Russia Ukraine conflict

Gunfire heard near government quarter of Ukrainian capital

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Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order.

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Explosions sounded before dawn in Kyiv and gunfire was later heard near the government quarter as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help to fend off an attack that could topple his democratically elected government, cause massive casualties and ripple out damage to the global economy.

Among the signs that the Ukrainian capital was increasingly threatened, the military said Friday that a group of Russian spies and saboteurs was seen in a district of Kyiv about 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of the city center. Earlier, the military said that Russian forces had seized two Ukrainian military vehicles and some uniforms and were heading toward the city to try to infiltrate under the guise of being locals.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv “could well be under siege” in what US officials believe is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to install his own regime.

The assault, anticipated for weeks by the US and Western allies, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II. After weeks of denying plans to invade, the autocratic Putin launched his attack on the country, which has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway.

His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to global leaders for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and for defense assistance.

“If you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door,” said the leader, who cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, declared martial law and ordered a full military mobilization that would last 90 days.

As air raids sirens sounded in Kyiv early Friday, guests of a hotel in the city center were directed to a makeshift basement shelter, lined with piles of mattresses and bottles of water. Workers, all local university students, served tea and cookies to the guests. Some people ducked out to a courtyard to smoke or get fresh air.

“We’re all scared and worried. We don’t know what to do then, what’s going to happen in a few days,” said one of the workers, Lucy Vashaka, 20.

The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes on cities and military bases, and then quickly followed with a multi-pronged ground assault that rolled troops in from several areas in the east; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

Ukrainian officials said they lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and civilians in many parts of the country piled into trains and cars to flee.

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