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Kyiv Braces For Attack As Western Powers Set Dramatic SWIFT Move Against Russia

By RFE/RL, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Current Time February 26, 2022

KYIV -- Residents of the Ukrainian reported a massive explosion and other blasts early on February 27 as Russia's war on its neighbor intensified and as Western powers announced a new, dramatic step in efforts to punish Moscow with sanctions for its aggression.

The explosion hit the southeastern part of Kyiv just after midnight and left a glowing red light over what media reported was likely a military fuel depot. There were no immediate reports on damage or injuries in what could be the start of in the final battle for Kyiv and the Ukrainian nation.

Residents of the capital were warned to hunker down and take shelter ahead of an expected major air assault by Russian forces overnight. Thousands of men, women, and children sought cover in buildings and underground stations amid a day-and-night curfew set by authorities in the capital.

More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled for Poland, Moldova, and other neighboring countries, with the UN warning of a potential humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the United States agreed to block access for a number of Russian banks to the SWIFT banking system, as well as imposing "restrictive measures" against Russia's central bank for Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

n a joint statement on February 26, the leaders said the measures -- which will restrict the Russian central bank's international reserves and thus hinder its ability to support the ruble -- will be implemented in the coming days.

Experts have said blocking access to SWIFT would be a major step up in the intensity of Western sanctions against Moscow, and some countries had initially resisted move following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The latest moves came as Western experts were saying that Ukrainian forces had put up tougher-than-expected resistance in three days of pitched battles across the country as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged defiance in the face of overwhelming firepower.

U.S. officials noted on February 26 signs of "viable Ukrainian resistance" that was causing Russian commanders to adjust to cover shortages of fuel and logistical support, while the British Defense Ministry said Russia's advance had slowed, also citing likely logistics problems and "strong Ukrainian resistance."

In an address to the nation on February 26, Zelenskiy praised the "courage" of his nation and defiantly said "the enemy has no chance" in the face of the solidarity Ukrainians were showing.

"The world saw — Ukrainians are strong...Ukrainians are powerful. Ukrainians are brave, Ukrainians are in their homeland and will never give it to anyone," he said, Zelenskiy said stating that the capital remained in Ukrainian hands, while authorities handed out thousands of assault rifles to residents and told them to make petrol bombs as they await the Russian invaders.

An RFE/RL correspondent said barricades had been erected on some roads south of Kyiv, using sandbags, lumber and wood from nearby trees.

More than two dozen men, some carrying decades-old hunting rifles and antique weapons, stopped passing cars and checked documents. Some had more sophisticated sniper rifles. Several appeared to be in their 60s.

Off to the side were dozens of plastic jugs and bottles—many with rags sticking out of them - indicating they were homemade gasoline bombs: "Molotov cocktails."

Residents of Kyiv described to Current Time, a Russian-language network operated by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, what they had experienced following a blast on an apartment building.

"I was asleep when there was a huge explosion," Kyiv resident Oksana Gulenko told Current Time. "I was thrown about 3 meters from the room into the corridor. There was glass everywhere and noise from the street."

"After a while, I began rushing around the apartment, gathering my things and my documents, which I'd prepared earlier, and I ran out into the street," she said. "When I came back after two or three hours, the door had been broken in. Apparently, firefighters or police were opening the apartments and looking for victims."

Не вірте фейкам. pic.twitter.com/wiLqmCuz1p
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 26, 2022

Under the threat of Russian encirclement of Kyiv, thousands of people jammed trains, roads, and buses to flee the country before the invading troops' arrival.

Missile blasts continued to be heard in and around the city of some 2.6 million people, leaving burned out vehicles on the streets and several buildings, including apartment blocks, damaged.

The Russian military pounded Kyiv and other cities with artillery and cruise missiles on the third day of the invasion that President Vladimir Putin said was designed to "demilitarize" Ukraine and to capture what it calls "dangerous" individuals.

A U.S. defense official estimated that Russia has sent in more than half of the estimated 150,000 troops it had arrayed around Ukraine in the lead-up to the invasion.

"We know that they [the Russian forces] have not made the progress that they have wanted to make, particularly in the north. They have been frustrated by what they have seen is a very determined resistance," the official said.

The British Defense Ministry said in a statement that Russian forces appear as though they may bypass major Ukrainian population centers while leaving forces to encircle and isolate them.

"The capture of Kyiv remains Russia's primary military objective," the statement said.

Moscow's invasion of its neighbor has prompted worldwide condemnation and a slew of sanctions against Russia by Western powers.

Protests in cities around the world called on Russia to cease its aggression. In Tehran, Iranians gathered in front of the Ukrainian embassy in a show of support for Kyiv while chanting "Death to Putin!"

In Russia, the independent OVD-info monitor that keeps tracks of arrests during protests said that more than 3,000 people had been arrested in the country in protests related to the invasion, including 467 who were detained on February 26 in 34 cities.

Zelenskiy thanked several prominent Russians for the protests and also praised the "thousands" of Russian citizens who have called for an end to the war.

"[There are] thousands of dead [Russian] soldiers, hundreds of prisoners of war who don't understand why they sent them to Ukraine, sent them to Ukraine to die and kill others. The sooner you tell your leaders that the war needs to be immediately stopped, the more your soldiers will survive," he said.

On the diplomatic front, Washington and its allies announced new packages of additional military assistance in the face of Moscow's actions.

Ukrainian leaders had long called for moves to block Russia from the SWIFT system.

In what appeared to be a major shift on February 26, prior to the late announcement on the SWIFT decision, Germany had said it was considering U.S. and EU proposals to target Russia's involvement in the banking system, considered by many to be one of the toughest of possible sanctions.

Just days earlier, Berlin had appeared to be opposed to the move, which U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington was considering.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal welcomed the Western move on SWIFT, writing on Twitter: "Thanks to our friends...for the commitment to remove several Russian banks from SWIFT" and for "the paralysis of the assets of the central bank of Russia."

After criticism from several European leaders, Germany also said it had decided to send weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine.

International moves have also been made to slap Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov personally with sanctions, a nearly unprecedented measure.

During the three-day Russian invasion, the Ukrainian military said it has destroyed so far 14 aircraft, 8 helicopters, 102 tanks, 536 armored vehicles, as well as killing 3,000 military personnel, according to a social media posting early on February 26 by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

Russia has not released casualty figures.

International moves have also been made to slap Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov personally with sanctions, a nearly unprecedented measure.

Ukrainian officials said Russian forces fired cruise missiles from the Black Sea at the cities of Sumy, Poltava, and Mariupol and there was heavy fighting near the southern city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on February 26 that 198 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded in the Russian offensive.

His statement was unclear as to whether the casualties included both military and civilians.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Mike Eckel, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/31724528.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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