Russia Ukraine conflict

Ukrainian oil and gas facilities burn as West prepares new sanctions

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Russian forces have attacked oil and gas facilities in Ukraine, sparking huge explosions, officials said on Sunday, as Western allies prepared new sanctions, including banishing key Russia banks from the main global payments system.

Ukrainian forces were holding off Russian troops advancing on the capital, Kyiv, said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two entered its fourth day.

Russian missiles found their mark, including a strike that set an oil terminal ablaze in Vasylkiv, southwest of Kyiv, the town’s mayor said. Blasts sent huge flames and billowing black smoke into the night sky, online posts showed.

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There were also reports of heavy fighting near Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, in the northeast, where Russian troops blew up a natural gas pipeline, a Ukrainian state agency said.

The gas blast there sent a mushroom cloud up into the darkness.

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

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a special military operation on Thursday, ignoring weeks of Western warnings and saying the “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine threatened Russia’s security - a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.

Reuters witnesses in Kyiv reported occasional blasts and gunfire in the city on Saturday night but it was not clear where this was coming from.

“We have withstood and are successfully repelling enemy attacks. The fighting goes on,” Zelenskyy said in a video message from the streets of Kyiv posted on his social media.

A US defense official said Ukraine’s forces were putting up “very determined resistance” to Russia’s air, land and sea advance, which has sent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing westwards, clogging major highways and railway lines.

The US and its European partners said they also would impose restrictions on Russia’s central bank to limit its ability to support the rouble and finance Putin’s war effort.

After initially shying away from such a move largely because of concern about the impact on their economies, the allies said they committed to “ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system.”

They did not name the banks that would be expelled, but an EU diplomat said some 70 percent of the Russian banking market would be affected.

The decision - which the French finance minister had called a “financial nuclear weapon” because of the damage it would inflict on the Russian economy - deals a blow to Russia’s trade and makes it harder for its companies to do business.

Google barred Russia’s state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos, similar to move Facebook made.

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