(CN) — Russian shelling of Kyiv got more intense on Tuesday, killing five civilians with strikes on residential buildings and a metro station, and a new curfew was imposed on a city preparing for a Russian offensive against the capital where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging his compatriots to keep up the fight.
Kyiv, a city of 3 million people, has been digging in for a full-scale assault ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on Feb. 24 and sent convoys of troops and weaponry onto the capital and fired missiles at it. But so far, Russia has not launched an all-out attack on the city.
“The spirit right now, everyone is angry,” Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion and mayor of Kyiv, said about the will of Ukrainians in the city to fight.
He spoke to journalists as he stood outside a residential block that had been hit in the early morning hours.
“I talked to the people, they don't want to leave,” he said, calling on those able to take up arms to stand up to the Russian invasion and for the West to join Ukraine in its fight for freedom and independence against Russian authoritarianism. “Unity around Ukraine is very important. We are fighting right now for our values, our principles.”
Ukraine is pleading for the United States and its NATO allies to enter the war against Russia by enforcing a so-called no-fly zone, which would in effect mean shooting down Russian warplanes and bombs. So far, despite growing pressure, U.S. President Joe Biden has refused such a step, saying it could lead to World War III. But Ukrainian officials – and many in the West – say Russia’s attack has already started such a catastrophic war.
Less than half of Kyiv's population is still inside the city and many of those still there are hunkering down in bomb shelters, underground subway stations and other shelters. The city says it has stockpiled enough food for two weeks.
Its streets are blocked with anti-tank barricades, squadrons are holed up waiting for Russian soldiers and machine guns, anti-tank rocket launchers, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails and many other weapons have been stockpiled.
“We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our lives with the missiles, air bombs, artillery, tanks and mortars and everything else Russian troops are using to destroy us,” Zelenskyy said on his Telegram feed on Tuesday.
The 44-year-old Jewish actor-turned-politician, who came into office in 2019 with huge support after he vowed to combat corruption and bring to a peaceful end a long-running war over pro-Russian separatist claims in eastern Ukraine, has become Ukraine’s beloved wartime leader and his daily exhortations from his Kyiv bunker have helped bolster Ukrainian morale and given the country hope it can repel the far-superior military might of Russia.
With each attack, Zelenskyy asserted, “Russia is destroying itself because every shot at Ukraine, every blow at Ukraine, is a step towards Russia's self-destruction.”
Russian forces have not been able to encircle the capital and have been largely stalled outside it for more than two weeks. Military experts believe the advance on Kyiv was hindered by logistics and supply problems, Ukrainian ambushes and defenses and possibly because Russia's military leadership has wanted to avoid bloody street fighting.
In recent days, though, Russian forces have advanced closer to the city and in doing so also caused extensive damage and death in towns, villages and cities en route to Kyiv. Witnesses have told reporters of Russian troops executing Ukrainian army volunteers, shooting randomly into houses, looting homes and other acts of violence. Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel, areas in northern and western outskirts of Kyiv, are being described as a nightmare where civilians are being shot and harassed as they try to flee burning, blackened and devastated suburbs.