Kyiv, Ukraine (CNN)Ukrainian troops held the capital Kyiv for the third day on Saturday, despite Russia’s stronger military power, after a night of fierce fighting that punctuated the city with sounds of explosions and gunfire.The country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky remained defiant. Despite being a prime target in the invasion, he turned down a US offer of evacuation, the Ukraine embassy in Britain said Saturday on Twitter.”The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” Zelensky told the US, according to the embassy.
In a video posted on Twitter at dawn, Zelensky echoed the resolve of many Ukrainians — some of whom have taken arms. “We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this,” he said.
But as Russia’s war of aggression moves to the streets of the Ukrainian capital, with the country’s outnumbered and outgunned military continuing to hold back the invading forces in multiple locations, more reports are emerging of civilian infrastructure being hit.Early Saturday, a large residential apartment block in the west of Kyiv was struck by a missile or rocket, as residents across the city were forced to seek shelter after a terrifying night of fighting.Images and video from the scene showed a large impact some ten floors up in the building, with the cause of the strike unclear and the extent of casualties unknown. Several apartment units were blown out entirely, their outer walls and windows missing, leaving a gaping hole visible in the building’s side, as residents were evacuated.”Active fighting is taking place on the streets of our city. Please stay calm and be as careful as possible!” the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page Saturday, calling on residents to “hide indoors” and take cover to prevent injury from bullet fragments.The resistance to Russia’s invasion has seen civilians prepare to defend their capital in recent days, with officials arming reservists with 18,000 guns and ammunition in Kyiv alone and Ukrainian TV broadcasting instructions for making Molotov cocktails.Ukrainian troops are fighting against a significantly more advanced military power. Russian defense spending is roughly ten times that of Kyiv’s and its armed forces stand at some 900,000 active personnel and 2 million in reserve, versus Ukraine’s 196,000 and 900,000 reservists.The Russian Defense Ministry has not reported a single combat casualty from the invasion, a CNN review of their news releases shows. But Zelensky has claimed that the country’s forces have killed “hundreds” of Russian soldiers, without providing an exact figure. On Friday morning, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia had lost over 450 personnel.Ukrainian officials have acknowledged casualties on their side.CNN has been unable to independently verify casualty figures.
Room for diplomacy?
There have been suggestions of efforts toward diplomacy to stop the bloodshed, with Zelensky’s senior adviser, Myhailo Podoliak, on Saturday morning saying Ukraine would set conditions in any process, noting he didn’t think the country had “weak positions.”A separate spokesperson for Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, late Friday said that Ukraine “has been and remains ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace.”His comments follow a Russian proposal to send representatives to the Belarusian capital of Minsk to talk with Kyiv. A Kremlin spokesperson said the Ukrainian side had countered with a proposal to meet in Warsaw, and then dropped contact — but Nykyforov denied any “claims that we have refused to negotiate.””The sooner negotiations begin, the better the chances of resuming normal life,” he said.
The Russian Ministry of Defense in a statement Saturday, claimed to have taken control over the city of Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine. This comes after a massive explosion at Melitopol Airport was captured in footage shared on social media.Russia also launched cruise missile strikes overnight against targets in Ukraine.There have been reports of apartment buildings and kindergartens being shelled, civilians being killed, and rockets being found in residential streets since the beginning of the invasion earlier this week.Images analyzed by CNN confirmed that on several occasions densely populated areas have been hit by Russian forces around the country.Russia’s invasion has been followed by sweeping sanctions by Western nations, designed to damage Russia’s economy and turn President Vladimir Putin into an international “pariah.”Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine has seen its allies like China struggle to balance its close strategic partnership with Moscow with its seemingly contradictory policy of supporting state sovereignty.China, which has declined to criticize Russia’s attack, abstained on voting for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While the previous two nights in Kyiv were marked by the sounds of sporadic explosions coming from further away, Friday night in the capital was different for the residents who remained, with bursts of small arms fire and visible orange lines of fire going up into the sky.Streets around the city center were also empty, with many who remained spending the night in subway stations and underground garages, seeking safe haven.One Kyiv resident who gave her name as Olga said she had her young son Vadim, a kindergartener, sleeping in the bathroom.
“We are not going to the shelter, it does not guarantee 100% safety, and it can affect the psychology of a child. At home, he sleeps well, eats and thinks it’s all fun,” she said.An unknown number of Kyiv’s residents had already left the capital by Friday, leaving quiet the roads heading west of the capital that had been busy on Thursday. Refugees have been pouring into neighboring European countries in recent days, with international leaders warning of a humanitarian crisis.As the situation worsened, the international community has sought to find ways to stand with Ukraine without actively deploying troops to the country — a move that both the United States and NATO have said they will not take.
In the late hours of Friday evening in Washington, the White House announced that US President Joe Biden had approved the release of up to $350 million in immediate support to Ukraine’s security and defense.This release, announced in a memo from the White House, comes after a 40-minute call between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier Friday, during which they discussed “concrete defense assistance.”
CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Nathan Hodge, Richard Roth, and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.