Russian Forces Enter Kharkiv Amid Heavy Fighting As Kyiv Braces For Assault

February 27, 2022 – By RFE/RL’s Ukrainian ServiceCurrent Time

Russian forces have entered Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, amid heavy fighting, Ukrainian officials say.

Meanwhile, residents of the Ukrainian capital reported a massive explosion and other blasts early on February 27 as Russia’s war on its neighbor intensified and as Western powers announced a new, dramatic step in efforts to punish Moscow with sanctions for its aggression.

The explosion hit the southeastern part of Kyiv just after midnight and left a glowing red light over what media reported was likely a military fuel depot. There were no immediate reports on damage or injuries in what could be the start of the final battle for Kyiv and the Ukrainian nation.

Authorities said a Russian strike hit an oil depot in Vasylkiv, a city just south of Kyiv.

The enemy wants to destroy everything,” the mayor of Vasylkiv, Natalia Balasinovich, said.

Amid reports of clashes near Kharkiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in the city, prompting the government to warn people to protect themselves from the smoke by covering their windows with damp cloth or gauze.

Zelenskiy’s office said another explosion was reported at the civilian Zhuliany airport.

Ukraine’s army said it held the line against an assault on the capital but was fighting Russian “sabotage groups” that had infiltrated the city, where people hunkered down in homes, underground garages, and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.

“We will fight until we have liberated our country,” Zelensky said in a video message.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the United States agreed to block access for a number of Russian banks to the SWIFT banking system, as well as imposing “restrictive measures” against Russia’s central bank for Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

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In a joint statement on February 26, the leaders said the measures — which will restrict the Russian central bank’s international reserves and thus hinder its ability to support the ruble — will be implemented in the coming days.

Experts have said blocking access to SWIFT would be a major step up in the intensity of Western sanctions against Moscow.

The latest moves came as Western experts were saying that Ukrainian forces had put up tougher-than-expected resistance in three days of pitched battles across the country.

Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on February 26 that 198 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been wounded in the Russian offensive.

Russia has not released casualty figures.

The UN refugee agency said on February 26 that over 120,000 Ukrainian refugees have left the country since Russia began its attack this week, mainly fleeing to neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania, Moldova and Hungary.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondents Mike Eckel and Todd Prince, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

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