Russian forces enter outskirts of Kyiv as Zelensky warns he is on kill list

Russia’s onslaught breached the suburbs of Kyiv on Friday as armoured columns battled towards Ukraine’s two biggest cities in Europe’s largest military offensive since the second world war.

Kyiv residents woke to loud explosions shortly after 4am and reports of Russian armoured vehicles advancing into the northern Kyiv district of Obolon, bringing street fighting to the 3mn-strong capital.

Western officials said that stronger than expected Ukrainian resistance on Thursday slowed Russia’s two key objectives of encircling Kyiv and capturing Kharkiv in the north-east, Ukraine’s second-biggest city.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an early morning address to his country as his army warned Russian troops were “moving at speed” towards central Kyiv followed by a column of military trucks.

Zelensky claimed that “enemy saboteur groups” were already in Kyiv and that Russia was planning to assassinate him. “The enemy has identified me as the number-one target,” Zelensky said, wearing a military-style green T-shirt and sweater. “My family is the number-two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”

Air raid sirens sounded in the capital and the city government warned people to seek cover in shelters or subway stations as the military said it had intercepted two Russian projectiles fired at the city.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky delivering a speech to the nation at the end of the first day of Russia’s attacks
‘According to our information, the enemy has identified me as the number-one target,’ Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday morning in a video address © Ukrainian President’s Office/dpa

Ukraine’s military called on residents of Obolon to inform them about the movement of Russian equipment into the city, and called on citizens to resist. “Make Molotov cocktails, neutralise the occupier,” the defence ministry said. “Peaceful residents, be careful. Do not leave the house.”

Kyiv’s Hostomel airport, which is near the Obolon district, was still contested having changed hands multiple times on Thursday in fighting involving special forces troops, assault helicopters and precision-guided missiles. Ukraine’s ministry of defence released video footage showing intense volleys of gunfire, multiple fires and smoke rising from the area.

Russia is seeking to control the runway, which would allow it to rapidly transport large numbers of troops directly to the capital. Fighting has also spread to nearby residential districts, with Russian tanks and troops less than 15km from the centre of Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces overnight destroyed bridges north of the city in an attempt to impede the Russian advance. Western military officials warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of troops advancing south from Belarus and north from Crimea would bring “overwhelming” military superiority that could lead to the capital falling within days.

The defence ministry said that as of 3am on Friday, its forces had taken down seven Russian aircraft, six helicopters and more than 30 tanks since the beginning of the invasion, and had killed roughly 800 “enemy” personnel.

Zelensky said that 137 of his countrymen had died. He described them as “Ukrainian heroes”. Russia provided no figures on damage to its military assets or on casualties.

Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said his intelligence estimates suggested Russia lost more than 450 personnel on the first day of operations, where it did not take “any of its major objectives”.

Russian, Ukrainian and Nato military claims cannot be independently verified.

Shocked world leaders have condemned what they cast as the most momentous challenge to the postwar order in Europe for 80 years. “[Putin] has much larger ambitions than Ukraine,” said Joe Biden, US president, on Thursday. “He wants to, in fact, re-establish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about.”

Biden said the US and its allies would impose sanctions in response to Russia’s aggression. “Putin chose this war and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

Putin and Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, discussed the invasion in a telephone call on Thursday, the Kremlin said, the Russian president’s first conversation with a western leader since he recognised separatist states in eastern Ukraine and launched a full assault on the country.

Map showing how Russia's invasion of Ukraine may play out   Initial cruise missile strikes on military sites, airfields and troop depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro. Alongside artillery shelling along line of control in eastern Ukraine  Ground advance (troops and tanks) south from Belarus to encircle Kyiv  Advance north from Crimea and east through Donbas in a bid to encircle bulk of Ukrainian forces in the east and cut them off from Kyiv  Advance from Crimea along Black Sea coast to Odesa. Central column moves west to Dnipro river, ultimate target Kyiv  Ukraine attempts strategic retreat west from current line of control evading Russian pincer movement. At some point, Ukrainian troops will need to hold the line, but unclear when that may be

The leaders had a “serious and frank exchange of views about the Ukraine situation”, the Kremlin said in a summary of the conversation. A French official said Macron called Putin just before an EU summit in Brussels to demand “the immediate halt of Russian military operations”.

Zelensky thanked western leaders for their support but questioned their willingness to go further. “Who is ready to fight with us? Honestly, I don’t see anyone . . . I’m asking them, are you with us?”

On Friday morning, oil prices climbed back above $100, with Brent crude rising 1.1 per cent to $100.22 a barrel. The previous day Brent rose as high as $105 before dropping back after the Biden administration announced a raft of sanctions that focused on Russia’s financial sector rather than its energy industry.

European natural gas prices retreated after surging as much as 69 per cent to €142 per megawatt hour in the prior session. Futures contracts linked to TTF, Europe’s wholesale gas price, were down more than a fifth on Friday morning at €106.7.

European equities were up more than 1 per cent, after the regional Stoxx 600 gauge closed 3.3 per cent lower on Thursday.

Nato will hold an emergency summit of its members’ 30 leaders on Friday to discuss the invasion.

Ukrainian officials described an early encounter at a Black Sea outpost known as Serpent Island, or zmiinyi in Russian, that they said was a “symbol of resistance”.

They played a recording of a radio conversation between Russian naval vessels and the lightly armed Ukrainian border guards stationed on the island and said the Russian vessels had twice demanded the Ukrainians lay down their weapons and surrender or be destroyed.

“The answer was ‘go fuck yourself’,” one official said, adding that the Russians then obliterated the structures on the island, killing the 13 guards stationed there.

Additional reporting by John Paul Rathbone in London and Leo Lewis in Tokyo

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