Euro 2024: Russia Banned From Qualifying Draw

File photo of the Adidas Telstar 18, the official ball of the Russia 2018 World Cup tournament is seen at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018. YURI CORTEZ / AFP

 

Russia will not take part in the draw for qualifying for Euro 2024, UEFA and the country’s football federation confirmed on Tuesday.

The Russian national team and Russian clubs were banned from international competitions earlier this year by UEFA following the invasion of Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Raducanu Survives Wobble To Reach Korea Open Last 16

“All Russian teams are currently suspended following the decision of the UEFA Executive Committee of 28 February 2022 which has further been confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 15 July 2022,” European football’s governing body said in a statement.

“Russia is therefore not included in the UEFA European Football Championship 2022-24 qualifying draw.”

Russia saw an appeal against the ban rejected by CAS in July.

“The Union is currently awaiting the full text of the CAS decision, following the study of which a decision will be made on further steps,” the Russian Football Union said.

Russia were also banned from the upcoming World Cup in Qatar by FIFA.

The team had originally qualified for the European qualifying playoffs.

The Russian women’s side were also kicked out of this year’s Euro in England, with their place taken by Portugal.

The 2024 European Championship will be hosted by Germany, with the qualifying draw set for October 9 in Frankfurt.

Germany’s interior minister has also asked for Belarus to be banned from the tournament due to the country’s backing of Russia.

100 Civilians Leave Mariupol Plant As Evacuation Begins – Zelensky

This handout video grab taken from a footage released by Mariupol City Council on April 19, 2022 shows clouds of smoke billowing above Azovstal steel plant and the destroyed gates of Azov Shipyard, as Russia continues its push to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol.  AFP

 

The evacuation of the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol has stazelrted, with an initial group of 100 civilians en route to Ukrainian-held territory, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

“Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began. The 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area. Tomorrow we’ll meet them in Zaporizhzhia,” he tweeted, referring to a city 220 kilometres (130 miles) to the northwest.

“Now they, together with #UN, are working on the evacuation of other civilians from the plant,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, the United Nations had confirmed that a “safe passage operation is ongoing” at Azovstal which was being coordinated by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)and Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Separately, Russian media confirmed that 40 civilians had left the Azovstal steel plant and were being taken to Russian-held territories in the east.

The TASS agency said 18 men, 14 women and eight children were taken to Bezimenne, a village halfway between Mariupol and the Russian border.

In a posting on Telegram, Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s office said it was “only the first stage”.

“The evacuation of civilians from the city of Mariupol, in particular from the Azovstal metallurgical plant, began today,” he wrote, saying the move involved “more than 100 women, children and the elderly”.

“It was a difficult operation and there is still a lot of work ahead, but nothing will stop us.”

The vast Azovstal iron and steelworks is the last hold-out of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol after a weeks-long onslaught by the Russian military.

Mariupol is an important strategic hub connecting the Russian-held southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.

Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are sheltering in the maze of Soviet-era underground tunnels underneath the steelworks, many of whom require medical attention.

Their fate has drawn worldwide condemnation.

Stretching over 11 square kilometres (4.2 square miles), the Azovstal complex is a sprawling warren of rail lines, warehouses, coal furnaces, factories, chimneys and tunnels seen as ideal for guerrilla warfare.

AFP

West Vows More Russian Sanctions As Ukraine War Enters New Phase

(COMBO) This combination of file photos created on February 22, 2022 shows (LtoR) US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brussels on February 18, 2022, and French President Emmanuel Macron in Berlin, on February 8, 2022.  AFP

 

The United States and allies agreed to impose more sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday as Russia pushed ahead with its new offensive targeting eastern Ukraine in the latest phase of the bloody invasion.

Russia’s defence ministry said that “high-precision air-based missiles” had hit 13 Ukrainian positions in parts of Donbas while other airstrikes “hit 60 military assets”, including in towns close to the eastern frontline.

Ukraine’s armed forces said fighting had increased throughout the east after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Russia had kicked off the widely anticipated offensive in Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

“The Russian occupiers intensified offensive operations along the entire line of contact,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a report published early Tuesday.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to acknowledge the new offensive, stating that “another phase of this operation is beginning”, during an interview with media outlet India Today.

Following the new push, the United States and European Union agreed on the need to “increasing Moscow’s international isolation”, during a virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and European leaders.

