Russian troops continued to battle Ukrainian defense forces and citizen soldiers for control of Kyiv, the capital, and other cities Sunday, the fourth day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sunday Russian troops entered Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where they encountered heavy resistance.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said the Russian forces have been unable to take Kharkiv, about 40 kilometers from the Russian border. She said a fierce battle is underway, according to The Associated Press.
Early Sunday the Ukrainian president’s office reported an explosion in Kharkiv and said Russian forces had blown up a gas pipeline.
The explosion could cause an “environmental catastrophe,” it said, urging residents to cover their windows with damp cloth or gauze and to drink plenty of fluids.
There are also reports of shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he would enter peace talks with Russia but has ruled out meeting with a Russian delegation in Belarus, where Russia has already sent officials for talks.
Zelenskyy said Belarus is unacceptable because Russia has used it to launch attacks on Ukraine.
Western allies are responding to Zelenskyy’s call for help. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday his country will send Ukraine 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles “as quickly as possible,” and the French presidential office said France will send defensive weapons and fuel.
“The anti-war coalition is working,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, meanwhile, has posted a notice on Twitter inviting foreign nationals to join in Ukraine’s battle against Russia.
Lines of vehicles clogged Ukraine’s borders as refugees continued to leave the country. The United Nations Refugee Agency said Sunday more than 200,000 had fled, half of them to Poland, and up to 4 million could flee if the situation worsens.
U.S. sees ‘viable Ukrainian resistance’
“We continue to believe, based on what we have observed, that this resistance is greater than what the Russians expected … particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence.
A senior U.S. defense official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence, said Russian forces had unleashed a barrage of more than 200 ballistic and cruise missiles since the invasion began, most of them targeting the Ukrainian military.
“They’re meeting more resistance than they expected,” the U.S. official said.
Amnesty International said Russia may have committed war crimes with its invasion of Ukraine, showing “blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a statement.
Russian officials countered Friday that their forces had made solid progress in what they described as an effort to eliminate a terrorist threat.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov claimed Saturday that since the start of Russia’s attack, its military had hit 821 Ukrainian military facilities, 87 tanks and other targets.
Konashenkov claimed the Russian military has taken full control of the southern city of Melitopol, 35 kilometers inland from the Azov Sea coast and said Russia-backed separatists have made significant gains in the eastern region of Donbas.
On the ground in Ukraine
Western officials cautioned that the situation was fluid and noted that things could change rapidly. They now estimate that half of the 190,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border had entered the fighting.
At least 198 Ukrainians have been killed in the invasion, including three children, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency, which cited Ukraine’s Health Ministry. It was unclear whether the figure included only civilian deaths.
Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed, while Russia did not disclose casualty figures.
Small anti-war protests continued in several Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the Russian independent human rights media project OVD-Info reported that more than 489 people had been detained.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, VOA Refugee Correspondent Heather Murdock in Kyiv, Jamie Dettmer in Lviv, Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine and VOA’s Wayne Lee contributed to this report.
Also some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.