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Kyiv braces for Russian assault as troops close in on Ukraine capital

Kyiv (Ukraine), February 25: Russian troops bore down on Ukraine’s capital Friday, with gunfire and explosions resonating ever closer to the government quarter, in an invasion of a democratic country that has fuelled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered worldwide efforts to make Russia stop.

With reports of hundreds of casualties from the warfare — including shelling that sliced through a Kyiv apartment building and pummeled bridges and schools — there also were growing signs that Vladimir Putin’s Russia may be seeking to overthrow Ukraine’s government. It would be his boldest effort yet to redraw the world map and revive Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.

In the fog of war, it was unclear how much of Ukraine remains under Ukrainian control and how much or little Russian forces have seized. The Kremlin accepted Kyiv’s offer to hold talks, but it appeared to be an effort to squeeze concessions out of Ukraine’s embattled president instead of a gesture toward a diplomatic solution.

The U.S. and other global powers slapped ever-tougher sanctions on Russia as the invasion reverberated through the world’s economy and energy supplies, threatening to further hit ordinary households. UN officials said millions could flee Ukraine. Sports leagues moved to punish Russia on global playing fields. And U.S. President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders held an urgent meeting to discuss how far they can challenge Putin without engaging Russian forces in direct war.

Day 2 of Russia’s invasion focused on the Ukrainian capital, where Associated Press reporters heard explosions starting before dawn and gunfire was reported in several areas.

Russia’s military said it had seized a strategic airport outside Kyiv, allowing it to quickly build up forces to take the capital. It claimed to have already cut the city off from the west — the direction taken by many of those escaping the invasion, leading to lines of cars snaking toward the Polish border.

Intense gunfire broke out on a bridge across the Dneiper River dividing eastern and western Kyiv, with about 200 Ukrainian forces taking defensive positions and sheltering behind their armoured vehicles and under the bridge. Another key bridge leading to the capital was blown away, with smoke rising from it.

Ukrainian officials reported at least 137 deaths on their side and claimed hundreds on the Russian one. Russian authorities released no casualty figures, and it was not possible to verify the tolls.

UN officials reported 25 civilian deaths, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, and said that 100,000 people were believed to have left their homes, estimating up to 4 million could flee if the fighting escalates.

“When bombs fall on Kyiv, it happens in Europe, not just in Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “When missiles kill our people, they kill all Europeans.”

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