“We will further tighten our sanctions against Russia and step up financial and security assistance for Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

Separately, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the death of thousands of Ukrainian civilians “a war crime” for which Russian President Vladimir bears responsibility.

 ‘Bombed everywhere’

Ahead of Russia’s advance, Ukrainian authorities had urged people in Donbas to flee west to escape, even as officials called off evacuations for a third straight day from frontline cities due to ongoing fighting.

In the Donbas town of Novodruzhesk, Nadya, 65, said “we are bombed everywhere”.

“It’s a miracle that we’re still alive,” she said, her voice trembling.

“We were lying on the ground and waiting. Since February 24 we’ve been sleeping in the cellar.”

Control of Donbas and the besieged southern port of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the Crimean peninsula that it annexed in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of much of its coastline and a major revenue resource.

Russia continued its relentless battle to capture Mariupol, as Moscow issued a fresh call for the city’s defenders to surrender and announced the opening of a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who agreed to lay down their arms.

During an interview broadcast on CNN Tuesday, Pavlo Kyrylenko — who oversees the Donetsk region’s military administration — said Mariupol remained contested.

“The Ukrainian flag is flying over the city,” said Kyrylenko.

Putin has said he launched the so-called military operation in Ukraine on February 24 to save Russian speakers in Ukraine from a “genocide” carried out by a “neo-Nazi” regime.

However, organizers of a ceremony marking the liberation of the Nazi Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria said Tuesday that the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus were asked not to attend as their presence would be against the surviving prisoners’ wishes and their belief in peace and freedom.

 ‘Holding on’

While much of the focus has remained in Ukraine’s east, Moscow has also targeted the country’s west with airstrikes, killing at least seven people in the city of Lviv near the Polish border on Monday.

Lviv has largely been spared bombardment since Russia invaded, and the city and its surroundings had become a haven for those seeking safety from the war zone.

The regional governor of the eastern Lugansk region Sergiy Gaiday said Ukrainian forces continued to hold their ground amid heavy fighting.

“We have positional battles in the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna. The enemy cannot do anything though. They are losing people and equipment there,” Gaiday said.

“Our guys are shooting down drones there. Shooting down planes on the border of the Lugansk and Kharkiv regions, so they are holding on,” he added.

Later Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia’s ongoing offensive as he issued calls for a four-day truce to mark Orthodox Holy Week.

“Instead of a celebration of new life, this Easter coincides with a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Guterres told reporters.

“The intense concentration of forces and firepower makes this battle inevitably more violent, bloody and destructive,” he said, calling for a “humanitarian pause” from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday on April 24.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance.”

As fighting raged, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a grim forecast for the warring nations on Tuesday, while also predicting the conflict would drag down the global economy — hitting the poorest nations the hardest.

The report predicted Ukraine suffering a 35 percent collapse of its economy this year, while Russia’s GDP will drop 8.5 percent — more than 11 points below the pre-war expectations.

AFP

Three Killed After Shelling In Ukraine’s Second Largest City

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in a residential building following a bombardment in central Kharkiv on April 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed three people on Monday, officials said, a day after the bombardment claimed six lives.

Prosecutors said one shell fell on a children’s playground and killed a man and a woman.

The head of a medical emergency center, Viktor Zabashta told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that another strike on a humanitarian aid distribution point killed one person and injured six more.

READ ALSO: Russian Missiles Hit Western Ukrainian City Of Lviv

AFP journalists in Kharkiv heard a series of constant explosions throughout the morning.

Six people were killed and 24 injured during shelling of the city on Sunday, according to the latest toll from the governor. Three more people were killed in shelling in the surrounding region.

Kharkiv, which has a population of 1.5 million people, was the scene of fierce fighting for several days at the start of the Russian offensive but has always remained under the control of Ukrainian forces.

AFP

Russian Missiles Hit Western Ukrainian City Of Lviv

Dark smoke rises following an airstrike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on April 18, 2022.  AFP

 

Airstrikes killed at least six people in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv on Monday, as Russia pounded targets across the country while massing forces for an expected all-out assault in the east. 

The “powerful” airstrikes in the west came hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of wanting to “destroy” the entire eastern region of Donbas near the border with Russia.

During its latest briefing, Russia’s defence ministry said it had hit over a dozen military targets with airstrikes at various locations across Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Russia Renews Attacks On Kyiv, Zelensky Issues Talks Ultimatum

Following the attack on Lviv, black smoke billowed from the gutted roof of a car repair shop above the railway tracks in the northwest of the city as air raid sirens wailed.

