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

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KIEV, Ukraine: Huge explosions lit the early morning skies south of Kiev early Sunday as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth day.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said one of the blasts occurred near Zhuliany airport. It is sad 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, some 40 kilometers south of the capital, also said an oil depot was hit.

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

It wasn’t immediately clear how important the pipeline was and whether the blast could disrupt gas transportation outside of the city or country. Despite the war, Ukraine continues to supply Russian natural gas to Europe.

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

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

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

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

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

President Vladimir Putin has not announced his final plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with his own regime, redrawing the map of Europe and Moscow’s Cold War-era influence to revive.

To help Ukraine assert itself, the US has pledged an additional $350 million in military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armor and small arms. Germany said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged country and close its airspace to Russian planes.

The US, the European Union and the UK agreed to block “select” Russian banks from the global financial messaging system SWIFT, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, as part of a new round of sanctions aimed at removing a to impose heavy costs 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 captured or to what extent their advance had stalled. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said “the pace of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed, likely due to acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance.”

A senior US defense official said that more than half of the Russian combat force that had gathered along Ukraine’s borders has entered the country, and Moscow has had to station more fuel supply and other support units in Ukraine than initially anticipated. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US assessments.

The curfew, which forced everyone in Kiev to go indoors, was due to last until Monday morning. The relative calm of the capital was punctuated sporadically by gunfire.

The fighting on the outskirts of the city indicated that small Russian units were trying to give way to the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported in Kiev, but Britain and the US said the bulk of the force was 30 kilometers from the city center by afternoon.

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

Ukraine’s health minister reported on Saturday that 198 people, including three children, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured during Europe’s biggest land war since World War II. It was unclear whether these figures included both military and civilian casualties.

A rocket struck a high-rise apartment building on the southwestern outskirts of Kiev near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a craggy hole of several stories of devastated apartments. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.

Ambassador of Ukraine to the US Oksana Markarova said troops in Kiev are fighting Russian “sabotage groups”. Ukraine says about 200 Russian soldiers were captured and thousands killed.

Markarova said Ukraine is collecting evidence of the shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to present to The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.

In a video message, Zelenskyy reiterated his openness to talks with Russia and said he welcomed an offer by Turkey and Azerbaijan to organize diplomatic efforts that have so far stalled.

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

Putin sent troops to Ukraine after weeks of denying he was doing so, meanwhile amassing a force of nearly 200,000 troops on the countries’ borders. He claims the West has not taken seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance Ukraine wants to join. But he has also expressed contempt for Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.

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