Zelensky demands the immediate release of the detained mayor of Melitopol
Russian forces are closing in on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and stepping up their assault on other key cities on day 17 of their unprovoked invasion of the country. Here are the latest developments:
The noose is tightening on Kiev: CNN crews in Kyiv reported hearing explosions in the early hours of Saturday as the capital was under pressure. The bulk of Russian ground forces are about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from central Kiev, according to British defense officials. Russian strikes continue to hit civilian structures: a historic hotel in the northern city of Chernihiv was reduced to rubble overnight, along with the local power grid.
Attack on key cities: CNN reporters in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro felt at least two explosions and saw what looked like remnants of anti-aircraft fire early Saturday. The cities of Kharkhiv, Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Sumy also come under sustained Russian attack. It comes as Russian forces extended their offensive into western Ukraine for the first time on Friday, with strikes targeting military airfields, including one in Vasylkiv, south of Kiev, on Saturday. To the east, there is growing evidence that the town of Volnovakha fell to Russian forces and their allies in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The southern city of Kherson appears to have been captured, according to US Defense Intelligence.
Anger mounts after mayor’s arrest: Several hundred demonstrators invaded the town hall of the city of Melitopol, in southern Ukraine, on Saturday, after the arrest of its mayor Ivan Fedorov by Russian forces the day before. The Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed he had committed terrorist offenses, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Fedorov’s detention a “crime against democracy”.
Power of Chernobyl: Technicians work to repair damaged power lines at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to the UN nuclear watchdog. Ukrainian authorities said the lines were completely cut this week due to Russian shelling. The plant, which has relied on diesel generators for emergency power since Wednesday, is under Russian control with more than 200 employees living and working there in harsh conditions.
Biden’s warning: US President Joe Biden warned on Friday that Russia would pay a “heavy price” if it used chemical weapons, but reiterated that the United States would not send ground troops to Ukraine. “We will not fight World War III in Ukraine,” Biden said, adding that the United States would help provide arms, cash and food aid to the country.
The human toll: At least 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UN announced on Friday. The UN recorded 1,546 civilian casualties in Ukraine on Friday, including 564 killed and 982 injured, though it estimates the true number to be much higher.