“Fires were set off as a result of the strikes. They are still being put out. The facilities were severely damaged,” the Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said on social media.

In the south, Russia continued its push to capture the besieged city of Mariupol where the last remaining Ukrainian forces in the strategic port prepared for a final stand.

Ukraine has pledged to fight on and defend the strategic port city, defying a Russian ultimatum issued Sunday that called on the remaining fighters inside the encircled Azovstal steel plant to lay down their arms and surrender.

Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet state on February 24.

“The city still has not fallen,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said.

“There’s still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight to the end,” he told ABC’s “This Week”.

“We will not surrender.”

While several large cities were under siege, he said, not one — with the exception of Kherson in the south — had fallen, and more than 900 towns and cities had been re-captured.

Capturing Mariupol would allow Russia to have a land bridge between the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and the two Moscow-backed separatist statelets in Ukraine’s east.

 ‘Last chance to save you’

In the east, Ukrainian authorities urged people in Donbas to move west to escape a large-scale Russian offensive to capture its composite regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

“Russian troops are preparing for an offensive operation in the east of our country in the near future. They want to literally finish off and destroy Donbas,” Zelensky said in a statement late Sunday.

Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday said the coming week would be “difficult”.

“It may be the last time we have a chance to save you,” he wrote on Facebook.

Heavy bouts of shelling also resumed in the country’s second city of Kharkiv on Monday morning, according to an AFP reporter in the city.

The shelling comes a day after at least five people were killed and 20 wounded in during a string of strikes in the city just 21 kilometers (13 miles) from the Russian border on Sunday.

Maksym Khaustov, the head of the Kharkiv region’s health department, confirmed the deaths there following the strikes that had ignited fires throughout the city and torn roofs from buildings.

“The whole home rumbled and trembled,” 71-year-old Svitlana Pelelygina told AFP as she surveyed her wrecked apartment. “Everything here began to burn.”

‘Catastrophe’

Ukraine officials also said on Monday they were halting the evacuation of civilians from frontline towns and cities in the east of the country for the second consecutive day, accusing Russian forces of blocking and shelling escape routes.

“Unfortunately, today, April 18, there will be no humanitarian corridors. In violation of international humanitarian law, the Russian occupiers have not stopped blocking and shelling humanitarian routes,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement on social media.

But Lugansk governor Gaiday announced earlier that he had proceeded with evacuations.

“At our own peril and risk, we took out several dozen people anyway, but it’s already dangerous,” he told Ukrainian media.

During an interview with CNN broadcast on Sunday, Zelensky said he had invited his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to visit Ukraine to see for himself evidence that Russian forces have committed “genocide” — a term Macron has avoided.

“I talked to him yesterday,” Zelensky told CNN in an interview recorded on Friday and broadcast Sunday.

“I just told him I want him to understand that this is not war, but nothing other than genocide. I invited him to come when he will have the opportunity. He’ll come and see, and I’m sure he will understand.”

Zelensky, describing the situation in Mariupol as “inhuman”, has called on the West to immediately provide heavy weapons — a request he frequently airs.

But Russia has warned the United States this week of “unpredictable consequences” if it sent its “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine.

Its defence ministry claimed Saturday to have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane in the Odessa region that was carrying weapons supplied by Western nations.

On Sunday, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian missiles had destroyed ammunition, fuel and lubricant depots in eastern Ukraine and 44 Ukrainian military facilities, including command posts.

Russian air defence systems shot down two Ukrainian MiG-29 aircraft in the Kharkiv region and a drone near the city of Pavlograd, he added.

AFP

International Court Of Justice Fixes Date For Ukraine War Hearings

A file photo of the International Court of Justice

 

The International Court of Justice said Tuesday it would hold genocide hearings on March 7 and 8 over the war in Ukraine, as fighting intensifies.

The Hague-based ICJ, the United Nations’ top court, will open the public hearings after Ukraine lodged a complaint with the court to order Russia to stop its invasion.

“The hearings will be devoted to the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by Ukraine,” the court said in a statement.

READ ALSO: US Says Russian Advance On Ukraine Capital, Kyiv, Stalled

More than 660,000 people have already fled abroad, the UN refugee agency said, estimating that a million people are displaced within ex-Soviet Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million.

