Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of himself and his aides in Kyiv’s government district to tamp down rumors that he had fled. “We are here. We are in Kyiv. We are defending Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
What’s happening: Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the Ukrainian military to overthrow the government and “take power into your own hands” — explicitly demanding regime change as a precondition for peace talks.
- “It seems that it will be easier for us to come to an agreement than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis, who occupied Kyiv and took the entire Ukrainian people hostage,” Putin said before a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.
- The Kremlin said earlier it’s prepared to send a delegation to Minsk to meet with Ukrainian officials to discuss a peace agreement based on “demilitarization” and neutral status for Ukraine.
- A Pentagon official told reporters Friday: “The Russians have lost a little bit of their momentum. No population centers have been taken. Russia has yet to achieve air superiority.” The official cautioned that Russia has only deployed one-third of its forces massed on the border and could still overwhelm Ukraine.
- The European Union is preparing to freeze the assets of Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as part of a second tranche of sanctions punishing Russia for its invasion.
State of play: Zelensky said on Thursday that Russian forces were hunting for him and his family, and told EU leaders that “this might be the last time you see me alive” during a video conference on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Kyiv’s 3 million citizens are now bracing for potential urban warfare.
“”This morning, we are defending our country alone. … Europe said ‘never again,’ but here we are.”
— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday
Zoom in: Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said Russian troops were now in the Obolon district of northern Kyiv. It urged residents on Twitter to report the movements of Russian equipment and remain inside but “make Molotov cocktails.”
- The government said it had destroyed three bridges north of the capital in an effort to stymie the advance.
- Air raid sirens have repeatedly sounded as Kyiv residents huddled in metro stations. Ukrainian officials said a downed Russian aircraft had crashed into a residential building, injuring several people.
- The UN says at least 25 civilians have been killed and 102 injured, though these estimates are likely an undercount, per the BBC. The UN said Thursday evening that around 100,000 Ukrainians had fled their homes. Zelensky said Friday Russia’s claim that it doesn’t target Ukrainian civilians is “a lie.”
- Zelensky said 137 Ukrainian troops were killed in the first day of fighting. Those include all 13 soldiers guarding a small island in the Black Sea who were killed when they refused to surrender under bombardment from a Russian warship.
What to watch: A Pentagon official told reporters Thursday that Russia intended to encircle Kyiv and “decapitate” its government.
- “Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv. Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, urging the world to “sever all ties” with Russia.
- In an address to the nation Thursday, Zelensky announced a full military mobilization, with men aged 18 to 60 barred from leaving the country.
- “We have been left alone to defend our state,” Zelensky said, adding that he was grateful to those countries providing help and not just statements.
Russian forces have pushed into Ukraine on three broad fronts, with the troops invading from Crimea in the south appearing to make significant progress.
- A Pentagon official said the heaviest initial fighting was near Kharkiv, a major city on the eastern border with Russia. There has also been heavy urban fighting in the northeastern city of Sumy, according to video verified by the New York Times.
- Fighting on the northern border near the Chernobyl nuclear facility, which was overrun Thursday, caused international alarm due to the risk from radioactive material. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “outraged” by reports that Russian forces were holding the staff of the site “hostage.”
The big picture: “Russia has quantitative and qualitative superiority over the Ukrainian forces across the board,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russia’s military capabilities at CNA.
- The fighting seen Thursday was only “the very early hours” of the Russian campaign and involved a fraction of the total Russian force, he says.
- “I think we should expect a substantial Russian pincer movement to encircle Kyiv from the north,” he adds, with troops potentially advancing rapidly toward the Dnieper River and cutting off Ukrainian forces in the East.
What to watch: Russia has not unleashed the full force of its cyber capabilities, which could shut down key Ukrainian infrastructure.