(Update 4: adds Russia escalation, re-ledes, updates headline, edits throughout)
Kyiv/Moscow, Feb 26 (EFE).- Russia on Saturday stepped up its invasion of Ukraine after Moscow claimed that the Kyiv government had refused to hold talks in Belarus – a staunch Kremlin ally.
“All units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation’s plans,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a press conference.
Konashenkov added that separatist militias in Donetsk and Luhansk, supported by the Russian army, were advancing in the east.
The Kremlin accuses Kyiv of refusing to negotiate, but on Friday, Russian president Vladimir Putin called on the Ukrainian army to topple its own government, saying “it will be easier for us to agree with you than this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who have settled in Kyiv and are holding the entire Ukrainian people hostage.”
The Kyiv presidency dismissed Moscow’s supposed invitation, accusing them of “trying to bring the negotiations to a dead end before they even start.”
The Ukrainian army was clashing with Russian forces in the streets of Kyiv on Saturday, while the mayor’s office urged residents of the capital to be cautious and to remain calm.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has said he is Russia’s “number one target”, has rejected offers from the United States to leave the country and remains in the city, saying Saturday that his country’s forces had “derailed” Moscow’s invasion plans.
Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained, as more members of the international community joined the political, economic and social sanctions against Russia.
The Ukrainian Army was fighting in the streets of Kyiv with Russian units, which reportedly shelled a military garrison to the west of the capital.
According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian airborne forces have landed at an airfield in the town of Vasilkov, less than 40 kilometers from the capital.
Around 100 Russian armored vehicles were advancing towards Kyiv from the north, local media reported Saturday.
Explosions have been heard in the Ukrainian capital which local authorities said were from a Russian attack on a thermal power plant in Troieshchyna. The CHP-6 combined heat and power plant is the largest in Ukraine.
The office of Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has advised the city’s residents not to go outside and stay away from windows and balconies, while air raid sirens have sounded calling on city residents to take shelter.
Ukraine has confirmed at least 198 deaths since the invasion began, including 3 children, while 1,115, 33 of whom are minors, were wounded.
The Pentagon said Friday that Ukraine’s armed forces were successfully defending their territory and that Russia had suffered “setbacks” in its invasion of Ukraine that began on Thursday morning.
Russia, however, said it has hit over 820 Ukrainian military targets with cruise missiles, defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, adding that Russian forces had shot down or destroyed dozens of Ukrainian aircraft and military vehicles and had taken over the southern city of Melitopol.
The Ukrainian defense ministry, on the other hand, said that the Russians had lost more than 3,000 troops since the invasion began on Thursday.
None of these claims can be independently verified.