The UN estimates that up to four million refugees may need help in the coming months and 12 million more will need assistance within the country.

The ICJ, which is based in the Netherlands’ seat of government in The Hague, does not have the mandate to bring criminal charges against individual Russian leaders behind the invasion.

But it is the world’s top court for resolving legal complaints between states over alleged breaches of international law.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan had already announced he was launching an investigation on the “situation in Ukraine” following Russia’s invasion.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine” since 2014, Khan said in a statement Monday.

Russia has defied international bans, boycotts and sanctions to press ahead with an offensive it says is aimed at defending Ukraine’s Russian speakers and toppling the leadership.

The United States trusts “the Court is taking into consideration the dire circumstances and rapidly unfolding events,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.

Spokesman Ned Price said Washington hopes the court “will act with utmost urgency on Ukraine’s request for provisional measures” in the hearing.

“Each day that Russia is unconstrained in its aggression is a day that brings more violence, suffering, death, and destruction in Ukraine,” he said.

AFP

Nigeria Does Not Condone Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine – Onyeama

 

Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, on Monday said the Nigerian government does not condone Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today, Onyeama said the Federal Government would act in accordance with the United Nations.

According to him, the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will comply with UN resolution should sanctions be imposed on Putin’s Russia.

READ ALSO: Ukraine: FG To Pay For Evacuation Of Nigerians

The Minister recalled that when Russian launched the assault last week, the Federal Government condemned the action, recognizing the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“We made that very clear, we condemned it. First of all, military force is not the solution. We have spoken up abut the territorial integrity that we recognize the integrity of Ukraine,” he said.

“As we speak, in the UN General Assembly, there is a resolution on this whole issue. Nigeria’s position on the resolution is very clear, that we do not condone this military intervention in another country.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine has demanded an immediate Russian ceasefire and troop withdrawal as its delegation arrived in Belarus for talks with Russian negotiators on the fifth day of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Ukraine’s delegation is set to meet Russian representatives for the first talks since Moscow’s invasion, as the fighting for several Ukrainian cities continues and the Russian ruble collapses.

The meeting will take place just across the border in neighbouring Belarus, a key Kremlin ally that has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine.

Putin Puts Nuclear Forces On High Alert

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the National Space Centre construction site in Moscow on February 27, 2022. Sergei GUNEYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear “deterrence forces” on high alert Sunday and accused the West of taking “unfriendly” steps against his country.

International tensions are already soaring over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Putin’s order will cause further alarm.

Moscow has the world’s second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles which form the backbone of the country’s deterrence forces.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces to put the deterrence forces of the Russian army into a special mode of combat service,” Putin said.

“You see that Western countries are not only unfriendly to our country in the economic sphere — I mean illegitimate sanctions,” he added, in a televised address.

“Senior officials of leading NATO countries also allow aggressive statements against our country.”

Defence Minister Shoigu replied: “Affirmative.”

The Russian president on Thursday ordered the invasion of Ukraine, sending shockwaves around the world.

Russian ground forces have pressed into Ukraine from the north, east and south but have encountered fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops, the intensity of which has likely surprised Moscow, according to Western sources.

Ukrainian authorities describe some Russian troops as demoralised and exhausted, claiming that dozens have surrendered.

AFP

Putin Accuses Ukraine Of Wasting ‘Opportunity’ For Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of big businesses at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 24, 2022. Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday accused Ukrainian authorities of wasting “an opportunity” to hold talks after Moscow’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

The Kremlin said that Putin had briefed Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about “the course of a special military operation to protect Donbas”.

During the call, the statement said, he “also noted that the Russian delegation is in the Belarus city of Gomel and is ready for negotiations with representatives of Kyiv, who, showing inconsistency, have not yet taken advantage of this opportunity”.

Bennet for his part proposed that Israel act as a mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine “in order to halt the hostilities”, the Kremlin said.

Bennett’s office said the two men “discussed the situation between Russia and Ukraine”.

The call followed reports that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had asked Israel to play a mediation role following the Russian invasion.

Bennett and Zelensky spoke on Friday.

Russia wants to hold talks with Kyiv authorities in Belarus, which has allowed Russian troops passage to invade Ukraine.

Zelensky said Sunday that Ukraine was willing to hold talks with Russia, but rejected convening them in neighbouring Belarus.

