The war in Ukraine is not going well for Russia. Now Vladimir Putin has made a shocking new order to his nuclear forces.
Large explosions have been reported near Kyiv, with Russian forces expected to begin a fresh barrage on Ukraine’s capital.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting is underway in Kharkiv, 400km to the east, after Russian troops entered the country’s second-largest city on Sunday.
It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country had “withstood and successfully repelled enemy attacks” and maintains control of the capital.
Vladimir Putin is said to be “furious” that his invasion of Ukraine hasn’t been “easy”, with Ukrainian intelligence reportedly claiming the Russian President is holed up in his “lair in the Urals”.
Fears are rising that an increasingly desperate Mr Putin has ordered his troops to seize Kyiv by Monday – Tuesday Australian time – by all means necessary and at any cost.
Mr Zelensky on Sunday said Ukraine was willing to hold peace talks with Russia, but rejected convening them in neighbouring Belarus as it was being used as a launchpad for Moscow’s invasion.
In the same address posted online, he accused Russia of bombarding residential areas in Ukraine as its invading forces sought to push deeper into the pro-Western country.
“The past night in Ukraine was brutal, again shooting, again bombardments of residential areas, civilian infrastructure,” Mr Zelensky said.
At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed as a result of the invasion, the health ministry said on Saturday.
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Putin orders ‘deterrence forces’ on high alert
Vladimir Putin has placed Russia’s strategic deterrence forces — including units in charge of its nuclear capabilities — on high alert in response to “illegitimate western sanctions” over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian tyrant is said to be “furious” that his forces have not been able to subdue the Ukrainians and blamed the West’s sanctions for the move.
In an address on state TV Putin claimed aggressive statements by NATO leaders and economic sanctions against Moscow have forced his hand.
He said he has now ordered his military command to put Russia’s deterrence forces – a reference to units which include nuclear arms – on high alert.
He said “not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures” such as “illegal sanctions” but “top officials of leading NATO countries allow themselves to make aggressive statements with regards to our country”.
“I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special regime of duty,” Putin said.
Ukraine has full control of Kharkiv, regional official claims
Only hours ago, Russian troops were seen entering Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Now a regional official claims the attack has been thwarted and Ukraine has full control of Kharkiv.
“Control over Kharkiv is completely ours! The armed forces, the police, and the defense forces are working, and the city is being completely cleansed of the enemy,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging service.
Reporters from senior and respected foreign correspondents on the ground appear to back up the claims.
Footage circulated on social media showed street fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops.
The situation on the ground remains fluid and claims of control are hard to verify — but civilians on the ground have also told the BBC that Kharkiv is back under Ukrainian control and that conflict on the streets is easing.
Kyiv’s defence holding firm, mayor says
It’s not just in Kharkiv where Russian forces are being pegged back. Kyiv’s mayor says there are no Russian troops in the Ukrainian capital, adding the city’s defence is holding firm against attacks from Moscow’s forces.
“Our military, law enforcement and territorial defence continue to detect and neutralise saboteurs,” Vitali Klitschko wrote on his Telegram messaging channel.
Conflict could last ‘number of years’: UK
The Russia-Ukraine conflict could last a “number of years” and the world needs to be prepared for Moscow “to seek to use even worse weapons”, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned Sunday.
“I fear this will be a long haul, this could be a number of years,” Ms Truss told Sky News.
“Russia have strong forces and we know the Ukrainians are brave, they are determined to stand up for their sovereignty and territorial integrity and they are determined to fight,” she said.
The minister said that intelligence showed that Ukrainian forces were “continuing to resist Russian advances” and that there had not been “significant changes” overnight.
But she warned Russian President Vladimir Putin could deploy more deadly weapons.
“This could well be the beginning the end for Putin and I fear that he is determined to use the most unsavoury means in this war,” she said.
“I fear this conflict could be very, very bloody. We do need to be prepared for Russia to seek to use even worse weapons.”
However, Mr Putin “should be aware the International Criminal Court is already looking at what is happening in Ukraine and there will be serious consequences for him personally”, she said.
