The United States and its allies target the “Russian fortress” with new sanctions, including the banning of SWIFT

Russian troops blow up a gas pipeline at the start of the fourth day of the invasion: Ukrainian officials

KYIV, Ukraine: Huge explosions lit up the pre-dawn sky south of Kiev early Sunday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth day.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said one of the explosions occurred near Zhuliany airport. It is reported that Russian forces also blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city.

Ukraine’s state service for special communications and information protection and the mayor of Vasylkiv, about 40 kilometers south of the capital, also said an oil depot was hit.

A mushroom-shaped explosion was shown in a video posted on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not immediately clear how important the pipeline was and whether the explosion could disrupt gas shipments out of town or out of the country. Despite the war, Ukraine continues to ship Russian natural gas to Europe.

The government warned that smoke from the huge blast could cause an “environmental disaster” and advised people to cover their windows with a damp cloth or gauze.

Ukrainian forces had put up fierce resistance to slow the advance of the larger and more powerful Russian army closing in on the capital, as the US and EU rushed ammunition and weapons to Kiev and announced powerful new financial sanctions aimed at further isolating Moscow.

The body of a Russian soldier lies near destroyed Russian military vehicles on the side of the road on the outskirts of Kharkiv on February 26, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Sergei Bobok / AFP)

Terrified men, women and children sought safety indoors and underground, and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people out of the streets. More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Moldova and other neighboring countries, and the United Nations has warned the number could rise to 4 million if fighting escalates.

“We will fight as long as necessary to liberate our country,” Zelenskyy promised.

President Vladimir Putin has not disclosed his ultimate plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, redraw the map of Europe and revive the influence of Moscow during the Cold War era.

To help Ukraine hold its ground, the United States pledged an additional $350 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany said it would send anti-tank missiles and weapons to the beleaguered country and close its airspace to Russian planes.

The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the global financial messaging system SWIFT, which transfers money to more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world. world, as part of a new round of sanctions aimed at imposing a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion. They also agreed to impose “restrictive measures” on Russia’s central bank.

It was unclear how much territory the Russian forces had seized or how much of their advance had been blocked. The British Ministry of Defense said that “the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, probably due to acute logistical difficulties and heavy Ukrainian resistance”.

A senior US defense official said that more than half of the Russian combat power that was massed along Ukraine’s borders had entered the country and that Moscow had to commit more fuel supplies and weapons. other support units inside Ukraine than originally planned. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US assessments.

The curfew forcing everyone in Kyiv indoors was due to last until Monday morning. The relative calm of the capital was sporadically disturbed by gunfire.

The fighting on the outskirts of the city suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the United States said the bulk of forces were 30 kilometers from the city center by afternoon.

Russia says its assault on Ukraine from the north, east and south is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit.

Ukraine’s health minister announced on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 injured in Europe’s largest ground war since World War II. It was unclear whether these figures included both military and civilian casualties.

A missile struck a high-rise building in the southwestern outskirts of Kiev, near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said troops in Kiev were fighting Russian “sabotage groups”. According to Ukraine, some 200 Russian soldiers were captured and thousands killed.

Markarova said Ukraine was gathering evidence of bombings of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to submit to The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.

Zelenskyy reiterated his openness to talks with Russia in a video message, saying he welcomed an offer from Turkey and Azerbaijan to stage diplomatic efforts, which so far have failed.

The Kremlin confirmed a phone call between Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev but gave no indication on whether talks would resume. A day earlier, Zelenskyy offered to negotiate a key Russian demand: to abandon ambitions to join NATO.

Putin sent troops to Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, while building up a force of nearly 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders. He says the West has not taken Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join, seriously. But he also expressed his contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.

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