AFP

Ukraine Launches Website For Russians To Find Killed Soldiers

Servicemen ride atop a Russian armored vehicle in Armyansk, Crimea, on February 25, 2022.  AFP

 

Ukrainian authorities on Sunday launched a website to help Russian families track down soldiers who have been killed or captured fighting in Moscow’s invasion of the pro-Western country. 

The site — 200rf.com — contains pictures of the documents and corpses of Russian soldiers Ukraine said had been killed since President Vladimir Putin launched the attack.

It also has videos of soldiers Ukraine says it has captured.

“I am talking to you in Russian because this site was created for you,” Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to the interior minister, said in a video posted on the site.

“I know that many Russians are worried about how and where their children, sons, husbands are and what is happening to them — so we decided to put this online so that each of you could search for your loved one who Putin sent to fight in Ukraine.”

READ ALSO: Thousands Flee As Fighting Breaks Out In Ukraine’s Second-Biggest City

Andrusiv said that over the past three days Ukrainian forces had captured almost 200 Russian soldiers and more than 3,000 Russian troops had died.

“We have documents, photos and videos of all of these people,” Andrusiv said.

The name of the site references the well-known term Gruz-200 (Cargo-200) that was used by Soviet military for corpses being flown back from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Russia’s defence ministry has so far given no details of any military losses in Ukraine since launching a multi-pronged attack Putin called a “special operation” to protect two separatist regions.

The head of the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, on Saturday became the first official to report the death of a Russian soldier in Ukraine.

He posted a tribute on his official Instagram page, paying homage to an officer he said had been killed during the “special operation to defend Donbas”.

The Kremlin has launched a major propaganda campaign to control coverage of the war in Ukraine and has ordered media to use only Russia’s official versions of events.

Moscow has long been accused of covering up losses suffered by its forces as they backed pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and fought in Syria.

Lev Shlosberg, a prominent liberal politician, has suggested Russia’s military was using mobile crematoriums to destroy evidence of those killed in Ukraine.

“There is no war. No dead. No tombs. People will just be no more. Forever,” he wrote on his blog.

AFP

Thousands Flee As Fighting Breaks Out In Ukraine’s Second-Biggest City

The body of a Russian serviceman lies near destroyed Russian military vehicles on the roadside on the outskirts of Kharkiv on February 26, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. AFP

 

Street fighting raged in Ukraine’s second-biggest city on Sunday after Russian forces pierced through Ukrainian lines, as both sides said they were ready for talks to halt a conflict that has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Machine gun fire and explosions could be heard in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine and an AFP journalist saw the wreckage of a Russian armoured vehicle smouldering and several others abandoned.

On the fourth day of an invasion by Russia that has sent shockwaves around the world, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turned down Moscow’s offer of a meeting in Belarus, which has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Forms ‘International Brigade’ To Fight Russia

Zelensky said Ukraine had proposed Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul and Baku as possible alternative locations for any talks.

“Any other city in a country from whose territory missiles do not fly would suit us,” Zelensky said.

“The past night in Ukraine was brutal,” he said. “They fight against everyone. They fight against all living things — against kindergartens, against residential buildings and even against ambulances.”

Ukraine has reported 198 civilian deaths, including three children, since the invasion began.

But President Vladimir Putin has pressed ahead with the assault, defying crippling Western sanctions that have plunged Russia into pariah status.

Many NATO members are sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine and have offered humanitarian assistance, but they have said they will not intervene militarily.

NATO has also said it will for the first time deploy part of its 40,000-strong rapid response force to Eastern Europe in a move to reassure rattled countries that were once part of the Communist bloc.

A day after Berlin said it would send anti-tank weapons and Stinger missiles to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the world was in a “new era” and warned of possible “further sanctions”.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the conflict could last a “number of years”.

Curfew in Kyiv

Apart from the attack on Kharkiv, located near the Russian border, Moscow also claimed it was “entirely” besieging the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and the city of Berdyansk in the southeast.

Both are located close the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian officials also said that a gas pipeline in eastern Kharkiv and an oil depot near the capital Kyiv were targeted by Russian forces overnight.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Many Kyiv residents spent another night in shelters as Ukrainian forces said they fought off Russian “sabotage groups”, but Sunday was relatively calm compared to previous days.

The city is under a blanket curfew until Monday but some residents ventured out regardless.

Out for a walk in a park, 41-year-old Flora Stepanova said staying at home watching the news all the time “will drive you crazy”.