Her comments came as German leader Olaf Scholz said the world had entered a “new era” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Western allies on Saturday agreed on a new volley of financial sanctions against Russia, including the exclusion of a number of Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank system.
The allies also agreed to impose restrictive measures to prevent the Russian central bank from “using international financial transactions to prop up the ruble”, a senior US official said.
Huge catch in SWIFT ban
Western countries working to kick Russian banks off the SWIFT payment system will create a “carve out” for energy payments for Russian oil and gas, according to reports.
Fox Business White House correspondent Edward Lawrence, citing a senior Biden administration official, said the move “would either allow individual energy transactions to go through, or a Russian bank that processes the bulk of energy payments would not be removed from the SWIFT system”.
“Whenever there has been action taken regarding SWIFT, it has been done institution by institution,” the official said.
“For example, when Iran was cut off from SWIFT it was done via institutions. In the coming days many major Russian banks will be kicked off. Ultimately the list of banks will be finalized by the EU and their partners, but all options remain on the table.”
The official concluded, “We are focused on causing maximum impact on the Russian economy while mitigating spillover effects to the United States and our partners.”
Such a carve-out would greatly diminish the effectiveness of the sanction.
Commentators in recent days have heavily criticised European nations, and in particular Germany, for growing so dependent on Russia for energy.
“In a very real sense, the EU has paid for Putin’s Fortress Russia defences,” UK broadcaster Andrew Neil wrote in a column for The Daily Mail on Saturday.
“With oil prices spiking at over $US100 a barrel, $US700 million a day in oil revenues is pouring into Kremlin coffers. Germany’s dependence on Russian energy is close to complete: 50 per cent of its coal imports, 55 per cent of its gas, 35 per cent of its oil – all from Russia. All of which explains why the EU has not gone for Russia where it would really hurt – its energy exports.”
Crazy way Russians are getting caught
Footage has emerged on social media purporting to show a clever tactic Ukrainians are using to identify Russian saboteurs.
In the video, shared on Twitter by Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev, a Ukrainian man approaches unknown soldiers.
The man shouts, demanding they say the word “palyanitsa”, which is said to be a type of Ukrainian bread. According to Grozev, Russians’ pronunciation of the word is a giveaway.
Many called the tactic the “a modern-day shibboleth”.
Russian troops enter Ukraine’s second city
Russian troops have entered Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and fighting was underway on Sunday, the head of the regional administration said on the fourth day of Moscow’s invasion of the pro-Western country.
“The Russian enemy’s light vehicles broke into the city of Kharkiv,” Oleg Sinegubov said in a Facebook post, urging residents not to leave shelters.
“The Ukrainian armed forces are eliminating the enemy.”
While fighting raged in Kharkiv, the city administration in Kyiv, 400 kilometres to the west, said the capital remained completely under the control of Ukrainian forces despite clashes with “sabotage groups”, AFP reports.
The Russian defence ministry claimed on Sunday that its troops had besieged the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and the city of Berdyansk in the southeast.
“Over the past 24 hours, the cities of Kherson and Berdyansk have been completely blocked by the Russian armed forces,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
He added that Russian troops had also taken control of Genichesk, a port city along the Sea of Azov, and an airfield near Kherson.
As of Sunday, the Russian army said it had destroyed 975 military facilities in Ukraine and shot down eight fighter jets, seven helicopters and 11 drones.
Konashenkov claimed that Ukrainian servicemen were laying down arms “en masse.”
He claimed that on Saturday forces of an air defence missile regiment near Kharkiv “voluntarily” put down their arms, adding that more than 470 Ukrainian servicemen had been detained.
There was no independent verification of any of these claims and Ukraine insists it has inflicted heavy casualties on the Kremlin’s forces.
Meanwhile, a video has been shared on social media by news agency BNO News showing what is claimed to be an “intense battle” that has erupted as Russian forces enter Kharkiv.
Movement of Russian forces in Ukraine
The Institute for the Study of War has revealed its latest analysis of the movements of Russian troops in Ukraine.
The mapping shows Russian troops have occupied areas around Chernobyl, land near Kharkiv, a zone north of Crimea and the two rebel regions Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.
The think tank said, “Russia has failed to encircle and isolate Kyiv with mechanised and airborne attacks as it had clearly planned to do.
