A civil protection man stands guard at a checkpoint in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday. Russian troops stormed towards Ukraine’s capital Saturday, and avenue preventing broke out as metropolis officers urged residents to take shelter. (Emilio Morenatti, Related Press)
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KYIV, Ukraine — President Vladimir Putin dramatically escalated East-West tensions by ordering Russian nuclear forces placed on excessive alert Sunday, whereas Ukraine’s embattled chief agreed to talks with Moscow as Putin’s troops and tanks drove deeper into the nation, closing in across the capital.
Citing “aggressive statements” by NATO and difficult monetary sanctions, Putin issued a directive to extend the readiness of Russia’s nuclear weapons, elevating fears that the invasion of Ukraine may result in nuclear conflict, whether or not by design or mistake.
The Russian chief is “doubtlessly placing in play forces that, if there is a miscalculation, may make issues a lot, far more harmful,” mentioned a senior U.S. protection official, talking on situation of anonymity to debate quickly unfolding navy operations.
Putin’s directive got here as Russian forces encountered robust resistance from Ukraine defenders. Regardless of Russian advances throughout the nation, U.S. officers say they consider the invasion has been tougher, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, although that might change as Moscow adapts.
Amid the mounting tensions, Western nations mentioned they might tighten sanctions and purchase and ship weapons for Ukraine, together with Stinger missiles for taking pictures down helicopters and different plane.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s workplace, in the meantime, introduced plans for a gathering with a Russian delegation at an unspecified location on the Belarusian border.
It wasn’t instantly clear when the assembly would happen, nor what the Kremlin was finally in search of, both in these potential talks on the border or, extra broadly, from its conflict in Ukraine. Western officers consider Putin desires to overthrow Ukraine’s authorities and change it with a regime of his personal, reviving Moscow’s Chilly Struggle-era affect.
The fast-moving developments got here as scattered preventing was reported in Kyiv. Battles additionally broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis, Kharkiv, and strategic ports within the nation’s south got here beneath assault from Russian forces.
By late Sunday, Russian forces had taken Berdyansk, a Ukrainian metropolis of 100,000 on the Azov Beach, in response to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Zelenskyy’s workplace. Russian troops additionally made advances towards Kherson, one other metropolis within the south of Ukraine, whereas Mariupol, a port metropolis on the Sea of Azov that’s thought of a main Russian goal, is “hanging on,” Arestovich mentioned.
With Russian troops closing in round Kyiv, a metropolis of virtually 3 million, the mayor of the capital expressed doubt that civilians might be evacuated. Authorities have been handing out weapons to anybody keen to defend town. Ukraine can be releasing prisoners with navy expertise who need to combat, and coaching folks to make firebombs.
In Mariupol, the place Ukrainians had been attempting to fend off assault, a medical group at a metropolis hospital desperately tried to revive a 6-year-old woman in unicorn pajamas who was mortally wounded in Russian shelling.
Throughout the rescue try, a health care provider in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into the woman, regarded immediately into the Related Press video digital camera capturing the scene.
“Present this to Putin,” he mentioned angrily. “The eyes of this baby, and crying medical doctors.”
Their resuscitation efforts failed, and the woman lay useless on a gurney, her jacket spattered with blood.
Almost 560 miles away, Faina Bystritska was beneath risk within the metropolis of Chernihiv.
“I want I had by no means lived to see this,” mentioned Bystritska, an 87-year-old Jewish survivor of World Struggle II. She mentioned sirens blare nearly continuously within the metropolis, about 90 miles from Kyiv.
Chernihiv residents have been advised to not change on any lights “so we do not draw their consideration,” mentioned Bystritska, who has been residing in a hallway, away from any home windows, so she may higher shield herself.
“The window glass continuously shakes, and there may be this fixed thundering noise,” she mentioned.
In the meantime, the highest official within the European Union outlined plans by the 27-nation bloc to shut its airspace to Russian airways and purchase weapons for Ukraine. The EU will even ban some pro-Kremlin media shops, mentioned European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen.