Foreigners invited to fight

Russia on Saturday ordered its forces to advance further into Ukraine “from all directions” but soldiers have encountered fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops, the intensity of which has likely surprised Moscow, according to Western sources.

Ukraine’s army said it held the line against an assault on Kyiv, but was fighting Russian “sabotage groups” that had infiltrated the city.

“We will fight until we have liberated our country,” a defiant Zelensky said in a video message on Saturday.

He also said Ukraine had “derailed” Moscow’s plan to overthrow him and urged Russians to pressure Putin into stopping the conflict.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s general staff said the 44-year-old leader was urging any foreigners to come to Ukraine “and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against Russian war criminals”.

“There is no greater contribution which you can make for the sake of peace,” the general staff said in a Facebook post, adding that the foreign fighters would form part of an “International Legion for the Territorial Defence of Ukraine”.

 ‘I was trembling’

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) says the conflict so far has left at least 240 civilians wounded, including 64 killed.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 368,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, while over 160,000 are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine.

Pope Francis called for the “urgent” opening of humanitarian corridors for Ukraine to allow even more to leave.

AFP saw stationary queues of cars stretching for dozens of kilometres going up to Ukraine’s border crossings with Poland.

“Attacks were everywhere,” said Diana, 37, who fled the Ukrainian capital.

“My mother is still in Kyiv.”

In neighbouring Romania, Olga, 36, was among hundreds to have crossed the Danube river with her three young children to safety.

“My husband came with us as far as the border, before returning to Kyiv to fight,” she said.

Residents of the capital have sought sanctuary in subway stations and cellars and Zelensky announced a baby girl had been born on the metro.

Yulia Snitko, a pregnant 32-year-old, said she had sheltered in the basement of her Kyiv apartment block, fearing premature labour.

“It was more than one hour of huge explosions. I was trembling,” she said.

 Crippling bank sanctions

Responding to the invasion, the West said it would remove some Russian banks from the SWIFT bank messaging system, and froze central bank assets — hitting some of Russia’s global trade.

A senior US official said the measures would turn Russia into a “pariah”, adding that a task force would “hunt down” Russian oligarchs’ assets.

Germany had previously resisted the SWIFT removals over concerns Russia could cut off key gas supplies.

There have also been sanctions and boycotts in the cultural and sporting spheres as well as international travel, with several countries banning Russian airlines from their airspace.

In the latest punishment for Putin, a keen judoka, the International Judo Federation said he has been suspended as its honorary president.

The Kremlin has so far brushed off sanctions, including those targeting Putin personally, as a sign of Western impotence.

Putin has said Russia’s actions are justified because it is defending Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In an address to parishioners on Sunday, Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill voiced his support, calling Moscow’s opponents “evil forces”.

The rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government forces for eight years in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.

Claiming that two rebel statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk were under threat from Kyiv, Putin recognised their independence on Monday.

AFP

Ukraine Forms ‘International Brigade’ To Fight Russia

This screengrab taken from a video made available on the Facebook account of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, shows himself speaking face camera on February 25, 2022.  AFP

 

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday urged foreigners to head to Ukrainian embassies worldwide to sign up for an “international brigade” of volunteers to help fight to invade Russian forces.

“All foreigners wishing to join the resistance against the Russian occupiers and protect global security are invited by the Ukrainian leadership to come to our state and join the ranks of the territorial defence forces,” Zelensky said in a statement.

“A separate unit is being formed from foreigners — the International Brigade of the territorial defence of Ukraine. This will be a key testimony of your support for our country.”

Zelensky insisted that Ukrainians were courageous enough to face Russia alone, but said: “This is not just a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is the beginning of a war against Europe”.

He said anyone interested in joining should get in contact with the military attache at their nearest Ukrainian embassy.

READ ALSO: Russian Invasion: Over 368,000 People Flee Ukraine – UN

The statement comes after Zelensky earlier called on foreigners with combat experience to come to help defend his country.

Outgunned Ukrainian forces are battling to halt a multi-pronged attack from Russia’s military as it seeks to push deeper into its pro-Western neighbour.

Ukraine’s defence ministry claimed Sunday that around 4,300 Russian soldiers have been killed since President Vladimir Putin launched the offensive on Thursday.

There has been no independent verification of that figure and Russia has released no details of military losses.

But Western security officials say Ukraine’s forces have likely surprised Moscow with their level of resistance and Russia is not making the rapid progress it hoped for.

AFP