‘198 civilians killed’ as Russian, Ukrainian troops come face to face


President Zelensky vows pro-Western country will never give in to Kremlin even as Russia fires cruise missiles
Ukrainian forces repulsed a Russian attack on Kyiv but “sabotage groups” infiltrated the capital, officials said on Saturday, as Ukraine reported 198 civilians deaths, including children, following Russia’s invasion.
A defiant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed his pro-Western country would never give in to the Kremlin even as Russia said it had fired cruise missiles at military targets.
With explosions echoing around Kyiv on the third day of Russia’s assault, Zelensky spoke in a video message, wearing olive green military-style clothing and looking tired but determined.
“I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapons are our truth,” he said. “Our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children and we will protect all of this.”
Ignoring warnings from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion that the UN refugee agency said has forced almost 116,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.
Tens of thousands more are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, with many on the move to less affected western areas of the country.
In Kyiv, residents took shelter in the subway system and in cellars and basements.
“We thought something like this might happen but we were hoping until the end that it wouldn’t,” Irina Butyak told AFP in one shelter.
“We were hoping that common sense and common decency would prevail. Well, it didn’t,” said the 38-year-old teacher, who hoped she would be able to escape soon to western Ukraine.
Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said 198 civilians, including three children, had been killed in the conflict and 1,115 wounded.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the world must brace for a long war. “This crisis will last, this war will last and all the crises that come with it will have lasting consequences,” Macron said.
“We must be prepared”.
After speaking to Macron, Zelensky tweeted to thank “partners” for sending weapons and equipment.
Several NATO members have sent weapons and ammunition to Ukraine in recent weeks, including Britain, the United States and ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe.
In another video address, the 44-year-old leader also said that his country had “derailed” the Russian plan of overthrowing him and establishing a puppet state in Ukraine.
In the early hours of Saturday, AFP reporters in Kyiv heard occasional blasts of what soldiers said were artillery and Grad missiles being fired in an area northwest of the city centre.
There were also loud explosions in the centre.
Emergency services said a high-rise apartment block was hit by shelling overnight, posting a picture that showed a hole covering at least five floors blasted into the side of the building.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said the building had been hit by a missile.
“The night was difficult, but there are no Russian troops in the capital,” he said.