Street Fighting Begins In Kyiv; People Urged To Seek Shelter

By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA, KYIV, Ukraine, Feb. 26 (AP): Russian troops stormed toward Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and street fighting broke out as city officials urged residents to take shelter. The country’s president refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting that he would stay. “The fight is here,” he said.

As dawn broke in Kyiv, it was not immediately clear how far the soldiers had advanced. Skirmishes reported on the edge of the city suggested that small Russian units were probing Ukrainian defences to clear a path for the main forces.

But the swift movement of the troops after less than three days of fighting further imperilled a country clinging to independence in the face of a broad Russian assault, which threatened to topple the democratic government and scramble the post-Cold War world order.

The street clashes followed fighting that pummeled bridges, schools and apartment buildings, and resulted in hundreds of casualties.

U.S. officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own. The invasion represented Putin’s boldest effort yet to redraw the map of Europe and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence. It triggered new international efforts to end the invasion, including direct sanctions on Putin.

With his country confronting explosions and gunfire, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for a cease-fire and warned in a bleak statement that multiple cities were under attack. He said the country’s future hung in the balance.

“This night we have to stand firm,” he said. “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

Zelenskyy was urged to evacuate Kyiv at the behest of the U.S. government but turned down the offer, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation. The official quoted the president as saying that “the fight is here” and that he needed anti-tank ammunition but “not a ride.”

City officials in Kyiv urged residents to take shelter, to stay away from windows and to take precautions to avoid flying debris or bullets.

The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of the embattled Zelenskyy instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.

The Russian military continued its advance, laying claim Friday to the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol. Still, it was unclear in the fog of war how much of Ukraine is still under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized.

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