“Russian forces are now engaging in more straightforward mechanised drives into Kyiv along a narrow front on the west bank of the Dnipro River and on a broad front to the northeast.”
The Russian forces have temporarily abandoned their efforts to seize Chernihiv and Kharkiv to the northeast and east of Kyiv and are bypassing those cities to continue their drive on Kyiv, ISW said.
The think tank added that Russian successes in southern Ukraine are the most dangerous for Ukraine.
‘The enemy wants to destroy everything’: Mayor
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko confirmed an oil depot was burning as a result of a Russian missile.
Vasylkiv mayor Natalia Balasynovych said in a Facebook message, “You can see what is going on, you can see the fire — unfortunately, this is the petroleum storage depot in Kriachky village.
“The enemy wants to destroy everything around, but he will not be successful. You’ve seen that during the day there was heavy shelling from ballistic missiles.
“Our airfield was shelled as well, but we got it, it’s under control of Ukraine.
“The night will be difficult here, as well as in Kyiv, but we will stand our ground and we will win, because God is with us,” Ms Balasynovych said.
Kyiv is bracing for a renewed attack from Russian forces, with Ukraine’s deputy interior minister warning of an impending air strike.
A US official said earlier that “more than 250” rockets had been launched by Russian forces at Ukraine — the majority of them short-range ballistic missiles.
“Civilian infrastructure and residential areas” have been targeted, the official said.
Major twist for ‘Snake Island’
In a major twist, the defenders of a tiny island in the Black Sea, who all reportedly died, may in fact be alive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said on Friday that Zmiinyi Island – also known as Snake Island – had fallen to Russian forces, and claimed all defenders had been killed.
“All the defenders of the island of Zmiinyi died, but did not surrender,” Mr Zelensky said.
“All of them will be named Heroes of Ukraine.”
However, a new statement by State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said the defenders may still be alive.
“We [have a] strong belief that all Ukrainian defenders of Zmiinyi (Snake) Island may be alive,” the statement said.
A widely shared video purportedly included audio of the defenders’ defiant resistance when a Russian warship demanded they surrender.
“This is a Russian warship. I propose you lay down arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary victims. Otherwise, you’ll be bombed,” the Russians said in the clip.
The Ukrainian defenders responded, “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself”.
Communications with the border guards and armed forces on the island were severed after an aerial attack and artillery shelling.
Russian invaders ‘frustrated’ by resistance
Russia’s invasion force is being slowed and frustrated by unexpectedly stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops, keeping them outside Kyiv, a senior US defence official said Saturday.
The United States and Western allies are still able to deliver arms into the country to bolster the Ukraine military, and Washington plans to send more in the coming days to help them fight both Russian armour on the ground and assaults from the air, the official said.
According to Pentagon information, Russia now has at least 50 per cent of its massive invasion force inside Ukraine.
But the force is making slow progress on its original three-front thrust due to unexpectedly stiff resistance, the official told reporters, on grounds of anonymity.
“We have indications that the Russians are increasingly frustrated by their lack of momentum over the last 24 hours, particularly in the north parts of Ukraine,” the official said.
In Moscow Saturday the defence ministry said the Russian army had been ordered to broaden its offensive after Kyiv declined an offer of talks in Russia-allied Belarus.
“Today all units were given orders to develop the advance from all directions in accordance with the operation’s plans,” Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov announced.
Massive explosions rocks Kyiv
Two large explosion have been reported near Kyiv, according to CNN and the New York Times.
Nearly three million people live in Ukraine’s capital city.
A second explosion was also reported.
Footage aired showed a pulsing orange glow illuminating the sky, likely from a fire, and reportedly near an airport.
The first explosion took place in Vasylkiv, about 30 kilometres southwest of Kyiv’s centre shortly before 1am local time.
A fire was seen raging at an oil storage area at the Vasylkiv Air Base, according to video verified by CNN.
Terrifying footage of Russian missile attack
Terrifying footage has emerged of a missile slamming into an apartment unit in Kyiv on Saturday.
A hole five storeys high was blown out of the building.
Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said the building had been hit by a missile
The video showed an apartment suddenly rocked by an explosion, with the windows damaged and power cut off.
Earlier today air raid sirens were blaring in Kyiv as the city braced for a renewed Russian attack.
CNN reporter Alexander Marquardt posted a clip of sirens in Kyiv.
BBC journalist Paul Adams, who is in Kyiv, confirmed the report.
“This time the warnings were alarmingly specific: incoming missiles expected within minutes,” he wrote.
“Kyiv is bracing itself as never before. One MP told us that Russia ‘will hit us with all they have’.”
Moscow today ordered its troops to advance in Ukraine “from all directions”
West cuts off Russian banks from SWIFT
The United States and European Union have agreed to cut off a number of Russian banks from SWIFT.
“This is intended to cut off these institutions from international financial flows, which will massively restrict their global operations,” a German government spokesman said.
Ukraine now has “almost full support of the members of the EU to exclude Russia from SWIFT” according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I hope that Germany and Hungary will have enough courage to support this decision,” he said.
It comes after Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said France supported banning Russia from SWIFT.
US President Joe Biden announced tough new sanctions against Russia on Thursday but he didn’t pull the trigger on what some consider his most powerful economic weapon — cutting Russia off from SWIFT.
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is a global cooperative of financial institutions based in Belgium and is used to facilitate financial transactions between banks worldwide.
Cutting Russia from SWIFT would hinder the country’s ability to profit from the global energy market, which operates largely in US dollars.
In a joint statement from the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, UK, Canada, and US, the White House said the measures would ensure that the banks were disconnected from the international financial system and “harm their ability to operate globally”.
“We commit to imposing restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions.”
NATO sending military to eastern Europe
NATO said it would deploy its 40,000-strong rapid response force to eastern Europe for the first time, but stressed it would not send forces to Ukraine.
Russian president Vladimir Putin cited the “expansion of the NATO to the east” in his bombastic speech as he announced a “special military operation” against Ukraine on Thursday.
The UN Security Council will convene Sunday afternoon to vote on a resolution calling for a special session of the General Assembly over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, diplomats have said.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia can veto any resolution.
Nine European countries block flights from Russia
Germany will block Russian airlines from its airspace, the transport ministry told AFP.
It comes as the West ramps up sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing “recommends closing German airspace to Russian aircraft”, a ministry spokesman said. “An order has been made to prepare for this,” she added.
Separately, German airline Lufthansa said it was halting flights to Russia and would stop overflying the country for the next seven days.
Romania, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia have also announced measures to block Russian planes.
Europe sending weapons to Ukraine
Germany has dramatically ramped up its backing for Ukraine’s battle against Russia, approving weapons deliveries for Kyiv in a policy U-turn and agreeing to limit Moscow’s access to the SWIFT interbank system.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point in history. It threatens our entire post-war order,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz as his government approved the delivery of a huge batch of lethal weapons to Kyiv.
“In this situation, it is our duty to support Ukraine to the best of our ability in its defence against (Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s invading army,” Mr Scholz said, stressing that Germany “stands closely by Ukraine’s side”.
The Netherlands will also send antitank weapons to Ukraine, the Defence Ministry said on Saturday.
The government will supply 50 Panzerfaust-3 antitank weapons and 400 rockets, the ministry said.
Russia’s websites hacked
Hacktivist group Anonymous has claimed responsibility after the Kremlin’s website went down and Russian TV channels were “hacked to play Ukrainian songs”.
Six Russian government websites went down on Saturday after denial of service (DDoS) attacks, The Kyiv Independent reported.
Britain and the US have blamed Russian military hackers for DDoS attacks that knocked Ukrainian banking and government websites offline for a short time last week.
Summary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Russia began massing troops on the border with Ukraine in March and April, 2021.
The invasion of the Ukraine started on February 24, 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the “expansion of the NATO to the east” was threatening Russia and announced a “special military operation” against Ukraine.
Mr Putin also recognised the rebel Ukrainian territories Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic as independent states.
Moments later, missile strikes began at locations across Ukraine including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and the Donbas as the Russian army launched a full-scale invasion.
Russian forces reportedly advanced south from Belarus, west from Russia and north from Crimea.
