Zelensky urges Ukrainians to keep fighting after clashes in Kyiv

Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Ukrainians to keep fighting after his soldiers battled through the night with Russian troops that have encircled the capital Kyiv and besieged cities throughout the country.

Officials said the centre of Kyiv was still under Ukrainian government and military control on Saturday, as the country’s outgunned troops continued to resist the biggest invasion force in Europe in half a century. Gunfire and explosions were heard in several parts of the capital overnight.

As Russia’s invasion entered its third day, the Ukraine president said in a video recorded outside his office: “I’m here. We are not going to put down any arms. We will defend our country.”

Battles continued across the country in the cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa, an adviser to Zelensky’s administration, Mykhailo Podolyak, said in a televised address. He claimed that the situation in Kyiv was “100 per cent controlled” and that the city had withstood overnight assaults.

Podolyak said that as of Saturday morning, Ukraine had killed more than 3,500 Russians and captured just under 200 more. Moscow claimed it had captured the southern Ukraine city of Melitopol. Russian and Ukrainian military claims cannot be independently verified.

Russia’s defence ministry said overnight, without providing any evidence, that Russian troops were being welcomed in the city by locals, including some “older age citizens who went out on to the streets with red flags”.

As his armoured columns moved on Kyiv, Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s armed forces to “take power into their own hands” and overthrow their government so they could strike a peace deal with Moscow.

In a social media post on Friday evening, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s president said discussions had begun with the Russians about a possible “negotiation process”.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, chair of the Kyiv-based Centre for Defence Reforms and an expert on hybrid warfare, said he believed that the Russians had not abandoned the idea of ousting Zelensky in a “false flag” coup.

“Now they are trying to seize . . . government buildings with their military disguised in Ukrainian uniform,” Danylyuk told the Financial Times. “That is why they are trying to get to the city centre in small groups.”

Nato has said it will continue supplying military weapons to Ukraine, including air defence systems. “We are in this for the long haul,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, after the alliance held a crisis meeting on Friday.

A woman pushes a pram and drags a suitcase across Ukraine’s border with Romania © AP

The US, EU and UK have also imposed sanctions directly on Putin and Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.

Early on Saturday, Zelensky in a phone call with European Council president Charles Michel, urged European countries to open the door to Ukraine’s membership of the EU.

“It is a crucial moment to close the longstanding discussion once and for all and decide on Ukraine’s membership in the EU,” he tweeted.

Late on Friday night, Hungary offered to host direct talks between Russia and Ukraine in Budapest to end the conflict. “I hope the two of them will create the direct channel that help make these talks happen, in Hungary if necessary, as soon as possible,” said Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto.

Rating agency Moody’s warned on Friday that it could soon strip Russia of its coveted investment-grade credit rating and downgrade Ukraine deeper into junk territory.

Moody’s said it had placed both Russia and Ukraine on review for downgrade. Russia is rated Baa3 by Moody’s, the lowest investment-grade opinion awarded by the group, while Ukraine holds a B3 rating.

A civilian exodus from Kyiv intensified on Friday. Traffic was heavy on roads leading out of the capital, with some residents fleeing on foot with suitcases.

Ukraine’s military called on those who are staying to fight the invading force. They asked residents of Obolon, a suburb of Kyiv, to inform them about the movement of Russian equipment into the city. “Make Molotov cocktails, neutralise the occupier,” the defence ministry said.

Russia on Friday claimed it had captured Kyiv’s Hostomel airport, which is near the Obolon district. Control of the runway could allow Russia to transport rapidly large numbers of troops directly to the capital.

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.

On Friday, oil prices steadied after topping $100 per barrel on Thursday for the first time since 2014. European natural gas prices retreated after surging almost 70 per cent to €142 per megawatt hour on Thursday. Futures linked to TTF, Europe’s wholesale gas price, fell more than 30 per cent on Friday to €92.50.

European equities recovered their losses while US stock markets also rose, with the benchmark S&P 500 ending the day more than 2 per cent higher.

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