Ukraine’s second largest city becomes a fierce battleground

  • An oil terminal and a gas pipeline set on fire
  • 368,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, UN says
  • SWIFT restrictions will be imposed on some Russian banks
  • Ukrainian president says Russian forces repelled
  • Russia says its troops are advancing

KYIV, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops entering the city of Kharkiv on Sunday, on the fourth day of an invasion that has shaken Europe’s longstanding security architecture and pushed the Germany to spend more on defence.

The three-sided invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin is the biggest assault on a European state since World War II.

The attack, which Russia calls a special operation, has so far failed to overthrow the Kyiv government or take major cities, but has driven out hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly women and children , in neighboring countries.

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Russian soldiers and armored vehicles entered the northeastern city of Kharkiv and gunfire and explosions could be heard, witnesses said. A burning tank was visible in a video posted by the government.

Ukrainian fighters repelled the attack, authorities said in the city, the second in the country with a population of around 1.4 million.

“The control of Kharkiv is entirely ours! The armed forces, police and defense forces are working and the city is completely cleared of the enemy,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said.

Reuters was unable to immediately corroborate the information.

Russian troops blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv before daybreak, a Ukrainian state agency said, sending a burning cloud into the darkness.

The Ukrainian pipeline operator and Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom said the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine, vital for Europe’s energy needs, was unaffected.

Ukraine’s Western allies have stepped up their response to Russia’s land, sea and air invasion by almost completely banning Russian airlines from using European airspace.

‘NO OTHER ANSWER’

Germany will increase defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output in response to the invasion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, a reversal after keeping military spending low for decades in light of the bloody history of the 20th century and the resulting pacifism among its people.

“There could be no other response to Putin’s aggression,” Scholz told lawmakers, a day after Germany agreed to send anti-tank defensive weapons, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition to Ukraine, abandoning its previous refusal to deliver arms to conflict zones. .

As part of the toughest economic sanctions against Moscow to date, the United States and Europe said on Saturday evening that they would ban major Russian banks from the world’s main payments system and announced other measures aimed at limit Moscow’s use of a $630 million war chest of central bank reserves.

Ukrainian forces are also holding back Russian troops advancing towards the capital Kiev, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. But the shelling hit civilian infrastructure and targets including ambulances, he said.

“We resisted and successfully repelled enemy attacks. The fighting continues,” Zelenskiy said in a video message from the streets of Kiev posted on his social media.

Russian missiles found their mark overnight, including a strike that set fire to an oil terminal in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kiev, the city’s mayor said. The explosions sent huge flames and black smoke into the night sky, online posts showed.

Russian-backed separatists in the eastern province of Luhansk said a Ukrainian missile blew up an oil terminal in the town of Rovenky.

A US defense official said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were offering “viable” resistance to Russia’s advance.

LOSSES ARE INCREASING

Ignoring weeks of frantic diplomacy and sanctions threats from Western nations seeking to avoid war, Putin justified the invasion by saying that ‘neo-Nazis’ rule Ukraine and threaten Russia’s security – an accusation that Kiev and Western governments call baseless propaganda.

Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, gained independence from Moscow in 1991 upon the fall of the Soviet Union and pushed to join the Western military alliance of NATO and the EU, goals which Russia opposes.

Putin has said he must eliminate what he calls a serious threat to his country from his smaller neighbor, accusing him of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine – something Kiev and its allies Westerners dismiss it as a lie.

The Kremlin sent a diplomatic delegation to neighboring Belarus to offer talks, but Ukraine rejected the offer.

Russian troops reportedly entered Ukraine from Belarus, a close ally of Moscow. Ukraine was happy to hold talks elsewhere, Zelenskiy said. Read more

At least 198 Ukrainians, including three children, were killed during the Russian invasion, the head of Ukraine’s health ministry has said.

A United Nations agency reported 64 civilian deaths and a Ukrainian presidential adviser said around 3,500 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured. Reuters was unable to verify the figures. Western officials said intelligence showed Russia was suffering higher losses than expected.

Russia did not release casualty figures and Reuters was unable to verify the tolls or the accurate picture on the ground.

REFUGEES FLEE FROM FIGHTING

A UN relief agency said more than 368,000 refugees have entered neighboring countries, clogging railways, roads and borders.

The United States and its allies have authorized more arms transfers to help Ukraine fight back and imposed a series of sanctions on Russia in response to the assault, which threatens to upend Europe’s military order. post-cold war.

On Saturday, they decided to block some Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, making it harder for Russia to trade and for its companies to do business.

They also said they would impose restrictions on Russia’s central bank to limit its ability to support the ruble and fund Putin’s war effort.

“We will hold Russia to account and collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin,” wrote the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain. Britain, Canada and the United States.

They did not name the banks that would be evicted. An EU diplomat said around 70% of the Russian banking market would be affected. Read more

Sanctions on Russia’s central bank could limit Putin’s use of the country’s more than $630 billion reserves, widely seen as protecting Russia from some economic harm.

The Kremlin said its troops were advancing again in all directions and Putin thanked Russian special forces, singling out those who “heroically fulfill their military duty”.

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Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Aleksandar Vasovic and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; and Reuters offices; Written by Robert Birsel and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by William Mallard, Angus MacSwan and David Clarke

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