The U.S. additionally stepped up the stream of weapons to Ukraine, saying it would ship Stinger missiles as a part of a bundle accepted by the White Home on Friday. Germany likewise plans to ship 500 Stingers and different navy provides.
Additionally, the 193-member U.N. Common Meeting scheduled an emergency session Monday on Russia’s invasion.
Putin, in ordering the nuclear alert, cited not solely statements by NATO members however the hard-hitting monetary sanctions imposed by the West towards Russia, together with Putin himself.
“Western nations aren’t solely taking unfriendly actions towards our nation within the financial sphere, however prime officers from main NATO members made aggressive statements concerning our nation,” Putin mentioned in televised feedback.
U.S. protection officers wouldn’t disclose their present nuclear alert degree besides to say that the navy is ready all instances to defend its homeland and allies.
White Home press secretary Jen Psaki advised ABC that Putin is resorting to the sample he used within the weeks earlier than the invasion, “which is to fabricate threats that do not exist as a way to justify additional aggression.”
The sensible which means of Putin’s order was not instantly clear. Russia and the US usually have land- and submarine-based nuclear forces which can be on alert and ready for fight always, however nuclear-capable bombers and different plane usually are not.
If Putin is arming or in any other case elevating the nuclear fight readiness of his bombers, or if he’s ordering extra ballistic missile submarines to sea, then the U.S. would possibly really feel compelled to reply in type, mentioned Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst on the Federation of American Scientists.
Earlier Sunday, Kyiv was eerily quiet after explosions lit up the morning sky and authorities reported blasts at one airport. A important boulevard was virtually abandoned as a strict curfew stored folks off the streets. Authorities warned that anybody venturing out with no cross can be thought of a Russian saboteur.
Terrified residents hunkered down in houses, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale Russian assault. Meals and drugs had been working low, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko mentioned.
“Proper now, an important query is to defend our nation,” Klitschko mentioned.
In downtown Kharkiv, 86-year-old Olena Dudnik mentioned she and her husband had been practically thrown from their mattress by the stress blast of a close-by explosion.
“Day by day there are avenue fights, even downtown,” with Ukrainian fighters attempting to cease Russian tanks, armored autos and missile launchers, Dudnik mentioned by cellphone. She mentioned the strains at drugstores had been hours lengthy.
“We’re struggling immensely,” she mentioned. “We do not have a lot meals within the pantry, and I fear the shops aren’t going to have something both, in the event that they reopen.” She added: “I simply need the taking pictures to cease, folks to cease being killed.”
Pentagon officers mentioned that Russian troops are being slowed by Ukrainian resistance, gasoline shortages and different logistical issues, and that Ukraine’s air protection programs, whereas weakened, are nonetheless working.
However a senior U.S. protection official mentioned that may in all probability change: “We’re in day 4. The Russians will be taught and adapt.”
The variety of casualties from Europe’s largest land battle since World Struggle II remained unclear amid the confusion.
Ukraine’s Inside Ministry mentioned Sunday that 352 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, together with 14 kids. It mentioned an extra 1,684 folks, together with 116 kids, have been wounded.
Russian Protection Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov gave no figures on Russia’s useless and wounded however mentioned Sunday his nation’s losses had been “many instances” decrease than Ukraine’s.
About 368,000 Ukrainians have arrived in neighboring nations for the reason that invasion began Thursday, in response to the U.N. refugee company.
Together with navy help, the U.S., European Union and Britain additionally agreed to dam chosen Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which strikes cash round 1000’s of banks and different monetary establishments worldwide. Additionally they moved to slap restrictions on Russia’s central financial institution.
Russia’s financial system has taken a pounding for the reason that invasion, with the ruble plunging and the central financial institution calling for calm to keep away from financial institution runs.
Russia, which massed nearly 200,000 troops alongside Ukraine’s borders, claims its assault is aimed solely at navy targets, however bridges, faculties and residential neighborhoods have additionally been hit.
Contributing: Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, Hope Yen, Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman, Andrew Drake, Mstyslav Chernov, Nic Dumitrache