- Ukrainian forces, Russian troops fighting on streets of Kharkiv, regional governor says.
- Ukraine rejects Belarus as location for talks with Russia.
- Oil terminal, gas pipeline set ablaze as Russian invasion enters 4th day.
- SWIFT preparing to comply with curbs on Russian banks.
- What questions do you have about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to email@example.com
Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops on the streets of Ukraine’s key northeastern city of Kharkiv on Sunday, the regional governor said, as the biggest assault on a European state since the Second World War entered its fourth day.
“The Russian enemy’s light vehicles have broken into Kharkiv, including the city centre,” Gov. Oleh Sinegubov said. “Ukraine’s armed forces are destroying the enemy. We ask civilians not to go out.”
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and Russian troops roaming the city in small groups. One showed Ukrainian troops firing at the Russians and damaged Russian light utility vehicles abandoned nearby.
The images underscored the determined resistance Russian troops face while attempting to enter Ukraine’s bigger cities. Ukrainians have volunteered en masse to help defend the capital, Kyiv, and other cities, taking guns distributed by authorities and preparing firebombs to fight Russian forces.
Ukraine’s government also is releasing prisoners with military experience who want to fight for the country, a prosecutor’s office official, Andriy Sinyuk, told the Hromadske TV channel Sunday. He did not specify whether the move applied to prisoners convicted of all levels of crimes.
“We are fighting, fighting for our country, fighting for our freedom because we have the right to do that,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “The past night was tough — more shelling, more bombing of residential areas and civilian infrastructure. There is not a single facility in the country that the occupiers wouldn’t consider as admissible targets.”
He also said on Twitter that Ukraine has submitted an application against Russia to the International Court of Justice.
“Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression. We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week,” Zelensky wrote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a special military operation on Thursday, ignoring weeks of Western warnings and saying the “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine threatened Russia’s security — a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.
Explosions in pre-dawn hours
Russian missiles found their mark, including a strike that set an oil terminal ablaze in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, the town’s mayor said. Blasts sent huge flames and billowing black smoke into the night sky, online posts showed.
“The enemy wants to destroy everything,” said the mayor of Vasylkiv, Natalia Balasinovich.
Zelensky’s office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, earlier Sunday. The government warned that smoke from the huge explosion could cause an “environmental catastrophe” and advised people to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze.
The gas blast there sent a mushroom cloud up into the darkness, though Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator said the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine was going on as normal.
Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatists in the eastern province of Luhansk said a Ukrainian missile had blown up an oil terminal in the town of Rovenky.
In Kyiv, Reuters witnesses reported occasional blasts and gunfire through the night, then three blasts after air raid sirens went off shortly before 9 a.m. local time.
Potential talks stall
Offering a glimmer of hope for negotiations, the Kremlin said a delegation had arrived in neighbouring Belarus for talks and was waiting for the Ukrainians. But Zelensky rejected talks in Belarus, saying it was complicit in the invasion, but he left the door open for negotiations elsewhere.
A U.S. defence official said Ukraine’s forces were putting up “very determined resistance” to Russia’s air, land and sea advance, which has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing westwards, clogging major highways and railway lines.
On Saturday, Canada, the U.S. and other allies agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aiming to impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion.
They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank to limit its ability to support the ruble and finance Putin’s war effort.
“We are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies,” said a statement from the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Britain and the European Commission.
‘Financial nuclear weapon’
After initially shying away from such a move largely because of concern about the impact on their economies, the allies said they committed to “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system.”
They did not name the banks that would be expelled, but an EU diplomat said some 70 per cent of the Russian banking market would be affected.
The decision — which the French finance minister had called a “financial nuclear weapon” because of the damage it would inflict on the Russian economy — deals a blow to Russia’s trade and makes it harder for its companies to do business.
SWIFT, a secure messaging network that facilitates rapid cross-border payments, said it was preparing to implement the measures.
Sanctions on Russia’s central bank could limit Putin’s use of his more than $630 billion US in international reserves, widely seen as insulating Russia from some economic harm.
Google barred Russia’s state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to a move Facebook made.
Earlier, the Kremlin said its troops were advancing again “in all directions” after Putin ordered a pause on Friday. Ukraine’s government said there had been no pause.
The Netherlands, Austria and Italy joined a growing list of European countries in closing their airspace to all Russian aircraft.
“There is no room in Dutch airspace for a regime that applies unnecessary and brutal violence,” Mark Harbers said on Twitter.
Mounting death toll
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said about 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. Western officials have said intelligence showed Russia suffering higher casualties than expected.
Russia has not released casualty figures and it was impossible to verify tolls or the precise picture on the ground.
A United Nations relief agency said as of Saturday evening at least 64 civilians had been killed among 240 civilian casualties, more than 160,000 people had been internally displaced and more than 116,000 had fled to neighbouring countries.
Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, won independence from Moscow in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union and wants to join NATO and the EU, goals Russia opposes.
Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine — something Kyiv and its Western allies reject as a lie.
U.S. President Joe Biden has approved the release of up to $350 million US worth of weapons from U.S. stocks, while Germany, in a shift from its long-standing policy of not exporting weapons to war zones, said it would send anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.
The Canadian government said it will match Canadians’ donations to the Red Cross in aid of Ukraine, up to a maximum of $10 million Cdn. Ottawa said the matching donations are in addition to the $50 million in funding given to Ukraine for development and humanitarian aid, and the recently announced $620 million in sovereign loans that Canada has extended to Ukraine.