Conflicts & War

Russians reach Kyiv as Putin urges Ukraine army to overthrow gov’t

(Update: adds info on Putin speech, Kyiv blockade, video of Zelenskyy in Kyiv)

Kyiv, Feb 25 (EFE).- Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday called on the Ukrainian military to overthrow the Kyiv government, as his country’s forces closed in on Ukraine’s capital city.

In an angry speech broadcast on Russian state television, Putin said “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.”

He also repeated his accusation that the government of Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy was guilty of genocide in the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow has propped up two pro-Russian separatist republics since 2015.

Putin ordered Russian troops to launch an invasion early on Thursday morning, with airstrikes hitting several Ukrainian cities and Russian tanks crossing into Ukrainian territory.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry called on its citizens to report any movement of enemy war equipment and to prepare Molotov cocktails to fight back and “neutralize the occupier”.

“Our boys and girls, all the defenders of Ukraine, did not allow the enemy to carry out the operational plan of the invasion on the first day,” Zelenskyy said in a speech on Friday morning, adding that Russian troops coming from most directions had been stopped amid ongoing heavy fighting.

Russia’s defense ministry, however, said Friday that it was blockading the Ukrainian capital city from the west after seizing a key airfield.

The ministry claimed that 200 Ukrainian troops were killed in the operation, with no Russian casualties being sustained, but Ukraine has said that 450 Russian soldiers and 194 Ukrainians, including 57 civilians, have been killed since Thursday morning.

Loud explosions were heard around the capital on Friday morning, which interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko attributed to anti-aircraft fire defending the city.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that the personal safety of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is “in doubt” and offered his country’s help “if necessary.”

His statements came after Zelenskyy said that he is the “No. 1 target” of the Russian military.

“According to our information, I am the enemy’s number one target. My family is the second. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” the president said.

Zelenskyy posted a video on Twitter from the streets of Kyiv reassuring he was in the city after rumors that he had fled the capital.

“We are all here,” he said in the video, surrounded by advisors and his prime minister.

“We are protecting our independence, our state. And we will continue to do so,” he added.

Zelenskyy slammed Western sanctions imposed against Russia on Thursday as “insufficient” and said that Russia was attacking Ukrainian cities with missiles on Friday. “They say that civilian infrastructures are not targeted: lies!”, he emphasized.

“The enemy attacks not only military installations, as they claim, but also civilians. They kill people and transform peaceful cities into military objectives. This is vile and will never be forgiven,” the president said.

At a press conference in Moscow on Friday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said his country was not aiming to occupy Ukraine but just to “demilitarize” it, insisting that Moscow “has always stood for a diplomatic solution.”

Lavrov, who was meeting with representatives of the two pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine which Moscow formally recognized shortly before launching the invasion, also denied that Ukraine could be considered a democratic government, repeating Vladimir Putin’s claim that Ukraine was guilty of “genocide” against its own people living in the eastern Donbas region.

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