Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 27 February 2022

 Ukrainian Forces Repel Russian Attack on Kyiv, Prepare for Next Assault

President Volodymyr Zelensky recorded a video address from the street outside the presidential headquarters in Kyiv, urging Ukrainians to keep fighting and denying Russian reports that he had called on his forces to lay down arms.

“Truth is on our side. This is our land, our country, our children, and we will keep defending them all,” he said. “Glory to Ukraine.”

A rapid Russian victory in the biggest war in Europe for decades would drastically change the geopolitical balance on the continent, giving Mr. Putin control of strategically vital swaths of the former Soviet Union’s territory and placing Russia’s armies on the doorstep of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

European and U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that Mr. Putin’s broader goal of revising the ending of the Cold War, restoring Moscow’s former sphere of influence in Europe’s east, won’t stop at Ukraine, a fear that could force a rethink of NATO’s military stance and Europe’s energy supplies, which depend in large part on Russia. Mr. Zelensky has constantly reinforced that message, saying that Ukrainians are fighting and dying not just for their own country but for all of Europe.

What It's Like to Escape Kyiv Amid Russian Attacks

Traffic jams have choked roads in Kyiv as people try to flee Russia's pressing assault. WSJ's Brett Forrest documented his long car journey out of the Ukrainian capital while traveling to cover the war. Photo: Ethan Swope/Bloomberg News

If fierce Ukrainian resistance leads to a long and bloody war—or forces Mr. Putin to seek to end the fighting without achieving his goals—the setback could threaten both his hold on power in Moscow and his drive to restore Russia as a global power.

After nightfall on Saturday, occasional exchanges of gunfire rang through the deserted streets of Kyiv, followed by the thuds of explosions and air raid sirens. Authorities ordered a curfew from 5 p.m. Saturday until Monday morning, saying they needed time to hunt down Russian infiltrator units and warning that anyone found on the streets during curfew hours will be presumed to be an enemy.

Also late Saturday, witnesses said Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt children’s hospital was hit by one of the Russian airstrikes, with one child dying.

Mr. Zelensky, in an address on Saturday, said Russia has failed in its quest to quickly replace him with a puppet regime and that Ukrainian soldiers were holding the line throughout the country. He called on Ukrainians abroad and foreign volunteers to join the fight. “Everyone who can, come back to defend Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said. “All the friends of Ukraine who want to come join us, come here too—we will give you weapons.”

The smoldering remains of armored vehicles and trucks remained in Kyiv after Ukrainian troops and volunteer fighters repelled a Russian advance. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OCCHICONE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Many Ukrainian fighters saw their first combat experience Saturday during the battle against Russian attackers in the capital Kyiv. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OCCHICONE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

On Friday, the biggest thrust of Russian forces, pouring in from the north, targeted Kyiv, an ancient city that was home to around three million people before Russian bombardments triggered a mass exodus toward western Ukraine, which is safer. Many who remained in the city spent the night in bomb shelters and underground subway stations.

Ukrainian civilians fleeing westward have been stuck in long lines of cars near the border with Poland. Many people have abandoned their cars and walked to the border for many hours in chilly weather, carrying children and a few belongings.

Ukraine’s Health Ministry said early Saturday that 198 civilians, including three children, had been killed since the Russian invasion began, and 1,115 injured.

“We knew that the night would be difficult because the Russian Federation would use all its resources and reserves to inflict on us maximum damage in the maximum number of locations,” Mr. Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said early Saturday. “Kyiv is their priority number one because the main declared goal of the Russian operation is the annihilation of Ukraine’s political and military leadership. That is why they are pouring the maximum number of Russian troops toward Kyiv.”

Kyiv Attacks Intensify as Russian Forces Close In on Ukraine’s Capital

Explosions and gunfire rocked Kyiv as Russian troops intensified attacks on Ukraine’s capital. Residential areas were hit and people sought refuge, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for help from Western leaders. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/AP

A Russian column that attempted to advance from the West, on the highway linking Kyiv to Lviv, was destroyed in nighttime fighting inside Kyiv, witnesses said. Bodies lay on the ground amid the smoldering remains of armored vehicles and trucks. Presumed Russian infiltrators, traveling in civilian vehicles, also were gunned down by Ukrainian troops as they tried to approach the Ukrainian Parliament building, the witnesses said. Intense firefights were reported in other locations throughout the capital.

After daybreak Saturday, Ukrainian regular troops and volunteers of the newly formed Territorial Defense force regained the upper hand, erecting roadblocks, firing positions and other fortifications around the city, particularly in the government district and near bridges spanning the Dnipro river. Trucks accompanied by police ferried ammunition as civilians lined up patiently in grocery stores, at pharmacies and teller machines.

A large supermarket on Kyiv’s Antonovycha street was well stocked, with fresh bread, pineapples and Italian cheese, and some of the checkout lanes still accepted Apple Pay. A handful of basement bars reopened as makeshift shelters, serving espressos before the 5 p.m. curfew kicked in. At one bar, customers were asked to show their passports to prove that they weren’t Russian citizens.

The biggest lines in the Ukrainian capital were at the recruitment centers for the Territorial Defense. At one sports facility converted for this purpose, several hundred volunteers, commanded by career military officers, loaded crates of ammunition into civilian vehicles and sped off to their positions.

Volunteer fighters lined up Saturday at a Territorial Defense mobilization point in Dnipro, eastern-central Ukraine. PHOTO: MYKOLA MIAKSHYKOV UKRINFORM/DPA/ZUMA PRESS

A building in Kyiv was damaged by a projectile on Saturday. PHOTO: DANIEL LEAL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Outside, hundreds more aspiring recruits, including women, patiently waited their turn in a line that snaked around the building. “I never expected so many would turn up. The whole city has risen up now,” one of the officers at the site said. “A bit too late, but better late than never.”

Concerned about Russian infiltrators and spies, members of the Territorial Defense didn’t allow photography and didn’t provide their names. The volunteers said they had no choice but to fight now that Russian forces were on Kyiv’s doorstep.

“A Russian rocket hit a building near my home this morning. This was the last straw for me, and now it’s time to take up arms. Everyone in this city who wanted to escape has already fled,” said one of the new recruits, a 35-year-old IT specialist.

“There is nowhere to run and no point in hiding. We just have to repel the invaders and send them back where they came from,” said another, a human-resources specialist.

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