Russia orders troops to advance
Moscow ordered its troops to advance in Ukraine “from all directions” as the Ukrainian capital Kyiv imposed a blanket curfew after fighting in the city that saw Russian troops pushed back.
Moscow said it fired cruise missiles at military targets and would “develop the offensive from all directions” after accusing Ukraine of having “rejected” talks.
But defiant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed his country would never give in to the Kremlin, while Washington said the invading force had a “lack of momentum”.
Ukraine’s army said it held back an assault on the capital — but was fighting Russian “sabotage groups” which had infiltrated the city.
Mr Zelensky said in a video messages “we will do and say only one thing: we will fight until we have liberated our country”.
He earlier said Ukraine had “derailed” Moscow’s plan to overthrow him and urged Russians to pressure President Vladimir Putin into stopping the conflict.
Shoot on sight
The Ukrainian capital is under siege.
It entered a curfew that is being enforced with shoot-on-sight orders, AFP reports.
Residents have started taping over exposed window panes and covering up street names, building numbers and other identifiable city markings to try to confuse the invading Russian force.
Queues running to dozens of cars deep snake around the few functioning petrol stations.
Grocery stores are either closed or packed with people staring at grimly bare shelves that are often out of bread and simple meats and cheese.
One soldier was digging a trench on the side of a highway that the Russian tanks are expected to use to push toward Kyiv’s Maidan Square and the government district.
“We were hoping that our generation would be the one that lives without war,” pensioner Tetyana Filonemko lamented, in the basement.
“All the people can do in a war is hold on, be as one, support each other. That’s all we can do.”
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich gives up control
Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich has sensationally given up control of the football club amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In a bombshell statement released by the team Sunday morning (AEDT), it was announced the 55-year-old billionaire is handing over the “stewardship and care” of the team to the trustees of its charitable foundation.
The move comes with Russia under intense scrutiny following the invasion of Ukraine.
Curfew introduced in Kyiv
Kyiv has been placed under a strict curfew to enable a “more effective defence of the capital”, officials said.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has introduced a 5pm to 8am curfew for the next two days, saying all civilians on the streets during the curfew will be considered an enemy.
“All civilians who will be on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” Mayor Klitschko said on Twitter.
“For safety’s sake, stay at home or in shelters as much as possible! Do not go out and do not go to the city.”
Earlier on Saturday, Ukraine reported a grim spike in its death toll.
Health Minister Viktor Liashko stated Saturday 198 Ukrainians had died “at the hands of the gunpowder” in the three days since Russian troops moved in – including 3 children.
Confusion over Russia’s death toll
The number of Russians who have lost their lives in the battle is unclear, with contrasting information emerging from officials on both sides.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk claimed there were “thousands” of Russians killed in the invasion so far, the BBC reports.
She called on the Red Cross to remove the bodies, describing it as a “humanitarian need”.
However the Russian Defense Ministry has not reported a single combat casualty from the military conflict in Ukraine, CNN reported.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence says Russian casualties likely “greater than anticipated or acknowledged”.
The Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, called on Russian women to “take your men home”.“Mothers, wives, daughters of Russian soldiers! Take your men home. They came to a foreign land to kill innocent people, to destroy our homes. Your power is lying. The people of Ukraine meet them with weapons, not flowers. Demand from the authorities to stop the war of conquest, save your loved ones!” he wrote.
‘Active fighting’ in the streets
The battle in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv intensified on Saturday with fighting breaking out on the streets, according to government officials.
Residents have been warned to remain in shelters or at home and avoid going near windows or on balconies.
They have also been advised to cover themselves with something to avoid injury from bullet fragments.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry posted the following statement to Facebook: “Active fighting is taking place on the streets of our city. Please stay calm and be as careful as possible!
“If you’re in the shelter, don’t leave it now. If you’re at home – do not go close to windows, do not go to the balconies.
“Hide indoors for example in that bathroom and cover yourself with something that will prevent injury from bullet fragments.
“If you hear sirens (”Air Alarm” signal) – go immediately to the nearest shelter!”
Many residents spent the night in train stations and underground garages to try and keep themselves safe.
— with AFP