his fellow Ukrainians, President Zelenskyy vowed to remain in the capital as Russian troops closed in, and admitted he was the “number one target” for the invading forces.

“[The] enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” Mr Zelenskyy warned in a video message. “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.”

He also made a clear reference to US President Biden's administration when he said; “This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance."

US and Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to capture Kiev and topple the government, which Mr Putin regards as a puppet of the US.

Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said Russian forces had hit 33 civilian sites, including three kindergartens. She tweeted a showing bodies lying outside a building, which she said was an apartment block in the eastern city of Okhtyrka.

The lawmaker tweeted: "33 civilian targets hit. 3 kindergartens shelled. Number of civilian casualties still being counted. This is inhumane. Stop Putin residential block in Ohtyrka shelled by BM-27 Uragan."

Ms Vasylenko said a block of flats in the Kiev neighbourhood of Troyeshchyna had been hit by Russia.

Ukrainian MPs are urging European leaders to freeze Russia out of the Swift international payment system.

Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Europe was facing a test of its pledge to avoid war on the continent after the Second World War.

“To some European leaders who are still hesitant: each year at commemorative events you say ‘never again’. The time to prove it is now,” he wrote.

“Russia is waging a horrific war of aggression in Europe. Here is your ‘never again’ test: BAN RUSSIA FROM SWIFT and kick it out of everywhere.”

Russian troops seized the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kiev on Thursday as they advanced along the shortest route to Kiev from Belarus to the north.

Heavy gunfire

Invading Russian forces pressed deep into Ukraine as deadly battles reached the outskirts of Kiev and the West responded with punishing sanctions.

On Thursday, Russia’s paratroopers wrested control of Gostomel airfield on the north-western outskirts of Kiev, after swooping in with helicopters and jets from the direction of Belarus.

There was also fighting at Hostomel airport, a short distance outside Kiev, where Russian paratroopers landed. A Ukrainian official later said the airfield had been recaptured while a senior US defence official said Russian forces were advancing closer to Kiev.

Heavy exchanges of fire were also reported in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv in the north-east and Kherson in the south.

The motorway heading west out of Kiev, home to three million people, was choked with traffic across five lanes as residents sought to escape, fearful of bombardments while stuck in their cars.

Fifty-seven people were killed and 169 were wounded on Thursday, Ukraine’s health minister said, while the interior ministry said 13 border guards died when a Russian vessel shelled Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island, south of the Black Sea port of Odessa.

A video surfacing on Twitter showed a military tank rolling over a car being driven along a road, believed to be in Kiev. A badly injured elderly man was later seen being pulled from the wreckage of a car.

Foreign companies shut plants

Brewer Carlsberg, Japan Tobacco and a Coca-Cola bottler were among the companies that shut factories in Ukraine on Thursday after Russia’s invasion, while UPS and FedEx Corp suspended services in and out of the country.

Many companies with exposure to Russia are waiting for more clarity on western sanctions and assessing the impact of those already announced.

Washington on Thursday announced a wave of measures that impede Russia’s ability to do business in major currencies, along with sanctions against banks and state-owned enterprises. Earlier, it had imposed sanctions on the company behind the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Ms von der Leyen said Brussels would block Russian access to key technology and markets.

Denmark’s Carlsberg, which has a 31 per cent share of Ukraine’s beer market, suspended production at all three of its breweries in the country, while Coca-Cola HBC said it had triggered contingency plans which included shutting its bottling plant.

Japan Tobacco shut a cigarette plant in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 4:34 PM